What do we want when we go to the movies?
Simple and honest entertainment, escape, terror, stimulation, (sexual or intellectual), a need to cry, a wish to laugh, to hang out with friends and have a good argument afterwards or to follow the ones we love, (directors, actors, composers, cinematographers); is that what we want from a visit to the cinema? What we get from a visit to the cinema is rarely constant. It might start full of expectation but – for me at least – is frequently disappointing, mostly unmemorable and invariably forgettable.
Unlike the Open College of the Arts‘ Principal Gareth, who went to see Manchester by the Sea with low expectations of being impressed and sceptical of the five-star review in The Guardian, I was dreading seeing it just a bit because it was another next in line of a number of films I had watched whose content intimated a depressing watch. Try Christine, one of the vast number of ‘True Stories’ released in the last year or the – in my view – dated, clichéd and mindless blood-fest that is the ‘True Story’ of Hacksaw Ridge or the dark world of the alcoholic in Girl on a Train. Not a quadruple bill for those with a weak constitution and believe me, I’ve only scratched the surface of what has been on offer this last twelve months.
However, I had no doubts about the likely quality of Manchester by the Sea for two reasons. Firstly it stared Casey Affleck who never fails to impress and Michelle Williams who is one of the finest actors of her generation and secondly, the director is Kenneth Lonergan whose first film You Can Count on Me made in 2000 was a minor triumph and his brilliant Margaret made in 2011 is one of the best films of the last decade in my view. I didn’t think I would enjoy Lonergan’s latest but I did expect to appreciate it and had high hopes because of the thoughtful reviews in the Guardian amongst others. But, you know something? I did ‘enjoy’ watching the film and it has remained with me for weeks now because it was simply a powerful and moving story that was utterly believable.
And there’s the rub. I know exactly what I want from a visit to the cinema. First and foremost – and I am speaking about fiction films here – I want a suspension of disbelief. I want to fall into a narrative, to be able to ignore the inconsistencies in a plot line, to love and hate the characters, to know that there is a part of me in some of them, to lose the sense of time, to be blown away. That’s a big ask which is why I am frequently disappointed; said disappointment is usually the result of thinking too much about the film before I go and see it – oh yes, and being forgiving of my favourite reviewers.
In this vein I continue to wonder if I feel differently about watching ‘Feel Good’ or ‘Feel Bad’ films. I like to put it another way; I feel very differently about seeing films I ‘Should’ watch and films I ‘Want’ to watch – case in point being the truly ghastly ultimate ‘Feel Good movie of the season’, La-La Land which has won the hearts and minds of press and public alike. A marketing triumph and, I pray, a loser in this year’s awards-fest. It is easy to beat oneself up about what one should see because it is worthy or artistic or everyone is raving about it and what one wants to see because it is, primarily, entertaining, or before the screening at least, a subject that speaks to me in a particular way.
And before I am accused of peddling even more sexist clichés dare I say, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. What motivates you, dear reader, to go the flicks matters to me not a jot – just go! In fact, we are hanging out at our local picture-houses more than ever before. Box-office receipts are up again in 2016 to £1.3 billion, beating the 17% jump recorded in 2015. Independent cinema is booming. Whatever some might think, more and more of us are like me. We LOVE to go the movies and for millions of different reasons.