When Did You Last See A Movie?

Christopher Fowler
martian-gallery20 I asked a friend this the other day and he admitted that the last film he saw on the big screen was 'Earthquake' in Sensurround. Now you'll have to admit that this is a fairly radical answer, and I wondered if that awful film put him off for life, but no, he said he simply preferred to watch films at home. So who goes to the cinema? The equation is simple and unchanging; children, teens, adults to 23, seniors. Everyone else is consumed by work. Hence the rise of TV box set bingeing for the on-the-move workforce. I go to the movies at least once a week in winter, less in summer, but this is largely dictated by the fact that I'm a member of BAFTA and live within walking distance of Piccadilly, where the academy screen is based. That said, I still go regularly to civilian cinema, especially now that imaginatively programmed repertory houses have made a comeback in London. But does the cinema experience still matter? I'm quite happy watching some films on my phone because the condensed bit-rate sharpens the image and makes subtitled films perfectly enjoyable. I see world cinema on a 5-1 ratio to Hollywood films, and as they're rarely about blowing things up they can easily be watched on a small screen. But this year several films have come along that have needed big screens. Ridley Scott's excellent 'The Martian' was one, the superb 'Timbuktu' was another, 'The Walk' is in 3D and Imax, and - on a much lower scale of interest for me - Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight' is shot in Panavision 70, a defunct format that simply doesn't translate to small screens. To understand the cinema economy we've long used the analogy of a train; the engine = theatrical release, the carriages = streaming, rental, TV PPV and purchase. Every few years studios try to make cinema unique again with 'value added' bonuses, from Dolby, 3D, and upmarket wide-seat screens, going back to the aforementioned Sensurround. Right now the upscale higher-price movie houses are in ascendence, while the worst way to see a film is probably the Vue chain, aimed at less discriminating crowds. Cinema is doing well because it offers comparative value. When you only get small change from a tenner for coffee and a sandwich (thanks, Pret) cinema suddenly seems reasonably priced. In terms of entertainment value for money, books and films currently lead the pack, but the cycle will reach a natural end and it will start all over again - as it always has done. If I had to make one argument for seeing films on a big screen, it would be that it concentrates the attention - it's all to easily to watch in snippets when you're on the go, and dissipate the uniqueness of film.


Jo W (not verified) Thu, 03/12/2015 - 11:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have lived in this area now for forty four years and have never visited the local cinema. The reason is that I don't enjoy the distractions that come from other cinema goers. The rattling of bags of sweets,munching and slurping noises, talking in loud whispers,all coming from the other patrons.(why do people equate watching a film with scoffing?) IF there is a film which I think I might enjoy,it is much easier these days to wait a little - either until it's on the tv or out on dvd. These days it seems that I have a small list of films to wait for. Meanwhile I can enjoy some old classic black and white films at home. Helps to get through the ironing ;-)

dave (not verified) Thu, 03/12/2015 - 14:58

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I tend to go to the 'pictures' 2-3 times a month ... still an experience I enjoy and always will.

Due to the fact that I am self-employed, I can choose my own leisure time so tend to go during the day and avoid all the queues / noisy patrons etc.

The big screen ... especially for the good films ... is always best. And I agree, 'The Martian' was excellent on the big screen. Also enjoyed seeing 'The Lady in the Van' recently ... which would have been good on tv/dvd, but I didn't want to wait that long, another good reason to visit the cinema.

Matt (not verified) Thu, 03/12/2015 - 16:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I last went to the cinema to see either Grumpy Old Men ( Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau ), or Star Trek The undiscovered Country. I can not remember which was last as I can't remember that far back. I prefer to set at home and watch a movie. You do not have to put up with all the noisy sweet wrapper people or Cell Phone addicts.

Vivienne (not verified) Thu, 03/12/2015 - 16:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I like a large screen but don't get to the cinema as often as I'd like. BFI is good to catch up with old films missed though. On the other hand, I have watched films on my iPad mini, and it's possible to get quite caught up and not notice the small screen. If I put a DVD into the television I try to make it as cinema like as possible with no lights on, although I draw the line at inviting in popcorn eaters. Once went to a late night viewing of The Exorcist in Leicester Square. No one else came, so it was like a private viewing and I could scream as much as I liked (but maybe I just cowered).

Helen Martin (not verified) Thu, 03/12/2015 - 19:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I always use the example of Lawrence of Arabia; can you really enjoy that on a screen you hold in your hand? It's reduced in impact just by watching on a tv screen. Two friends and I went to see The Jane Austin Club and enjoyed it tremendously since there was only one woman and her daughter there besides us. What is it about popcorn and candy in theatres? My husband makes a big bowl of popcorn if we're going to watch a "good" movie at home. Are people afraid of starving to death while watching? It bemuses me.
I think my latest was a preview showing of Labor Day. I was able to make excuses for the film's weaknesses but really it was pretty but weak. The apron we were given is totally excellent, however.
I can read a book on the bus or train but I'd never be able to watch a film, too many distractions.

Adam (not verified) Thu, 03/12/2015 - 20:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I went to see Black Mass last night at the Empire cinema in Poole. It was in a studio screen, so only about 50 seats. Surprisingly it was pretty full. I always enjoy the cinema experience, especially when I go with my old mate James who is a massive film buff and always has some interesting fact or two about what we're watching. My wife, on the other hand, hates the cinema and refuses point blank to go. When I pressed her on why, she looked at me and said "sticky floors"!

linda ayres (not verified) Thu, 03/12/2015 - 21:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Went to see Its a Wonderful life on the big screen this week..... not a dry eye in the house...
I dislike the multi screen cinemas because the soundproofing is usually not very good. earlier in the year my daughter and I went to see Testament of Youth, during a very moving seen featuring a field on war dead the sound track of the cartoon playing next door totally spoiled the moment.

keith page (not verified) Fri, 04/12/2015 - 11:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I completely agree with Jo W's comments [except the ironing]

Alexander Gent (not verified) Fri, 04/12/2015 - 12:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have just managed to squeeze in 156 films at the cinema for the year. Yes, a lot of them were awful, however, for me it is about seeing movies where they are meant to be seen. I have been lucky to see a few pictures at the premium venues and the best have been for the most part independents or documentaries. That said Mad Max: Fury Road in 3D (a gimmick I loathe) but in moving seats. It was an amazing visceral experience. For me, personally, it was a film of the year. That said I had to put up with chattering phone users talking about their plans for their own films and popcorn munching proles.

chris hughes (not verified) Fri, 04/12/2015 - 15:19

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Going to the cinema used to be a way of having a cheap night out in the week - this is me harking back to Peckham in the 60's - and we went at least once, whatever was on. At the other end of my life, retired and living in Herne Bay, going to the pictures is a way of having a cheap trip out any day. We have a lovely little cinema with two screens, tickets are never more than four quid a pop - and the tea is very good!

Vivienne (not verified) Fri, 04/12/2015 - 23:29

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Maybe we should all meet up and go to the pictures. When is The Sandmen film coming out?

Dave Skinner (not verified) Sat, 05/12/2015 - 17:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Day before yesterday: Doctor Zhivago. Before that, last Sunday: The Lady in the Van. I've been going once a week, sometimes twice, for about fifteen years. I should probably buy one of their discount card things, but I never seem to get around to it.

Helen Martin (not verified) Sat, 05/12/2015 - 21:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Vivienne, that is an excellent idea. We could ban cell phones, candy, and popcorn from the showing and make sure the floors were mopped ahead of time.