After my older brother – only three at the time – had seen his first film in the cinema, he ran up to hug the screen. He’d just seen ‘Toy Story’, and he was enraptured.
The week before last, I went to see Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’. (Well, technically, I saw ‘Dunkerque‘, the version dubbed in French, because I wasn’t going to let being on holiday make me miss out on seeing the latest Nolan film.) If you’ve heard anything about the film, you’ve almost certainly heard about its use of sound – the eardrum-bursting, speaker-smashing volume of dropped bombs and shot torpedoes. I was sitting in the kind of old cinema that recalled the glory days of film, with dark red velvet seats and a whirring projector hard at work, and I was immersed so thoroughly in the film that each sound and sight rippled through me as though each shot were stolen straight from my own experience.
It’s easy to worry about the cinema nowadays. No, I’m not about to turn into that one elderly relative who accosts you at family gatherings specifically to bemoan the dying art of letter-writing, or ask you what ‘a Netflix’ is. God knows I’m no stranger to spending countless hours hiding beneath my duvet, watching enough ‘House of Cards’ to make my eyes ache. (The best invention of recent years, in my humble opinion, is the “skip intro” feature they’ve just introduced on Netflix.)
Still, in a time when upcoming releases are leaked in their entirety online, I worry about one of my favourite experiences being consigned to extinction. When we can find just about any title somewhere online – even if it takes us some time and effort to find a link that doesn’t look so totally dodgy that it’s going to spell the death of our laptop – I wonder whether eventually there’ll come a day when people just don’t bother to see things on the big screen.
The cinema requires rapt attention. There’s etiquette to be followed: don’t talk, don’t fidget, don’t chew your nachos or slurp your slushie too loudly. You can’t press pause to go to the toilet; you can’t rewind if you miss a crucial portion of dialogue. The number of times I’ve sat there pained, twisting my legs and trying to keep focus, because I’ve needed the loo but I can’t bring myself to leave the film are too numerous to count. It’s expensive, too. I’m a student, and the thought of paying nigh on ten pounds to see a film – ten pounds I could spend on, say, a few meal deals to continue to subsist on, or three bottles of phenomenally crap Tesco wine – feels a little bit like being ripped off.
And yet, in spite of the price, the decorum, the effort, and the popcorn-ridden carpets, I’m still so willingly seduced by the ready magic of the cinema. There are so few activities which dissolve the outside world in the same way. Sitting there in the dark, it’s difficult for anything else to contend with the supremacy of the sounds and the sights unfolding before an audience. Even when I’ve seen bad films, I’ve never regretted spending two hours engrossed in someone else’s story. (Apart from maybe the two Adam Sandler films I’ve had the extreme misfortune to have watched on the big screen.)
I’m not about to cancel my Netflix subscription. (Mainly because I still have half a season left of “House of Cards”.) But my big love affair will always be with the stories unfolding on the cinema screen – and hey, that’s ten pounds for a ticket I’d otherwise just spend on cigarettes.”