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Cinema As Experience: How GhostBusters Made Me Confront a Cultural Dilemma

The greatest danger to my social life is my complete inability to plan beyond the next meal. If it’s more than about six hours away, it doesn’t cross my mind until it’s too late. It will not surprise you to learn, therefore, that I didn’t make even the smallest of efforts to plan for Halloween until it was too late to get time off work.  My only free time was Friday and according to my fundar, there was nothing going on. I dressed in my mourning gear and got comfy in my pit of despair, resigned to the fact that this Halloween would suck.

This is where the Tyneside Cinema solved every problem ever and revealed that they’d be showing GhostBusters at 10:30pm. Plans were made immediately to get to the little cinema on Pilgrim St. to watch a movie and form complex opinions on the nature of cinema as art and experience.

Tyneside Cinema

The venue with the chairs that prompted a rant

Anybody’s who’s been to a multiplex in the last few years will have seen the nostalgic adverts talking about cinema as an experience far superior to that of furiously glaring at the screen watching a torrent tick slowly towards completion. There is certainly something to be said about going to the cinema. I would argue that whatever that thing may be, it cannot be said about a multiplex. Sure cinema is an event, but at a multiplex it’s a plastic event. When you take something as sensual as cinema and make it into a clinical boxed up commodity, it ceases to be an experience. Cinema is sensual. The vast majority of your senses are prodded at with sticks throughout the course of the film. It’s dark, there’s bright light flickering around in front of you, the sound swooshes around the back of your head and you stuff your face with Coca-Cola and Ben & Jerry’s. The satisfaction derived from your sight, sound and taste receptors being crammed with highest quality Hollywood is dampened somewhat by cheaply upholstered seats and the lingering smell of plastic and chemical cleaner used to get the ever-present stick from the linoleum floor.

Cinemas are grasping desperately to keep the bums they need on their seats, but the seats are uncomfortable and the bums are used to better treatment at home. Places like the Tyneside do many things. Fundamentally though, they have comfy seats. I’m sure they’re more expensive and they’re hell to clean, but people like sitting on them. I’m not saying I pay only to enjoy the velvet delight of their upholstery, but it helps. I went to a cinema in North Carolina that was one of those beautiful old things, like the Odeon in Newcastle used to be. The chairs were squishy, there were tiered seating areas, but not with the annoying set of stairs through the stalls. It had atmosphere, it was purpose built but with concessions for style. The Empire in Newcastle, on the other hand, has scratchy nylon seats and a sticky floor and stupid glittery linoleum where a patterned carpet should be. Sure, they have Ben & Jerry’s and Pick n Mix and…well, that’s it really. So do Tesco. Big deal.

The separation of cinema from theatre in this way pains me. It’s the same thing, but their venues are vastly different. It’s a sort of segregation of high brow and low brow culture. A segregation symbolised by the presence or not of comfortable seating. The dichotomy of  expensive explosions and timeless poetry is not as simple as that of nylon and velvet. Somewhere along the line we got from giving them similar venues to marking one as inferior. Cinema can be intelligent. It often is. It always moves us somehow and it’s never ever cheap. It is more than just something to watch while you eat popcorn. To confine it to horrible blue spaces with shiny neon and glaring plastic is to place it wrongly below the plays, operas and ballets which we display in elegant theatres. It’s unfair, arbitrary and makes an unnecessary distinction between entertainment and art. There is a great deal shown on screen that wipes the floor with Joseph and his Technicolor Sodding Dreamcoat.

I’m not stupid. Obviously movies have to make money. They are made to make money even though most don’t. I’m not saying the art should be pure and untainted by commercial considerations. I’m just saying you don’t have to sacrifice the soul of cinema to make money. Popcorn movies can be clever, can be smart and are often amazing. Of course sometimes films are just colours and explosions, but most cinema is much more than just a catalyst for snacks and these scratchy nylon boxes are selling it short.

Boast Gusters!


As a case in point, let’s scurry on back to the original reason for this post. GhostBusters. I don’t remember who told me that the first ten minutes of GhostBusters is the neatest bit of introduction/exposition ever written, but they were right. As screenplays go, it’s perfect. I know everything I need to know about the main characters in a very short space of time. It’s also bloody funny and far filthier than any other 12A I ever remember seeing. There’s questionable yet awesome science, there’s Sigourney Weaver (who may well have questionable yet awesome science written into her contract). There’s genuine threat and/or menace with some funny, gory and scary special effects AND this is all rolled into a buddy-movie. Also colours and explosions. This is the kind of thing that the Tyneside is made for. It’s a good movie. It’s not clever or making any sort of particular point, but it is art, it is a genuine cultural experience. Just as much as any of the other gorgeous films they screen there. As such, it is deserving of a decent venue.

Good theatres are there for people who enjoy film. They are there to make your experience enjoyable, and make their money. They do not shepherd you in by the dozen, rip out your eyeballs and hold them up to an image next thing you can spend your money one, tear off your ear and hold it to the mouth of a screaming executive, begging you to watch his movie. That may have been lucrative in the past. God knows a lot of people will buy the things that are leaping out at them from the walls and screens in Multiplex cinemas. They leap from the walls of more traditional cinemas too. The difference is that a traditional cinema has a sense of purpose beyond the commercial. It has a soul and an atmosphere that distinguish a cinema from a supermarket, a place to display art from a place to sell stuff. Both a multiplex and a traditional theatre are after your money, of course. When it comes to the choice between theatre and thrombosis, I can’t say it’s much of a choice at all.

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