If I had one consistent love, that has been with me all my life, it’s my love of cinema. Right now, I am a director. Earlier in life I had the fortune, or misfortune, to have worked in several cinemas both art-house and multiplex. When you see the same film hundreds of times with different audiences you become distinctly aware of things you would have missed had you seen it only once. You also gain an understanding of the audience’s perception of the story in real time, when they are silent, when they laugh and when they rustle in discontent and sometimes from that back row you find yourself concocting theories. This was one of them. I considered making it into a short film. The kind of half-ad, half-film that might appear after the trailers and before the main feature. I considered approaching a sponsor, getting a famous actor’s voice to bring it to life, that kind of thing, but the reality of getting funding and the amount of time it takes to make things… well, the hard way kicked in. Instead of doing ‘deep-six’ and carrying on with a screenplay I am writing. I decided to share it on this blog. It’s my theory about the different states of the cinematic experience.
We all know how it is. We’ve all been there. That small moment of calm. The trailers have ended. Your phone is set to ‘off’ and your seat, Number 20, Row G, is exactly as centred as you imagined when you bought it. The curtains part to reveal the BBFC certificate and the opening image. I have a theory and it’s a simple one, that for an audience watching a film there are Three States of Cinema. Three states of emotional involvement and awareness.
At this point you’ll be very much in the first state, aware of the screen and your surroundings. Titles roll, act-one ‘The hook’. Almost imperceptibly something amazing happens. No matter how far away you are. No matter what the size of screen, it suddenly ‘grows’ to fill your entire eye-line. You’re in state two. However, these states are ephemeral. One mistimed whisper. One loud crunch of a popcorn kernel from three rows back can break that concentration and you’ll quickly find yourself back in the first state. On the flip-side, an outstanding scene or sequence can propel you onward, past the second and into the third state. It’s here, that you're not just watching the film, you're a part of it. You find yourself internally debating the protagonist’s decisions and options. You’re evaluating motives and making your own plan of action should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
As ever, bad acting, direction or screenplay logic can again strip you back a state, but it’s in this third state where the thousands of man-hours of filmmaking weaves a magic and very personal spell. You could say that’s the end of this theory, but I wasn’t completely honest with the title, you see there is a fourth. We reach the denouement. Roll end credits. The ushers have collected the patrons’ leftover popcorn and you are on the journey home. It’s only then, if a film has truly touched you, that it's possible to experience the fourth and best state of all. Although the film has long finished, a part of it lives on in you. When you navigate the supermarket aisles you find yourself imagining you’re piloting an X-wing fighter down the trench run from Star Wars. Or when taking a swim, when something moves in the water, you think of John William’s theme from Jaws. You find yourself moulding your mashed potatoes into the shape of Devil’s Tower from Close Encounters or saying ‘Cool and the Gang’ without even remembering picking it up from Pulp Fiction. There’s a myriad of instances and film moments. Everyone has their own. These are just examples of things I’ve found myself doing. The quotes, the characters and the story, and a part of the experience stays with you and becomes a part of your life forever. For me, that’s what I’ve always loved. For me, that’s the magic of cinema.