It’s Not What You Watch, It’s How You Watch It

Award season is finally upon us and after the generally amazing (albeit controversial) cinematic year we’ve had, it feels like a ton of bricks has been dropped on top of me. I feel like I have barely had enough time at all to recover from a year that has been jam-packed with so many high octane movies, so I have now wound down into a state of contemplation. As the bell began to strike 12 on the 31st of December 2015, my rum addled mind looked back on some of my highs and lows of the year which included a fair few awesome trips to the cinema. I then started thinking about how some of my fondest memories in general revolve around going to see a film with my mates and I was struck with the idea of how our viewing experience can really affect our enjoyment of the movies we watch. In my opinion, physically going to the cinema makes it a grand occasion; the unfathomable amount of rage when you show your friend your favourite movie and you catch them texting during the best moments is inevitably avoided. Suddenly, my contemplation turned to realisation as I realised how much of a sad act I am to be always thinking about what I am going to write next for this site, but well, here I am typing away… so let’s have a stroll through my stories of how my viewing experience affected my perception of film.

Going to the cinema:

I think I spent most of the pocket money I ever got on trips to the cinema. Whenever I go I make a day of it: usually meeting up with friends for a meal either before or after the viewing, going to a shop with cheaper sweets beforehand to stuff into our coats once we get to there, and the inevitable avid conversations that would fly around the group afterwards. I have seen friendships made and broken in such moments when the movies are all fresh in our minds and emotions haven’t dulled from the passage of time: I got into an intense disagreement after seeing “The Lovely Bones” (2009) which left both parties in massive strops for a good few weeks afterwards, and; I saw an explosive argument between a science and a philosophy student after “Looper” (2012) which caused a massive division in that student house until all went their separate ways and never spoke to each other again… let’s give that a bit of a moment to mull over.

Let’s face it, in the cinema you see the film as you were meant to see it, in the dark with immersive surround sound and dazzling super high definition pictures. I feel that in such an experience the emotions you feel whilst watching the movie are far more heightened and sharpened compared to watching it whilst streaming it in on your laptop, for example. I know this to be a fact for me personally from the times I have tightly clasped my friends’ hands, clawed at my sister’s side, flapped my hands at my own face, shrank down in my chair and tucked my feet under my legs. In the cinema there is no distraction or escape from the onslaught of sounds and images being hurtled at your face and I LOVE IT! Also, and this may be slightly annoying to other film goers, friend to friend commentary is the absolute best: I almost suffocated in my seat when me and my sister both came up with the idea of Thorin sliding his bare arse against the hole in “Battle of the Five Armies” (2014); I won a lot of laughs when I compared Gru’s driving from “Despicable Me” (2010) to my friend’s; and nothing beats pointing out the ugliest Character and whispering in your friend’s ear “That’s your boyfriend”. As a result of all this, I will always have a bias towards films that I have seen in the cinema over any other movie that I have seen, most likely due to my sub-conscious link to grandeur of the viewing experience itself.

Sneaking in underage:

You all know that I am bit of a sucker for kid’s movies but, in reality, I am of the opinion that a lot of movies become better with an X-rating. No, not every film of this rating is amazing but they have the potential to be: there are barely any barriers in the violence, drugs, debauchery, sex, controversy and downright depravity to prevent you from making harrowing, hard-hitting masterpieces. However, once you are of age you lose the totally unique and really fun form of film viewing that is lying your way into a film underage. Ooh watch out everyone, we’re gonna find out how much of a badass I was when I was kid. Ha, I wish. But, seriously, for a total square like 12 year old me, this was the most thrilling thing ever. I am a terrible liar so when it worked I was a smooth criminal, and I’ll tell you now, most of the time it didn’t work: “When were you born?” “Uhhhhh…1991?” “Do you have any proof of age?” “Erm got a buspass?” “GET OUT!” “…awwww.” I tell you, I was really looking forward to Black Sheep. So, why do I miss it? Because watching comedies and horrors underage gives it that amazing illegal feeling. Everything is funnier and scarier and the more disgusting the film, the cooler you are. To be honest, looking back on these experiences makes me appreciate why the rating system exists, some of the movies I watched when I was too young really pierced through my innocence. As an adult I find “Borat (2006)” funny and cringe at the offensive bits, but as 13 year old watching Sacha Baron Cohen’s practically eat out a bloke’s arse, bringing a pile of poo to a table and conversing with racists, appalled and horrified me. And, was that a bad thing? To be shook to my core like that at such a young tender age? God no! I ran down the school halls the following week screaming “EAT MY ARSEHOLE!” none the worse (I’d like to believe). The death count and gore in “Hot Fuzz (2007)” was far more hysterical as a kid than for a hardy adult (and I know because the only people laughing in that scream were the blatant 12 and 13 year olds) and I think I consider it to be one of my favourite movies because of the after-awesome feeling from when I first watched Adam’s buxton head being splattered by a huge rock and an old lady get done-in by her own shears. I will probably never have as much fun in cinema as an adult – the danger is lost to my hardier, old, cynical adult soul. Enjoy it while you can kids.

Family Favourites:

There are some films which are considered cults, but there are those films within your family circles which will have the ultimate cult status that far exceeds the opinion of any high-flying film critic. These are the films that were probably originally used by your parents as effective dummies but have now become your blanket of comfort that reminds you of home. In our house we were a big fan of The Muppets; my brothers, sisters and I could probably reconstruct all of their movies word for word and re-record all their soundtracks in a group effort. Yeah, I could waffle on about how awesome my family is or whatever but I actually feel very strongly about these movies. They are more than just inside family jokes. It basically all started when I first moved out whilst I was at uni. It was a great time and you make really close friends but there is a sort of lost plain of reference and if you have a slight accent of any kind, you are mercilessly ripped to pieces. So yeah, I got home-sick: people back home understood my weird sense of humour better and blah-blah-blah. I actually got to the point where I was watching clips of Ant and Dec (a pair of local celebrities come good) just so I could hear someone who spoke like me. As any student or graduate will know, the day your loan money comes in you blow it and then you spend the rest of term living off super noodles because you’ve never had access to money in quite the same way, and personally I have always been really bad at wasting my money on music and DVDs so I had a pretty steep learning curve when it came to my finances. So, as my course progressed, the more and more I bought movies that we used to have recorded on blank VHS at home. These movies kinda became my own private therapy for me when student life became too much. The fact I watched them so much as a kid and then as a lonely adult means they don’t just serve as reminders of home anymore. Forgive the cheesiness but stuff like “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Family” (1971), “The Secret Garden” (1993), all of the Muppet Movies, “Ghostbusters” (1984), and even the odd one like “Some Like it Hot” (1959), feel almost like an extended part of my family and home life as I have viewed them at such a young age that they have imprinted on me. Certain moments from those movies like the World of Pure Imagination sequence, Mary’s dream about the garden and The Rainbow Connection sequence are so ingrained in my head; the wave of nostalgia is like being hit by a car… in a good way. It’s equivocal to when smells transport you to the past. And, the best part is it takes me back to my mindless, worry-free childhood days when I had not a care in the world. By that I mean that they can make you forget about your problems for an hour or two, making them priceless.

Late Night Movies all on Your Own:

This is kinda my favourite movie experience but it is the most devastating. It’s basically those moments when you’re the only one who is still awake and you’re watching whatever is on TV after 1 in the morning, or you’re in bed with your laptop at your chin and you’ve wound down into the weird part of the internet. And, basically you are prey to whatever fucked up shit heads in your direction because they don’t put happy films on at that time of night. So yeah, you’re curled up on the sofa, with a now empty cup of tea in your hand, and basically either a door is shut on your head or you’re punched in the stomach repeatedly over 3 hours by whatever flickers on to the screen, with no-one there to wipe away your tears. I watched “Empire of the Sun” (1987) in such a way and all I can say is thank God good old sentimental Steven Spielberg was at the helm because it could have been so much more brutal. His depiction of the Japanese invasion of China during WW2 from the perspective of a British boy turned out to be gritty viewing indeed. Pestilence, imprisonment and cruelty seen through the eyes of a child was hard viewing, especially with a child’s hopeless lack of perspective. Life in the prison camps was turned into games of who’s in whose gang; the lack of understanding that with some people, no amount of CPR will revive them and that the light from an atomic bomb is not souls going to heaven. Another one that comes to mind is “Choke” (2008) starring Sam Rockwell as a nymphomaniac who makes a living by pretending to choke in restaurants. The plot develops by the protagonist’s attempts in trying to save his mother’s life by getting one of her doctors pregnant with his child, and then twists and turns towards his discovery that he may be the offspring of Christ, conceived from the holy foreskin itself. This leads to some existential crises and journeys of self-discovery which accidentally involves murder and some stray anal beads. Moments like this are almost spiritual (can’t believe I just wrote that immediately after anal beads, oh whatever), as it acts like your own pilgrimage through the most immersive form of art. You make new realisations about yourself and the world. It gives you an insight into the heads of some of the most imaginative and creative people on this planet. And, the next day you ask if anyone has seen the film and NOBODY EVER FUCKING HAS! So often, the price of these amazing movie experiences is that you’re left carrying the film in your pocket forever with no suitable vent for the awful cocktail of emotions that coursed through your being.

Katie Doyle
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Katie Doyle

Hey, just a massive nerd for movies and especially sci-fi as I enjoy a good existential crisis leaving the cinema. I have great a great adoration for the classics as I'm a bit pretentious (silent and black & white for the win)
Katie Doyle
Hit me up
  • Great post! It took me back through the ages of all the movies I;ve seen and all my early cinema trips.