The joys of visiting the cinema alone

Sick of endless interruptions or having the ending of a movie spoiled? The solution, Mark suggests, is to head to the cinema by yourself...

A while back, I wrote an article for Den Of Geek on the virtues of child-free cinemas. Since then, I’ve had a kid of my own and my own trips to the cinema have been cut down as a result. However, I did find an opportunity to see the really quite good Inception the other day with a friend of mine and, while the film was just as good as people would have you believe, a few things niggled at me.

Firstly, when a film showing is pencilled in for 8.10pm, I’d expect the main feature to begin earlier than 8.30pm. Yet, we were treated, if that’s the word for it, to twenty minutes of glossy adverts and loud, overblown trailers before the BBFC certificate appeared and the previously chatty audience piped down.

This was a surprise, I’ll be honest. It’s my experience that films at the cinema are usually accompanied by a hell of a lot of munching, chatting and, on one occasion, genuine anarchy when some little sod had managed to bring in a can of maggots which he opened up in the seat in front of him. Five minutes later, the film was stopped, the lights went up and said little treasure was forcefully ejected from screen two.

No such off-screen activity at Inception, no doubt as the audience was trying to keep up with the breakneck speed of the film, particularly during the elongated heist sequence. There was, however, something which still made me mindful of the problems that can beset the cinema-goer, namely an inquisitive companion. “Do you think that’s a dream, now?” “Oh, that Leo’s a good actor, isn’t he?” “I bet he’s made that happen in his subconscious.”

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Fortunately for me, these questions weren’t coming from my mate, but I had to feel for the poor woman next to me who was being bombarded with questions by her viewing partner (And perhaps partner in real life. We’ll never know.) for the first half hour of the film. If it wasn’t ruining the experience for her, it damn near would have done for me had she not been bridging the gap between the two of us.

When faced with such a friend, you can’t treat it as you would a typical talker, for if you vehemently ‘shush’ them, you run the risk of ruining a friendship and being outed as the grump in the room. I can’t deny that one of the reasons I love Curb Your Enthusiasm is that Larry David’s outlook on life resonates with me.

Alan Partridge once said, “I just hate the general public,” and I can see where he’s coming from. People are very annoying by nature, and we really can’t all just be friends. Place them in a pressure cooker situation like a cinema and even the most accepting and kind-hearted person will be broken following ten minutes of cinema chat in close quarters.

My own personal tirade against cinema noise stems from a school screening of Disney’s Robin Hood when I was about eight. My good friend and I sat together to watch the film and I was giddy with excitement, if I’m honest. This was one of the first feature-length films I’d ever seen, and for school to be giving us a chance to watch it seemed like the best day ever at the time. That was until my former best friend started telling me what was going to happen next every five minutes or so.

He’d already seem the film, you see, and, kids being kids, he couldn’t contain his excitement at what was going to happen. I understand that now, but at the time I was bloody furious. “This bit’s great coming up,” he would say with far too much frequency. “Oh, he’s the baddie,” was another typical comment, and the upshot of all this insight was that the film was utterly ruined for me.

When I watch a film for the first time, I need to be left alone to breathe it all in. As an art form, films deserve to be studied closely. As sheer entertainment, they equally deserve a captive audience, but in recent years I have only witnessed silent audiences in a packed cinema for three films: The Dark Knight, Quantum Of Solace and Spider-Man 2. It’s no coincidence that each of these were big event movies and that one of them, Quantum Of Solace, was an 18-only screening.

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Big event movies, like Inception, pull in big audiences but, if they’re interesting enough spectacles, can command silence like no other film. Mesmerising audiences tends to have that effect. Those films aside, however, I can think of countless examples of where films have been, if not ruined, then certainly sullied by the inane banter of kids, adults and friends.

Now, I’m not saying that audiences can’t add to a film. I have fond memories of watching The Matrix: Reloaded in a packed screening when the entire room whooped and sighed at the finale of the stretched-out motorway chase sequence. It’s shared moments like that that you just can’t get from watching a movie at home and I wouldn’t want to deny myself or anyone else that experience.

However, for every Matrix: Reloaded there are several others: The Bourne Ultimatum, Iron Man and Transformers, to name but a few memorable examples in which I’ve found myself battling with my own sense of injustice at insensitive idiots being allowed into the same cinema as me, so much so that I’ve missed huge chunks of the film (although I appreciate that, with Transformers, that didn’t really matter too much).

And, if it’s not people talking, it’s audience members sitting around you taking up my much-needed personal space. Whether it’s using my drinks holder (right or left, it’s never clear), stretching their feet out into my footwell, or worse, kicking me in the back of my seat, sitting at the cinema is rarely comfortable for me.

I’m aware that most of these problems, as they are with Larry David, are mine to deal with, and that the world doesn’t revolve around me (pity), but if just one person reading this can empathise, then I feel better already.

Sometimes, going to the cinema alone is the only option, and I’m reminded of the time I saw The Matrix at the Loew’s State Theatre in New York’s Times Square, underneath Virgin Megastores (I understand this cinema has now closed, shame) when the film was nearing the end of its run and there were only five or six of us in the screening.

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I had a row to myself, I could hear and watch everything in peace, and the film itself was a breath of fresh air at the time. This was a close to the perfect cinema experience for me. Perhaps I’m just pining for that again too much.

Still, I must also remember the lone cinema experience isn’t always perfect. Watching Pokémon: The First Movie with my older brother (we were both in our twenties at the time) while being quietly judged by the sole family that were also present wasn’t much fun, I can tell you…