Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Phantoms of the Cinema

I was recently thinking about the movie-going or television-watching experience and realised that the time and place when you watched something for the first time and fell in love with it are often inseparable from your memory of the story itself.

I don't think this is quite the case with novels or some other art forms - I don't remember exactly where I was when Gandalf first knocked on Bilbo Baggins's door in The Hobbit or when the kids discovered the 'monster' in Lord of the Flies. Somehow my immersion in those stories made my physical location rather redundant, particularly as I very likely read large chunks of the book in several different locations. 

The exception of this would be my 'reading chair' in the living room, where I've passed both rainy and sunny afternoons sipping a Nescafe Irish Coffee with a clear view of the street outside. The reason why this is important is because it is in fact a ritual reading spot, and for that reason has become linked to my experiences of narrative immersion. 

Movies and television work in exactly that way - the ritual of going to the cinema, or sitting down in your favourite chair to watch your favourite show. They're our culture's modern day campfires, the frequently visited runways that allow us to astral project into the lives of our favourite characters. 

I still remember the first time I watched Cabin Fever in boarding school with two of my best friends, huddled around my laptop screen in my room after dark (when they weren't supposed to be there), turning down the volume every time we thought we heard someone in the hallway. I'm not saying I think Cabin Fever is a great film, but what I did have was a great experience - a shared journey into an unexpected world made all the more heightened because we knew it was forbidden. 

I remember the first time I saw Citizen Kane (a Friday, after school, McDonald's for lunch, tie undone but blazer still on, in the living room of my brother's house) or Rear Window (late night, on VHS after recording it on BBC2, also at my brother's house). I remember watching The Wizard of Oz on the tiny TV in my parent's bedroom in my childhood home and being utterly, utterly traumatised. Somehow, when I watch those movies again, I become that child or teenager.

It's like there's a ghostly version of myself sitting right there and enjoying the movie with me. I think that's one of the reasons why going to the cinema always feels like a bit of a homecoming for me. I occasionally visit the cinema in my hometown and remember which films I saw in which screens - when I bought Ben & Jerry's and when I couldn't scrape together the cash, etc. 

People think it odd that I sometimes go to the cinema on my own. 
'Isn't the whole point to go with other people?' 
Not always. Sometimes I like to go alone, with only popcorn or cheese nachos for physical companionship, to sit around the campfire with ghostly apparitions of my former self.

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