Voices: Forget the streaming wars – nothing compares to the experience of cinema

·5-min read
For me, the cinema is my hearth (Getty)
For me, the cinema is my hearth (Getty)

I stumbled across an old clip of Stephen Fry on The Graham Norton Show the other day, in which he was discussing the launching of his book, Heroes. He says that he had written the book in a way that could feed into the idea of “the hearth” – the gathering of friends and family to come together and tell stories.

“I think we can safely say we’ve lost the hearth – we don’t eat round tables any more… nobody gathers round and shares stories any more”, he says.

Despite my undying and unwavering respect for the man, I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with him on one thing he said. He rightly points out that, in today’s world, it is ever more difficult to recreate this idea, this assembling of people and the sharing of experiences, but I refuse to admit that we have lost it entirely.

For me, the cinema is my hearth. A place to go with partners, family or friends, to sit for a few hours and be told a story. In my mind, nothing compares to the lights dimming, the other excited moviegoers hurriedly hushing each other and the appearance of the title of the movie with some unknown cinema executives’ signature (why do we need to see that?).

During the pandemic, I related strongly to what Mr Fry had said. I felt I had lost my hearth. The introduction of share-play to Netflix and Disney+ did not fill the gaping hole left by the cinemas closing. The endless weekly Zoom quizzes worked for a while, but got tiring quickly. For many, the pandemic allowed them space to re-evaluate things, to see what they missed most about “normal life”; this was no different for me. Covid allowed me to see how big a part the cinema plays in my life.

To echo and perhaps add to what Mr Fry said, going to the cinema is an event – something to build an evening around. It isn’t “let’s see what’s on telly” with a takeaway in our laps. That doesn’t cut it for me.

I gave alternatives a go – watching Black Widow on Disney+ Premier Access at home. I found myself halfway through wishing I’d chosen to spend my spare time doing something else. For a while afterwards, I thought that it just wasn’t the right film to watch at home, but then I cast my mind back to a couple of months earlier. Shortly after the second lockdown, I had the pleasure of seeing Godzilla vs Kong at a cinema. Yes, since you ask, it really was as awful a movie as it sounds, probably up there as one of the worst films I’ve ever seen (it doesn’t touch Atlantic Rim or Sharknado at the pinnacle of that mountain, however), but I absolutely loved it.

It felt new and familiar all at once. Being sat in a room dotted with strangers and a stench of cheap popcorn, the rustling of wrappers and that one person in the front row that talks just a little too loudly. Its imperfections make it so much more likeable. I was too busy bathing in the atmosphere of my surroundings to notice much about the movie.

I had led a fairly sheltered life in the world of movie-going prior to my enlightenment, enjoying films only at my local Vue or Odeon. I owe my partner a lot for introducing me to the Everyman cinema chain, where you can have beers and wine served to your seat if, as I did with Kong, you needed some extra refreshment to ease you through your viewing.

As much as I may wish I was, I am no movie buff. You won’t find any insightful cinematic analysis from this guy. I suppose, then, that highlights how important the experience is to me – I don’t go for the films, I go for the occasion, the spectacle. Had I seen Black Widow in a cinema instead of at home, I firmly believe I would have enjoyed it tenfold.

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Of course, it does help if you do enjoy the film you go to see. I fondly remember making the pilgrimage to the Imax cinema in London to see the release of every new Harry Potter. Similarly, I can recall shedding a tear with my dad at the incredible montage played before Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in which Anthony Daniels emotionally said goodbye to his character C-3PO. Anybody who saw Skyfall in a cinema can probably attest to the fact that every single member of the audience let out a collective satisfied sigh when that beautiful Aston Martin DB5 was revealed in that dingy garage.

Most recently, while battling through a chaotic first week in a new job, I was able to find the time to see Top Gun: Maverick with my dad, for his birthday. While it was obviously a fabulous movie, the real enjoyment came from seeing my father bask in the nostalgia it provided him. He was like a child in a sweet shop – grinning inanely throughout and excitedly poking me and whisper-shouting, “That was in the original!”, every five minutes.

These kinds of experiences and memories – the laughs, the groans, the screams, the sighs – are what will keep me going back and spending half my wages on a Tango Ice Blast and a medium popcorn. What’s that you say? The large is only an extra pound? Oh, go on then.

So, my winding journey through this article has led me back to where I started – to Mr Stephen Fry. I hope, in part, that I have demonstrated that there is evidence of the hearth in today’s society and, more importantly, that I have convinced some readers that £11 for all of these experiences and memories is worth it – even if the extortionate popcorn is not.

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