*apologies to John Berger.
We were invited to a film evening at some young friends of ours. I was shocked by the conditions in which the film was viewed and realised how fanatical I am about the ritual of viewing films.
That evening we started to have some food and drink and my first surprise was the discussion about what film to watch. I had not experienced the ‘film on demand’ system before and found it extraordinary that one could view any film on the spur of the moment. No consideration, no deliberation. Just the popular film of the moment still on the big screens.
More seriously I resented the availability of films on a few touches of a TV controller and felt it devalued the ‘movie’. The dismay did not stop there. Food had to be consumed, glasses filled, and mobile phones answered. Conversations and comments relevant to the film but even very vaguely connected to what was on-screen continued all through this painful experience. I am told that there are some cinemas where you can order a meal to be eaten while you are watching the film. It is delivered with a drink at your seat specially adapted with a little side table.
When I programmed the U3A sessions at the Lexi, no care was taken to screen the films in their proper aspect. Outdoor screenings, sing along screening are the rage now in London.
My goodness I feel my age ! As a child in Lebanon I used to attend film screenings in the garden of the nearby hotel in the mountain summer resort. Often the projectionist mixed up the reels and it was a reason for great hilarity amongst the older viewers and it hardly mattered to us young kids running around. As a teenager I attended the screening of popular films – mainly Westerns – in Beirut cinemas. I can still hear the loud cheers and clapping when the cavalry arrived or boos when the villain was onscreen. The floor on the main auditorium was carpeted with watermelon seed cases. We always went to the cinema in a group and sat in the more expensive balcony seats. We always talked about he film afterwards. I also went to the specialist French cinema that showed ‘art films’ and a friend of mine, a medical student, started a poorly attended film club. It is then that my love for the cinema was born. I can even remember the film that marked me : Jean Renoir’s The River.
Since then I have acquired a profound respect for the medium. I believe that a film should be seen in the best possible conditions for concentration and enjoyment. Given all the team efforts involved in producing a film, it deserves all our undivided attention in a darkened room with good sound. I even feel sorry for the viewer who is forced to go to the toilet and miss the slightest detail that I consider important.
It seems to me that as film making techniques become more and more sophisticated, the viewing conditions deteriorate at the same rate.
It does seem to be the case that we never leave the cinema and “talk about the film” anymore. I suppose that’s because so few blockbuster movies leave us with things to talk about other than the special effects. It does seem that watching a film is no longer a novelty or experience to be savoured as it used to be.
I must admit that I’ve tried the food and drink cinema and the food was just awful (serves us right!) but it was quite pleasant to sip a drink and recline the chair during the movie! I also love outdoor screenings as it adds to the fun.. but it’s true that it is perhaps not the best viewing conditions..
What pertinent comments, I so much agree with you.
I didn’t realise you were brought up in Lebanon – when I next see you I will tell you about my recent trip there – mostly not highlife, but visiting refugee camps. Amazing place.
Rina, I share your feelings about respect for a film one has chosen to see. I do remember going
to Saturday afternoon cowboy films with my younger brothers (as the preacher’s kids, we only
had to pay the 5 cents tax, so we all could go).
It was noisy but fun, and we used to cheer for the cowboys to ‘win’.
But I’ve always taken for granted that one concentrates on the film, not the trimmings (except
for the cushy seats at the Tricycle). I’m not even used to carrying a drink into the cinema. Though
many cinema seats now have a holder, I’ve usually thought of them as being for popcorn…….
A supper club atmosphere is taking attention away from the film- I agree- and I do appreciate
the fact that we do watch and concentrate when we’re at your gatherings. How else do we even
know what’s going on?!,
i don’t like people talking in films – even less using mobile phones! i agree with you, to fully experience a film, you have to pay attention.