The Old Man and The Cinema
I’ve always loved the cinema. It started with the first movie I ever went to see. My dad took me to the grand old, art deco Odeon that used to sit in central Leicester to watch the newly re-issued Jungle Book. It blew me away. The deep reaching perspective of Kipling’s jungle in the credits. The moody atmosphere that lurked in the opening few scenes and the sheer, wild delight that took its place until a certain well-spoken tiger cornered a boy amongst dying trees, the flames spread and I was made to believe a heroic slob of a bear had died.
You know, to this day, I still struggle to watch the scene where Baloo seems to have sacrificed himself. We went to Disneyland Paris once and one of the behind the scenes style shows opened with a montage of Disney greatest hits, but mostly in French. That scene still got me. I guess the message is Don’t Mess with Walt. In any language.
Not to be get side-tracked here, but I hated the end of The Jungle Book as a kid. Actually, let’s be honest here, I still hate it. That man cub’s life was pretty damn sweet in the jungle. There was jazz, crazy monkeys, vultures who brazenly toyed with Beatles copyright law. An elephant militia. Then he goes and gives it all up for one girl. One girl, who he has seen for less than a minute. A girl he’s never spoken to or knows anything about. In fact, the older I get, the more worried I am for that girl. She just smiled at a strange boy. She didn't know that he'd follow her home. Yikes. Let’s not forget, this boy was raised by wolves and he’s following her silently into her village.
It’s possible I’ve greatly misjudged the plot of The Jungle Book 2.
My point being, since that first trip to the cinema, I have loved going back time and time again. Sneaking into see Die Hard with a Vengeance when I was underage. Going to see The Muppet Christmas Carol with a mate and being terrified when a gang of actual, proper, old fashioned skinheads took over the back three rows. They argued through the adverts, fought through the trailers and threw popcorn at each other when the message came on telling people they couldn’t smoke. But, once the movie started, they turned into bigger kids than us. A couple even shed a tear or two towards the end. And I’m not talking about tattooed, black ink tears here.
Speaking of crying, there was the time I went to see Gladiator and didn’t realise one of my best mates had got into the showing ahead of me until he walked past my queue, his eyes red raw. When I asked him if it had a sad ending, he whimpered and raised a shaking hand before fleeing for the car park.
Or there was the guy who took a phone call towards the end of Titanic.
“No,” he shouted over the building, emotional music. “It’s still going. Yeah, he just died. Should be over pretty soon.”
Still, for me, one of the greatest nights I ever spent in a cinema was at a preview of Gareth Evans’ breath-taking rollercoaster The Raid. All through the movie, you could hear people laughing, gasping and cheering. By the end, as the credits rolled and the lights came up, we all looked like we’d all been smacked in the face by an angry storm.
Or there was the preview of The Dark Knight. We stepped out of the old Imax in Birmingham at well after midnight and I said to Sam,
“Look at that. A world that hasn’t seen The Dark Knight yet.”
She headed straight towards the car, fishing the keys out of her handbag.
“At least they haven’t got a forty minute drive home and work in the morning.”
There have so many great times. Of course, there have been bad movies as well. I saw Speed Racer the night it came out. I went out in the bleak midwinter to watch Legion, the movie that tried to turn angels into Terminators. Oh, and let’s not forget the last two Terminator movies. Or Alien Covenant. Or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D. Or Dark Shadows.
Oh man. Dark Shadows. I went to see that with Sam and, after about half an hour, I was ready to leave, only she looked like she was enjoying it. So I sat through the rest of that piece of brightly coloured roadkill, only to discover she’d hated every moment of it as well. We now have a code word. If we’re truly hating a movie, we turn to the other person in the marriage and quietly declare ‘Dark Shadows’.
All of this is a way of saying there will always be a part of my life that belongs in a cinema. I sit through the end credits of every Marvel movie to watch the little sting for the next one. When Thanos turned up at the end of the first Avengers I remember hearing the little squeals of glee in the dark and knowing those were my people.
I love a first night for a big movie. I love it when smaller, indie films come out and packs a smaller cinema. I love previews and old movies coming back for one night. I love it when the whole cinema is audibly stunned by a sequence or all whimper at the same time. About Time, you manipulative movie, there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema when those credits rolled.
The problem is I’m losing my motivation to go. I’m getting tired of the way cinema is changing. It's not so much the price increases and 3D releases, although those can both bugger off. No, I’m talking about the nights when you end up near people who’re just happy to chat through a whole movie. Or check their phone. Or constantly go off to buy another jumbo sized popcorn and then wolf it down like they just got rescued off a desert island. Or there are the utter delights of sitting near an argument that clearly started in the car. Yippee. Why do they always take that out of a director's cut?
I’m bored of people who treat Disney and Pixar movies as a way to babysit their toddlers. Or who tap their foot for an entire goddamn film. Although, to the gentleman who did that through the whole of Nicholas Cage’s Bad Lieutenant movie, I get where you were coming from.
For the past couple of years, there has always been an interesting horror movie that gets released around now. The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch, Get Out. The Witch, in particular, suffered for the audiences it was bringing into cinemas. It was sold as a truly scary experience, so it pulled in loads of teens who were clearly expecting Paranormal Activity: Down on the Farm. When they didn’t get that, they just became bored and ruined the movie for everyone else.
For the record, I’m not saying it’s all teenagers either. The coffin dodging pensioners of the 21st century are getting worse. Foxcatcher and Lincoln were both wrecked by nattering grey haired delinquents and I know a guy who works at a cinema who had an over 60s rumble at a showing of that Mrs Browns Boys debacle. Apparently, it had started over seat numbers.
Then there are the middle-aged cinema snobs. The bloke who lectured his wife about the types of planes they used in Dunkirk. I’m betting he still has no idea how badly my wife wanted to punch him in the face when the lights came up. Or there was the man who muttered all the way through The Grand Budapest Hotel about an advert we’d had for 4DX.
“Do they think they’re twelve?” he kept asking.
There’s no doubting that some of this is coming from the fact I’m getting older. I should be able to block these people out. There’s a large and bright screen in front of me in a cinema. Loud speakers all around me. Still, one little phone screen lights up and I find myself praying for a paintball gun (and better aim).
I guess it really hit home thanks to Netflix. Today, they’re releasing Mute. The movie Duncan Jones has been talking about making since he first made Moon. Instead of having to go out and find a cinema that would show a small, sci-fi neo noir movie or share a large cinema with a group of bored morons, I can sit and watch it at home.
Next month they’re releasing Alex Garland’s Annihilation in the UK. Which means I won’t have to share a cinema with a load of awkward teen dates and plot guessers, like I did with Ex Machina.
A few years ago, I’d have been fighting to find a cinema showing these films. Even if it was just on for one night in a little, indie place. I loved the chase of it back then. I’d have been off to The Electric, The Warwick Arts Centre or The Phoenix at nine thirty on a Wednesday night. But now, I’m losing that buzz and it worries me. I’ve always supported cinema. I don’t want to see it die. Maybe I’m just suffering from Multiplex Depression.
I just don’t know if I’m ready to call time on my love for the cinema yet. Not in the year when we’re getting Isle of Dogs, Ghost Stories and Avengers Infinity War. There has to a happy medium. There has to be some way of not going so often but convincing myself that it’s not a defeat or a retreat. Or could this really the end of an era for me? To steal from the final moments of the truly, truly terrible Masters of the Universe movie, could this be:
(Or was that Flash Gordon? Blimey, I’ve watched some camp trash over the years.)