“You did not sit where the tramps peed on it”
When I was an impecunious young filmmaker, there was the Tolmer Cinema at Euston, the cheapest cinema in London, or anywhere – two shillings at a time. A converted church, it was dirty, decrepit and gloriously eclectic. He showed everything they could find, new prints and old ones. Leopard – the original version, no subtitles; Hellzapoppin ”; Rashomon; Svenska Flickor I Franska Sexorgier. Incomplete prints, sudden random reels of other films, images catching fire in the projector. Magnificent. An education in cinema. But you didn’t sit where the tramps peed.
“A lance thrown in the back of the crowd hangs on the screen”
1980. A leaf hanging from a tree in the middle of a village in Kitui county, Kenya, an old grumpy western projected through an even more grumpy old projector and its generator, which were all driven by two Nairobi geezers in a loop from Somalia to Tanzania and so on about every two years. An audience of hundreds, gathered at a distance of several kilometers. In the middle of the shooting in the living room, a spear launched at the back of the crowd hits the bad guy in the chest and remains suspended in the heart of the sheet until the last romantic hang. Unforgettable. Magic cinema of dreams, you rock us everywhere and always – ad astra and back, ad infinitum and beyond. The respect.
“Not a whiff of fast food”
Not an ecstatic moment, but a tale of three cinemas, half a century ago. Nuneaton Racecourse was a former variety theater, rumored to be cattle in faded velvet seats. Never mind, for dead teenagers, lowering your voice to get into French films like La Ronde, it was an escape into an exotic world far from the industrial Midlands. Then there was the Phoenix at Oxford in the late 1950s and the films of Ingmar Bergman, Andrzej Wajda and the first splash of the French New Wave. Finally, there was the Academy, on Oxford Street in London, where we shared the joys of Czech films from the 60s: Closely watched trains, A blonde in love (AKA loves a blonde) and many others. They were all cinemas with fond memories – and not a whiff of fast food in any of them!
“I had butterflies in my stomach up to my chest”
My first time at the movies was to see The Magnificent Seven at Hammersmith Odeon, London. I remember rubbing my hand along the wall and being shocked that it was carpeted. The West Indians have a great affiliation with westerns, and watching that with my father was a great thing. The film was incredible; an amazing cacophony of sound and image. I had butterflies in my stomach up to my chest.
I should also mention a morning reissue of North by Northwest 20 years ago at Lumière at St Martin’s Lane, an underground cinema in central London that is now a gym. You would go down three or four flights of stairs, losing the reality of life in London, and find yourself in this beautiful oval space, as if you were inside a whale rib cage.
Alfred Hitchcock created this film for an audience. He orchestrated their oohs and aahs, when they leaned forward and when they sat down. He wasn’t a person on the couch at home distracted by his phone or the doorbell or going for a drink. The place was full of energy and in the end everyone got up and cheered; just like they did when I saw Slumdog Millionaire at ArcLight in Los Angeles.
Can you imagine being alone on a roller coaster? The majority of the experience is that you are with other people and you are delighted together. This is what makes it exciting. There is nothing better than watching a story with other people. It is a collective thing and a confirmation of humanity. I’m just desperate for people to go back to the movies. It’s too painful. I don’t want it to ever die – and I’m certainly not alone.
“I wanted to feel what I felt at that time forever”
Superman, 1978. Huge cinema. We were 17 years old. It was exciting, funny and dramatic but, the rarest of all, the lead female role was as interesting and inspiring as the male even if she could not stand on her own two feet. When I got out of the cinema, I wanted to feel what I felt at that time forever.
“In the dark, among strangers, I was transformed”
I saw The Thin Red Line in a movie theater in Toronto, Canada at the age of 20. I entered the militant atheist theater, depressed and with the conviction that working in the cinema was a superficial thing to do with my life. I left the theater with a glimpse of what faith meant, having been lifted and exhausted from my sadness, and wanting to make my own films someday. In the darkness of cinema, among foreigners, I was transformed.
“The blue-white light that fills the auditorium. It was bewitching “
I remember an evening in October when my mom took me with a few friends to the local fleapit for my 10th birthday to see a double bill from Live and Let Die and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Memory always gives me goosebumps. Transported to the sunny Everglades, watching a glamorous speedboat pursuit, followed by the best score of John Barry accompanying George Lazenby and Diana Rigg skiing in the Swiss Alps. The blue-white light filling the auditorium. It was spellbinding. My mom is asleep. How could she? I remember the shake of reality as I went out in the cold, damp night. They were really stupid movies, but that childhood excitement stayed with me.
A well-designed story, a cinematic experience is unique. In two hours, you can give people a deep experience, make them question themselves, make them cry, make them laugh, lift them up and give them hope.
“As we had already read, we couldn’t be afraid”
My whole career has been devoted to reproducing the different peaks that I have known in a cinema. A memorable screening in my local cinema in Somerset was the afternoon when I saw the 15 Gremlins certificates at the age of 10. My brother and I approached the manager with the romance of Gremlins in hand, explaining that, as we had read, we couldn’t be afraid of the film. Surprisingly, he let us in and the thrill of watching the movie, while thinking I could be kicked out at any time, was off the charts. I’m still chasing this buzz.
“A purely human form of communication, rooted in desire, myth and magic”
As the past 10 years have been very effective in killing the true experience of a physically projected film by installing television screens in cinemas, I remember with growing nostalgia watching a restored copy of Barry Lyndon by Stanley Kubrick there has more than a decade. It was both really visceral and stimulating, while reaffirming for me the attraction of a work rooted in craftsmanship, carried out in a physical dimension, with each cup carefully considered. There was no room for computers, only a purely human form of communication, rooted in desire, myth and magic.
“You could hear the clicking of the film on the gables”
When I was about 15 or 16, I discovered there was a film company in Blackburn, Lancashire. He screened films once a week in a small room at the top of the library. To be honest, I don’t remember what was the first movie I saw there, but they had a German season, so it could be Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul, or Alice in the Cities by Wim Wenders or Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.
The films were shown on a 16mm projector that was in the room, so you could hear the film clicking on the gables. At the end of each reel, there was a pause, the lights went on and someone got up from the audience and laced up the next reel. There was something simple, mechanical and magical about having the projector right next to you, which was matched by the movies themselves – on a budget, shot on the spot, often with actors not professional, they seemed both recognizable and exotic, simple but full of meaning that they did not need to explain.
“Total madness and joy”
The best experience of all time has been the children’s cartoon mornings before Christmas at the Storm King Theater in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. They were the art of form at its peak – total madness and joy. At the Orson Welles movie theater near Harvard, my projectionist brother married Bugs Bunny: Superstar for movie director Larry Jackson, starting the cartoon craze.
Then there were war films with my father: The Longest Day, 55 Days at Peking and, during a summer sailing cruise, Zulu at the magnificent Criterion theater in Bar Harbor, Maine. With my mother, there were delicious foreign films like Geneviève, Kind Hearts & Coronets and Divorce Italian Style.
But it was a double feature film in 1971 that I saw at the Harvard Square Theater which guided me towards my career: Bed & Board by François Truffaut (loved), and Claire’s Knee by Eric Rohmer (hated, except the knee).
“Cinema must be the beacons of our new society”
Francis Ford Coppola
In these difficult times, people are afraid and longing for what they call “a return to normal.” But who would say now that the most important concerns are what we earn or how much we are worth? Nothing is more important than the health and safety of those we love, universal education, justice and the care of our common home, Earth. It is now perhaps the artists, in particular the cinema, who must play the role of “flagships” of society: expressing themes and principles to stimulate and change our old long-standing priorities. “Where are we really going?” Said Novalis. ” Always at home. “
“I barely breathed”
Watching a good movie is always a pleasure, on any platform. Still, my deepest memories are of where I am lost in history, watching flickering lights in a dark room with other people. I saw Heavenly Creatures by Peter Jackson in a small independent three-screen room in a suburban mall.
Drawn into the feverish and obsessive private world of teenage girls Juliette and Pauline who fell in love, I barely breathed; it was a totally immersive experience and Jackson and Kate Winslet dictated every heartbeat to me as the film led me to a brutal finale. I knew the end was inevitable. Pauline’s narration had already told me. But fear overwhelmed me. A path through a wood, a rock. The horrible act was accomplished and the lights went on, but few people left the cinema.
I was suddenly overwhelmed with all the emotion that Pauline must have felt – sober with sudden loss, painful with remorse and regret. I sat in a fully lit cinema and cried with strangers.
Tricia Tuttle is artistic director of the London film festival
“Bats have dived in the moonlight”
I saw Oprah Winfrey dazzle 2,000 people at Roy Thomson Hall at TIFF; I felt the buzz of Amitabh Bachchan sitting among us. But I will never forget Fespaco (the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou). There, in Burkina Faso, I joined hundreds of them in an open-air cinema, while the bats were diving in the moonlight and the bright screen bathed us in a balm of the country. We commune.
Cameron Bailey is artistic director of the Toronto film festival
“I was secretly a little panicked at how blurry the seats were”
When I was 22 years old in 1985, I was in New York for work and one evening I went boldly alone to see a film called Blood Simple at the Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village. A shy British country mouse that I was, I was secretly a little freaked out how hard and fuzzy the seats were, how sticky the carpet was and how strangely and threatening the audience seemed.
Then I was even more freaked out – and transported and disturbed – by the film itself. When the owner of Dan Hedaya’s sinister bar seemed to be exchanging a gallon of blood, I felt that blood had spilled across the screen and gathered around my feet on the incredibly sticky floor. The film was intimately horrible, and it blended in my mind with the cinema itself. It wasn’t until I returned to the goosebumps Coenesque Warwick Hotel that I realized how strangely glorious this experience was.
Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian film critic
“She was sitting next to me in the stalls: bare stomach, jewelry and veils”
In Grenada, Tooting, 1949, I was eight years old, watching Samson and Delilah: unimpressed by religious stuff but fearful of having a haircut. So I dreaded her golden scissors with the wisps of Victor Mature slamming on the ground. So Delilah came and sat next to me in the stalls – bare stomach, jewelry and veils, in a sickly scent. Miss Lamar looked at me and whispered in her sinister manner, “Don’t be afraid, darling. No, it couldn’t have happened. But years later, when Hedy was revealed as a mistress of electronic privacy, I was not surprised.
David Thomson writes about a film for The Guardian
“I can still feel my jaw literally opening”
The movie to see in August 1991 was, of course, Terminator 2. And so, encouraged by five-star criticism in my then guide to life, Empire magazine, I went to the Odeon on Kensington High Street. The cinema was packed. I wasn’t surprised. After all, Empire said that this film was IMPORTANT. Empire was right. I can still feel my jaw literally open when the T-1000 walks through the bars. These special effects, invented by James Cameron, have completely – it’s not hyperbole to say – blown away. I’ve been to a lot of movies since then and I’ve seen a lot of CGI. But nothing will ever compete with this for the first time on the big screen. I felt like I witnessed the first talking photo. And, in a way, I did it.
Hadley Freeman is a Guardian writer and columnist
“A fleeting pram plowed at high speed”
Cinema 180 was a fairground attraction at Thorpe Park in Surrey in the 80s. I went on a school trip when I was 13 years old. You stood in a dome and watched an enveloping screen. It showed POV photos from the front car of a roller coaster or from a ski jumper helmet. The goal was immersion; I was completely submerged. For the grand finale, a fleeting pram plowed at full speed on a hill and on a busy main road. At the last cry, a truck braked. The shock was so great that I fell flat on my face.
Xan Brooks writes about a film for The Guardian
“You could almost smell the air sucked out of the room”
I had watched Jack Clayton’s 1961 film The Innocents on TV, VHS and DVD, but I never really seen until 2015, when Brussels Cinematek showed it on the big screen. For the first time, I could really appreciate the exquisite black and white cinematography of Freddie Francis with its immaculate big screen framing and its beautiful deep focus – all designed to scare the bejeesus out of you. And so, when the ghost appeared at the window behind Miss Giddens, you could almost feel the air sucked out of the room as the whole audience gasped in unison. Cinematic Nirvana.
Anne Billson writes about a film for The Guardian
“The smoking section and the non-smoking section burst into applause”
When Indiana Jones sent the fancy swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark with a single lazy ball, the audience of Harlow Odeon in Essex burst into wild applause: the smoking section to the left of the auditorium, the no section – smokers on the right, everyone clapping wildly in the blue mist. It was a midweek evening in the early 1980s and I was a stunned 11 year old teenager. I had never heard applause in a cinema. I’m generally not a fan. Unless the filmmakers are in the room, please hold back. But it was different – a helpless outpouring of spontaneous joy. You remember?
Ryan Gilbey writes about a film for The Guardian
“People were screaming, crying and grabbing each other for comfort”
I saw the first Kill Bill in a crowded cinema in the UK, where he played in complete silence. Then, two weeks later, I moved to South Korea. This is where I saw the rest. The difference was like day and night. As soon as the first big kick came in – as soon as Uma Thurman was shot – there was a stir. People were screaming, crying and gripping for comfort, and it didn’t stop until the end credits. My boss later told me that she really believed she was going to throw up. She also wanted it as a compliment.
Stuart Heritage is a custodian writer
“Scream 4 was the perfect birthday date movie”
At 26, I was in love for the first time. He was smart, handsome, hated to jump the queue and, more attractive, like me, he also wrote fan fiction for a fourth Scream movie imagined as a teenager. It was fate. And so the release of a real fourth Scream movie the same weekend as our one year anniversary felt almost comically happy. My friends ridiculed my inexperienced idea of romance, but for us, after spending our early years obsessed with the slasher franchise, it was like the perfect date.
And it was. Not only the pleasure of finding characters with whom we had grown up, but of knowing that we were all as delighted as each other. When I was a teenager, the film was something I used to experience mostly alone, so there was something very comforting about this hot spring evening, in an Odeon madly overpriced and strangely empty, making experience it with him instead, holding hands as we swoon over a chain of vicious and deadly stabs.
Benjamin Lee is an artistic writer for Guardian US
“I was not prepared for a total immersion trauma at all”
As you move from one screening to the next, film festivals can be a chore – but they can also create the conditions for a supercharged cinema, especially since you normally watch movies whose you know almost nothing and expect even less. The sensational “Mexican Dog Movie” that turned out to be called Amores Perros, a super-violent Brazilian gang saga that became City of God, a short story from “The Pi guy” that distilled Hubert’s crystal madness Selby Jr. Requiem for a dream. But the one that still stands out is the first screening in 2015 of Son of Saul in Cannes. I vaguely knew it was Auschwitz, but I was completely unprepared for the total immersion trauma that would follow, a completely flawless attempt to recreate the dehumanizing nightmare of the Nazi extermination camp. It was an overwhelming experience; I still haven’t recovered.
Andrew Pulver is the associate editor of The Guardian
“Just Richard Gere and the cicadas”
It had not been the best day of the trip. Cash was low. Temper a little rough. We had been so long (two and a half weeks!) So far (Greece!) From home. It was a silly plan to backpack all day in the Samariá Gorge in a heat of 38 ° C. You couldn’t turn around; there was no shade or coffee. A man died on the small ferry back.
Then we went to see Autumn in New York at the Paleochora open air cinema. God it was horrible, and God it was perfect. The place was quite deserted; just us, the beer and the gyros, the cicadas and the moon, Richard Gere at his most fabulously smug and Winona Ryder manic pixie dream mannequin, struck in an unconvincing way. We quoted it for years after. I saw him once, but this majestic Cretan was gone.
Guardian film editor Catherine Shoard
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