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Film | Opinion

Hear Me Out: Woody Harrelson’s live film was forgotten too quickly

Back in 2017, Woody Harrelson shot and live screened the movie Lost in London. It was the first time ever that a film was live broadcast into theatres; for the most part, it has been the last time too. Woody Harrelson bravely ventured down the road less travelled and nobody has followed suit. 

The main reason for this is not the obvious difficulties or all the endless licensing trials and tribulations, but because the film itself failed to light a fire in the imagination of production houses. The live project was a tricky endeavour and with reviews for Lost in London middling, the question of whether it was worth it has quelled further ventures. 

The movie was an autobiographical tale about one hell-raising night in Soho, whereby Harrelson raced around in cabs with the police in hot pursuit, ultimately, spending a night in jail. It’s a solid premise, particularly when touched with the farcical air that it actually happened. And the cast of Harrelson, Eleanor Matsuura, Owen Wilson and Willie Nelson boded well. However, reviews and audience reactions alike offered up the same ‘pretty fun, but not great’ consensus. 

The question is: does that come as any surprise? This was the first venture of its kind, an entirely new pursuit. Surely, we expected too much if we thought it was going to set the world alight and change cinema forever? When cameras first got rolling, we explored the potential of pointing them at naked people a while before we thought about telling a tale with them. Fine-tuning innovations, even in art, takes time, consideration and the odd flop to show the pitfalls. 

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Of course, the question with pioneering cinema will always be the same: Is it not better just to make a really, really good conventional film rather than hamstring a project’s potential for the sake of what is potentially just a gimmick disguised as originality?

Well, for my money, that depends entirely on the gimmick. Lost in London was not a 3D folly or something like Boyhood (the film shot over 12 years loosely following a kid’s life) which had you questioning whether fiction isn’t simply more entertaining; Harrelson’s outing had a visceral air of genuine innovation to it. It was quite literally fresh, and despite the odd imperfection, every review was quick to remark upon how it was definitely worth doing.

We might get hung up on the past sometimes, but in truth, there isn’t much to bemoan in modern culture. However, the one thing that is surely amiss is the old water cooler moments thrust upon us by everyone watching the same thing unfurl at the same time—the entertainment equivalent of a sporting triumph. These have largely been lost in the age of streaming and recording where things lose their immediacy. 

As a result, this sort of ‘Oh, I’ll watch it later’ apathy has even had an impact on the number of people who attend the cinema. The other factor that people often tout for declining box office sales is a lack of originality. Live films tick both of those boxes with an air of assured vitality. I mean, you might call it wishful thinking, but just imagine watching a masterpiece unspool live! Now that would be a feat worth the inflated ticket fee. 

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