Saturday, 16 February 2008

Why I hate the cinema...

This may seem like an unusually vicious rant for this blog, but I’m writing films because I love film and I used to love going to the cinema. I don’t anymore. I went to see Juno tonight. I thought it was great, really well written, brilliant characters, Ellen Page is fantastic, meanders a bit in the third act but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it. The cinema experience itself, however, was hell.

The screen wasn’t packed but we were surrounded by teenagers who’d obviously come to see it by mistake. I think they thought it was Knocked-up 2 or American Pie: The Pregnancy or something equally terrible. The marketing is partly to blame for this error, but aside from being pushed as a teen comedy it’s also been cursed by good reviews. The poster is covered in little rows of 5-stars that scream ‘see me now!’ so the morons who go to the cinema because they think it’s some sort of social gathering think ‘look, this one says it’s good’. I think maybe the reviewing system should change - that films should be rated on how much of an idiot you have to be to enjoy it. For example, Rush Hour 3, perhaps the worst film I’ve ever seen on the big screen, received universally terrible reviews and yet not only was the cinema full, the film actually received a standing ovation at the end. But none of those single star reviews were printed on the poster. Why not? The majority of the population can only appreciate 1-star films anyway so put the reviews on there, make it clear that this film is for them and let the rest of us watch the good films in peace.

I probably sound like a huge film snob, but part of the problem is that I’m not. I saw Cloverfield the weekend it was released in a packed screen and I loved every minute of it – because it was a film designed for big audiences and everyone sits there in silence, happy to be part of the mutual experience. Where it goes wrong is when you see a small film at the local multiplex, because people go and see things they’re not going to enjoy by mistake. Like the time I went to see Pan’s Labyrinth on a really busy night – not realising what they’d paid to see half the people in the screen walked out when they realised it was subtitled (at least they left). Again it’s partly the marketing – not only did it get good reviews, again deservedly so, but the trailer, like all trailers for foreign-language films, doesn’t have anyone speaking so people who don’t know better just presume it’s a good old American-language film, where people talk like what we do, innit. I wish they’d just put the subtitles in the trailer so stupid people wouldn’t go and see it in the first place – in fact just have a big disclaimer that says ‘If you’re struggling to read this sentence give up and go home before the film starts and you get really confused.’

The thing is, I hate art cinemas just as much but for different reasons (like when you see a film as truly terrible as Death Proof and the whole audience stands up and applauds at the end and you wonder what film they were watching and whether you actually slept through the whole thing and had a really self-indulgent badly written nightmare instead), and therefore can’t face the fact that the only choice I have is to see certain films at an art cinema and others at the big cinema, because I think that kind of high-brow/low-brow class system is what has messed up the film industry in this country in the first place. At the same time I don’t want to sit in the dark with giggling teenagers chatting and shouting crap jokes at the screen for two hours anymore either.

But as we left the cinema I did feel a bit sorry for them. I saw the main culprits gathered round a huge poster for Meet the Spartans - one of those terrible spoof-every-film-of-the-last-five-minutes films. They were pointing at all the characters and declaring loudly which ‘classic’ they were cleverly parodying, as if it made them supreme film scholars just for knowing. And I started to wonder if there was actually something seriously wrong with them; if what I took for ignorance and stupidity was actually some sort of mental illness; that maybe our spoon-fed culture in which no one actually thinks for themselves anymore had accidentally unleashed some sort of brain-eating virus. But while I told myself I was feeling sorry for the mentally disabled, I was also secretly hoping that all the screenings of Meet the Spartans had actually been converted into gas chambers, and that if they weren’t it was a really good idea and somebody should put it into practice and soon!

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