Above: Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy as Stalker. Credit: public domain.

Fading Fast

A few months ago the Curzon Cinema, Kings Road (for many years from 1983 to 2006 it was known simply as the Chelsea Cinema), closed down. It will possibly re-open in about five years as a redeveloped Curzon with three small-size screens, it is said. Either way the former large 700-seat art-house-movie auditorium will be demolished.

For the final screening, on the afternoon of 31 March 2018, the cinema-manager elected to screen Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 movie Stalker (based on the sci-fi short-story Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky). The film is one of the basic movies of the canon--others include La dolce vita, Breathless, Blade Runner, Taxi Driver, and so forth. Ah! What a wonderful and rare opportunity to see this work-of-genius on a really large screen! I arrived early. As the tearful speeches from the outgoing managers came to an end, I realized that the auditorium had failed to fill up. It was not even half-full. I will never forget the moment I turned around from my position in the front row--with the house-lights dimming rapidly--to see row-upon-row of empty seats. As the lights went down, I counted about fifty persons in the final audience.

I had known, for sure, that these days, young people don't go to watch art-house movies so much. But I had not realized the true extent of the change that had taken place over twenty-five years: the complete fade-out of any such kino-based rite-of-passage. In my student-days, going to watch the films of Tarkovsky, Godard, Fellini, Kubrick, Hitchcock, at a cinema, on a regular basis, was de rigueur, expected, and more-or-less presumed, automatic even--and not just by students of film and fine-art, but arts-and-humanities undergrads generally. (Sundays was the big day to do this.)

Students today, do still watch movies and tv dramas. They do this at home on laptop and iPad screens using mainly the Netflix streaming service (this is what they are telling me). One of the most popular series among my students is Black Mirror, and this multi-season format is typical. There is, I would say, only minimal curiosity about older films from the twentieth-century. And this curiosity stops at movies made in black-and-white, the watching of which is deemed a specialist niche thing.

(30 September 2018)