Going to see a film on the big screen has become less and less of a pleasure. The modern multi-plex seems to be the antithesis of what the cinema-going experience should be. And lately, it is being widely reported that box office is significantly down on recent years. Call it what you will: a worrying trend, a slight blip or just the media's over anxious need to say something about Hollywood. Nevertheless, where once the cinema was a reverent altar to the visual flicker of story, it’s now become a place where what’s on offer is as disposable and dismissive as a downloaded ring-tone.
Things I would ban from the cinema: Popcorn. Rustle-sweets/packets of any description. Teenage groups that number more than four. Mobile phones, a complete ban, not just those Orange adverts that amusingly tell us to ‘switch them off’.
Is it just me? Am I getting old? Audiences seem far more restless and disinterested at the flicks than ever before, and they end up ruining the film for everyone else. I don’t get it. They’ve paid for their tickets, obtained their kilo of popcorn, so why don’t they sit still, shut up and focus on the film? Don’t get me started on mobile phones. No-one turns them off, they put them on ‘silent’. The problem with this is that they can’t stop themselves from checking for messages or missed calls every few minutes, resulting in their display lighting up and really distracting your attention. Have we really developed into such a solipsistic state of self-importance that we dare not miss a call from our friend Dave who’s in Cinema 2 checking out Wallace & Gromit?
The growth and demand of the DVD market is pushing cinema into the sidelines. At home, everyone seems to have state of the art surround-sound TVs - plasma screens for those who earn a deep crust - and all we have to do is wait three/four months before the latest blockbuster becomes available for rental. But what I love about the DVD experience is the ‘extras’, and in particular, the DVD commentary. I can’t get enough of them and I won’t purchase a DVD unless it has at least one commentary track.
I’m a complete anorak for what the writer/director/cast have to say about the script and the making of the film. One of my favourites is with Lem Dobbs (writer) and Steven Soderbergh (director) as they intelligently bicker about the making of The Limey, and one of my least favourites is Tim Burton’s luvvie-gush on Sleepy Hollow. I was basking in the series four box-set of Six Feet Under the other day (birthday pressie) and, as is my habit, I listened to all of the commentaries first before I prepare to watch the series as a whole.
The controversial episode of last season involved David Fisher being taken hostage by a sociopath hitchhiker. Director Alan Poul (the co-show runner along side Alan Ball) provided a commentary on how and why they did the story the way they did it. At one point, he made reference to David’s character and said something like: “It’s about putting something out there into the world, expecting or hoping for a particular reaction, but often it comes back to smack us in the face, quite unfairly and unforgiving.”
I’m paraphrasing here but even though Mr Poul was talking about David’s inner-motivation, it struck me as a perfect representation of what it’s like when you finish a script: you think you’ve done a good job and written it with the best intentions, you hope people are going to like it and you 'put it out there'. But unfortunately the truth is that they’re probably going to grab it and tear it to bits, crushing your ego and sensitivity to pieces.
My appreciation of DVD commentaries grows while my urge to attend the cinema diminshes with each visit. I saw Oliver Twist today and I was confident that it would be a respectful crowd who would want to watch the film. Who was I kidding? Mobile phone displays, chatty teenagers, restless children, toilet breaks, sweet wrappers and that ghastly popcorn smell all resulted in a less than satisfying experience of the film. It seems the cinema is developing a commentary track of unsettled audiences and messy auditoriums, pushing me more and more into my DVD habit. Curmudgeon critic or sign of the times?
(Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos when he wanted to be a screenwriter: “I love the movies. That popcorn smell. I get high on that”.)