I still regularly win “worst first date” polls when I reveal that, while still a teenage virgin, I went on a first date that included watching Cronenberg’s gynaecologist horror Dead Ringers.
Tracey Sinclair looks back from lockdown on some of her most memorable cinematic moments: from Trainspotting dubbed into American, to a Dutch Johnny Mnemonic. (Also spoiler warning for Casablanca…)
If you’d asked me what I would miss in the lockdown, I’m not sure “going to the cinema” would even have made my list. I rarely manage more than ten or so trips a year these days – if that – and while I expected (correctly) to pine for the live theatre experience, I was content to resign myself to watching movies on Netflix until it was safe to go out again. After all, if I wanted to recreate the modern cinematic experience, surely I could leave my own phone switched on, spill popcorn on the carpet and charge myself a tenner for a Diet Coke and a packet of Maltesers?
But it turns out, I do miss it. I miss the buzz of an opening night screening, packed with avid fans desperate to see a movie before the spoilers start to circulate. I miss the sense of an event that accompanies going to a cinema. I miss talking about the film afterwards with friends in the pub over a glass of wine. And most of all, I miss making more movie memories.
I am very lucky in that, over the years, I have enjoyed a fairly impressive (and eclectic) array of cinema experiences. I saw Trainspotting first in Glasgow then again in a hipster cinema in Providence, Rhode Island, where I sat in an overstuffed armchair trying to figure out why it seemed different, only to realise they’d overdubbed some of the Scots to make it more palatable to an American audience.
(It was later on that same trip to the States that I went to an illegal screening in [redacted] of the banned Todd Haynes film Superstar – in which the life of Karen Carpenter was recreated with Barbie dolls.)
I saw the Keanu Reeves film Johnny Mnemonic in a multiplex in Copenhagen, and didn’t understand most of it since I had foolishly not anticipated they would – not unreasonably – subtitle the Japanese bits into Danish, not English, so much of the plot eluded me. (Though from the box office reception to the film, the same is true of everyone else who watched it.)
I saw Casablanca for the first time on the gigantic screen at Radio City Music Hall, New York, which was so big looking at it made me giddy. (They showed a Bugs Bunny pastiche before it, in which Bugs-Bergen jumps off the plane to rejoin Bogart in the final scenes. When the actual film ended, a girl behind me wailed “No! I thought they would get together like in the cartoon!”)
Sometimes, it’s not the place but the film that sticks in the memory. I vividly recall seeing all of the Star Wars movies when they first came out – at the now-demolished Odeon, in Newcastle, where I also saw the sequels and the re-releases, and where I realised a relationship was doomed when my then-boyfriend turned to me and asked, “So is this Darth Vader guy the baddie?”. The sheer sense of wonder they imbued stayed with me to this day.
While I was too young to see the first film without my mum, by the time Jedi came out I could be trusted to go in the company of an older friend, and I marvel at how I uncomplainingly queued for hours to see it, then came out and queued to see it all over again. (Remember queuing for movies? These days I wouldn’t queue if a shirtless Chris Hemsworth was handing out hugs and tenners, but it seemed quite normal then.)
Sometimes, the films themselves mean little, but they’ve snagged in my mind because of the circumstances in which I saw them. To this day I adore First Wives Club because I saw it on my first trip to New York, and retain a fondness for the deeply questionable Betty Blue because, like every other student of my generation, I saw it at a late night screening (at the Grosvenor in Glasgow), where there was an audible gasp at the sight of her underarm hair, so shocking was it to an audience weaned on waxed and polished American ideals. (And, yes, I also owned the poster. You weren’t a student in the late 80s / early 90s without Beatrice Dalle pouting at you from your wall.)
Other times, I recall little of the films in question, but they prompt memories so vivid as to be cinematic in themselves. The only fact I can remember about the Canadian film Love and Human Remains is that it stars that bloke who got fired from Criminal Minds, but nearly 30 years after seeing it I can easily conjure a vision of myself walking home drunk down a dark alley in Glasgow, with my hands over my ears because the serial killer in the film collected women’s earrings. (Look, I said I was drunk).
I couldn’t tell you a thing about the little-loved Michael Winterbottom film I Want You except I saw it in an arthouse cinema in Sheffield on my one and only attempt at a “friend date” with a woman I didn’t really know, who thought so little of my choice she never spoke to me again afterwards.
And I still regularly win “worst first date” polls when I reveal that, while still a teenage virgin, I went on a first date that included watching Cronenberg’s gynaecologist horror Dead Ringers. All memories of the film have been erased (perhaps deliberately) but the hot wash of sheer, body-clenching embarrassment I felt as I sat watching it with the boy I had planned to go to bed with lives on to this day.
I’m not sure what cinema will look like after lockdown. I’m not sure how quickly I’ll return. After all, I really don’t want one of my future reminiscences to be “that’s when the lady sitting next to me coughed and I ended up in hospital” – even seeing the next Marvel movie on a big screen isn’t worth that. But, perhaps ironically, not being able to go to the cinema has reminded me of just how much I love it.
For all its expense and its inconvenience, it’s the stuff of magic and memories, and I’m not ready to give up on that just yet.
Tracey Sinclair is a freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly for online and print publications including Exeunt and The Stage, and is the author of eight books. A former subtitler and eternal geek, Tracey has a particular interest in Korean, Japanese and French films and anything to do with space or superheroes. You can follow her on Twitter under the profoundly misleading name @thriftygal