Dear Cinema Lovers,
The pandemic may have taken movie theatres away from us but it can’t take away our feelings for them. As the months drag on, and repertoire venues close all over the world (including our beloved Bytowne Theatre in Ottawa), it’s important to remember why we used to leave our homes to go see movies. With the right crowd, great films can become sublime, and middling ones -- seen the right way, with the right people -- can become unforgettable.
Here are my Top 5 favorite movie theatre experiences, which, tellingly, are a long way from being my Top 5 favourite films.
5. Fifty Shades of Grey
Theatre: Silvercity Theatre, Ottawa, ON
Date: February, 2015
For the first 45 minutes, the advance screening of this erotic thriller was an absolute riot. The cardboard performances and phallic everything coaxed nervous giggles from 300 strangers (273 women, I was told) and made the experience akin to sitting in the back of sex-ed class with a clueless teacher stretching a condom over a banana. Like restless pre-teens, we all lost interest about halfway through (right around the time the actual sex started), because, like too many sexual encounters, the anticipation was the best part.
Theatre: Palais des Arts, Cannes, France
Date: May 2012
There’s no humble way to frame this, so here we go: I’m sitting in the Palais du Cinema at the Festival de Cannes -- the most prestigious theatre at the most elite film festival in the world -- about to watch Brandon Cronenberg’s directorial debut. Getting into the tuxedo-only event was no easy task, even with a pass to the festival (there’s an elaborate points system for securing tickets at Cannes, but I won’t get into it). Once I took my seat, I realized that I was in the exact same row as Brandon’s famous father - David Cronenberg. The curved amphitheatre meant I could, at any time during the film, glance over to my right and clearly see the proud papa’s expression. I tried to limit my looks, but the ones I did steal are etched into my memory. Plus, I capped off the night by drinking Kronenbourg 1667 on the French Riviera (because, of course).
3. Cloud Atlas
Theatre: Princess of Whales Theatre, Toronto, ON
Date: September 2012
I could probably fill this top 5 with movies I’ve seen at the Toronto International Film Festival, but that felt like cheating, so here’s the one that really takes the cake: the world premiere of Cloud Atlas, a truly astonishing gambit of feature filmmaking by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, which, by the time the credits rolled, felt almost impossible to absorb. But when that cast came on stage -- Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Surandon, Jim Broadbent (and so many more) -- it felt like the film had just won Best Picture at the Oscars. The fact I was close enough to see (and hear) Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s uproarious ovation only helped maintain that illusion. I got so starstruck by the screening that I somehow gave the movie five stars, even after seeing it a second time in the sober context of an Ottawa movie theatre. Talk about star power.
2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Theatre: Mayfair Theatre, Ottawa, ON
Date: October 2010
I mean, come on--if this is your jam, I don’t have to explain why it is the best movie to watch in a theatre. On one particular Halloween night, I dressed up in full Frank-N-furter drag (high heels, garter belt, bustier, make-up, black wig, etc) and strutted my sexy shit right to the front of the line. People weren’t even mad. I looked that good. And because I knew every word, every lyric, and every call-out (from having played Brad in a university production), I really got into it. A stranger sincerely told me after the movie that she was so glad she sat beside me. You’re not about to forget that.
1. The Little Mermaid
Theatre: Elite Theatre, St. Paul, AB
Date: Summer 1990
There’s nothing like your first time. Although, in all honesty, I doubt this was actually the first movie I saw in a theatre. It is, however, the first movie I remember seeing in a theatre. A rambunctious matinee where I got to sit in the front row with my cousin (we were 6 and 7-year-olds at the time). The song Kiss the Girl comes up, and rather than averting our eyes from the screen, we leaned in, just like all the fish and fowl surrounding Ariel’s row boat--right up until it tips over. We both yelled in disbelief, turned to each other, and pinched our fingers together, saying how she was “this close!!” (not all that different from how I feel every time these flipping lockdowns get extended). Here’s hoping cinemas will be part of our world soon again.