*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.