We were deeply saddened to read about the plight of Hollywood film director James Gunn, and the slings and arrows he suffered for committing that most heinous of social transgressions: gleaning satisfaction and enjoyment from going to the cinema on his own. Picture the scene, little James attending the mid-week matinee of Outbreak while wearing shades and a fedora, having to wait until everyone had vacated the screen before could skulk out unnoticed. A glance to the left, a glance to the right, the coast is clear. Dump the shades and hat into a bin and start strutting down the street like he’s just been for a wet shave.
Record scratch! Some Biff Tannen-like jagoff grab him by the lapels while a coterie of braying, leather-clad minions cackle. “Looks like Gunn’s been going to the movies… on his own!” “Let’s beat his ass!” Maybe it was like that, maybe it wasn’t. The reason we bring this to your attention is that we’d like to send Mr Gunn a message of support and say that his intentions are noble, and if he was indeed receiving hassle for being antisocial, then those who chided him are the lowest form of human pond life imaginable.
We heartily endorse solo movie going. In fact, it’s the only real way to experience a movie. Heading to the cinema is not a group activity – there’s nothing about it that requires interaction in the moment. To have a friend or acquaintance sat next to you is to be saddled with the temptation of talking to them, or getting agitated how they’re shuffling in their seat, or annoying fellow patrons by asking for the damn popcorn.
Cinema is the only artform where solo consumption is considered to be height of indecency. When you go to a gallery, you split away from the person you’re with and enter into a private dialogue with the works on show. If you want to properly listen to a record, you do so from the comfort of a velvet throw pillow and the use of some high-end cans/drugs. From an industry viewpoint, it’s good business to market the movies as a group activity, and often the romantic aspects of the silver screen are talked about in terms of “sharing” movies with those you “love”.
The argument for going to the cinema with other people is that it unlocks that hallowed social flashpoint of the post-film discussion. This is where you hightail it from the multiplex and to the local wine bar and pick through the intricacies of Bergman’s radical blocking techniques with your nearest a dearest over a cheeky Merlot. Maybe this is personal preference creeping in, but frankly you can keep all that. The last thing I want to do when emerging from a screening room is to descend into deep conversation. Or, as is more often the case, being subjected to the hastily formed opinions of others who are often fishing for accord rather than dissension.
At a recent screening of the film Tomb Raider, I was asked by a fellow sitting next to me, “What did you think of that, then? I quite liked it.” This was posed to me as first closing credit was being projected on to the screen, and not a single member of the audience had realised that the film was, in fact, over. I awkwardly demurred, as I tend to do when anyone asks me that question at any time of the day. I offered my stock response, “I’m still processing it,” which, under the circumstances, didn’t quite work for Tomb Raider (spoiler: I liked the film).
Sure, consuming films as a critic is a different sport to watching as a paying customer (or, as they’re often referred to now, “the fans”). You often want to develop a strategy to conceal your personal take on a movie, lest your eventual critique be tainted by the enlightened ramblings a colleague. But going to the cinema should be considered an activity that is closely associated with monastic contemplation. At film festivals, when journalists are applying a more news-driven / on-the-ground reporting impulse to their coverage, that sense of private contemplation may need to be fast-tracked, but if you’re strict about it, it’s possible to keep shtum between the closing credits and flipping open the laptop.
The ideal cinema, for me, would not only have a ban on all food and drinks, but it would also have a ban on talking that begins the moment that you enter the door at the back of the auditorium, and ends the moment you leave. And I realise this might lay outside the jurisdiction of the cinema, but the ban on talking about the film should extend across the next 12 hours at least. So, James, let’s us meet up and start a little wreckin’ crew where we go around bothering those who watch movies en masse. Scum. All of them.
Published 28 Mar 2018
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