Oh hey, thanks for swinging by. I know it it has become almost trite to say, but I do hope you and yours are keeping well. Can we talk about movies?
I don’t know how you are choosing to brave the pronounced anxiety surrounding both the physical and economic health of our loved ones, but I have opted for the aggressive consumption of pizza, and the launching a new website. The former is a grotesque view that almost dares heart disease to get me before Covid can, but the latter has taken a lot of work, and I am really proud of it so far. Big ups to my boys Jay and Stuart (read About Us here). I think it looks great, I’m looking forward to populating it with broader, yet perhaps more personal content than I did over at Eyes Skyward. Whatever your nerd stripes, you are most welcome.
For my first piece, I wanted to write something non-Supermaney, just to prove I will (but don’t worry, our boy will always hover around these parts, even if he is no longer the main focus) and talk about the special experience of actually going to the cinema. Having been deprived of it for two months, I am missing it a LOT. I remember when I was at university, a lecturer of mine described the cinema as “The Forgetting Chamber” and I always connected to that phrase. As if the cinema were an actual transportation machine of body and mind, sealing you in from the outside world, and for a couple of hours, you were Sam Beckett, living the life of another for a brief, but special amount of time.
I often leave the room in something of a daze, almost jet lagged from my trip. Friends know to mistrust my initial post-movie thoughts, because my brain hasn’t yet properly settled back into my real body. I’m still high. I have a big TV and all the subscriptions, but there is still nothing so special as spending a night in the forgetting chamber, because it paradoxically offers a communal experience, while also insisting that, aside from your fellow travellers, the rest of the world shut the fuck up, and fuck the fuck off. I can’t get that same hit from a book or the TV, if only because they can’t control the surrounding environment, nor force me to ignore my damned phone in the same way. The darkening of the lights, the rumbling of the sound, the glow of a large presentation – it dominates your attention in a way few other things can.
I don’t remember very much of my first trip to the forgetting chamber, beyond being overwhelmed by the size of the screen, and laughing hysterically at Mowgli’s reaction to the singing girl right at the end. I also remember when it finished, I suggested to my Dad that he perform his customary VHS duties: rewinding the movie so I could watch it again. Later, where I lived, there was a Saturday morning movies club which my brother and I would take the bus to go and see a mixture of new releases and old reissues. Cinema going had become part of the routine, and by watching a number of movies I already had on VHS at home, I could feel the magical difference in presentation and community given to the same story. It is for this reason that I will still seek out re-releases of movies on the big screen, it truly feels like seeing for the first time.
I absolutely love it when an audience reacts to what is happening on the screen, from laughter to hidden sniffles, but I think my favourite – perhaps because it is so rare in the UK – is when an audience flat out CHEERS . The first time this happened to me was during Frank Darabont’s The Mist when Marcia Gay Harden’s character, having wound the audience up for the whole movie with her oppressive and “righteous” villainy, gets shot through the head. The audience erupted in celebration, followed by a very British chuckle of embarrassment at their sudden blood lust.
A movie which drew smaller but more frequent cheers was Mad Max Fury Road. I haven’t had my ass so roundly kicked by any action movie, before or since (although Mission Impossible: Fallout deserves a mention here). Fury Road is so packed with beauty and carnage, the idea of blinking seems offensive. I saw it four times at the cinema, and each time the audience giggled and gasped in sheer delight at the orchestrated chaos laid bare on the screen. I watch it at home every now and then, but if ever there was a film designed to stretch the legs of big screen technology – this is the one.
For Arrival, there was such a stillness in the room as the film revealed itself. It’s strange to think that absolute silence also makes up a communal experience – but it really did. I could feel us all absorb the movie’s themes together. In Split I swore out loud in glee (which is not in my nature) as THAT music cue played, and a guy behind me whispered “yes mate”. I looked back and he sported the same silly grin on the outside that I was sure I had, and for a brief moment, we were brothers.
In Toy Story 3, my eldest daughter, 4 at the time ( and the one who would later make me realise how to watch movies again ) asked, in the clearest little voice, “why are you crying so much” when Woody, Buzz et al held hands as they descended toward the furnace. I tried to hide behind my 3D glasses, but a glance around the room showed that every parent was dealing with the same problem, and there were even a few nods of solidarity. My youngest came to watch Little Stranger with me, and having spent some of the scariest parts with her head in her shirt, buzzed all the way home, raving about what each moment meant in the story and what her favourite scary part was.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I cherry pick these examples to show that I don’t just miss other people, I miss watching movies with them. As exhibitors lie dormant, and studios try to find ways to make home releases more profitable, I hope that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Whisper it, but the big screen industry has been on a not so gradual slide for a long time, with its wounds being well hidden by reporting dollar amounts rather than tickets sold, and the considerable fig leaf that is the Walt Disney corporation. Coronavirus may well be an accelerant to fall already in progress.
I hope not. I hope when they open their doors again, exhibitors find a way to remind both us, and themselves, as to why the cinema experience is so special. I hope they protect it by making sure audiences turn off their phones, and by properly nursing the presentation to make sure the film maker’s authorship is appropriately recreated. The temptation to Wal-Martise the multiplex is getting stronger, but they cannot win a foot race against streaming. They need to lean into the community experience.
I miss the unifying power of the forgetting chamber, strapping in strangers from every single demographic, and taking us on a shared adventure. We are all running away from the rolling boulder, we are all demanding to know if he ordered the code red, we are all happy to be returned to Bedford Falls, we all mourn Spock and we all cheer at Cap and Mjolnir.
Time to hop back into the multiverse.
Be safe, be well, and see you at the movies.
- I’m 39, and I still have an imaginary friend, and it’s Superman - May 6, 2020
- Welcome to Video Multiverse. Do you miss movies as much as us? - May 4, 2020
- Margot Kidder was humanity - May 14, 2018