Why the Magic of the Movie Theatre Still Lives On

This is the first installment of Still Reelin’, Linnea Bullion’s new film column. In it, by way of introduction, she talks about her earliest moviegoing memories and the cinema experience in general. You read.

Cinemas are like Starbucks: you always know what you’re going to get. I like this about them. Be they the ritziest or the grungiest, once the lights go down every movie theatre feels the same.

The moviegoing experience has become less of a ritual in my life as of late. For a brief, shining moment I had MoviePass (a dream that died only six months into my annual membership), but the fact of the matter is that in Los Angeles—and everywhere, really—it’s too damn expensive to frequent the cinema. For many, it’s an experience that isn’t missed. It’s far more convenient to sit in your pyjamas at home and binge whatever the streaming service you worship has to offer. I must admit, I do love curling up on my couch/bed/floor/really anywhere I please to watch a movie. But a part of me yearns for the theatre, with its uncomfortable seats, sticky floors, and overpriced popcorn that I never eat unless someone else is buying. I relish the trip to the dollar store to load up on candy beforehand. I even have a bag that has a secret zippered compartment perfect for sneaking in treats. But despite my love for the theatre, I can’t always justify the price tag.

When I was a kid, my siblings and I weren’t allowed to watch TV during the school week. We didn’t have cable, anyway, so I never felt I was missing much. Instead, on the weekends we turned to movies. In the summers we’d rollerblade to the video store and spend what felt like days pouring over the titles. Once I was old enough to be dropped off at the mall with my friends, we’d almost always end up at the theatre. Our mothers breathed suburban sighs of relief for a few hours of solitude, and to us, it felt like freedom. Going to the movies afforded us a chance for autonomy in a world that, as angsty middle schoolers, felt like it was constantly controlling us. At the theatre, we could see what we wanted. We, like so many before us, found an escape. That’s the draw of cinema after all, isn’t it? It allows for a brief pause in a world that always seems to be racing ahead of us.

When I was in college, I thought that adjusting to my freshman year would be easy, but it was much more difficult than I expected. One night, my friends and I went to the movies together. Honestly, I don’t remember what we saw—and it doesn’t really matter. I just remember sitting in this theatre thousands of miles away from my old life, anxious and homesick, and having all of those feelings dim alongside the lights. It was a catharsis unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. While film had been a large part of my identity and cultural awareness up until that point, it was that exact moment that I realised how much I loved the entire experience of the cinema. I sat in that theatre and felt like when I got up to leave, I was going to push out the doors and walk back into my hometown. We talk about cinema transporting us to new worlds and different eras onscreen, but forget to acknowledge the portal it provides to other moments in our own lives. Re-watching our favourite movies doesn’t just allow us to see things we missed, it allows us to travel into our pasts—what our lives were like at the time, with whom we were watching, and frankly, who we were then.

In college, my film professor used to chide us about the perils of missing class screenings. Movies, he argued, are meant to be seen with others, in large format. I’m not here to tell you that (though, as the above anecdote acknowledges, I do love the Movie Theatre as a place of refuge). Watch movies however you like, in whatever format. I’m here to share my thoughts on film, and to encourage you to reach out if there’s a topic you’d like discussed. It will be serious. It will be cheesy. It will be somewhere in between.

To quote one of my favourite films of all time, “Hang onto your butts!”

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