Tonight the new issue of Garageland launches with the exhibition, Still, at the Hackney Picturehous and the Transition Gallery. I wrote an article for this issue and here’s an unedited version of a rather long tribute to the simple charms of the cinema. Garageland’s Film Issue is incredible and a bit of a treasure trove for fans of cinema. It’s definitely worth buying a copy here; all of the artists included in the exhibition, Still, have also contributed. It’s my first time in print in an art magazine too, so I’m certainly looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.
‘Non ti fare fottere dalla nostalgia, dimenticaci tutti.’ Alfredo, Cinema Paradiso
When I think of the local cinema which I grew up with, The Vue, Harlow Town, Essex, I begin to worry that cinemas might be dying out. Here the itchy faux red velvet seats and sticky floors no longer seem worth the over-inflated prices. Unnecessary legions of staff have already been culled as ticket sales have merged with popcorn cashiers, and I have often arrived to bleak Saturday evening closures, the forecast of cinematic doom. In this empty cinema which no longer carries the luxury of its emptiness, sell-out showings are an increasingly impossible miracle.
If there is anything I would like my local cinema to aspire to, it is the warm, nostalgic glory of Toto’s Cinema Paradiso in the 1988 film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. In a small village in Sicily it is the Cinema, the Cinema Paradiso, that is the soul and beating life force of the community. The cinema is a democracy in which all of society find a seat.
In the film there is an incidental love story which brings a man from down in the stalls into the upper circle, a triumph of cinema’s power to move. Young boys masturbate on the front rows, and the rich spit down from above in a perfectly comfortable mix of high and low culture. On one hot evening when the theatre reaches capacity and a swelling, angry crowd are locked outside, the projectionist, Alfredo, works a minor miracle. By screening the film on the side of an apartment everyone is able to watch from the piazza. The laughs and cheers of the masses echo across the public square.
Perhaps in the same way that audiences have become desensitised to violence on screen, we have gradually become more immune to the simple charms of the cinema. A film is a spectacle in itself and yet now if we are to be coaxed away from our freeview boxes and widescreen TVs we demand so much more.
We need more violence and more horror to make our blood pound. We need dirtier, wilder, harder sex to get us aroused. In Cinema Paradiso when a simple kiss slips past the censors a violent tremor of excitement spreads throughout the audience; the intimation is explicit enough for this crowd to feel a thrill. But it would never be enough for us.
Our disenchantment could be said to have inspired something of a revolution in cinematic experience. Any objections to such developments might just be another case of the hang-up of nostalgia. Our hardened senses force greater creativity and have made the conception of events such as Secret Cinema and the Jameson Cult Film Club possible.
In a surreal simulation of the film world colliding with the real, events like Secret Cinema and Jameson Cult Films, bring characters and sets to life in full-immersion screenings. These events are opportunities to see our favourite films in entirely new ways. Cinema is reinvigorated by the realisation of a fantasy; to momentarily live within the fictional worlds which have the greatest hold over our imaginations.
The summer’s disingenuous promise to hold off on the rain has led to a mix of outdoor cinema screenings across London on roof gardens and rooftop bars, in parks, in the neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House, and in venues which are exciting for the fantasy and atmosphere they promise to bring to a film: the Nomad Roaming Cinema will be screening The Shining in Brompton Cemetery, the thought makes me shiver with the pleasure of expectation. It seems we just can’t enough of the subversive twist these new themed cinematic events add to our appreciation of film. I am still soul-searching for a Grease inspired Drive-Thru where I can be ‘Stranded at the Drive-In’ with a young John Travolta lookalike. Perhaps I have spotted a gap in the market there.
Yet my most vivid cinema memory is a showing of the worst film I have ever seen in a small town in Romania. Here, Orange Wednesdays had fulfilled their marketing prophecy and the entire population had turned up for the event. It didn’t seem to matter that the film was embarrassing or that there were no glasses to watch in 3D. There was an air of collusion about it; we all knew the film was terrible and were complicit in it. Like the Cinema Paradiso, the Patria in Craiova was a hub of the community. Here was cinematic pleasure in its most basic and undiluted form.
Despite my temptation to get carried away with all these cinematic happenings, secret clubs which urge us to ‘Tell no one’ and rare events with exclusive price tags and sell-out tickets, I also believe that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get distracted from the real cultural threat.
If you search ‘save our local cinema’ on Google, a wealth of revolutions from below will appear. Preserving these venues is about more than nostalgia and a fanaticism for architecture full of character and history. It’s also about holding on to the spirit of the community as areas change and are subject to development. There is nothing I’d like more than to find that the Vue in Harlow Town could conjure enough magic and atmosphere to warrant its ticket prices and fill its seats, a real event for once. That would be the true triumph of the underdog, that classic cinematic trope and a genuine feel-good ending.