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Cinematic Nostalgia: Old Films on the Big Screen…

Jameson, the wonderful people behind the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival and the Jameson Cult Film Club are planning on launching their own film blog this week. It’ll be well worth a look and, based on their passion for good cinema, it’s sure to be wonderful. Anyway, as part of the launch, I was delighted to be invited along to a screening of Chinatown with a few other Irish film bloggers. Hosted in a lovely little cinema, I have to admit that there was just something incredible about watching a classic film I had only ever seen on television projected on to a big screen like (I suppose) it had always been intended to be shown. Given how much any love affair with cinema draws on classics from eras long gone, I have to admit that I was genuinely blown away by the chance to see such a classic film on such a big screen.

I have a confession to make, even though it’s not really a confession. You could probably guess it about me, if only from the fact that I run a blog about movies. Anyway, my completely crazy and impossible fantasy is to one day own my own “cinema” or “screening room” in some house somewhere, with cinema-style seats, a light bar and maybe even a popcorn machine. Don’t worry, I’m not delusional enough to ever thing it will happen – and I’m certainly not crazy enough to think it essential or a priority in any property I might eventually own – but… man, if I had just one completely selfish and consequence-free frivolous wish… a “screening room” or “cinema” would definitely be it. But that’s not going to happen, so I accept it.

So, while I get to see new releases in the cinema, the bulk of my viewing experiences for classic and “important” films were in the comfort of my sitting room (or even kitchen) on my television. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Unless you’re watching something like The Tingler or even an especially corny and cheesy 3D film, a good movie is a good movie whether it’s projected on to the side of a building or broadcasting on a tiny little monitor. A solid narrative is engrossing whether or not the screen is large enough for you to see the lead actors’ make-up. A great soundtrack is powerful whether coming at you from one direction or five.

Indeed, I think I’m really lucky as a film fan to live in an era when home media has made so many of these classics available and ready to hand. Before the VHS explosion in the eighties (and the DVD explosion just over a decade ago), the only way to catch a classic movie was on television or as an old-fashioned matinée. Now, thanks to the major studios being able to make their libraries available to everyone and anyone, I have a huge selection of choice. I can watch almost anything I want. And, with extras and archives and the internet, I can be more informed about it than ever.

Not to mention, putting nostalgia aside, the simple fact that I do get to see so many new releases in the cinema. I make my own memories there, even if it isn’t seeing Citizen Kane or Casablanca, I have my own fond experiences of seeing countless modern movies on huge screens. I am seriously considering flying to London to checkout The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX, simply because we have no IMAX screens in Ireland. More than that, though, there’s the fact that I have so many experiences of seeing particular movies with particular crowds. One of my favourite movie experiences comes from a movie I’m not especially fond of – I remember debating philosophy with secondary school friends into the wee hours of the morning for The Matrix Reloaded. Hell, I remember seeing Casino Royale as the first movie I watched with my better half. We were late, but it was still a great first date.

There’s a tendency in discussions on cinema to discount modern movies, to claim that Hollywood is a shell of its former self and that the movies flooding multiplexes today are no good. It’s this nostalgic ideal that a given time period (most commonly the forties or the seventies, but any time really) produced a string of cinematic masterpieces that we should all bow down and worship, and accept that nothing we release will ever measure up to that. I have to admit, while I love those classic films, I find that a very pessimistic outlook. And I don’t really believe it. I think that there are any number of movies being produced this decade I would be honoured to show to younger relatives as I enter my ripe old age. I don’t think I’ve missed the best possible movies to see in a cinema, I hope they’re ahead of me.

Still, despite all that, I do still feel a wonderful and incredible warmth on seeing a great old movie I loved projected on to a giant screen, with the soundtrack pouring through a superbly constructed sound system into an auditorium full of movie lovers. There’s something about that experience that is just incredible. I wouldn’t say that I saw Chinatown in a new way, projected on that big screen, but I do feel like I took in a bit more of it, some of the fantastic detail and beauty Polanski had captured on film, and the heavy atmosphere dripping from each and every frame. I wouldn’t dare say it was a better film, but it was probably a richer experience. And, considering the affection I harbour for the classic, that is saying something. That is really saying something.

Anyway, I just want to thank the guys at Jameson for going to the effort – and I’d wholeheartedly recommend that any film-lovers based in the UK and Ireland do check out their Cult Film Club – they screen these sorts of classic movies in well-chosen and beautifully-staged surroundings that genuinely speak to a love of cinema. After all, perhaps there’s a reason we named the artform after a place.

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14 Responses

  1. Fine post, Darren (and there’s some eerie coincidence to it). And yes, I recommend seeing the next Batman film in IMAX. I saw both of Christopher Nolan’s first two installments on the 3-story high screen and there’s nothing like it. My secret dream, if I could win some mega lottery, would be to buy and restore the old movie theater I once worked for as projectionist back in the 70s. May both of our wishes someday come true. Thanks for this.

  2. Good Lord, is there a “like” button on this post somewhere? It’s like you are reading my mind!

    Wonderfully put good sir – As much as I love seeing the classics on a big screen (something I happily get to do rather often), I’m in complete agreement with you. Experiences like being in the crowd for INCEPTION or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN shouldn’t be discounted.

    • Thanks. The whole “old movies are just better and new movies suck” argument has been bothering me for a while. There’s no denying the classics, but our generation has done more than a few films to be proud of.

  3. A few years back we had a film club in, of all places, Las Vegas, Nevada. Not too far from the studios and storage vaults in Hollywood, California. But the prints we received for viewing were scratched and faded- not quite what you’d expect. So the club is now defunct. But I was able to see Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon on the big screen. And though I love old films, I can not turn my back on some of the more modern movies. And the movies yet to be seen.

    • Yep, that’s it – the brave new world. But still, even – as you said – scratched and grainy, those films must have been something to see.

  4. Very good article.

    I would love to see “classic” films such as Blade Runner or Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen. I would highly recommend you see The Dark Knight Rises on the big IMAX screen if possible. I saw The Dark Knight on IMAX back in 2008 and was blown away by the picture and sound. Seriously I love IMAX theaters, be sure to check if it’s a true IMAX theater and some smaller ones. A true IMAX theater should have a screen that’s 6 stories high or taller.

  5. I went to see All About Eve twice in the Screen Cinema and it was an incredible film experience. I had seen classics on the big screen before, but seeing a film I love on it…it was so magical – it transports you to a different level, it really does. I love the experience of going to a cinema while abroad too – the audience reaction can be completely different in each country. Or the excitement of going to the cinema when you haven’t gone for a few weeks.

    I don’t see why we all can’t have our own screening rooms. Or maybe there could be a community garden style of arrangement. I fully intend to have a cinema in my house, however I also want to travel to space within the next 20 years, so I really should not be used to evaluate feasibilty.

  6. I went to the Dark Knight at the BFI IMAX in London back in 2008, it was the best experience I’ve ever had in a cinema, the screen was true IMAX and so were large parts of the movie. I’ll have to see the next one there again, anything else would just be second-rate.

    There are alot more films being brought out in IMAX, you’d think someone would open one up in Dublin, they’d rake in the money with just The Dark Knight Rises alone. However, I imagine if one were opened it’d probably be a liemax screen in Cineworld or something. You need a big, big space to open up a proper IMAX theater, and I can’t see anyone dipping into their pockets to pay for one.

    IMAX > 3D

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