Nostalgia can be a good thing. It can be a warm, waffle-woven blanket to cover the pandemic-induced shivering of these days upon days.
I yearn for a good film. I have a large stand-alone cinema collection, a large crisp monitor, a good full-range sound system. It's lacking.
A film should be seen as it was intended to be seen and as the dominant captor of all the senses in a place, a temple, dedicated to revealing its beauty. But now in these days into
nights, you find yourself miserly hoarding your own time to recreate a movie-going experience, alone, in your own darkened room with a big tube and a big sound system... often
failing to do so, but getting closer every night. Unless… you're one of the fortunate few who have their own screening rooms, their own personal movie theatres, which is
the best of both worlds, mobile phones be damned!
The last time I saw a film in Thailand, in Bangkok, (pre-pandemic) was in a modern cineplex with a huge screen, a fully-enhanced sound system,
and comfortable seats—not unlike the best in the U.S. or the UK or anywhere else where there is substantial investment in modern movie house facilities. The house was packed.
About 15 minutes into the film, I began to hear quiet, little beeps coming from different directions in the theatre. And quiet, little flashes. Then it increased, and all around me
I could hear whispering and quiet, little giggles. When I finally pulled my head out of the screen, I realized that I was watching cell phones (mobiles) actively connecting people
throughout the audience. Hello? They were calling each other and seemingly talking about the movie, at least that's what the people to my side and in front and behind were
doing. Primarily teenagers but not limited to that thumb-driven age group. Though to my sensibility it was rather annoying, it wasn't totally disruptive. The Thais are
outwardly a polite and quiet people (emphasis on outwardly), so the noise level was at a minimum, if you can say that about hundreds of mobile phones twitching and twinking.
It was an audience-participation experience, not unlike similar audience behavior in many other countries. Try seeing a film in China or Israel
or Argentina or, ouff, Russia. Audiences there, with or without phones, truly "get into it!" They talk and shout to each other, to the characters in the movie-story, to
the actors. If it weren't for the distance and limited access of the screen, some of them would jump right in and try to join the action. In fact, I saw that happen in an
Italian movie house in Milano─and it wasn't just someone "showing off, it was a woman who was so moved by the story that she found a way to get there to talk to one of
the characters in an effort to convince him not to divorce his movie wife. She failed.
American audiences are apparently more passive (emphasis on apparently), so this type of experience isn't commonplace, except at screenings
of "Black" movies for African-American audiences, and "Latin" movies, and other ethnic-oriented screenings. The same is true in the UK. Years ago, I saw the world
premiere of Gandhi at a theatre in the Brighton Mews. Sir Richard was there along with many other celebritianos. During the entire screening, the only extraneous sounds I
heard came from the tea-sellers, whispering to each other as they waited for the interval. I wondered: was the audience awake, were they alive, were they lost without subtitles?
For sure, going to the movies, almost anywhere, is wrapped in the anxious influence of television, video, email and text messaging—short
spans of attention, multi-tasking with multi-pees and multi-snacks and multi-chit-chatting. Now with streaming and Amazon, it's a matter of stand-up, sit-down, run around,
throw it away, or look at it a dozen times and then throw it away. The great philosophical search of our time is not to achieve oneness with the universe, it is to find out how to
sit still for 20 minutes. A two-hour movie? Not on the planet Earth!
Live theatre used to be a major means of mass communication, and still is in some remote places in the world. No more. Other than its
entertainment and educational values, the only treasure that live theatre retains is the real-time story-telling, the acting in real-time. It is a powerful treasure and one that
film cannot give. The closest I ever came to that real-time/live-theatre gift when going to the movies was on a warm, Tuscan night. I call it my "Cinema Paradiso"
experience. I sat with a couple hundred smoking, drinking Italians watching a movie outdoors, projected on the side of a whitewashed church. Of all things, it was a Turkish
film with subtitles about immigrant fishermen. With all of the laughter, cheers, boos, singing, and, yes, chit-chat, rather than a disturbing distraction, it all became one
engaging, live experience.
It is the memory of that night that spurs me to search for the 'oneness' of that experience. I want to see a finished movie…
shown at the location where it was shot… surrounded by the characters on the screen and the actors who portrayed them and the director and crew, all sitting and watching with
me. I want to see that film come to life in real time on the faces of the people around me. That's what I call: going to the movies. Maybe some time… in Bangkok.
Nostalgia be damned!