The popcorn, the dimming of lights, the endless snogging sessions. Read Jason Solomon’s ode to the true power of cinema.
Always innovating and thought-provoking, STRYKK posed me a seemingly simple question: what’s the future for cinemas?
That got me thinking, as I’m sure we’ve all done during the lockdowns, about all the things I’ve missed. Most of us will have pined for hugs, family, friends and holidays. But I bet pretty high up there on anyone’s list will have been: going to the movies.
Not watching movies, note. But going to them. Blimey. We’ve all done plenty of watching - old ones, new ones, bad ones, good ones, half of ones, TV ones, falling-asleep-on-the-sofa ones. But getting out, actually going to the cinema, that has been the huge miss.
Obviously, in my job as a film critic I don’t think a week’s gone by in the last 25 years that I haven’t been in a cinema or - get me - a plush Soho screening room. Even if you weren’t quite as frequent or pampered, I’m guessing you, too, didn’t realise you missed the movies so badly. As the old song goes, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
Perhaps we’ve been guilty of taking the cinema for granted. The great art form and pastime of the last 100 years, cinema’s been part of our lives since we were kids, watching Snow White with our Mums, going to that first Bond movie with your Dad, sneaking into your first 15 certificate when you were only 13, or having that reliable first date staple when you pretend you really, really like romcoms.
Think about it for two seconds and you know it. You’ve missed it more than you can say. You know life will be back to some kind of normal when you’re back gazing up at the big screen, lost in the story, falling in love with a movie star, and you don’t even mind someone sticking their hand in your popcorn.
Yet I reckon it’s not even what or who is up there on the screen. We’ve found enough content at home. No, it’s the cinemas themselves we’ve needed, the buildings, the shared space, the foyer, the chance to mingle with mates before and after, to discuss what you’ve just seen or are about to see, over a drink, the chance to reflect, to marvel and to laugh, to work out the plot, to remember the best bits or snort about the worst.
Face it, going to the pictures is the going-out art form of our lives. We know how to book, where to park, even where to sit. We know how to make a night of it. We know our favourite screens and chains, which has the best bar and cafe. Cinemas are a social hub for any high street and will certainly be a huge part of reviving footfall when we all run joyously out of our couch and into life - what can beat popping into a shop or two, or bumping into a mate for a swift one while you’re on the way to meet the missus at the movies?
So much has been made over the past year about the big, blockbuster movies, from Bond to Black Widow and Maverick, that will allegedly bring folks to the cinemas but for most of us, I think it’s more about the act of getting there and being there than what we watch and that’s why the cinemas will survive and that’s why we’ll pour back in.
The buzz of a cinema before a screening is one of the great joys of modern living - that tingle of expectation, the rattle of a pick n mix scoop, the energy of all those social and artistic decisions being made as people chose between screens, between movie stars and genres, the different social tribes off to see a horror or a sci-fi or a superhero flick, the arty-types going for something French, the serious ones in line for a doc. You can feel all this nervous taste, all this anticipation in the air in a cinema foyer and bar, and there’s nowhere in town, nowhere on earth, quite like it.
Cinemas are special not because of what they show (though obviously, the best ones are curated with a blend of impeccable taste and commercial nouse) but because of who hangs out there. Movie stars, after all, are the great and friendly ghosts of our time. As soon as we get into the movie house, we are instinctively haunted by all the transportive moments we’ve had there before, the great actors we’ve seen, the shocks, the scares, the laughs, the tears, the love we’ve all felt sitting right there, in those seats, reflecting on it together.
That’s why we buy cinema tickets, our contract for a journey that’s both emotional and physical, a curious cocktail of nostalgia and newness at the same time. Cinemas themselves are spaces of passion, sexy with opinion and excitement, crackling with debate, redolent of film star glamour and bursting with memories of the icons we’ve seen there - even on a really good night, I can’t say any of that about my living room, especially after a year of lockdown and sofa slump.
So the cinemas will be back, in every town and city, buzzing with ideas and stories, bubbling with bonhomie and conviviality, binding us back together with friends and strangers, all gathering to experience a story in the dark, to savour the experience and share it. And a vibrant cinema culture spills out onto the surrounding streets, filling the space around with an infectious spirit.
As the world returns, culture will be its heartbeat and nowhere will it beat louder than in the cinemas.
Now, go on, let’s share some popcorn.
If you're feeling inspired, here are some of my favourite UK cinemas, some old, some new, but all of them places that always offer a great night out no matter what’s showing:
The Curzon Mayfair, Picturehouse Central, The Edinburgh Filmhouse, Everyman’s Screen on the Green Islington , BFI Southbank, HOME in Manchester, The Cinema at Selfridges, The Castle in Hackney, Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, Watershed in Bristol, The Rex in Berkhamsted, The Lighthouse in Dublin, The Ritzy in Brixton, Broadway in Nottingham