It wasn’t the movie of our dreams. It wasn’t the total film we carried inside ourselves. That film we would have liked to make, or more secretly, no doubt, the film we wanted to live.” ~ ‘Masculin Féminin’
The first movie I ever saw in New York City was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) at the Sunshine Cinema. I vaguely remember enjoying the movie, if not loving it (the American version is better), but I’ll never forget the feeling of excitement that washed over me when the lights went out and the first previews projected onto the big screen.
I was in college at the time and took the train from Connecticut with my film professor and fellow classmate. The feeling of being immersed in a thriving film culture is one that I loved back then, and have since tried to recapture over the years.
Sunshine Cinema has long been closed, but I’ll always have the experience to thank for introducing me to one of the great intangible loves of my life: moviegoing in New York City.
Moviegoing is different than moviewatching, if such distinctions need to be made, because unlike mere moviewatching, moviegoing requires the act of leaving the comfort of one’s couch to see a movie in a slightly less comfortable chair, surrounded not by the familiar feelings of Home, but by strangers who at any given moment can disrupt the entire experience. We can’t see them, but we hear them, and their every cough, chew and chuckle can cause chaos if we let it.
Moviegoing is a risk and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, somewhat of a drug. A safe drug? If you think taking a half day at work to catch a 3 PM showing of Pain & Glory (2019) on a Tuesday afternoon is safe, then sure, call it what you want.
With moviegoing, we never know what we’re going to get. We hope critical acclaim, early word of mouth and awards buzz might signify that something special in the air, but anyone who’s ever seen Green Book (2018) will tell you that all the hype in the world can’t save a mediocre movie. Anyone who’s ever sat next to someone who munches their popcorn a little too loudly will tell you that one obnoxious person can ruin what might otherwise have been a transcendent experience.
In a COVID-19 world, there is no moviegoing to be had. What are those us us drawn to the darkened theater meant to do?
As great as it was, for a while, to catch up on old movies, the repetition of home viewing has gotten stale, and I find myself longing for the darkened room to lock the rest of the world away. I try to stream the latest acclaimed indie I’d normally catch at the Angelika and I just feel depressed. Is this what it’s come to? Is this how it’s always going to be now? i’m thinking of ending things (2020) would have been wonderful in the theater. At home, it’s a monotonous bore.
I miss the conversations at the pub, trying to decipher some cryptic ending (Is there anyone who can tell me what really happens at the end of Suspiria?) or geeking out about misunderstood works of art (I still don’t know why more people didn’t praise Destroyer). I miss not being able to pause for a snack or bathroom break.
I miss the person I become, or the identity I lose, when I’m faced with those flickering images and forced to confront parts of myself I continuously avoid.
What will become of movies without moviegoing? What of ourselves?