I’m not scared of heights. But edges scare me witless. If a hill, say, is shaped like the top half of a circle, I can happily stand atop it and enjoy the view. Same goes for looking out the window of a plane, 30,000 feet above the ground. Hills shaped like inverted Vs on the other hand – or worse still, cliffs – basically convince me I’m moments away from certain death.
(By the by, any right-thinking person ought to regard a floor-to-ceiling window an ‘edge.’ It you lean against one – hell, if you so much as touch the fucking thing – it will definitely shatter and you will definitely fall through it to the merciless ground below.)
You simply won’t ever catch me more than five rungs up a ladder. And if you ever have the misfortune to find yourself alongside me as I’m driving over a bridge, be prepared for my sudden transformation into a dangerously nervous driver. I HATE driving over bridges, and the mere prospect of doing so is something I can worry about for months ahead of time.
(I had a great time visiting Niagara Falls a couple of years ago, but the bridge leading to it pretty much spoiled the whole experience by at least 60%. I knew we had to drive back over it on the way home, and it was only with a growing sense of dread that I pottered around one of earth’s great natural wonders.)
All of which got me thinking last weekend: I like movies, but the thing I really love is going to the movies. As with heights and edges, there’s a world of difference between the two.
There is no such thing as a “home movie theater.” That’s a fact – and any store, TV commercial, or salesperson who tries to tell you otherwise is lying. At home, the screen is smaller. At home, the sound is less substantially amplified. And at home – pay attention, folks, this is the really important bit – YOU CAN HIT PAUSE. In fact, you almost certainly will hit pause. Come on, you know it’s true. You’ll go take a piss. You’ll go get something out the fridge, or turn the heating up, or feed the cat.
Even if you don’t hit pause, you’ll fidget. Sit down, lie down, sit up again. Why? Because you’re at home. There aren’t any rules. And there aren’t, more to the point, any rituals to observe.
Going to the movie theater is positively steeped in ritual. Getting a ticket. Deciding where to sit. Talking through the previews… Then – ah! – a moment of quiet as all the lights are turned off. For a second or two, you can hear the whir of a projector before, at last, the movie starts. It takes as long as it takes. A simple but glorious thing: at the cinema, film waits for no man.
Yep, watching a film at home is fine. But let’s not kid ourselves: the home of film is cinema. That’s where films will rouse and rattle you the most. Where they crawl most assertively under your skin. Where they can, at their best, crowd out all the other things in your life and put in front of you, instead, a transfixing, deathless, all-encompassing new reality. Try going for a piss when that happens.
It’s true what they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder. Parenthood and trips to the cinema don’t really go together all that well. In the 14 months since I became a dad, it’s a pleasure I’ve had only six times: for Skyfall, Argo, The Way, Way Back, Blue Jasmine, Gravity, and, last weekend, Captain Phillips. Not the most adventurous line-up, you’ll notice. And, yes, pitifully short.
But all six times, I loved every second, from the car ride there to the car ride home. If the only cinema in the world were at the top of a cliff, damn it, I’d climb up to go.