Why bother going to the cinema?

I took my mum to the cinema to see PHILOMENA last night…

The last time we saw a film together was in 1978 when she took me to see STAR WARS for the second time. I remember chatting to an old lady on the bus on the way there and telling her how excited I was, and she tried to look sympathetic but told me she didn’t understand any of that spaceman stuff.

That wasn’t mum’s last ever visit to the flicks – not long after she saw ABBA: THE MOVIE and had a great time – but she stayed away after that. It was around this time that my dad, one of those people who has to have the latest gadget*, bought a VHS recorder. Why go to the movies when you can watch them at home? A man used to come door-to-door on our Hornsey estate with a typed, mimeographed list of films available to rent. Our first ever VHS rental was SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, and I would scan the list for more, intrigued to know what kind of movie LEMON POPSICLE could be (there were no illustrations whatsoever to give us any hints or clues). I begged dad to let us rent FLASH GORDON, only for him to point out that the film listed was actually FLESH GORDON and not entirely suitable for children (he, uh, saves the Earth from Emperor Wang’s incredible sex ray, according to the trailer)…

Things got better, of course. To the point where I have HD TV, a Blu-Ray player, 5.1 digital surround sound, Sky Movies, and Apple TV with Netflix streaming and a few hundred DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. If the robot occupation ever did become a reality, I’d be well set for the rest of my life.

But I still go to the movies. In fact, I reckon I’ve already seen more films in the cinema this year than any other. So why, when you take into consideration getting a babysitter, paying for parking and over ten quid for a ticket, do I still go to the cinema?

In short, the memories.

For example…

Seeing all the STAR WARS movies

Going to the West End for the first time with dad to see THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN. I don’t remember much about the film, but remember the bright lights of the stores and restaurants in Chinatown making a big impression.

Going on a school trip to see SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS after we did it as a school play (I was Grumpy… typecast from the start).

Watching GHOST BUSTERS on a ferry to Ireland in a storm. The ship listing heavily from side to side added considerably to the feeling of horror and unease.

Watching THE GOONIES while on a soccer exchange in California. I was horribly homesick, but this had me hooting with laughter.

Swinging on lampposts and singing the Raiders’ theme after seeing INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.

Bluffing my way into TOTAL RECALL with my best mate Tim (our first 18 movie – we were only 17… yes, shocking, I know).

Deciding to see GOODFELLAS with my A-level drama class after going to the West End to see a play, only to discover that it had closed the previous week (a great bit of planning on the part of our drama teacher). In the row in front of us were a pair of little old ladies who must have just come from the wrestling as they revelled in the film’s visceral violence while sucking on bonbons.

Bumping into Claire at a screening of ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES. We weren’t seeing each other at the time, but it’s since become “our film”… aww, stop puking at the back.

My first free preview of a movie was CASINO, hosted by Transworld, the publishers of the book. Free food and drink and a private cinema?! Nice. I could get used to this.

Taking Claire to see RESERVOIR DOGS and knowing that she was the girl for me.

Taking my young nephew to see the 1997 re-release of STAR WARS (he fell asleep).

Watching SKYFALL with the kids – their first cinema Bond movie – and seeing their little faces light up at the big screen mayhem.

And many more that I won’t bore you with now, but these are all about sharing an experience that you can’t get when sitting in your own living room. I always feel a tension when a film begins. Partly it’s “will that twat who was chatting all through the trailers continue to do so through the film?”, but it’s more to do with what kind of emotional rollercoaster is this story going to take me and my companions on today?

Going with mum last night was a shared experience. Having a drink and a chat before the film, I learned stuff about her that I never knew before. Watching the film we laughed and cried together, and I suppressed a giggle when she called the nuns “Bitches” just a little too loudly near the end.

And that’s why I go to the movies.

*An expensive habit that I’ve inherited from him big time.

Advertisements

My Robot Occupation Movies #1 – Blade Runner

My son is at an age where rating things is all-important. The most common question I get from him after we watch a movie is, ‘How many stars would you give that?’ This in turn has led to an extended ‘What’s your favourite movie?’ conversation.

Well, he’s got me thinking. Just what are my favourite movies? And why? So, over the next few blog posts I’ll be putting these thoughts into some kind of order. So, imagine for a moment that the world has been invaded and occupied by an army of robots, and you could only grab a handful of DVDs before you were incarcerated… what would they be?

These have to be the movies you simply couldn’t live without. They don’t have to be the best films ever, just the ones that mean the most to you. The ones that tell your own story.

So that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to start, as all good stories should, in the middle somewhere…

I first saw Blade Runner at my friend Kristian’s place. It was his birthday, and I’m guessing we were 11/12 years old. The room was full of boys expecting a kind-of Indiana Jones in the future. That’s what the VHS cover art promised, and that never lies, right?

In stereo!
In stereo!

What we got was something that split the room. Most of the group found it boring. Just me, Kris, and another kid called David Snell thought it was cool, though if you asked any of us to explain it, I doubt we could have managed anything more articulate than “There’s this bloke who has to hunt these robots – no, replicants! – and there’s a cool bit where this guy gets his eyes gouged out, and it was all very dark…”

But then the Marvel comic adaptation started appearing in the back of my weekly Return of the Jedi comic, and the story started making more sense. I read this again and again, then rented the movie, and there was definitely more than first met the eye with this film.

Too late for my GCSE English (and probably just as well) I found a film tie-in copy of Blade Runner in my local second hand bookshop. Only it wasn’t a mere tie-in, this was an original book by some guy called Philip K Dick (snigger). This would surely answer all my outstanding questions! Oh boy, was I wrong. Dick’s incredible book, with its meditation on identity and reality, just brought a million more questions flooding to my brain.

Then, on my 18th birthday, I went alone to the Odeon on Shaftesbury Avenue to see the legendary director’s cut (yeah, I know how to party!). To see that grand opening on the big screen with Vangelis’s score turned up to 11 was just amazing, though – to be honest – I missed the much-maligned voice-over. And to fully understand the whole meaning of the unicorn footage, I had to read Paul M Sammon’s excellent book FUTURE NOIR.

Since then, I’ve bought various VHS and DVD special editions and box sets. It’s bloody exhausting trying to make sense of this film. I’m now not convinced that Deckard is a replicant. That whole backstory now feels like Ridley retconning, and I still miss that voiceover.

My wife has yet to see the film all the way through without falling asleep. I have younger colleagues who can admire the film, but wouldn’t rate it as a classic, and I firmly believe that this is because you had to make the journey with this film for it to have its full impact. From first viewing, to comic, to book, to more books, director’s cuts and final cuts, to box sets with little dinky toy Spinners in them.

It is imperfect, but its riddles will never fully be resolved, and that’s one reason why I love it.

Here’s the orignal trailer. In keeping with the film’s history, it’s terrible:

PS. My friend Kristian also introduced me to Mad Max 1 & 2, various horror movies, and Firefox, and for that I shall always be grateful.