20 August 2010

The Death of Cinema

I have a lifelong love affair with the cinema.

I remember vividly how, on my 10th birthday, my brother took me to see Return of the Jedi at the cinema with tickets that I'd won by doing a 'Spot The Difference' competition in the local newspaper.

We arrived a few minutes late and the first thing I saw on the screen was the gloriously grotesque face of Bib Fortuna, Jabba The Hutt's tentacled manservant (try getting that euphemistic image out of your head).

I sat inside that modern day cathedral, ornate plasterwork ceiling curving majestically far above me, plush red seats both soft and coarse at the same time, total darkness around me, with a huge, glowing screen reflected in my wide, young eyes.

At once, I was hooked. Whenever possible, I would go to the cinema, ravenously devouring whatever was being shown.

I remember sitting moist-eyed and amazed at the denouement of Carlito's Way; missing half of Tim Burton's Batman because I was too busy fiddling with my date's impressive breasts; getting up and walking out of Made In America because it was possibly one of the worst films ever made; stifling numerous sobs during Babe (that'll do pig, that'll do); and inching forwards on my seat, mouth agape, as I watched a herd of diplodocus mill around the edge of a lake in Jurassic Park, absolutely enthralled and amazed at this new age of digital effects.

In short, cinema is the great love of my life.

Or at least it used to be.

Now, I can count the number of cinema visits this year on one hand. Don't get me wrong, my DVD collection increases on a weekly basis to such an extent that I now have a worryingly large pile of films that I haven't even watched yet, balefully glaring at me every time I walk into the living room, accusation hanging heavy in the air. I still love film and believe it to be an incredible art form, bursting with passion, insight, and pulse-quickening excitement. But I have, at 37, had to make the difficult decision never to go to the cinema again.

Yes, you read that correctly - I am never going to the cinema again.

At the beginning of August, I went to see Christopher Nolan's Inception. I'd read the glowing reviews and my expectations had built accordingly. I then read some bad reviews just to redress the balance and lower my expectations, which I consider to be a sensible course of action.

Arriving at my local cinema, I bought my ticket and my cinema buddy bought hers.

Astoundingly, they actually had staff sitting at the ticket counter which is a minor miracle as, due to shortages, the last couple of times I'd been there I'd had to buy my tickets at the ice cream counter, walking straight past the closed, derelict ticket booth to stand behind an indecisive couple very carefully, very slowly picking which flavours of over-priced creamy confection they wanted to scoop into their gaping, slack maws as they gazed impassively at the screen.

The lift had an 'amusing' sign on it "This R2 unit has a bad motivator!", which was their way of explaining to patrons that the life was out of order. I believe it's been this way for 3 months. Disabled customers are very clearly not being catered for here and I do wonder if they're failing in their duty under the Disability Discrimination Act. I can certainly attest to the fact that they are discriminating against overweight, wheezy smokers who can't be bothered to trog up the stairs.

Because the lift was unavailable, we had to ascend up six flights of steps to get to our screen. My cinema buddy, oblivious to my painful struggle, engaged me in conversation as we climbed - a difficult task as I clambered higher and higher, drawing mouthfuls of air into my withered lungs. Somehow, I managed admirably, although with noticeably shorter sentences than normal.

The old days of a cinema usher with a torch directing you to your seat are long gone. Instead, a bored teenager tore our tickets and pointed us in the general direction of a pitch-black room full of stumbling hazards.

Finding out seats, we settled down for the main feature, after enduring a raft of advertisements for films we had no interest in seeing and which had clearly not been tailored to the viewers of this movie. The 'Piracy is killing the movie industry' segment has replaced the wet-eyed Matthew Horne (a man who, when I look at him, impossibly appears to have the phrase 'punch me' written across his forehead. I know it's not there, but I swear to God I can see it. I don't know how) with a similarly aggravating woman whose name I do not recall nor desire to know.

In the same way that I despise the unskippable piracy ads that I have to watch on a DVD that I'VE ACTUALLY COCKING-WELL PAID FOR, these cinema ads invoke a powerful Pavlovian reaction in me that involves clenching my jaw so tightly that I fear my teeth may explode in my mouth with a noise like a sheet of bubble wrap being trodden on by a clumsy elephant.

I reattached the arm of the chair after I'd wrenched it from my seat in fury and, soon, we got to the film itself.

For the next two hours, my viewing enjoyment was ruined by the chattering, squealing and fidgeting of a dozen barely pubescent teenagers in the second row. They were, so it seems, completely incapable of sitting in silence and displaying a modicum of respect to the others in the room. I can only imagine this is what it would be like to sit in a car at Windsor Safari Park with a troop of baboons skittering across the windscreen, screeching and pressing their scarlet genitalia against the glass.

Major plot points were missed as one of them made an asinine comment at an inappropriate volume causing me to glare in their direction and take my eyes and attention off the screen for a few vital seconds.

In this way, the movie was completely bollocksed for me, my cinema buddy and countless others.

I wistfully remember when a member of staff used to enter the auditorium and sit at the back, on the look out for any noise or troublemakers. If they encountered any nonsense, they would walk to the offenders and either tell them to shut up, or order them out. Of course, that doesn't happen any more. We customers are left to fend for ourselves and risk getting into abusive situations.

I have a particular memory of one film when a couple started smoking in the back row. I stood up, walked over to them and politely informed them that they couldn't smoke here. One of them was male with a neck thicker than his head and, impossibly, his chest too. He fixed me with a steely glare and simply said, "Sit. Down." I regarded him for a moment and, filled with anger at his complete disregard for the other patrons, went and sat down, fearful that he might use my face as an ashtray. And toilet. And doormat for his heavy, muddy boots.

Mindful of hidden weapons and aware that these gibbering apes in the second row already seemed to have adopted the philosophical stance of 'Fuck everyone that isn't me', I was unwilling to say anything to them.

So I sat there and, pathetically, put up with it, as did everyone else.

At one point, some youngsters sitting a couple of seats away from us made a loud comment to which I blurted out "Jesus Christ, is EVERYONE in this cinema fucking talking?!". The look of terror on their faces was quite wonderful and my pleasure was only slightly abated by the fact that they were probably about 9 years old. Sod 'em, everyone has to learn some time.

I left the cinema having enjoyed what little I'd seen of the film, but possessed of a deep sadness because, in that moment, I knew that I would never go to the cinema again. Not just because of those chattering imbeciles, but because the cinema experience has changed irrevocably. That cathedral of dreams, that monument to art, is gone forever, replaced by a dingy room of yabbering simpletons, a broken lift, staff who aren't paid enough to care, playing films that have the artistic merit of a coil of dog shit nailed to a wall. (I don't know if you can nail dog shit to a wall. We'll assume, for the purposes of this rant, that it's entirely feasible).

The film industry, including the cinema chains, bemoans the fact that it is being destroyed by piracy despite the fact that their profits increase year on year.

For me, the film industry is not being ruined by piracy, it is being ruined by the cinema chains. They simply don't care any more. Gone are the days when a visit to the cinema was a deep pleasure; something to look forward to and treat with reverence and respect; an opportunity to lose yourself completely in a thought-provoking masterpiece or an enjoyable piece of action hokum.

Now it consists of disappointment, anger, and wasted money. For that, we have the cinemas to blame. When they put profit above love of the art-form or customer enjoyment, they do us all a grave disservice.

I fondly think back to the ten-year old me, bright-eyed, filled with excited expectation, agog at the spectacle unfolding before him, and I wish those days could be recaptured. But they're gone, never to return.

On the plus side, the 37-year old me gets to watch porn, so on balance I can't really complain too much.


Ishouldbeworking said...

I know exactly where you're coming from. The last time I went to the Odeon in Brighton was to see 'The Thick of It' last year. I anticipated a relatively discerning audience who would be broadly Homo Sapien or even Homo Erectus in genus, thereby ensuring a degree of protection from the usual slurping chimps.

Sadly, I was mistaken and most of those in attendance were there 'for the funny swearing', with the result that every time someone on screen said 'fuck' (I lost count after 5,376), they issued great belching guffaws, nudged each other, and celebrated with another sonorous suck on their eight-gallon Pepsi Max.

I will now only ever attend the Duke of Yorks (which I think you would like). It can be poncey but people do tend to behave like, er, evolved humans.

My sympathies.

M said...

It's so sad that the Odeon are everywhere, I've just discovered that we have the Electric Theatre in Guildford which shows small films and also hold different seasons, this is a saving grace as I hardly ever go to the cinema, mainly due to the disgusting price attached to a ticket and that's just the plain old wooden chairs, don't get me started on the audacious attitude of charging for a bigger chair!

We went to see inception and though it wasn't anywhere near as traumatic as your experience it was still hounded by sweet wrappers, slurping drinks and twats who can't shut up. I had the rage as well, coursing through my body, everytime some one spoke. We had someone sitting next to us, a couple who constinued to speak through the film, I finally snapped and told them to shut up as I was trying to watch the film, I'll get Rachel to tell you the full story. The cinema shouldn't be so fucking stressful! I want to sit in a darkened room and be amazed and get lost not listen to peoples plans for the weekend!

It would be wonderful if a company decided to take film seriously on a large scale and kick the shit out odeon and bring the wonder back. Sadly it won't happen.

Or will it. Dan this is your calling!

but I have enough time to make comments on obscure websites said...

We don't have it quite this bad in the US, but the cinema experience has gotten bad enough for me to cut the number of times I go drastically, along with apparently lots of other people, since most people seem to watch movies via internet downloads or DVDs these days.

I actually enjoyed going to a public place and watching a movie with other people, and watching their reactions, but people are definitely more rude in public these days. Which means I've gone from enjoying public places to trying to avoid them.

In the U.S., cinemas started trying to squeeze in two evening showings, meaning the hours are always awkward for someone coming from work, you either have to go immediately upon emerging from your commute, or emerge sometime after midnight, a bit too late on a weekday.

But I've never gotten into the home cinema/ DVD/ download experience, because when I'm at home I always seem to have something better to do than to sit down and watch a movie. It could be the quality of movies has dropped. They are certainly longer, meaning a bigger investment of time is required to watch them.

Dan said...

ishouldbeworking - I'm astonished that such people would go and see The Thick Of It. Perhaps they saw 'Thick' in the title and felt strangely drawn to it...

My cinema buddy did suggest to me that I might want to visit just the Director's Chair showings at the local Odeon because they tend to be populated by the more discerning filmgoer resulting in less idle chit-chat and general fucking about.

I simply can't bring myself to do that though for several reasons:
1) The Odeon has currently suspended their Director's Chair screenings for the summer because of the school holidays and their need to fit in one more screening of 'Ooh colours and shapes in 3D',
2) Why the hell should I limit myself specifically to one screening a week at about 8 o'clock in the evening? I like to leave work early, say 4, go straight to the cinema and be home by 7,
3) Why should I only be allowed to see arty, independent films in peace and quiet? I want to see Iron Man 2 or The Dark Knight without hordes of bawling shit-heads ruining it for me.

There are really only three options I can see.
Never go to the cinema again.
Move to London.
Commit an act of mass murder.

I'm currently undecided between the first and last...

Dan said...

M - Thanks for the comment. Rachel told me the story about you two going to see Inception. I will share a bit of it here for other readers - as I understand it, a couple decided to attend the film purely so they could sit there chatting all the way through it. After being shouted at by M, the couple, who clearly didn't give a rat's butt about anyone but themselves, decided they were bored and left. However, the male of the couple dropped his credit card on the floor without realising.

Thus, is universal justice served.

I did try to persuade Rachel to use the credit card to buy porn and pizzas, but she was too scared. A nice alternative would have been to make a large charitable donation with it, perhaps to a society that deals specifically with people who have had popcorn pushed inside their rectum with the toe of a size 12 boot.

Funny you should mention opening a cinema - it's something that I'd love to do.
A small place, 2 screens, 300 seats max, harking back to the glory days and showing a selection of brand new fayre and classics.
I would also bring back the Friday all-nighter, with horror fests and b-movie schlock. In addition, I would market all-day film fests as well: Both Star Wars Trilogy's back to back, all THREE of the Indiana Jones films, even a back to back showing of the SAW movies, just for shits and giggles.

Ah, to have such dreams is a wondrous thing.

Dan said...

but i have enough time to make comments on - thanks for the comment. Much appreciated.

I'm completely with you on the cinema times issue. Personally, wherever possible, I like to leave work, go to the cinema, watch the film and be back home by early evening. A lot of the 'special screenings' of decent films, e.g. Moon, Heist, I Am Love, etc, are at about 8.30 which means, by the time the trailers are over, the movie is done and I've travelled home, it's almost midnight, which is just too damn late for a Tuesday evening.

To an extent, I'm also with you on the quality of movies. These days, if I have a couple of hours free, I'm more likely to throw a well-watched DVD in the player than a new one. The quality of movies is extremely variable these days but at least I know that if I'm rewatching, say The Shawshank Redemption, I can be assured of an enjoyable time. Of course, having an xbox 360 eats into my spare time on occasion... :o(

Piley said...

oooh, I LOVE that commenter's get their own special Dan reply each, look forward to mine ;-)

I'm sorry that the pond life have finally got you you enough to force you to end such a great past time. I went through the same moment years ago - funny enough I was probably about your age!! The older you get, the more selfish, rude and ignorant people will fuck you off I'm afraid. You just become more and more aware. You'll also find the same cocks at gigs (holding phones up, singing louder than the band, talking), the theatre, anywhere that people gather. Sorry to break this to you, it's the end of enjoying just about anything outside of your house!

Dan said...

Piley - Here's your special unique comment! :o)

I've already found that I get more and more annoyed about discourteous behaviour in others. I think I already wrote in another post how I've got to the stage now where, instead of just inwardly tutting and saying things in my head, I actually vocalise them. Just yesterday, I stood to one side in a supermarket to let someone pass and he walked by me without a word of acknowledgement. "Don't mention it!" I piped up with rather too much volume.

Fortunately, he was clearly in such a daze of avaricious consumerism that he didn't even hear me. One day, I'm sure someone will thrash the living daylights out of me...

As much as I will miss the cinema, theatre and gigs, I think the time is right to consign myself fully to the comfort of my flat and, as much as possible, avoid contact with that unpleasant race of humanoid mutants that I see shuffling down the road every day. Sometimes, just sometimes, I ache for an apocalyptic event...

Piley said...

bloody hell... I've been doing that for a few years too! I hold doors open for people, stand aside so they can walk through, let people enter a lift before me etc etc... all met with a blank stare and not a flicker of thanks. "you're welcome" I always say in a way way too loud and patronising tone. Sometimes it pricks their conscience and as you steam off you hear in the background a fumbled "erm... thank you".