Thomas Giblin pens a beautiful reminiscence of the cinema, and a plea for us to experience these locales with new eyes before they die out.
In this period of lockdown, we all found ourselves longing for something or someone. It changed the way we lived, loved and worked; it still does till this day. We all missed someone or something, for many, that was McDonald’s, and for others, it was for the opportunity to see a loved one after weeks apart. For me, the one thing I longed for was to be back in the cinema. I dreamt of the cinema. I dreamt of the time I saw Climax at the Civic. The 137 minutes I spent with hundreds of others each squirming in our seats as we witnessed both its beauty and horror unfold. I dreamt of the time a girl in my screening of Rise of the Planet of the Apes at Event Albany that screamed out “What!” when Oscar spoke for the first time and how everyone in the cinema, paused then started laughing. I dreamt of the time I went to the cinema for the first time with someone who I deeply loved, how it felt to place my hand on their hand and for them to squeeze it tightly.
That is what I longed for; the shared human experience. The pleasure that comes with sitting in a darkened room with strangers. But yet for those, however many minutes we were not strangers, we were like lovers. We respond to each other; we react to their gasps, their laughter and their horror whether we realise it or not. Studies say we synchronise with each other in an experience that we most commonly associate with being an individual one. For me, this act of going to the cinema is an individual one, but it is this shared experience I most often value I realised in this period of lockdown. I missed this shared human experience even if it means putting up with the talking Karens who are a few bottles of rose down or the love-struck couple in the back row.
As this act of going to the cinema is an individual one, I found myself not only missing the shared human experience but the ritual of it all. It is in the ritual I found the beauty. Each cinema was different, the way they smelled varied, Rialto Newmarket smelt like coffee and cleaning detergent. The Hollywood Avondale smelt like pumpkin soup and popcorn. The way they were lit differed, some cinemas like Event Queen Street were lit like a metropolis, all fluorescent and blinding. Others were lit softly, like the Academy making it feel as if you were about to meet your date, the one your father told you not to see. It is in this difference the beauty of the ritual can be found. I’d go to the cinema 4 or 5 times a week; it was my ritual. Each cinema has its quirks, its familiar faces and I missed that feeling of seeing a film and knowing I’d be greeted with a certain something, unique to that cinema reminding me why I fell in love with the ritual.
So in this period of lockdown, I struggled as this large part of my life was absent. Yes, this is a small price I was willing to pay to guarantee the health and safety of Aotearoa, but yet I couldn’t wait to return when the time was right. Now that some cinemas are back, I like many others have returned. I saw The Assistant at The Bridgeway, my first film back at the cinemas this past Saturday and it wasn’t the perfect experience, but it is one I will never forget. This large part of my life had now returned, I was home. It made me realise in this imperfect experience that we should celebrate the imperfections of the cinema experience. These imperfections are as much a part of cinema as the films themselves. We may not remember a bad film, but we remember the imperfections of the experience itself. I once saw a physical altercation occur as someone was sitting in the wrong seat. I also once had an elderly lady fall asleep on me whose snoring led everyone to stare at me, assuming I was related or somehow at fault for her rumblings which sounded like the water being let out of the bath. I do not remember the films that I watched, but I treasure these memories dearly. So during this lockdown, it has given me a new perspective on the imperfect cinema experience. I am always quick to shush and am the first to judge because of how much I treasure cinema, but this time I think I’ve become more tolerant. Not everyone loves this experience as much as me, and that’s okay. I’m more tolerant of the imperfections now because I would’ve given anything for the imperfect cinema experience in this lockdown.
Now that the lockdown is partially over and some cinemas can open, we should not only be celebrating all things cinema, but we should be celebrating the cinemas themselves. To help many of these independent cinemas stay alive such as the Academy, The Vic, Hollywood Avondale and The Bridgeway. We can help support them by buying gift cards, subscribing to their online streaming alternatives and seeing a film when safe to do so. Many of our locals, including mine, are yet to open, but when they do, we should do our utmost to support them where we can even if that means buying an overpriced bucket of popcorn. That overpriced bucket of popcorn could be the difference in letting a cinema stay open so that memories are made in the sanctity of its four walls. For me, the cinema is where many of my greatest memories have been made, and I don’t want anyone to miss out on the chance of making their own memories, so please do all you can to help see them through these difficult times.