Reflections on a Return to the Cinema

I went to a cinema this afternoon. It was the first time in many months, I think since October, to be exact. The film I went to see was Taxi Driver, the seminal 1970s Scorsese masterpiece, but I have opted not to review it on this occasion. I don’t think the world needs another affirmation that Taxi Driver is great, but I did want to document my experience somehow. Maybe I’ll offer some thoughts on the film as I go, but mostly, I want to tell you about my experiences returning to a place I love dearly and how I have had to change.

This will also be a far more personal entry as far as this website goes. I know there will be some of you that come here for reviews, and that’s all, and that’s fine. I wouldn’t want you all to read something thinking it was going to be a review. If this is you, feel free to give this one a miss. I promise I won’t mind. However, those of you who read every post on here will remember me posting about my struggles recently, and that’s important to bear in mind, as this… I’m not even sure what to call it – ramble, I suppose. Anyway, this ramble will touch on the subject of that ‘Health Statement’. Here’s a brief recap: my eyesight is bad. Visually-impaired levels of bad, in fact. I’m not sure why. I’m awaiting results, but that’s the bottom line. I don’t know whether it’s temporary or permanent, but I am partially sighted.

This became more obvious after I sat down to watch the film today, as it dawned on me that I couldn’t see the movie properly from my usual seat. You see, I am a tall man. As a consequence of this, I make a better door than a window, and so, I usually sit on the back row. That way, I’m not blocking anyone’s view. It became painfully clear during the adverts preceding the film that my days of sitting in the back row are over. Luckily, the screen wasn’t very busy, so I moved right to the front, where I could see the film much better. The screen was also at a comfortable height, so I didn’t have to do much looking up, which was good, and it meant I could still enjoy the film, even if the more minor details were still somewhat blurred.

Film is, of course, a visual medium. I know there are ways and means for visually-impaired people to still enjoy movies to a certain extent, like audio description, but the thought of not being able to see a film at all terrifies me. I’ve had to give up my driving licence in the last month because of my eyes, and I loved driving, but without a doubt, the scariest thing for me when it comes to potentially losing my eyesight is losing the ability to enjoy films. Maybe as I adjust to my vision being reduced, I can adapt, as long as I don’t lose my sight completely. I suppose I will have to, along with adapting to a lot of other changes.

When it comes to this website, however, it’s a different kettle of fish entirely. The act of critiquing a movie is very different to the act of enjoying a movie. You can enjoy a film with half a bottle of vodka floating in your stomach, and some people can even unironically enjoy Mamma Mia! But to watch a movie to critique is a much more involved experience. Being able to see a film is essential to critique it, at least in my opinion, as a lot of a film’s identity revolves around how it looks.

To use Taxi Driver as an example of this, the film benefits from having this filthy aesthetic, portraying a grime-covered New York landscape, crawling with the dregs of society, portraying the city in a way that only Scorsese seems to. I can still appreciate this now because I sat closer to the screen and had a clearer view. If my eyesight were to go anymore, I doubt I’d connect as much with that feeling. In losing this connection, you also lose a layer of the films’ context, and thus, as a critic, you are compromised. Could I, theoretically, enjoy Taxi Driver or Blade Runner (another film intrinsically linked to its visuals) without the benefit of its visuals? Probably. Could I critique them? No.

Today was somewhat of a ‘dry run’ for returning to watching films in the cinema after months of home viewing, and truth be told, there were positives and negatives. Speaking positively, it was wonderful to be back in a cinema in general, and my eyes weren’t too severely irritated by the screen (as they have been at home). However, on the negative side, it drove home just how much of my eyesight I have lost and the difficulties this brings with writing about them. Sure, I can see what’s going on, but the more minor details are blurry, and writing about it on my laptop gives me a headache after looking at it for too long. In other words, it reinforced just how difficult doing something I love might become.

I really, REALLY don’t want you all to get the wrong impression that I’m hosting a pity party for myself here. After all, some kids have never had the chance to see a movie, whereas I still can for the most part. Today reinforced just how difficult it might be in the near future to carry on these reviews, but I’ll find a way. I’ll do video reviews if that ends up being easier on my eyes. I’ve even had a kind offer from a friend to transcribe these videos so I can still post written reviews.

It is hard to face up to a problem like losing your sight. It’s kept me awake for weeks now, thinking of all of the things I might not be able to enjoy. I’ve cried a lot too. Out of frustration and out of fear. I fear becoming a burden on those around me. I fear not being able to enjoy doing what I love, and I fear losing the ability to express that through writing, which is the best way I display my feelings, as the past thousand words will attest.

I will continue to review for as long as I can. Even if it’s in a different format to what I am used to. I’m certainly not relishing the thought of filming myself as I’m much more eloquent in the written word than the spoken one. If it becomes too difficult, though, I’ll have to walk away. I can’t settle for writing anything I don’t feel is up to my standard. Not that I think I’m the best critic or the best writer. I know I have standards, and I won’t write and release anything I deem to be of lesser worth.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about the cinema. It was an emotional experience being back, made even more emotional by the circumstances. I would have liked to have seen it busier, I must admit. There was only our party of four and one other person in our screen, and the lobby was deserted too. That might have something to do with it being midday on a weekday, though. I can only hope the crowds return (safely) soon, so the industry can get back on its feet. I think many people have missed the experience, and I know the people who work there would have worked hard to get back.

I’m sorry if this got a little heavy for you all. I thank you for sticking with me if you’ve reached the end. I’ll be back at the cinema again tomorrow in my new favourite spot down the front. I hope you can all join me there soon.

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