Mad Monk

Jenny Diski

  • The New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson
    Little, Brown, 963 pp, £25.00, November 2002, ISBN 0 316 85905 2
  • Nobody’s Perfect: Writings from the ‘New Yorker’ by Anthony Lane
    Picador, 752 pp, £15.99, November 2002, ISBN 0 330 49182 2
  • Paris Hollywood: Writings on Film by Peter Wollen
    Verso, 314 pp, £13.00, December 2002, ISBN 1 85984 391 3

I think it is two years since I’ve been to the cinema. This is something of a mystery to me, like love gone wrong: in fact, it is love gone wrong. Was the love misguided in the first place, have I simply aged out of the way of love, or has the beloved altered beyond all recognition? Naturally, lovers whose love is depleted are inclined to think the last: it makes them feel better, less fickle, less hopeless, that the loss is not their own fault. But it’s always best to doubt such self-serving conclusions. Generally, things are one’s fault, unless it can be positively proved otherwise. Anyway, sit me in front of Bringing Up Baby, The Wild Bunch or The Conversation and I’m ravished. It’s not the films I love that I’ve fallen out of love with.

So, the cinema. I don’t go any more. Not for lack of opportunity: there is an excellent cinema barely five minutes away with multiple screens and a grown-up programming policy. I’d be free to go in the afternoon all alone (an old movie-going treat) or in company of an evening. But I don’t. I notice a film that I think might be good, and then shake my head at the idea of actually going to see it. The risk of disappointment is too great: I would rather wait until it comes out on VHS or DVD and buy it or rent it from MovieMail. That way, when it turns out to be, at best, only half-good, I won’t have got cold, or wet, or cross with myself for being too demanding or not demanding enough. What a way to be a film-lover.

Films were everything to me in my teens. I’d bunk off school to get to the first afternoon showing of the first day of or Pierrot le Fou, hunkering down in the red plush seats of the Academy cinema, along with, though at a proper distance from, a couple of severe film buffs, a woman in dark glasses trying to distract herself from an affair gone wrong, an Oxford Street shopper in from the rain and a pervert or two hoping for some Continental movie action. I spent whole days and nights at the NFT catching up on what I’d missed in previous decades (Bogart weekends, seven hours of Les Vampires, an all-night marathon screening of the Apu trilogy), and every Hollywood musical and melodrama shown on TV was another opportunity to fill in the gaps. Watching movies of any kind in any way was the purest pleasure. Good, almost good, bad. I dreamed that one day it would be possible to own films and watch them at home. Be careful what you wish for.

Partly my reluctance to go to the movies comes from a newish but unshakeable sense of the absurdity of sitting in a darkened room with dozens or hundreds of other people, all facing in the same direction. I imagine the roof being taken off the cinema and a baffled child giant looking down on us and wondering what kind of thing the human race could be. But minor psychoses aside, the terrible thing is that I don’t miss going to the cinema. Audiences chatter, eat, drink, wander about and are reliably over six foot when they sit in front of me – it was always so, but now either they do it worse and taller, or my tolerance threshold has sunk to sea level. What I do miss however is wanting to go to the cinema. Only very rarely in the last decade or so (the reissue of Nights of Cabiria, Happiness, The Usual Suspects) have I felt that the movie I was seeing was worth putting up with the irritation and effort of going out. Am I feeling the way people feel as they get older about a world that no longer seems to be addressed to them? Movies, after all, aren’t made with me in mind any more. Do I just resent that, or does it really make for poorer movies?

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