Maybe if I had known, I’d have stopped to take a picture. I’d have kept that ticket. Maybe if I’d known, I would have made sure I wasn’t “too busy” to catch another movie the following Saturday. Maybe… maybe… maybe, if it hadn’t been our last, the memories of it would have been blurred with countless others a long time ago. The memory of the last time we went to that two-screen retro cinema, weeks before it closed down.
For someone who finds loud noises, flashing lights in dark rooms, and the enhanced presence of strangers ridiculously overwhelming, the old cinema a couple of miles away from her home should not be enlisted as one of my favourite places to be. And yet, there I was, silent tears falling down my face when I heard the news. The Picturehouse has been shut down. Had run out of business. Online streaming platforms had usurped its place as entertainment provider on weekends and Friday afternoons.
I couldn’t believe it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m as big a fan as anyone of slumping in bed with my laptop, watching the latest addictive show till the early hours of the morning with a bag of crisps by my side. It’s an incredibly simple thing to do, and entertainment is almost certainly guaranteed. But it’s never quite right. It’s never quite the same as having that experience of watching something on the big screen for the first time, popcorn and Coke neatly placed on each side.
There’s something about sitting in (lord only knows) how many years old couch chairs that will never be able to smell of anything but popcorn, with surrounding speakers blasting out the opening titles’ tune, that no comfy bed, no sofa nor lounge at home, will ever be able to replicate. There’s something about seeing the silhouette of that same stranger, a couple of rows in front, every new MCU opening night, smell of cheese nachos coming from their seat, that no marathon at home in your Spider-Man onesie will ever be able to bring back. There’s something about slurping away on your drink – accidentally biting into the straw as the action on the screen becomes a bit much – silently praying that you didn’t drink it all too fast, that you’ll make it through the film without being interrupted by an inconvenient trip to the bathroom – that having a “stop” and “rewind” function on your laptop can never even attempt to simulate.
It wasn’t the entertainment that came from watching a film on a Saturday evening that my tears were mourning after the loss of our local retro cinema. It was the experience. It was the particular convergence of sensory stimuli at one specific moment in time, trapped in my memories forever in association with the latest film release.
They all flash in front of me as I type these words on the page, creating a movie of their own as they intertwine. Bringing the ice-cream flavoured times of childhood summer afternoons spent in that dark room – running away from the heat, desperate for some aircon – together with those Friday nights fourteen-year-old me would spent third-wheeling my best friends on their date – would they actually kiss this time?
As far as that space was concerned, no matter who we were, how we dressed, smelled, ate, we were always welcome. There would always be something to watch. A horror movie on Valentine’s Day, and romcom on Halloween. A post-break up, latest YA adaptation, an old classic – usually a musical – being shown every three month. It always seemed to have an answer, even if it only kept us occupied for a couple of hours.
But I suppose that’s just the thing: it was always more than short-term entertainment as a form of escapism. It was more than just a convenient “hang-out” spot for puppy love and overly warm nights. No. It was a constant in our lives.
It’s been quite some time since I’ve visited the site. Been quite some time since the credits rolled up. And yet, I seem to lie here waiting for a post-credit scene. A last 24 seconds to bid it goodbye. To thank it for the memories, for the experiences it enabled me to have.
I wonder what those 24 seconds will smell like. Will it be the Christmas ensemble of freshly gifted perfumes, and rather salty popcorn? Will Skywalker blue be the colour that lights up the finale? Will it sound like Célene Dion, professing her love one last time? Or maybe like Alexandre Desplat, harmonising along to Turing’s decoding of Enigma? Will it taste like cheap lipstick and nacho cheese?
With nothing but speculation and two decades of memories worth of possibilities, there is one thing I can assure. I know those 24 seconds will feel like home.