Dave's Progress. Chapter 82: Confessions of a Cinephile II- The Changing Face of Cinema.

As you may know, one of my enduring interests is film. I wrote about this in a blog entitled "Confessions of a Cinephile, or, Whatever Happened to Hollywood". Now, I don't quite know why, other than because of my "enduring and severe" ill health, but I haven't actually been to the cinema to see a film for a long time. Most of the films I see I either watch on TV or rent from my local DVD store in Smallthorne. It was good, then, to actually go and see a film at my local Odeon in Festival Park along with other members of the Pathways Group.
The film we chose was Christopher Nolan's "Inception", starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and it was a rather long and convoluted tale of a group of, what might be termed, industrial spies, who enter the dreams of their targets and, on behalf of wealthy and powerful clients, either steal or plant ideas. The notion of "inception" is concerned with actually "planting" an idea in a target's head, and so bringing about changes in the real world. The film follows DiCaprio and his team as they attempt to do this. The film is full of action, arresting images and great special effects and although the plot is, at times, a little difficult to follow, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Indeed, although not a truly great film, in comparison with most Hollywood blockbusters it was extremely good, managing to be both cerebral and entertaining.
However, although I enjoyed the film, what I noticed most about my trip to the cinema was how much the whole experience of cinema-going has changed.
Indeed, it seemed a million miles away from when I used to go to the ABC or Odeon in Hanley, both of which now are sadly no more. Then, the whole thing seemed to be a big community event, and my experiences at the cinema as a child were formative in solidifying my burgeoning love of the movies.
Then, the cinemas seemed bigger and, in fact, were. They seated more people and there seemed to be a whole grandeur about the decor which is now sadly lacking. The atmosphere was palpable, and the various rituals of cinema-going, like buying ice cream from the usherette during the interval, all added to the magic of going to the cinema.
Now, with commercial interests at the forefront, the Odeon at Festival Park is divided into, I think, nine smaller cinemas. Instead of an usherette there is a large shop selling refreshments, it must be said, at exorbitant prices. There is also a bar and various video game machines which flash and howl at you as you enter the cinema. All in all, the atmosphere seems designed for your average teenager, and indeed, the majority of those who go to the Festival Park seem to be of that age or younger. Perhaps now, with most Hollywood films seeming to be aimed at the under 25 demographic, this is entirely intentional. So, the whole thing begins to come over as one giant exercise in advanced consumerism, losing, I believe, some of the magic and romance that the old cinemas used to hold and which was an integral part of cinema and cinema going.
I even remember that, as a youngster, you used to get a short or introductory film to go along with the main feature. Now all you get is a steady stream of advertisements and noisy trailers for coming attractions. Not so long ago, even, when I attended university in Wolverhampton, the cinema there, called "The Lighthouse", at least used to uphold some of the etiquette of cinema-going by asking the audience to remain seated until the end of the credits. Such things made you believe that what you were watching was more important than just a commercial enterprise. That it might, in fact, be art. And "The Lighthouse" did screen some movie classics, from things like "Taxi Driver" to Francois Truffaut's "Jules et Jim", as well as the latest releases. Indeed, it wasn't all just Hollywood product, with many modern foreign films, from Almodovar to the best in contemporary French cinema being screened. Now, at such multiplexes as the Festival Park, it seems that only films from the Hollywood studios get screened there, with even British films having a hard time of it in terms of distribution. One tends to worry, therefore, about the knowledge of film that new cinema-goers have. One can only hope that they investigate themselves the rich stream of movies that come from other countries and cultures, as well as our own often more cheaply produced home product.
Also, having researched a little about cinema in Stoke-on-Trent, it seems that we have a very rich tradition of cinema-going. The first cinema in Stoke, Barber's "Palace", was built in 1910, and in times gone by, there were around six cinemas in our City Centre of Hanley alone, with around 35 peppered throughout the whole of Stoke. Some of these old cinemas were grand buildings, often in the art-deco style, seating up to 2,000 people. However, now most of these cinemas have gone or been demolished. Even Barber's "Palace" was unceremoniously knocked down a few years ago, and there is not even a commemorative plaque there to show what was once a rich heritage. To my mind, such insensitivity to our own culture in Stoke amounts to a form of brutish philistinism, at worst a sort of mindless vandalism of our own past.
So, going to "the pictures", as we used to say, has certainly changed. To make just one positive point about it, I did read somewhere that the young are essentially getting the same out of the cinema as they did back in the '70's or even earlier. The magic and the romance may still be there for them, but is just being expressed in a different way. And as I sometimes say in this blog, perhaps, at my age, I begin to look at the past with rose-tinted spectacles. However, somehow I just can't bring myself to celebrate the changing face of cinema. To me, the experience of "the pictures", particularly in Stoke, just isn't what it used to be.
That's all for now from your normal, average delusional and paranoid man.


bazza said…
My cinema experience is similar to your own.
I have an unforgettable memory of cinema-going in New York some years ago.
It was a 10pm start but the place was full of adults with young children. There were nappy changes, full-blown picnics with everthing but the candelabra, people taking photo's of each other (!).
Eventually a guy stood up and bellowed "Shut the fuck up, I'm trying to watch the movie!".
This received a huge round of applause but made little difference. At least things have not got that bad here. Yet.
David said…
Dear bazza,
Things have not got that bad, but they certainly seem to be heading that way. Cinema-going seems to me to have become a somewhat soulless experience, where it used to be full of charm and romance. Perhaps one only has to watch the film "Cinema Paradiso" to see how modern materialism and cynicism has crept into the cinema experience, and oh, how we long for more respectful and innocent bygone days.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
corfubob said…
You described cinema-going exactly,but this is the century for youth, and youth is self-centred and inconsiderate. And who made them like that? The 'successful' among us oldies, marketing the qualities of greed and nastiness (aka freedom).

Thanks for the post David. Take care.
klahanie said…
Dear David,
I recall my childhood memories of going to the cinema, with great fondness. It was an adventure to go and watch such classics as 'The Blob' at the Saturday matinee.
Even in my adult days over in Canada, the watching of a film on the big screen was quite exciting.
Then I came over here and was shocked by how commercial the movie going experience was. They did not have a whole series of adds before the film started like I noted here. I found going to the cinema here a lousy experience in a lifeless and drab Cineplex.
I miss the independent cinemas. They were a place of grand opulence. The best time I had was at a 'drive-in movie'. Cannot recall much of the film, however.
With kind wishes, Gary.
David said…
Dear corfubob,
Thank you for your comment, and perhaps you are right, that the experience of cinema-going has just gone downhill together with societal values. I would certainly say that we live in greedier and nastier times, even compared to when I was young.
Thanks once again.
With Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Dear Gary,
As I say in my blog, I too miss the "independent" cinemas of old. There were some great ones in Stoke, and it has all been reduced to one homogenous multiplex. It is such a shame.
Glad you enjoyed the "drive-in" movie experience, Gary. I shan't ask what you were doing besides watching the film!
Best Wishes, your way,
Anonymous said…

Popular Posts