I’m writing this letter to all of you who run cinemas, the Odeons, the Cineworlds, the Picturehouses, the ones who hold the key to the darkness that so enraptures us film addicts. I am writing to challenge what is becoming a prevalent issue within the very fabric of cinema enjoyment. I’m sure you have heard of repeated threats to your industry. The rise of home streaming, the speed in which big screen projects reach DVD, the increased cost of living putting pressure on families being able to enjoy simple pastimes such as seeing a movie, the lack of coverage between expensive franchise pictures and low-budget personal projects. All of these and more are routinely bandied about as sounding the death knell for your fine establishments. But yet you have endured, you have persevered, you have remained stubbornly and thankfully committed to that ultimate experience, the Big Screen.
Nothing beats that thrill of the lights going down, the excitement of being carried away to worlds we can but only dream of, the safety and security of those four walls. It is in the cinema where we can truly shut out the world and become absorbed into the lofty ambitions of the filmmakers you and I value so deeply. No matter how good our big TVs can be, how clear our pictures can get, how cinema-like our home entertainment systems may get, you can never truly shut out the world at home. Phones can bleep and glow, intrusive neighbours can knock and chat, the sounds of the world going by can seep in. It is within your hallowed institutions where we can finally find peace.
But this peace and sanctity is at risk. It is at risk from those very people who help keep them thriving, the audience! I am not talking about those pesky challenges such as mobile phone use or fiendishly talking during the film at FULL VOLUME. These are inherent problems we must face when dealing with that most egregious of groups, the general public. You have done all you can, consistent albeit poorly animated videos before the film pleading with us to ‘Turn off our Mobile Phones’ or the fleeting glimpses of security personnel politely telling those to “sshhh” when necessary. As you no doubt know it is tough for us Brits to confront those that bug us, comfortable in our choice to silently stew rather than stand up and “sshh.” But we are thankful that 9 times out of 10 there is someone waiting outside to sneakily ask for assistance. I’m not about to ask for more of those individuals. To ask for each screen to be permanently populated by said stoic saviour. I work in a business, I understand the need to save money, to reap as much profit as possible from minimal investment. After all you face crippling restraints on behalf of the studios that demand as much of the ticket cost as possible. At the end of the day you’re there to show films and make money, pesky mobile phone users are a small facet of the big picture.
No what I really want to talk about is something you can control, that requires little extra manpower, but something that will immeasurably improve the cinematic experience for those that truly savour it. It has become noticeably apparent that more and more of these paying punters have no concept of time. Far too often audience members are still piling in minutes into the actual film. And I’m not just talking about the opening logos, I mean the full blooded film. After 30 mins of adverts, trailers and demands to ‘turn off our mobile phones’, after the lights have gone black and silence falls, we then proceed to witness shuffling shadows feverishly try to find their seats. Lights glowing on their phones as they attempt to figure out what I once presumed was a simple system of letter for your row and number for your seat, but one that appears to repeatedly stump those who cannot deal with one letter and one number side by side. God knows how they deal with addresses. More than likely these latecomers find themselves chatting loudly to their companions, “which number are we” “are we here” “sshh the film has started!”
As you can probably sympathise with, the opening of a film is perhaps the most important part. It is in these moments wherein we get a true sense of what is to come. Most of the time these moments are mysterious, moody, engrossing. After all it is a filmmakers job to hook their audience in as quickly as possible. Why do you think blockbusters tend to open with a massive action scene, or horrors begin with that formidable jump scare? Even those quieter contemplative films rely on their first images to set tone, mood and setting. Just recently I ventured to my local Cineworld to check out the esoteric A Ghost Story. A film that opens in silence, relying on its imagery melding of the galactic and the minuscule, but a message lost to the sounds of chatter, rustling bags and doors slamming whilst these poor time keeping fools hunt for their seats. It certainly doesn’t help when said person happens to belong in your row or even worse the row in front. Then you have to endure several people, largely incapable of rising to their feet and balancing at the same time, block your view as these latecomers plonk themselves down.
You’re probably reading this and thinking ‘get a life’ and that may well be true. But as someone with a deep abiding love for cinema I feel it is my duty to try and preserve that experience. I’m no critic, blessed with private screenings in rooms that demand punctuality. I’m one of those minions, indebted to commercial chains to fulfil my filmic desires. Steven Spielberg himself has spoken of how cinema will become like the theatre. A once a month experience for most, mainly down to the reasons I mentioned in my first paragraph. Anyone who has been to the theatre knows that once the performance has started, you are not allowed to enter until the interval. It disturbs the performers primarily, but I can’t help but feel it is also to lock the audience into the moment, to help them invest in the events about to unfold. So if cinema is to become like a West End play, we must begin to treat it like that. We need to look after those who paid good money, who came on time and who want to absorb themselves in a story.
So what can you do? In an ideal world I could speak to all of humanity, and ask them to just bloody plan ahead! If a film has a 13:30 start time, it won’t really start until 14:00, that’s plenty of god damn time!! Surely if you booked for that time you would aim for that time, I understand traffic or tube delays may prevent this but even with that and you still show up at 14:15 you clearly had no intention of attempting to arrive for the start time!! Anyway I digress, what about you? It is simple. Once the film starts, the actual film I mean not the trailers, then don’t let them in. Refuse to tear that little piece off their ticket. Apologise. Move on. Of course you’d need to prepare audiences first. Spend a year publicising it, advertising it, selling the reasons for it. Sure people will still kick up a fuss, but that’s to be expected. You need to remind them of what the cinema is. It’s not a show up when you like sort of place. It isn’t a bar. It is a timed place of entertainment. A place to be respected, an artform to be cherished. You, as the keyholders of these darkened places of worship, must protect them.
Hitchcock did it with Psycho. Demanding that no one be let in after the film commenced. This was a move designed to protect the scares within, and yes ultimately a publicity stunt, Hitch was the master of marketing manipulation. But the bedrock of that decision was a truth we have forgotten. That we must preserve the rollercoaster ride that is cinema. Only you can do this for us movie lovers. Only you can make a stand and take back the hallowed halls that have inspired countless generations. It won’t be easy. It may not seem fair to those who cannot obey the simple fabric of time. It probably won’t come about out of this one letter. But please take a moment to consider my ramblings. There is method in my madness. There is love in my heart for the thing that binds us both…cinema.
A Concerned Cinemagoer.