I often like to go to the cinema.
Because I live in a big city, I am fortunate that I have more than one model of cinema experience to choose from. As in most places there is, however, a dominant model: Big Cinema. Your Vue, your Cineworld. Multiplexes showing brand new blockbusters that change every Friday and extra kids’ films at half term. You get to sit in a vast auditorium with surround sound that vibrates through your very being. There’s not just popcorn for sale any more at the multiplexes. These days it’s de rigueur to provide punters with nachos and hot dogs and Ben and Jerry’s and alarmingly coloured slushies. Oh, and pick and mix.
But there is an alternative. In cities and, more rarely, in rural areas (I’m thinking of things like the Zeffirellis project I came across in the Lake District) there are independent cinemas. They do show some mainstream films, especially if for children’s screenings or to showcase Oscar winners, but mostly they screen arthouse, foreign and indy films which would never get a look in at a multiplex. You know, quirky films that pull in smaller audiences. Maybe there’s a popcorn machine but as it’s accepted that we’re mostly grown ups here there’s often no problem with taking alcohol into the screening. I like all that. I like the quirkiness. I like the ambience. So every so often we’ll go and watch a film from red velvet seats on a screen surrounded by a proscenium arch. It’s better if I want to feel like I get a personal service and it’s better if I want it to feel like “date night” with Tom.
Neither of the models is right. Neither is wrong.
Some people might disagree, might think that there’s a moral case against Big Cinema. They may dislike the homogeneity of the big chains, the fact that you could be in pretty much town in the country and the décor, merchandise, staff uniforms and choice of films would be the same. They may well point out that the staff at the screen door or behind the counter are mostly young people on poor pay, that maybe some actions of the big chains oppress people. It could be that they resent the Big Cinema’s influence on shaping people’s expectations of the cinema experience and their views on what makes for a “good” film. I know that some people feel that they are making a statement by not going to a Vue or a Cineworld, by giving their ticket money to the restored Edwardian cinema ten miles away.
Now I am a person who can handle complex information. So guess what: I have already considered each model’s strengths and deficits and their relevance to me. And I still choose Big Cinema nine times out of ten. I do not need moral crusaders from the anti-multiplex team to point out that it is problematic in a number of ways. I do not need to be on the end of someone’s belief that I should make different choices, that I make the choice I do because I am under-informed or incapable of understanding their objections, that I am seeking to crush the independent cinema scene.
Because the multiplex works better, for more of the time – for me. It is close by. It is easily accessible by public transport. It has so many showings and that makes it easier to fit around getting up times, doses of medication, sedation, dinner. It has an app which means I can book at any time, anywhere. And having six showings of those crossover Oscar-winning films means that I’m more likely to get a seat at the multiplex at the weekend than at a cinema with only two showings.
And within the Big Cinema model there is still choice. I can choose times, dates, screen sizes. I can choose to be right up near the screen or right at the back of the auditorium. I can choose to buy any of the foodstuffs on sale, or none (although I find it very hard to resist a scoop of Cherry Garcia). There are Kids’ Clubs that my two are now far too venerable to attend, but we used them in the past. There are parent and baby screenings – I don’t need those, but it’s nice to know services are provided for new parents. I can even choose screenings where everyone is over 18 so I know I won’t get pelted with popcorn.
By exercising my choice to use Big Cinema 90% of the time I am not:
- Foolish or naïve because I haven’t yet had a bad experience with Big Cinema. On the contrary I have had a number of really poor experiences. They just don’t, on balance, outweigh the usefulness of Big Cinema to me.
- Making an uninformed choice.
- Denying the value of independents – to me, to others.
- Committing myself to a single, monolithic cinema experience and denying myself choice of model, or choice within models.
- Making any comment whatsoever on anyone else’s choices.
- Indoctrinating my kids into the Big Cinema model (in fact if you ask them they’d probably say their best cinema experiences have been at the Barbican).
- Letting myself be a tool, a dupe, a guinea pig of the bosses at Cineworld.
- Inviting or giving license, simply by sharing my preference, to members of the anti-multiplex guard to have a go at me in my comments section or on Twitter.
It’s important to realise that when someone makes one or more of the above assumptions really does not endear independent cinema to me. It does not cause me to have a arts epiphany that I have been wrong all along. Do you know what it does? It makes me increasingly unlikely to go indy, or to recommend the benefits of indy cinema to others. It has exactly the opposite effect of that which the anti-multiplex lobby purport to hope for. Who would be attracted to a school of cinema whose most vociferous proponents persistently insist that you must be foolish, thoughtless, naïve, ill-informed, lacking in intellectual ability? If that’s my other option, give me Channing Tatum in screen 17.
Now you must excuse me. Cherry Garcia is calling my name.
(For the baffled, scroll down.)
Key substitute “the medical model” for big cinema. Substitute “psychiatry” for multiplexes. Substitute “clinical psychology” for independent cinema. And substitute “antipsychiatry” for anti-multiplex.