Imagine unveiling your newly built multiplex in the midst of a pandemic. With feisty films and modern seating for hundreds of happy customers. Imagine watching the tumbleweed blow down the empty streets outside. Just like the movies.
It’s a Wednesday lunchtime and I’m sat in the dark watching trailers and those overlong glossy ads for expensive handbags and premium vodka. It’s the first time in six months. Apart from 9am trade screenings, which can be very sparsely populated, I’ve only experienced this kind of solitude once before. On that occasion, the person I was with unexpectedly sprinted down the aisle to the screen, waving and grimacing manically, then ran back, apparently realising some private, childhood fantasy.
I love movies projected large, with scintillating supersharp sound and – goddamit – the occasional whiff of popcorn
Today, the other person is a charmingly attentive attendant who brings coffee, cake and water to the table adjoining the seat, or rather the sofa. I have swapped my home sofa, where I perched throughout lockdown, for a cosy two-seater. At first glance this may appear a little pointless. It’s one of about forty, there are single easy chairs too, and social distancing signage. The whole auditorium bears more than a passing resemblance to a soft furnishings warehouse, except darker, but that’s because it’s empty. There’s one other customer, but he’s in another screen. We chatted earlier in the rather glamorous, but uninhabited, coffee bar.
In Chelsea, where everyone’s favourite arthouse, the Curzon, is currently a construction site, the multiplex formerly known as Cineworld has become The Everyman Chelsea, a luxurious comfort zone for local cineastes who may have shelled out several mill for their homes but can still afford twenty quid for a movie.
I’m at an early screening for two reasons. First, I’m unsure about returning to a forum for community entertainment. Daytimes are quieter. Second, I love movies projected large, with scintillating supersharp sound and – godammit – the occasional whiff of popcorn.
The whole place is brand spanking new, buffed with added neon, chrome and glittery fittings. There are restrained movie-themed murals. All those sofas are in a variety of brightly contrasting monochrome zigzag. The whole building was completed while everything was quiet, as if you, the public, were going to rush back the instant lockdown was over.
It is ridiculously comfortable and within a few minutes of the main feature, I’m in deep, wallowing in the cinematography, being massaged by the vibrations deep rumbling Dolby bass produces. I don’t even have to wear a mask, as there are no other customers.
This isn’t a movie review. Suffice to say that Tenet, the new Christopher Nolan work, is worth the ticket price. Most movies that achieve theatrical release are worth the ticket price. There’s always a performance, or a story, romance, multiple explosions (if you like Michael Bay productions) or Hugh Grant dancing in a pink prison uniform (if you saw Paddington Bear 2). With Tenet, you get Concept. It’s like uploading data for two and a half hours.
Cinemas are God’s chosen film environment. If you’ve just seen Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending It on a small screen streaming service near you, it’s all fine, but thankfully I saw Synecdoche on the big screen. Scorsese’s The Irishman too (all three and a half hours) in a digital arthouse, enthralled by the production values despite 70 year old actors artificially masked to pretend they were younger. Or every James Bond spectacle in a variety of multiplexes munching popcorn hoping it’s not going to be a dud (spoiler alert: the forthcoming No Time To Die is apparently two hours 43 minutes long. Oh God). Thrillingly, there’s a trailer for a new Wes Anderson project with the customary cast, restricted colour palette and barking madness. I’m in.
My favourite place to watch a movie will never be the (domestic) sofa: local arthouses, city multiplexes, from the GFT to the Angelika to the AFI Silver. (The permanent closure of The Uptown in DC is a sad loss). Watching A Star Is Born in a New York City multiplex, a woman sat adjacent to me quietly munching her way through the largest packed lunch I’ve ever seen. She got up at the end and – wiping tears from her eyes – said it was the best day of her life. That doesn’t happen at home very often.
As somebody once said, “I’ll be back”. C