As I lie here waiting for these lonesome, dreadful days to pass, pacing the cage of my homely confines, flipping through my film collection and returning time and time again to the same classics I’ve watched dozens of times, I began to wonder what it is that I miss so much about the cinema. Movies have always been a reflecting pool for me; a basin of fantasies to experience vicariously so as to better understand oneself and the world around us, or – being the preferred modus operandi in the middle of an apocalypse – to escape reality wholesale. Is it that without the fantastical the real just becomes too unbearably real?
One of my all-time favorite fantasies is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic Vertigo, a film that’s all about looking, projecting and, very much, gazing, and in doing so asking the viewer what it means to be looking, projecting and gazing (at a film). What makes the greatest films so great is that, unlike any other art form, cinema is manifested on what you project onto it as a viewer. As James Stewart’s former police detective Scottie tails the mysterious woman he is tasked to spy on, we project our own thoughts and feelings onto his gaze, making it our own. As cinema can do like no other, we get swept up in it all. And so these films become part of our psyche and of who we are. Not just touchstones for small talk at cocktail parties, but signifiers of our very identities.
There is a great deal of unrest in the seas of cinema. Waves of change are crashing down on everything from the way films are made to how they are screened. But no matter how the climate has changed over the decades the medium and its brave creators have always proven to be incredibly versatile in navigating any sea-change, finding new streams to traverse and tap into. As the programmer of LAB111, a cinema dedicated to maintaining and celebrating the rich reflecting pool of cinema, I dearly miss the captain’s duties on our ship. There’s nothing like putting together the puzzle of a film program and sharing the experience of escaping into films with others in the magical dark of a film theatre. I believe that the past year has proven that we need film more than ever, that we need those twenty-four frames per second to encounter life through fantasy, to escape and dive deeper into ourselves and each other. We need, we crave, however different we may be from one another, to share these experiences with others, because it is in sharing those cinematic reveries we can find what it is to truly be together.
As I lie here waiting for these lonesome, dreadful days to end, wishing to return to my beloved cinema and the beloved visitors who frequent it, I am reminded of two Morgan Freeman voice overs. The first from David Fincher’s Se7en, which concludes with Freeman stating: “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.” The other from a sentimental prison drama I need not name. “I hope to see my friend and shake its hand […] I hope.”
Tom Ooms is Head of Programming and Marketing at LAB111 and part of our Celebrating Cinema podcast panel.