February 20, 2012


The interior of the El Capitan theatre in LA
A couple of things prompted me to compose this entry in my In Appreciation of... series. There is the constant state of flux the cinema distribution and exhibition industry seems to find itself in at the moment. There is the constant improvement of home entertainment options. There is the increasing presence of digital projection in cinemas and the decreasing presence of 35mm presentations. There is the screening of Hugo I attended, which is a beautiful re-awakening of the love of cinema. Recently there was an article by the Film Crit Hulk on what he loves about cinema, which was followed up by a similar article from Quint at Ain't it Cool News. And there are the numerous films that, every year, I am desperate to see on general release here in NZ but that instead head straight to DVD.

To me, absolutely nothing beats seeing a movie in a cinema. I have never downloaded a movie in my life. Not only because of the moral issues I have with it (and I do), but because I would rather see a film how it was meant to be seen: on a big screen, with an audience.

There is something almost indefinable and special about watching a movie in the cinema, with an appreciative audience. It is akin to experiencing a live concert rather than listening to a CD at home or attending a game or match instead of watching it at home on TV. There is something about experiencing an event - cinema, concert, game - with a crowd that makes it electric. These types of experiences go right to the core of something inside all of us; inside every person. The connection that seems to pass through a crowd, all sharing in something together; experiencing the same highs and lows. It can only be replicated to a smaller degree at home.

Yes, I love films. But I also love cinemas. 
Where possible, I avoid the multiplexes and this post is not focussed on them. No, they give the bare minimum of the experience with, often as not, barely competent staff, hollow & impersonal architecture and lousy texting & talking patrons. This is, of course, a gross over generalisation but one that I have found to be true time and again.

Ceiling detail from the Roxy Cinema
However, we are lucky enough in Wellington, to have a number of fantastic "boutique", "art-house" or "independent" cinemas. Each of them offer something different and altogether something more. Whether it be the largely art-house and independent fare at the Paramount (Wellington's oldest cinema); the big, beautiful screen and the newly refurbished downstairs bar area at the Embassy; the mind-blowing love and attention to detail poured into the Roxy Cinema in Miramar, which looks like a cinema you would find it Fritz Lang's Metropolis; or the welcoming cafes and atmospheres at Island Bay's Empire Cinema, Brooklyn's Penthouse Cinema or Petone's Lighthouse Cinema. These are all wonderful places to wrap yourself in the darkness and fall into the worlds on screen.

A night out at the movies used to be more of an event; it was something people got dressed up for, queued for and made an evening of. This sense of occasion has somewhat abandoned the movies, with the rise of the multiplexes and their blockbuster fare, not to mention the increased ticket prices and overall costs involved with having a night out. But I still love it - even if it is just to watch various things explode while munching down over-salted popcorn with a crowd of hyper-sugared-up teens.

All of this is a rather over-long way of saying, in this age of downloading (whether legal or illegal) and better home-entertainments systems & options I remain resolutely in love with a night-out at the movies. I love watching small, intimate films in a cinema as much as I love watching action-packed explosion-fests; the cinema screen is not just a way to watch explosions in the highest definition possible. You never laugh harder, scream higher or cheer louder than when you experience a film with a packed cinema audience, all of you responding to what's on the screen.

The vast, vast majority of my movie watching related memories are ensconced within the cinema. I'll happily watch 35mm prints that are showing their age and crisp new digital projections that ring clear as a bell. I can only sincerely hope these picture palaces are still around for me to share with any future generations. 


  1. This is a truly well-written article: I really enjoyed reading it, and your passion for the experience is infectious. I hope this reaches a wide-ranging audience of people that may perhaps inspire them to reassess their own cinema and movie-watching experiences: long live the boutique cinema!

    1. Cheers! Going to the cinema can, and should be, more than just staring blankly at the flickering screen; it should be an experience, and a great one at that.