Sunday, 1 July 2012

The charm of old cinema

Brave New World (The Star)
14 June 2012

Times have changed and the memories of the past have long faded with the new experience.


I WENT to the cinema recently. I could not possibly watch The Avengers on a tiny little television screen now could I?

I don’t normally go to the cinema because I don’t like my films butchered by ham-fisted troglodytes with delusions of being my moral guardian. Nor do I enjoy doing battle with the crowds and the nightmare that is known as “finding parking in a KL mall”.

There was a time when fighting a crowd at the cinema meant fighting a crowd of other cinema-goers. Not ten thousand people buying groceries, washing machines, smart phones and what have you. I am speaking of course of the days when we had standalone cinemas, each showing just one movie.

Growing up in Penang, the main cinemas for overseas films were the Cathay, Odeon, Rex and Capitol – all either on or near Penang Road. It was a ritual of sorts that as soon as my parents allowed me to wander around by myself, every Saturday my brother and I would catch the Yellow Bus from Gelugor to town where we will meander Komtar loitering in “tape shops” ordering our custom recorded pirated cassette of all the latest hits from the comely but disinterested girl behind the counter.

“You got Alphaville? Tarzan Boy got or not? Who sang Gold ah?” Piracy haute couture!

Then inevitably, we would make our way to one of the cinemas mentioned above to get our weekly dose of escapism. Many a classic 80s flick was watched with kuaci skins crunching beneath our feet. Return of the Jedi, Back to the Future, Revenge of the Nerds, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Classics all.

But then we were not too discerning so there was also The Beast Within, Battle Beyond the Stars, and heaven forbid, Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure.

Being spoilt we would fork out the three ringgit fifty to get the balcony seats, although there were times when the only tickets available were in the cheap seats.

I still get a sharp remembered pain in my neck when I think of Rocky V which I watched 5ft away from a 50ft screen in the seat at the extreme right, first row. I also get a pain when I think of the laboured plot and painful acting, but that is beside the point.

I am being unduly nostalgic of course. The grandeur of these old ladies of cinema, even during my time, had long faded.

The majesty of the large halls with those velvet curtains that separate the real world from the one of make believe, were already faded and dusty.

And of course the choices we had were very limited. Plus we had to wait months, if not years before a movie from abroad would come to our shores.

Now, generally, the cinema experience does not come with the worry that a rat might run over your feet. Needing a pee does not induce a cold sweat of terror and we receive Hollywood movies even before those living in Hollywood get to watch them.

Times change, and the days of the standalone is past. We can make things better (for example, no more censorship with a realistic and well enforced certification system please, thank you very much) and for some things there is no turning back.

By and large the change is good. It is better to embrace the change, rather than stubbornly fight it. You can’t defeat progress – in the way our cinemas are built, or anything else for that matter.

No comments: