Everyday pleasures: cinema-going

Bruce Bennett

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As the term ‘cinema-going’ suggests, one of the historical pleasures of watching films has been visiting the structures in which they are screened. In An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory, Annette Kuhn’s study of people’s memories of cinema-going in the 1930s, she found that for many of the people she interviewed, the cinemas themselves, the groups of friends they went with, or particular occasions on which they went to the pictures were at least as strong a memory as the actual films they saw. Cinema-going is, however, a vanishing pleasure since most of the films and audio-visual material we watch is viewed at home on TV screens and computer monitors, while the experience of watching a film at a multiplex is so expensive and alienating it can feel like undergoing a polite mugging. This is captured nicely in the episode of the sitcom Black Books when the protagonist, Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) pays a rare and reluctant visit to the local multiplex cinema after being locked out of his bookshop:

BB: ‘Excuse me. There seems to be some sort of mistake. I bought a drink and some popcorn and now I have no money left.’

Cashier: ‘That’s how much it costs.’

BB: ‘Why? Is it special popcorn? Does it produce some kind of dizzying high?’

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By contrast, the community cinema on Waiheke Island is a rare exception of a cinema that it is a pleasure to visit. It is in the basement of the community art gallery in the island’s main town of Oneroa and was staffed by volunteers on the occasions I visited. It screens first-run commercial films as well as ‘arthouse’ films and local productions, and has a good surround sound system and digital projector, however watching a film there felt like going to a cinema in another period. It was recommended to us by a volunteer who worked at the local recycling centre who said it reminded her husband of watching films in barracks rooms when he was in the army. The room is decorated with film posters, reels of film, miscellaneous bits of projection equipment and an old 35mm projector, while the ceiling is dotted with stars and crescents. One of the most pleasurable aspects of it is that in place of rows of cinema seats, the room is filled with a varied collection of sofas.

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It seemed appropriate to watch the new Peter Jackson film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, in New Zealand for various reasons, but while I would like to have watched it in 3D and HFR, Waiheke community cinema seemed like the most suitable venue.

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Reference:

Annette Kuhn (2002). An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory, London: IB Tauris.

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