The Lost Art Of Sitting In The Dark On My Own

July 14, 2010 by Simon Kinnear in Opinion with 2 Comments

Last night, I saw Claire Denis’ complex and gripping White Material, instantly a contender for Film of the Year.

It’s worth stating how good the film was because it’s one of those films that will sink without a trace in a summer governed by CG animated sequels, men-on-a-mission action flicks and Christopher Nolan. Certainly, I was one of only about six or seven people in last night’s screening. More pertinently, I went to the cinema on my own, because frankly there’s only a finite number of people I could convince to see a French movie about an African civil war, and none of them was around.

So I went on my own…and it struck me, sitting there in the dark with just me and the movie, how long it’s been since I last did this. I worked it out: February 2008.

It’s weird how habits change. In my youth, I wouldn’t think twice about wandering into a cinema off the street, at all hours of day and night, to see…well, whatever was on. Admittedly, I’m talking about being a student, primarily in London, when there was a stonking amount of choice. For 12 blissful months, I had a free pass to the National Film Theatre (now BFI South Bank), and it would have been rude not to use it. Yet part of it was the pleasure – and often the pain – of trying to see everything.

Cinema Paradiso 1988 Giuseppe Tornatore

That attitude hung on for years after graduation. Living on next to nothing in Sydney while I was travelling, I stumbled upon a couple of decent art-house cinemas and that was it. Sod the sun-screen, just head inside if you want to protect your skin from UV radiation. The absolute madness was that one of my favoured haunts was situated, almost magically, within a stone’s throw of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. I’d gone all that way to see these amazing architectural icons…and yet here I was, sitting in the dark watching A Room For Romeo Brass, a movie filmed in the region where I grew up. (Incidentally, a whole year away, and was the only time I felt homesick. Thank you, Shane Meadows!)

I came back to England – specifically, my hometown, Derby, ’cause I’d gone all the way to Australia and fallen in love with a woman from the very place I’d spent years escaping from. Small world, eh? Still, with a decent art-house cinema down the road (then the Metro; now the QUAD) it was easy enough to catch a movie on the way back from work.

I don’t know when, or why, things changed, but I gradually stopped going on my own, and cinema-going went from being that burning, compulsive obsession to an occasional treat. Looking back, I can detect a few reasons for the shift:

Getting older. Not just the usual pressures (work, relationship, kids) that prevent impromptu screenings, but also the fact that, as age-related fatigue kicks in, the sheer energy to pull yourself off your arse and into a cinema starts to fade. I know this for a fact, because I very nearly didn’t go last night for the same reason: I couldn’t be arsed. Somewhere, there exists a Pandora’s Box containing all of the films I’ve still not seen because “I couldn’t be arsed” when they were released.

Getting busier. Again, not just the usual pressures. More fool me, I started to write seriously in early 2005, when I took on editorial duties for a Doctor Who fanzine, Shockeye’s Kitchen. It’s probably the single most important factor in why I’m still writing now, but at the time it was a massive drain on time, chiefly because I was also learning Photostop and Quark from scratch as well as commissioning, editing and writing articles…and all of this after-hours. Since I began freelancing, this situation has only got worse; I have to grasp the opportunities to see a movie out of sheer pleasure on the rare occasions I can find them.

DVDs. When I was a student, I had a crappy telly and a VHS, so going to the cinema was a no-brainer. It was the only way to see a movie properly. In purist’s terms, I suppose, it still is: I get a frisson of wow in the cinema even from the crappest movies, yet show me a masterpiece at home and I have to really work at loving it. But the gap in picture/sound quality has been significantly reduced by those shiny discs, even more so with the advent of Blu-ray, and it’s become a perfectly acceptable alternative.

Orange Wednesdays. This fiendish little socialiser started in 2003 (yes, I checked) and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my shift towards seeing films in company commenced soon after. Put simply, when it costs the same amount of money to see a film with a friend as it does on your own, it becomes that bit more attractive to ‘make a date’ out of cinemagoing. Especially if everybody else in the cinema is coupled up; don’t underestimate the power of peer pressure and conformity. Of course, this has two knock-on effects. 1) You have to plan to see a movie. Cue the inevitable, “I’m busy this Wednesday; do you mind holding off until next week.” 2) It takes Herculean effort to see a film any other night of the week, because suddenly you’re aware of how damned expensive it is. Net result? Less trips to the cinema.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying, I still love going to see a movie on my own…but by god it’s hard.

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  1. novembertwentyelevenMar 29, 2012 at 2:24 amReply

    Nowadays, it takes me a week to convince me to see a movie after considering the cost, transport, timing, people to go with, or not as the case may be, whereas when I was a teen, I happily cut out of school without a thought or regret.

  2. » Curzon On Demand: Bringing Funny Games Into The Comfort Of Your Own Home » KinnemaniacApr 30, 2012 at 10:08 amReply

    […] has made me more appreciative of the virtues of lying back on the sofa and less bothered about the lost art of sitting in the dark on my own, so it suits me […]

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