At the Movies

Ribbon of Dream

With cinemas remaining closed, after lockdown is it imperative that we never take them for granted again.

JANUARY 19th, 2021

© Getty Images


he cinema has no boundary; it is a ribbon of dream.” There are many quotes when it comes to the enigma that is cinema, yet Orson Welles’ description expertly expresses both the beauty of film and tragedy of the circumstance it now faces. Cinema truly has no boundary. Within the sanctity of movies, you can traverse from undiscovered planets, revive forgotten histories and witness the unimaginable imagined into reality on the silver screen. Cinema can be a ribbon of dream, an endless spool of celluloid wonder spinning in the projector. But for the last ten months, the spool has stopped spinning.

When the pandemic hit, the cinemas were the first to close. The filmmaker’s and film watcher’s watering hole of creative escape drained dry “until further notice”. Since then, COVID-19 has taken hold and film studios have moved their scheduled releases to streaming services, and whilst these platforms are beneficial to film lovers and fed their addiction through 2020, it hasn’t satisfied the thirst only a cinema can quench.

An employee sterilises cinema seats between shows last year. - © Getty Images

The emphasis has shifted so drastically that Warner Bros. announced their move to release every film on their schedule for 2021 to both the cinema and streaming service HBO Max – a move which split opinion. Although the practicality of Warner Bros.’ decision makes a reasoned and understandable business move; there was something about the pronouncement that felt unpleasant, as if we were watching the ribbon of dream unravel, no longer able to flourish. It also reminded me of what audiences were missing out on.

As I’ve noted, streaming services are hugely beneficial and have provided some wonderful work in the last year, but some movies are designed for a much bigger experience. The parameters of a TV can’t rival the boundlessness of a cinema screen. Even the most expensive surround sound systems cannot compete with the atmospheric and earth-shaking sound of a movie theatre. Cinema is the movies – it is their home, their haven; the place they thrive, not simply survive.

The last year – as the pandemic unfolded and cinemas closed – has left me reminiscing, which in turn led me to rediscover my own cinematic ribbon of dream.

Three years old. The Showcase Cinema at Junction 27, Batley, Leeds. It was 1994 and the movie was Disney’s epic The Lion King. I had never been to a cinema before – I didn’t even know they existed, yet there was an excitement in the air as I walked through the foyer. Tickets were purchased, then ripped by the ticket officer, and along with my family, we walked into the largest screen the cinema offered.

Stepping into the darkness, the strips of light illuminated the walkway into the cinema, and then the screen emerged, slowly revealing itself. “Wow, that’s a big TV,” I exclaimed to my mother. It was. I had never seen a screen like it, and as we took our seats, I was transfixed. The atmosphere of the room, the quiet, the dark somehow enveloping you. Then the commercials appeared, followed by the audience messages, the previews of the upcoming releases and then finally the film itself.

Pride Rock featured in Disney's 1994 hit The Lion King - © Disney

The remaining lights plunged into complete darkness, and everything and everyone else in the cinema disappeared. It was just me, in the peaceful black, and then with a bolt of light and the bellowing tones of Lebo M., the world of the Showcase cinema vanished and was now replaced with the blinding magnificence of the African plains and the towering Pride Rock.

I’ve never forgotten my first time at the pictures. The anticipation, excitement and expectation have stayed with me ever since, re-emerging with every movie I have watched in the sanctity of the cinematic cathedral. It is that personal experience which has made the prolonged closure of cinemas so devastating. They offer an experience which is indescribable, indefinable and unrivalled – they add to the magnificence of filmmaking, and without their presence the world has felt somewhat barren.

Of course, a day will come when the cinemas will open again; when film watchers will return and the magic of the movies will fully ignite once more – but the fear for many is, how will the industry look? How big will the economical hit be? These are the questions which have the cinemas concerned over Warner Bros.’ decision to stream their full 2021 collection on HBO Max. With the studio focusing on streaming services, will the appeal of convenience minimise the number of people walking through the cinema doors?

I’m not so sure it will.

The public needs cinemas, and that need will be felt much more when normality returns. After spending months locked inside our homes, lacking the social interactions which we so innocently took for granted before the pandemic hit, the sense of community – of shared experiences – will be desired more than ever. Cinemas provide that communal desire. They are a mixing pot of escapism – a place which welcomes, celebrates and basks in the collective enjoyment of entertainment.

Empire Magazine's latest issue is celebrating the cinemas by asking acclaimed filmmakers to discuss their favourite moment in cinema. - © Empire Magazine

We need a place to get away, to vanish from the COVID-19 ravished and unsettled reality of the world today. Currently there is no escape plan. Yet, when the social traffic red light which has been lockdown finally turns green, I’ll be first in line to shroud myself in the joy of the cinema.

Although their closures have been difficult, in the aftermath, the silver-lining upon the silver screen will be that we will no longer take them for granted. A night at the cinema will no longer be something to do to pass the time. It will be an event, maybe even our own personal movie premiere? Either way, the cinema will be more cherished than ever before.

Streaming services may offer convenience, but cinema offers experience.

Cinemas will open, the world of movies will return to the big screen, and the artistry of filmmaking will, once again, be visible through the paradigm it was designed for. It is a day I for one cannot wait to see dawn. One which will ensure that the ribbon of dream we call the movies boundlessly stretches on within the sanctuary of our cinemas for generations to come. And maybe this time, we’ll never take their presence for granted again.

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