It’s an odd feeling, having the whole cinema to yourself. It’s only happened to me twice before, once for the 2011 Winnie The Pooh (admittedly I wasn’t alone as I’d gone with my then-girlfriend), and more recently for an evening showing of Broken City, a distinctly average political action thriller released in 2013 and starring Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg. Technically you could argue that I wasn’t the only person in the screen for Winnie The Pooh, but as there were no other punters I’m claiming that instance as valid for this discussion. Both films aired at different times of the day, with Pooh starting at 11am on a Sunday morning, and Broken City showing at 9pm on a Tuesday night, so the only comparison I can draw is that either the film’s were’t very good (incorrect, as Pooh was most entertaining), or that because the screenings were at either extreme of the day people couldn’t be bothered making the effort to attend. This I feel is the more likely explanation of the two.
A large part of this comes down to choice of venue for seeing the film. In both of these cases my viewing took place at what is technically my local cinema in Redditch. Local in that it is the nearest cinema to where I live. The nearest to where I work – and the one I frequent most often – is the Cineworld on Broad Street in Birmingham. The differences between city and moderately large town are made all the obvious in that I have not once been the only person at a screening in Birmingham. There have been times where there have been only a few others in attendance, but in all of the nearly 200 visits I have made to that cinema to date I have yet to be the sole viewer of a film. By comparison I expect that if I were to toddle off to the cinema down the road, and depending on the film in question, I would very likely be the only person there again.
In some ways it’s a great experience, having an entire cinema screen all to yourself. You can pick the best seats in the house (middle of the row, about two thirds back from the screen) and enjoy the film without having to worry about other people making a noise or distracting you from the on-screen action. In one instance recently whilst watching Lucy (the film, not a random woman), an amorous couple decided to get intimate on the front row and, unfortunately for me, in the corner of my field of vision. The fact they’re getting intimate in a public place doesn’t bother me all that much (perhaps it should?), my main concern was that I could vaguely see fumbling in the bottom left corner of my vision, thus distracting from the film and, perhaps more importantly, that if they wanted to partake in such action they should have retired to the back row – for want of a better term I will describe this as the traditional method for public displays of affection in a cinema setting.
On the other hand, and maintaining that negative perspective for a moment, it’s not a nice thought when you consider that an empty cinema means a greater chance of it closing. I fully appreciate that a trip to the cinema is expensive, and can be more costly than a trip to a moderately fancy restaurant. The cost of tickets are bad enough as it is – why pay £8 to see a film at the cinema when you can buy it on DVD and Blu-Ray in a few months for a little bit more money? Or when you can get Netflix or Amazon Prime or even Sky, if you’re lucky, for a fraction of the cost that you’d have to spend if you wanted to see the film immediately on release rather than a few months down the line?
I would also put more in the hands of the cinema owners to make a trip to the cinema a more interesting and varied experience. The likes of The Electric in Birmingham are doing well in this respect, providing the cinema experience albeit one that’s more refined and different to the usual expectations. A big chain of cinemas isn’t likely to do this as they are almost guaranteed income from providing the same old things time and time again.
Back to the potential cinema closure aspect – in this day and age of cutbacks and supposedly more efficient ways of running a cinema using a skeleton staff of all-rounders (they can serve you your overpriced beverage and also look after the digital projectors), it often results in a reduced and much more inferior service to your paying customers. In Redditch we went several years without a cinema in the town, and I was a regular visitor when the Apollo chain first opened their doors. As time has gone on, seven or eight years since that first opening, I can’t help but feel that it’s not being managed well enough to appeal to the more fickle cinema audience that resides in this town, and that may lead to the town losing one of its already very limited entertainment resources. I admit I’m not helping by visiting another chain in the city, but that’s a convenience thing and I’m certain that my presence or lack thereof in the town cinema will make much difference to their overheads, especially as I don’t tend to buy cinema food very often.
Anyway, I digress slightly. As somebody who, for the most part, enjoys solitude over the company of others, an empty cinema doesn’t provide any problems for me. I can enjoy the film in my own way and, provided the projector doesn’t suffer an unexpected fault, I can make the most of the big screen setting without interruption. Despite my mostly solitary nature, this is one of the reasons I enjoy the cinema setting – with the right audience there can be much to enjoy from a communal experience, and in some instances I would prefer the screening to be packed with people rather than me being the only one there. I’ll just chalk this one up as an example of my rather conflicted nature about interacting with the rest of the human race, and leave it at that.