Just For a Couple of Hours ~ Why going to the movies still feels special

Monday 23 March 2015

I love going to the movies.  I love seeing enormous people who are not politicians or corporate schmuck smeared with PR propaganda juice going about a life.  I get to see through their eyes, and sometimes, on very special occasions, I see something so different, so good or so bad, and it changes me.

Franz Jachim, some rights reserved

In the ordinary world, we're all attentionally deficit.  I work at home on a computer, and against my better judgment, sometimes while I work I flick backwards and forwards between my work and the internet because I simply can't help myself.  On any given day I tend to have 10 browser pages open at once.  Before I finish the end of one page, I have generally flicked over to another, or to check my email, or to look at Facebook when I'm on it (at the moment I'm not), or to look at Twitter.

We are starved for stories in the world we live in, though we're surrounded by words and great stories.  But where are the good stories about us?  Where do good stories fit in a world where the economy is the god, and we are forced to be its subjects?  Where do we fit in?  And how do we see each other?  It feels like every turn in this world I am encouraged to see people as cogs.  There is nothing to stop me from looking at you and seeing someone who is simply not-me, and simply in my way.

I sat in a university class a couple of years ago listening to fellow creative writing students who are 20 years younger than me talking about how flatpacked and meaningless this world is to them, how going overseas opens up their eyes because they see people who are living in ways that matter.  There was something about hearing those people say those things that made me feel hope.  Even though they have been born directly into consumer culture in a way that I wasn't 44 years ago, they still harbour the same hopes and desires for things that it's becoming harder and harder to find the words for.

This search for meaning, for story, is why I love writing and reading.  And it's why I love going to the movies.  Like Patrick Goldstein, I am an old-fashioned purist when it comes to the cinema.  Even in the age of Netflix and DVDs, there is still a ritual about moviegoing that sets it apart from those other forms of viewing.  Something about sitting in the dark feeding your face with popcorn with a whole lot of other people who are all sharing the same story turns it into a sacred space for me.

The old Barkly Theatre in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray.
 State Library of Victoria, some rights reserved

When I go to the movies, I guess a lot of what I like to see is about meaning as well.  When I was a child and before I could read, my Mum read a story to me every single night.  By the time I was eight years old I was spending afternoons clambering up the Faraway Tree, polishing off one of Enid Blyton's books from the time it took to end lunch and begin dinner.  It was escape, but it was also developing imagination.  It was realising that there are as many different ways of looking at pretty much anything, and that every way you do look at something opens up a particular world at the top of your tree.  It colours the way you see everything.

In the cinema, I am stuck in the best possible sort of way.  I'm not at home.  I can't go and get online.  I am forced to sit there, even if my mind wanders.  I don't want to check my mobile phone.  Nor do I want anybody else to check theirs.  We might miss something.  I want us, just for this little time, to be all looking the same way and all seeing the same thing.  Just for a couple of hours.

Moviegoers at the Melbourne International Film Festival, enjoying the wonderful Forum Theatre in Melbourne's centre.  Pic by Anne Holmes,  some rights reserved


  1. Totally agree. As usual, you notice things other people don't. I never would have thought as cinema as a ritual, but it is - it forces us to be a captive audience, to pay attention in this day of the 15 second attention span. It's good for us, like exercise.

  2. Community exercise. How to behave well in public places :-)

    1. And certainly, in theaters people don't know how to behave well. Not with a cell phone, anyhow.

  3. I love the cinema! It is like a ritual, and a place where one honours the film makers and actors for crafting their work into 90 minutes of story telling.
    Seeing an epic such as Gone With the Wind at a young age, in an old cinema, with rich dark red velvet drapes sweeping back to reveal the screen was a moment frozen in time for me.

    Have to say though, that mobile phones have ruined the experience for me. There are few things more annoying than some tosser's blue light illuminating in the darkness. And often, there are multiple mini screens of distraction, as people find it oh, so important to stay connected, for whatever fascile reason. Ugh. Pulls me right out of the moment.
    And, they still do it, regardless of the announcement at the beginning of the movie to turn them off.
    If I do go, I'll choose a midweek session. But, even then, I can't guarantee there won't be someone - usually further down in my line of sight - who will be immersed in their phone.
    Sorry, but that's my movie going gripe :)

    But, I can't stay away for too long. Need that big screen fix.
    I went with my son to see Birdman, just before the Oscars. What an amazing movie! Loved every minute - transfixed. And the music was brilliant. That's a film that should be seen up large, so glad I did.

  4. I totally agree about mobile phones, absolutely. It feels terribly rude to me and I feel a bit sad that we're so pathetic in our relentless need for constant connection.

  5. I love this little gem: "I want US, just for this little time, to be all looking the same way and all seeing the same thing."

    I took myself to see Wild recently at the Sun Theatre (one of the few old art deco cinemas still standing). It was one of the most enjoyable things I've done this year - just me and one other woman a few rows back. I laughed and cried and was moved, and though I was alone, I felt like there was a collective 'us' - just me and that one other person looking the same way and seeing the same thing.

  6. Ah, The Sun. One of the many pleasures of living out west, along with Seddon Deadly Sins the next burb over.

    Oh,how enjoyable,sharing a theatre with one other stranger. There's something really pleasurable about going to the movies alone


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