A Cinema Of One – Welcome to another week on Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second. First off, I’d just like to apologise for the lack of an editorial last week: I was in the midst of a very intense DocFest, and just didn’t have time to put together anything properly. On the plus side though, the events of last weekend did inspire this here Editorial, so that’s something. 

Having just come off of a pretty full-on schedule consisting of two film festivals in almost as many weeks I’ve found myself struggling to adapt to a normal routine (my schedule is now festival free until Venice at the earliest). Days off were planned, attempts at the fabled “lay-in” that one longs for so much during a busy period were made, and lofty ambitions to actually sit down and catch up with some recent DVD releases were placed in the schedule. But to no avail. 

I found myself in something of a slump and unable to readjust. So I set out to understanding why. And I think I might have figured out the answer. 

The cinema is seen by most to be a communal activity. It’s what groups of friends might do on a weekend, or the activity many a couple will rely on to fill their Saturday night. Yet for me it’s never really been about that. The majority of my viewing is secluded, either at press screenings, early morning day of release showings or on home video. And I enjoy it that way, or at least I thought I did. As with any other vocation one does not expect to have, nor is afforded the privilege of a partner in crime, especially for a profession as immediately singular as that of writing. But this is where film festivals differ: the pack-like nature of communal viewings with the same faces for several days. I’ve said before that a festival lives or dies by its atmosphere, with said atmosphere accrued from members of the public and a passionate critical base covering every corner of the event. And Sheffield’s DocFest (and Derby’s IDFest) did this really well. So much so that I think I’m actually re-evaluating my status as a badge wearing and proud solitary cinema-goer.

The communal experience has reached out of personal contact and in to the realm of the digital, so the act of solitary cinema going never actually feels particularly solitary. Twitter, forums and comments sections make-up the new discussion, not post-film pub debate, and for many years it’s not particularly proven cause for concern: there’s no arguments over what to see when there’s only one person doing so (try convincing a group of five casual cinemagoers that This Is Not A Film at 9pm makes for a preferable Saturday night at the movies), and there is none of the other faux-infuriating baggage that comes with actually having to socialise with people. Having regularly visited the cinema alone since the age of 16 I’ve never understood the stigma of sol0-viewing that some seem keen to maintain (I’d get very little work done if I had to rely on the company of others to venture in to my local multiplex). An auditorium empty but for the presence of 3 or 4 people is a very different space to one full, and having experienced both in the space of the last ten days (a gradually dwindling audience expecting something other than Cosmopolis with Cosmopolis, and a packed out regional premiere of The Amazing Spider-Man) I know which I prefer for the viewing experience (the sight, sound and smell of nachos is my own personal kryptonite), but in terms of the overall experience I’m beginning to think my favoured method may be ultimately lacking in other areas. It’ll be interested to see if I kick back in to gear over the next few weeks, or if this really is a turning point for me. 

On a related note it was thanks to several voices in cinema that the solitary-cinemagoer never actually felt alone. This week saw the loss of one of the movies’ great commentators, Andrew Sarris (read more here). That he fell just weeks after another great cinephile, Amos Vogel makes for double the blow. 

Further reading –

IndieWire on Vogel and Sarris
Peter Bradshaw On Don DeLillo’s The Starveling
The Chicago Sun-Times on A British Boutique Festival Without An Identity Crisis