The Grotto of Wonder

There’s a fat, sweaty boy running round, with his top off, screaming about The Joker: Sweets thrown at his brother. Their mother doing nothing to intervene; far too busy reading Facebook posts about missing pets and makeup tips. People around and about look on, tutting very quietly to themselves.

This was the scene at my local cinema, during a showing of a recent Marvel film. It was the last time I went to see a film outside of my own home, and I very much doubt I will be going to see another one any time soon. It is not worth the hassle, it is not worth the expense and it is not worth the hatred of every single member of this human race, which such supposedly entertaining experiences elicit.

On the other hand, I am at pains to point out something important: I love film. I love being immersed in a story, surrounded by visions of colour and sound. I used to love going to the cinema, because I loved the whole experience. Cinema has ruined films for me. People, and the way they behave, have ruined cinema for me. Although, it does seem that the pull has been building for a while now.

Opposition to cinema has, in my lifetime, always been there. Television never really did offer up much of a challenge, its films being beeped and edited to absurdity. The quality gap between TV shows and films never helped either. Instead, we had video rental: our local video shop was a grotto of wonder: wall after wall of endless choice and boundless joy: I was in awe, rather than the cinema.

The old video rental shop is a charity shop now; it has been for almost two decades. It’s not missed.

My twenties moved the walls of boxes from one room to two: DVD shop and bedroom. I bought my first DVD player later than most, but I caught up quickly. I went to the cinema, and subsequently bought most films I enjoyed, on DVD. I also bought a great number of DVDs I have still never chosen to watch; I was the ideal consumer for the film studios. These days, I no longer buy films; do you?

Today we have downloads and streaming of digital content, sharing across all of our devices: we can access more for less, and in endless permutations. But has any of the magic been lost along the way?

The magic of film has never been about the building itself; the larger part of it has always been about the spectacle. Since day one, TV has been in a minority position in that regard; that started changing some time ago, although I’m not sure when. The entry on to the cinematic landscape of high quality streamed TV programmes, and then films, has taken some of the shine off the spectacle of cinema.

Special effects have become cheaper, and the content suppliers have become richer. Talent is drawn to success, and the change begins to develop its own momentum. With Game of Thrones bundled in to our packages, and available on our television sets, where is the impetus to get off our sofas?

Now that our TV sets are so huge, our sound amplification so pure, and the effects available to non-theatrical productions so staggering, where do we put the difference between in and out? TV can be paused, and scheduled to our convenience; cinemas offer earlier viewings and sociability. TV can be adapted to fit every day family life; cinema is an exciting event for us all to come together over.

Is that ecumenical experience of sitting in a room with scores of strangers, sharing the first view of the newest offering worth the financial cost and the effort of getting dressed? Is the more hyggeligt experience of home, hearth and shared experience worth the cost of ‘missing out’, not being part of ‘a moment’? A case can be made for both, and that is perhaps the point: each of us want different things, and we want them for our own personal, ever-changing, reasons. We want to be catered to.

When there is only one choice, we tailor our needs to that. I was happy when we only had four TV channels and one TV, for instance. Those days are long gone. Now, we have myriad options and we tailor our choices to fit our precise needs on a moment-to-moment basis: family film nights, parent date nights; a group of mates out for a film and a pint; getting immersed in a story on a long journey. The Pandora’s Box has been opened now, and we will all oppose any move to give us less choice.

That said; how often does every family member want to watch the same thing at the same time?

I have a young family, with babysitting grandparents: as a consequence, our evenings are invariably spent together, at home. Our going out time is reduced, preventing all but the most exceptional cinema excursions. I know families for whom that is not the case, but it is the way we have chosen.

Some children are clearly able to watch films all the way through – maybe they’ve been forced to do so by parents less interested in “doing things” than we are. Mine cannot be stopped from talking, running around, and demanding songs about flying a kite. I have no desire to ruin everyone else’s viewing experience the way mine so frequently has been, so perhaps it’s better I leave you all to it.

When a film I think I will like is released, I will inevitably feel the pull to go to the cinema to watch it; I do not know why. So, instead of enduring the ignominy, I add it to the watch list. When the film is released to buy on DVD, it is also made available to be streamed digitally. That is when I pounce. The sofa draws us in: a good meal, a full glass, and a film. The grotto of wonder has returned once more.