I recently went on a solo trip to my favorite cinema the beloved Prince Charles Cinema to watch Submarine with an endearing and characteristically awkward intro from director Richard Ayoade to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the film’s release.
If you’re like me and spent the majority of your early adolescence on Tumblr in the early 2010s you were probably an avid lover of the film and its endless outflux of rebloggable quotes and screencaps. The perfect balance of comedy, drama, and romance make for a five-star film, not to mention the soundtrack created by none other than Alex Turner who by the end of 2013 had achieved god-like status on the website. American apparel-clad teenagers who couldn’t quote at least half of his love letter to Alexa Chung or who weren’t drawing the AM album cover frequency lines on anything they could write on were once far and few between. In short, for someone such as myself, just under ten years ago Submarine was the best cinema had to offer. Especially as an awkward girl obsessed with coming of age media convinced that whilst weirdness was often disregarded by the boys my age, one day soon I too would find my quirky offbeat in school adolescent romance (this never happened).
Whilst I could write this entire essay on the brilliance of Submarine and how well the film holds up 10 years on, the focus of this is less so the film itself and more about the experience of physically going to see it. This is in view of the fact that it’s been a while since I’ve been able to do one of my favorite activities- going to the cinema, both by myself such as in this case or with friends and family. For the past eighteen months give or take I, as well as most others around the world have been forced out of cinemas. The release of watching a good film became confined to a thirteen-inch screen in my bedroom. Now whilst I was no stranger to watching films off of streaming services (and torrent websites) long before the dawn of the pandemic, there had always been a healthy balance between this and regular cinema attendance. I found being restricted to watching films exclusively on my laptop or at very best my living room TV, through muffled speakers or poor quality headphones and admittedly phone often distractingly in hand, the enjoyment of watching a film became lost on me. I had to stop using letterboxd (which up until a point in the first lockdown I had infamously amongst friends used religiously to document my film watching habits) completely as the lack of films I had been watching was just upsetting me. At different points over the recent lockdowns, I’ve had Netflix, Disney Plus, Prime Video, BFIPlayer, and MUBI subscriptions (as well as 123movies) yet failed to watch films with any sort of consistency. My return to the cinema highlighted to me the deep importance of how you watch a film affects your reception of it.
The importance of the physical cinema to cinema as an art medium became glaringly obvious after watching Submarine at the PCC. Whilst over the years I’ve seen the film countless times, this was the first time I had watched it not laying down in my bedroom. The cinema experience took the film to new heights of enjoyment which I didn’t think was possible considering how many times I had watched it before. It’s no surprise to me that I would enjoy something more when seeing it in cinema as there have been several occasions when the first time I have watched a film was in the cinema and was acutely aware that whilst the contentment of the film would be present regardless of the way in which I watched it, seeing the film in cinema I appreciated the film much more than I would have otherwise. Something that was notable when watching The Last Black Man in San Fransisco (2019), Parasite (2019), and most recently Minari (2020) to name a few. Something about watching a film whether for the first or fifteenth time on a massive screen revealed by plush red curtains in a surround sound room engulfed by the diegetic and non-diegetic sound in a room filled with other eager moviegoers elevates the experience of watching a film. It’s the idea of watching the film as the director intended as opposed to with unnecessary pauses (which in my case often means never returning to press play), toilet breaks, phones, switching website tabs. Although some of the lesser cinema experiences will come a few unfortunate audience members the main thing I noticed during my Submarine cinema trip is how, as pretentious as it sounds, watching a film the way it was intended to be viewed makes for a much better film. When Richard Ayoade made Submarine he recorded it on 35mm to be played on a massive screen in a dark room filled with seats of strangers all reacting together with the only known common ground of wanting to watch the same film. A laptop screen in a bedroom does not translate the same message as the cinema screen and the extent that it elevates the film. Which is why I’d give anything to be able to see all of my favorite films in cinema, I think I’d probably combust from the beauty of it all.
Nowadays a much higher percentage of films are made immediately or exclusively available on streaming platforms as with many Netflix originals for example as compared to even five years ago. And unfortunately, when a film is released on a streaming service simultaneously with its cinema release the cinema runtime is much shorter often lessened to only a few weeks. This naturally has caused a very noticeable and upsetting decline in moviegoers that poses the unfortunate question on the future of cinema-going if there is hardly one at all. Which after my recent personal revelation on just how important the cinema is to film and the key component in what allowed me to fall in love with watching films again, is a disheartening realization.