Before the pandemic began, the joys of watching Netflix in bed, eating a family pack of crisps and wearing nothing but an unwashed t-shirt, were undeniable. Yet since this has become a daily occurrence in lockdown, it’s started to lose its taste of freedom. I have found myself missing a trip to the cinema. A lot. Don’t get me wrong, I loved going to the cinema before. But weeks in isolation has left me pining for the sticky floors of Islington Vue possibly more than I want to down a lukewarm pint in a Spoons beer garden. And that’s really saying something.
There is a distinct charm of rocking up to the cinema – usually a whole minute and a half before the film begins – and knowing you’ve paid about 7 quid for a cinema ticket. When you booked online you smugly thought about the idiots paying twice the price at Picture House to see exactly the same film, but in a fancier building with kooky light fittings.
Next, you make a beeline to the Pick ‘n’ Mix section. If you are, like me, a five year old in an adult’s body, the cinema trip is only legitimate with mountains of sugar. Many people have definitely touched the fudge, the fizzy cherries are so sour they obliterate your taste buds and you don’t even want to think about the germ count on the scoops. But god dammit everything (even the chocolate raisins) tastes delicious. Having taken far too long to pick out your gourmet sweet selection you sashay to the counter and whack your bag on the scales. You’ve often got far too carried away and it ends up costing twelve pounds. By this point you might as well have gone to Picture House.
“You burst open the screen door to the cacophony of rustling popcorn.”
You jog swiftly to screen number 5 after a hurried wee in the one toilet that isn’t out of order. Seeing as we’re all more practiced in the art of queuing, I’ll never complain about waiting for a damp loo cubicle again. At least it has toilet roll. You burst open the screen door to the cacophony of rustling popcorn. You’ve timed it perfectly so that you’ve missed the five thousand car adverts and can really get your teeth into the film trailers as well as your sweets, which you will no doubt finish before the film has even begun.
Finally, the lights fade. The shiver of joy you experience when the licensing page appears never quite loses its kick. The nauseating couple in front of you who have been snogging all through the trailers show no sign of stopping so you give their chairs a swift boot to give them the hint. For the next hour and a half or so, you are nestled in the little dark tardis of the cinema, absorbed in the unfolding world of the film. The screen’s edges fade and you’re transported to 1800’s rural Massachusetts, deep space or downtown Seoul. Everyone in this dark box is on the same journey, where for once you turn everything off and just watch.
“I long for those rare moments when the film’s been so good that people awkwardly give a little applause.”
In these times of isolation I miss cinema’s community most. When you’re all sat, laughing, gasping and sometimes crying together over a character you didn’t know forty minutes ago. I miss the millisecond gap of silence when the screen’s gone dark, just before the credits begin and everyone sits there and exhales, thinking about what they’ve just seen. I long for those rare moments when the film’s been so good that people awkwardly give a little applause. Then, almost as quickly as it’s begun, you float back out the doors, blinking in the sunlight, trying to shake yourself back into reality.
Going to the cinema is much more than a cheap thrill; it immerses you in a different perspective or another world entirely. It can help us all understand and appreciate life a little better. Or simply, a cinema trip can make the day a bit sweeter. Streaming at home has its merits, but it never quite lives up to the occasion of a cinema trip. Right now I would trade lonely home viewing for the touched sweets, broken toilets and annoying couples in a heartbeat.
Chain cinemas will most probably survive these testing times but it is the smaller cinemas that may not. As much as I cherish my beloved Vue, we should all visit our local independent cinemas when they reopen, because the majority struggle to compete with the big screen ballers as it is. They champion a huge variety of screenings, from supporting the underdog films to promoting the hidden gems. So once we’re all back frolicking in the sunshine (or the snow – who knows!), spare a thought for independent cinemas for your next film fix, they’re going to need all the help they can get.
MUBI has set up a UK Cinemas Fund to help independent cinemas and film festivals stay afloat during and after the current pandemic. All proceeds will go to the BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund. To find out more, go to: https://www.gofundme.com/f/dearvirus
By Annabel Wood