With Cinema, You Never Have to Be Alone

Samuel Moore urges everyone to enjoy the shared experience of film-going, and never to be put off by not bringing company of your own

Is anyone ever truly alone in the cinema? Even if one is fortunate enough to experience an empty auditorium, to go to the cinema alone is a fallacy due to the very nature of public screenings; from the box office staff to the food vendors and post-credits cleaning team, the search for a solo cinema experience is, technically, impossible.

I will certainly not be alone on August 28, Cinema Day, when I join people flocking to picture houses across Belfast and Northern Ireland to celebrate in unison everything cinema has to offer them, which is not always simply the film alone. The social conventions attached to attending a screening are nearly always as important as the main event: maybe a meal or drinks with friends beforehand, or the childish temptation to give in to popcorn, sweets and fizzy drinks in the cinema foyer. Or perhaps it is the obligatory post-film breakdown – to indulge one’s inner critic with friends on the drive home or in a coffee shop next door – which is the best bit.

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Either way, since 1895 when French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière pioneered a device which combined both film recording and projection, cinema is an experience shared by people across the planet and has the ability to inform our culture as well as to re-mould existing themes and narratives. This can not only be observed on a national or international level (Hollywood’s current obsession with cinematic universes being a prime example), but also on incredibly small, hyper-personal stages. The advent of increasingly affordable home cinema systems as well as online streaming services means more people than ever before are choosing to stay at home rather than to frequent their local cinema.

That’s not to say viewing films old or new at home is detrimental to cinema (other than financially), nor to my own personal connection to what it is I am watching – in fact it is quite the contrary. Take for example a recent experience I had watching one of my all-time favourites, Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, on my dad’s home cinema system. Most will already know the film’s general theme as well as its most recognisable scene during Travis Bickle’s transition from New York cabbie to political assassin and all-round vigilante-turned good guy; the 'are you talkin’ to me' line has been referenced since in a plethora of movies and TV shows. What follows immediately after is a perhaps lesser known but an arguably more affecting inner monologue taken from Bickle’s omnipresent journal. Its less expletive conclusion reads:

‘Here is a man who stood up

‘Here is…’

It was during a time in my life where the central themes of that 1976 film – grief, loneliness, boredom, purpose – resonated in a deeply personal manner and manifested itself into an ethos I could live by. I had recently come out of a long-term relationship after moving to a new country and the latter two words held particular meaning to me, so much so it went on to inspire my first tattoo (a decision for me which was not lightly made).

Of course, in the following weeks, as I took into account what this highly visible piece of body art meant for many social interactions for the rest of my life, I soon realised that this singular experience with film had lead to something that could be shared with other people, regardless of whether they are lovers of tattoos or cinema, or neither. The beauty of cinemas – and by association, film – is perhaps not in its face-value entertainment, but in its ability to bring people together regardless of whether all parties were present.

Personally I will be using Cinema Day as a means to see a film or two that I have never before seen, but wherever you decide to go, who with and what you decide to watch – whether it’s Breakfast with Bill or Ghost World at the Queen’s Film Theatre, or Casablanca at the Portrush Film Theatre – remember that, in no uncertain Spielbergian terms, we are not alone.

Cinema Day takes place in venues across Northern Ireland this Bank Holiday Monday, August 28. To see the full programme of events go to www.filmhubni.org/whats-on. You can also read about some of the key programmers' most memorable film-going experiences here.