Film, movies, the cinema, the pictures, the silver screen, the flicks, the motion picture has played a dominant role in my life from a very early age, as I’m sure it has in many others. I don’t recall and I wouldn’t want to confabulate, but according to my father, he took me to the cinema in Leicester square circa July 1977 and introduced a 4-year-old version of me to George Lucas’s science fiction cinematic masterpiece, Star Wars. I’m by no means a fan anymore but I’m sure at such a young age the moving picture left an indelible mark on my highly impressionable still forming embryonic mind as I stared wide eyed in the darkness at the huge screen, the celluloid light bursting across the theatre illuminating the auditorium like a religious experience with projector above beaming the film over our heads to be reflected back on the audience with images dancing over us, as we all tucked into our popcorn and watched Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero with a thousand faces’… in space.
Now let us step back 20 odd years…
My Father, when he was a child had suffered from an irregular heartbeat. It made the wrong noise. Instead of beating “boom-boom”, “boom-boom”, “boom-boom”, it beat, “boom-baboom”, “boom-baboom”, “boom-baboom”.
This oddity, known as a murmur, can indicate a hole in the heart. The extra ‘ba’ necessitated a routine visit to the hospital one Monday afternoon every month. Now my Grandad, ever one to exploit an opportunity and who enjoyed his sons’ company, clearly felt it only right to notify his son’s school that my father needed to go to hospital every Monday, rather than the hospital prescribed schedule. And from there my dad would meet his dad at lunchtime and surreptitiously spend the afternoon hidden in the darkness watching cowboys fight Indians, war stories and cheap science fiction tales. After their little secret outing, they would meet his sister from school and then from there go meet his mum as she finished work in London’s West End.
Following a dinner at Lyons Corner House they would return to the cinema again, this time to watch a family type film. This bunking off school and extracurricular hours in darkness remained their secret and carried on for a year. A cinema showing back then consisted of two films: a main feature, plus a ‘B’ movie, world news on film and a cartoon. In total this amounted to 16 films a month, 160-175 overall in a year.
Some of the films he told me he had seen on TV years later. Some he didn’t quite recognise, leaving him with a strange feeling of déjà vu, while others prompted memories that instantly took him back to his feature filled childhood.
This was clearly an auspicious youth for 30 years later he would hold a BAFTA award in his hands and later in his career be party to 2 Oscars for his work as a boom swinger in the movie industry.
For me, it wasn’t so glamorous. I, at the glorious age of 26 in the 1990s could be found selling popcorn and tickets in the Streatham Odeon. The Odeon, ‘Fanatical about Film’ read their strapline, but clearly as a good friend who also turned up for the paltry pay and like me, applied himself perfunctorily remarked:
“Fanatical about film, what bollocks, more like fanatical about money.”
And now fast forward another 20 years to the present and I’m sat in front of my computer eager to find a film worthy of my time and money to sit through and pay for, seeking out that experience in the dark, the illustrious illumination, the magic of the cinema, an anecdote, an allegory, a narrative to take you somewhere else for 2 hours, a place to suspend your belief and escape.
One of the joys of being a father for me was taking my children to Saturday morning cinema. I’ve always enjoyed the kids’ films, partly because of the moral aspect of the stories. Ever since the advent of movies like Shrek, there are now two sets of jokes woven into the narratives to be entertaining for the children and a way to ameliorate the adults who no doubt will be attempting to remain awake, possibly hungover in the auditorium where little voices will be heard throughout the showing. But on such a showing this is allowed. It is an unwritten rule.
My girls are now 12 and 15 and have absolutely no interest to sit in the dark and look at the big silver screen. They have the ubiquitous 5-inch screen in their hand and watch the endless montage algorithmically spliced together by the ‘Gram’, Tik Tok and other ways to dissipate time.
But me, I want to go and sit in the dark and be entertained. But there is only one problem. I’m an adult. And if anyone cares to give a cursory glance across what is showing at UK cinemas lately, you would be hard pressed to find anything of an adult nature to spend your disposable income on. Yes, it was joyous as a father to take my kids to Saturday morning ‘Movie for juniors’, I just didn’t expect it to carry on through the week, every day from the morning into the evening.
It would be plainly wrong for me to exclaim that there this is nothing to watch of an adult nature. There have clearly been over the last 20 years some excellent films, but these unfortunately are very far and few between and hard to seek out where they are showing, as they only ever appear in the last few remaining independent cinemas dotted around the country.
Perhaps Scorcese was right when he compared Marvel Movies to theme parks in that they don’t convey emotional and psychological experiences to another human being. Good films in my opinion are like books, you have to work with them, they aren’t just handed to you on a plate, they leave an indelible mark. They don’t just excite the mind; they enter the mind.
I recently made the mistake of sitting through the film ‘Old’ by M. Night Shyamalan. Such was the desire for the cinematic experience, and given his other films had been generally watchable, and given that everything else at the cinema that evening was written and produced for the mental age of 6, I decided to take my girlfriend and I to the pictures. I hungered to sit in the dark and be entertained, to throw money away on extremely overpriced ersatz popcorn and post mix Pepsi, to sit back and bathe in the light of the silver screen.
For the price of £22 to see this abomination titled ‘Old’, I think it’s fair to say, I aged in those two hours and left the cinema feeling somewhat cheated and saddened.
Bukowski, a literary hero of mine, penned it perfectly when he wrote in his book ‘Hollywood’:
‘People became so used to seeing shit on film that they no longer realised it was shit.’
C’mon cinema, how about some movies for adults?