The Lost Art Of Sitting In The Dark On My Own
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.
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.