Tag Archives: Rants

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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Greyhound: A (recycled) Cautionary Tale

In 2010 I went to visit an internet friend of mine in North Carolina, met with two more internet-friends of mine from Ireland and California and then got on a bus to meet more internet-friends of mine in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The bus journey was always meant to be a long one, seventeen hours, in fact. It turned into something more like twenty-six. In Philidelphia on our return there was something of an explosion (I wish I were speaking figuratively), a dear friend had a panic attack and I sat down with my Moleskine (lol hipster rage) and furiously wrote the following note, previously available at my disused tumblr.


This letter is posted here as a direct email address for a customer services department was not openly available on their website. Perhaps that is more telling than the contents of this letter. If you have ever considered using Greyhound buses, please consider this letter a warning.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms about the experience I had on your buses last week. On the 24th June 2010 and the 27th June 2010, the experience I had on your buses rivals all others in both discomfort and inconvenience. The journey was from Charlotte, NC to Atlantic City, NJ and then back again.

My experience was noteworthy not only because of the appalling organisational standards of your company, but the repeated mechanical failings scattered throughout my trip alongside the indifference and occasional downright incompetence of your staff. In some instances I would strongly recommend just replacing certain staff members with actual greyhounds. The marketing angle is priceless and they are very easy to train.

My problems began on the 23rd of June when my journey was actually due to begin. Upon arrival at the station we were told that in my group of friends, one group of tickets was ‘dormant’ and that the others were not valid either, leaving us to infer that they too were dormant. It was advised that we ‘reactivate’ our ‘dormant’ tickets, something Alex, Ronan, Frank, Austin and I were only too keen to move forward with.

Unfortunately for us our bus was scheduled for 10:40pm and, despite having arrived more than an hour early, there was nobody at the station, or at the helpline (you should consider a re-brand on that particular service) who had the ability/proclivity to help us with our problem, because it was too late. Offering bus services around the clock but having stations properly staffed only some of the time is a strange way to go about things, Greyhound, let me tell you.

Feeling rather stuck, we asked the woman at your information desk (again, the names of some services need a serious rethink) what she could suggest. We were met with a blank stare and a vague shrug. Helpless, we retreated hoping to reschedule the following day. This was, they had told us, our only hope.

The 24th arrived and we did eventually, as suggested by the dates at the beginning of this letter, manage to board a bus. It turned out that our tickets were not dormant but had been subject to a rescheduling problem within the system. All that was required was some signed forms and ID checks. Nobody the previous evening had been able to tell us this due to the appropriate staff members not being present, otherwise our tickets could easily have been issued and we could have left at the proper time.

We got in line for the 7:45pm bus, already a day late for a 3 day trip, but feeling optimistic that at last we were headed somewhere. This optimism lasted until about an hour after the scheduled time when we were not yet on a bus. This was made worse by the fact that we had no idea why this might be. A lack of information became a theme throughout our journey. When approached for information, a Greyhound staff member unhelpfully said “All you can do is wait!” before turning away and offering no further details. I persisted and approached a different staff member only to be told impatiently that the driver had not yet arrived.

Understandably discouraged by this new obstacle on our journey we waited. Eventually we were saved by the appearance of a flustered looking driver who tried the best he could to manage the crowd and organise himself quickly. All efforts in vain however, as we had already missed all of our planned connections due to his lateness. When we were finally allowed to board he was able to admit only ten of the approximately fifty people waiting in line. All of these people had been allowed to buy tickets for a service that was almost double-booked.  This was also a theme throughout our trip. Thankfully my friends and I were a part of that lucky group and were boarded.

After a few attempted starts the bus departed, only for it to become apparent that the air conditioning was not working. On a packed bus. In ninety degree heat. It became deeply uncomfortable very quickly. This was made worse by a Greyhound reprepsentative reprimanding people boiling in their skins for swearing. She then passed on a message from the driver saying that he must turn back. Understandably, due to the less than ideal scenario and her patronizing and overzealous customer service stunt moments before, the passengers were incredibly angry. The driver pulled over at a rest stop and promised food and drinks from McDonalds for the inconvenience. This promise never materialised but we were all so grateful for the stop that nobody mentioned a thing about it.

After reboarding and arriving in Raleigh we watched a man physically remove the air conditioning unit and replace it with a new one. We were less than pleased with this added delay but appeased by the fact that at least we’d be late, but able to remain at  human body temperature rather than something more akin to a salamander or industrial kiln. This message was apparently lost somewhere along the line and we were transported the rest of the way to Richmond in a refrigerator instead.

Our time in Richmond was less stressful, as the next bus was less than two hours away by the time we arrived. This relief was short-lived as after boarding the driver proceeded to get lost in downtown Fredericksburg for, what another passenger informed us, was an hour and twenty minutes. Not providing directions for your drivers displays an admirable sense of humour, but does nothing for you customer service reputation. Fortunately upon arriving in Washington DC we were directed immediately to a bus headed for Atlantic City, which was delayed for a long time due to traffic. This last matter, I concede, is out of your control.

The driver did decide to liven up an otherwise uneventful journey by pulling over and proclaiming that the bus had broken down. He then started it back up and drove the rest of the way to Atlantic City trouble free. This provided added bewilderment. Perhaps it was a badly received practical joke, or maybe after years of working for Greyhound it is a force of habit. Speculation aside, we were pleased that this was the only noteworthy aspect of our final leg of that journey.

My friends and I enjoyed our drastically reduced time in Atlantic City provided, by your outright failure to organise a reliable service, with anecdotes that were both amusing and literally incredible. We were determined that our return journey would provide no such anecdotes. Our confidence was naive and ill-founded, but it was all we had in the face of a repeat of such a terrible journey.

The journey from Atlantic City to Philidelphia lulled us into a false sense of security. At least, until our arrival when the bus promptly exploded. This epic mechanical failing makes your broken air conditioning and break-downs that occur only in the minds of your drivers appear trivial. None of those are life threatening in the least. I’m sure this seems like a comical exaggeration, provided only to highlight the escalating misfortune we encountered on our journey.

I’m more than sorry to say that this is not the case. Moments after exiting the bus, smoke could be seen to pour from the back-right section of the bus, where my friends and I had been seated moments earlier, only to spread to the other side and for flames to become visible on the underside of the bus. Frank was able to take some photographs before being told to stop by Greyhound staff. Apparently ‘fire’ is where they draw the line in terms of caring about customer interaction. Because of his inability to take adequate photos, Frank also provided a small sketch of this event.

Bus Explosion

Frank is 28.

Frank is an artist.

The sight of a firefighter breaking the window I was seated at moments previously in order to extinguish the dirty great flames that are now spilling therefrom is not one I will forget any time soon, I assure you. So, in terms of providing a memorable journey, you could not have performed better. Indeed, I admire your efforts to ensure such a journey. Rarely is a bus worthy of photographic evidence.

However, when your mechanical failings wander into the realms of ‘life threatening’, I cease to have a sense of humour about them. Indeed, the summoning of the emergency services is rarely a sign of a publicity stunt gone well. I do not accuse you of attempting to bump off customers in the least, but the repeated and persistent failings of your company lead me to believe that they cannot be unrelated. That amount of failure cannot be accidental, can it?

The fact that we had already alighted (no pun intended) when the fire presented itself was of little comfort to my friend Alex, who had a panic attack in the middle of the bus station. The previous occurrence of such an attack had been after a car accident some months previously. This attack was caused by the bus journey you provided, the collective experience of which was comparable in terms of stress to a car accident. It was potentially as life threatening and equally as detrimental to Alex’s health. It did little to raise our opinion of the service you offer so half-heartedly.

Our group’s reaction of pleasant surprise when greyhound staff actually bothered to announce the lateness of our next bus cannot be considered in your favour because it was notable as the exception rather than the rule. Our next buses were late, but by this point we were no longer disappointed nor were we expecting to get to our destination at a time anywhere close to the one scheduled.

It is my experience that customer service is not a primary concern for your company, nor even a secondary one. Public Relations was a concern when my friend was prevented from taking photos of the flaming bus, but your general inability to treat passengers as customers rather than cargo has assured that even this minor concern is viewed in the most cynical light. Had you told him to get away for his own safety then perhaps your reputation would remain somewhat intact, but his lungs were of less concern to you than the potential leak of this information to potential customers. You can be assured that none of us will use your service ever again, and indeed will discourage others from doing so.

Mell Moore.

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