Apr 7, 2015

Do We Have to Leave the Movie Theater?

Upon leaving the movie theater and finding myself once again outside in the New York City streets, always lit and never quite empty, this bearer of the cinematic gaze feels the urge to go back inside the darkness and start it all over again. The last of the credits was just sliding towards the edge of the screen when I left to catch up with those more impatient. Looking forward to the regular (more often than not friendly) street corner disputes amongst friends I head towards the group already in animated discussion.
Roland Barthes’ essay “Upon Leaving the Movie Theater” paints a picture of the movie-goer’s experience in a nutshell, a condensed view of film theory in eight paragraphs. He gives the reader a taste of a few theories of spectatorship and the apparatus. Psychoanalytical views abound and Barthes encourages the reader to loose them selves in the experience and fall in to hypnotic love with whatever Brechtian distance they may feel. The article serves as a near-religious praise of the movie going experience. Barthes’ description is not only extremely perceptive of theater experience, but also insightful in its nods towards theories of spectatorship. The joy and the thrill is both found in the viewing itself and in the theory that surrounds it.

This doting and loving description touches a chord in my movie-goer heart. The darkness of the theater combined with the communal, though individual, experience, the light-cone, sometimes coupled with dancing dust particles, the smell of popcorn and sound of paper bags, the smaller screen on the glass on the projection booth, the absurdly large containers of food and drink I have in my hands and, most often, the friends sitting next to me occasionally whispering a little too loud, eliciting a (loving) “SHUSH” from me; all of these incur my love of the movie theater. Most of all they create the womb in which I am hypnotized. It is the womb from which I am reborn, filled with questions and remarks as well as new ideas about the world around me and myself, ready to defend or curse the film, but never the experience.

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