Movie theaters. There was a time when they almost went out of business as video players in our homes became the norm. Then we saw the arrival of Multiplexes and although this brought back the audience, film viewing became less of an experience and more a commercial enterprise. Don’t get me wrong, multiplexes are responsible for giving us the choice that we never had. They gave a whole new dimension to the entire exercise of movie watching, but it did lack the old world charm that unfortunately the new generation might never experience.
Having traveled around the world I have been lucky enough to experience movie theaters in different countries. Now, while traveling, the last thing on my mind is that I need to watch a movie, and with the arrival of laptops and now iPad, movie watching in the comfort of my hotel room seems more real. But, having lived in Europe and being an avid film watcher I have sneaked – literally a few times – into a theater every now and then.
Birmingham, UK: Birmingham is the “second city” of England and also one of the most underrated cities of the world. A cultural melting pot, the city houses the oldest working cinema in the UK, The Electric. Watching a movie at The Electric is nothing short of an experience. From old style ticket stubs to drinks being served in a glass with ice and lime, it’s pure cinematic sophistication. The Electric holds a special place for me because the very first movie I watched in it was the amazingly brilliant Senna which is at present my all time favourite documentary.
Birmingham also has a number of multiplexes that offer a greater choice of movies. Odeon is centrally located and Vue is a short drive away. Cineworld on Broad Street remains most preferred due to its proximity to my abode. Since I have spent a number of summer vacations in Birmingham, all three of them have been regularly visited by me over the years.
Caribbean Sea: Alright, technically it was in the middle of the Caribbean Sea since I was on-board the P&O Cruise Ship Ventura. My first cruise and watching Salt and Inception as the ship gently swayed in the salty sea was quite an experience… almost trippy. Unfortunately, all the sea salt could not help save the negative reviews Salt (the movie) got from me. Inception was a second viewing, but being the amazing movie it is, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Sandvika, Norway: A small campus town (research showed that the campus shifted to someplace else in 2005) situated a half hour train ride from Oslo, Sandvika is an amazing place to visit during winter when the fjords are frozen. It is also popular as the town where the famous painter Monet lived and painted. I remember the theater situated here because firstly I watched Almost Famous in it, which still remains a favourite of mine, but also because the theater was located less than a stones throw away from the apartment of my friends. Having a movie theater at arms length was so cool and yet could also have proven to be such a major financial hurdle for a compulsive movie watcher like me.
Lexington, KY, USA : The only reason why anyone would want to visit Lexington is if they are in anyway interested in horses and horse racing. I am not, but I still found myself in the city visiting family. My days were spent roaming around the huge malls and for a change catching a few matinee shows in the numerous multiplexes that can be found in pretty much all the malls. I can’t really remember the name/brand of the theater (Cinemark?), but I do remember enjoying Jeepers Creepers in one of them especially because I was the only person watching the film in this 200 odd seater. To make things interesting, for myself, I decided to sit right in the center, just so it would not be easy to escape in case something horrific decided to attack. Result, Best. Horror. Experience. Ever.
Amsterdam, Netherlands: I have a confession to make. I have been going to Amsterdam for more than a decade and have never really experienced the smaller independent cinemas that can be found in the city. Now, I have a list and plan to search for them the next time I am there. But, I have been to Pathé de Munt which is like any other modern multiplex situated conveniently in the center of the city near the flower market. The one good thing about cinema viewing in Holland – unlike in Germany from my experience – is that rather than dubbing they subtitle the movies, so you can enjoy them in their original language. My experience that I do remember from Pathé was watching Austin Powers in Goldmember. Nothing extraordinary, but I was really conscious after the movie because Austin Powers makes fun of a character who has a mole on his upper lip, and well so do I (not as big as in the movie, but prominent nevertheless).
Germany: I went to college in Germany, so having spent four years there obviously I visited a few theaters throughout the country. Unfortunately for us non-German speaking students most of the movies and TV are dubbed rather than subtitled, so finding films in English was always an ordeal. For this reason, it was also essential that Live events like the Oscars were watched Live, because 4-5 hours later, when they would have a re-run, it had been miraculously dubbed in German. Out of all the theaters I visited during my four year stay there, three stand out;
Schwäbisch Gmünd: The small town where our campus was situated, and where my love for cinema really started, also housed a small single screen old fashioned movie theater. Nestled in the by-lanes you could not get any cozier than this. Once I remember telling my Psychology professor early on that I will be skipping her class midway to go watch Good Will Hunting since the theater was playing it in English for a change. She just asked me to leave quietly without informing any other of the students else they might leave too. I obviously obliged.
Stuttgart: The real “proper” city situated near our campus was a good 45 minutes by train. It had a few theaters that played movies in English from time to time. Although I remember watching Titanic there because at the end of the film there was a gentleman who was literally howling as he exited, but our visits to Stuttgart are special because of their adventurous nature. In order to watch the movie, we had to take the 45 minute train to Stuttgart and then a 10 minute local metro to where the movie was playing. It wasn’t such a huge problem until when it was time to get back (since the movies in the English language usually started around 8-9 pm). Our return consisted of taking the metro back and then running (Yes! running) to catch the last train to our campus town. Miss the train, and we would have no choice but to spend the night in Stuttgart. So, if you ever saw students running in the middle of the night at the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhoff, there is a good chance it was either me or one of my campus mates.
Hamburg: I don’t remember much about the exact location or the name of the theater, but I do remember watching The Horse Whisperer while my travel mates caught up on Saving Private Ryan which I had already seen. The reason why this theater takes up space in my memory is the presence of enormous “love” seats, at no extra cost, situated right at the back of the screening room. Since it was a matinée show, and because I was alone – boo hoo poor me – the theater was pretty empty and I got to watch the movie in style 🙂
Dubai, London, Paris, Melbourne: All four are mega cities with expensive cinema tickets and a wide range of movie theaters. Again, I have never really tried to discover the so called hidden gems and have stuck to the run of the mill multiplexes or the stand alone multi screen cinemas. At times some have been disappointing even though they are centrally located, while others have been surprisingly comfortable with huge seats, like the ones in Dubai. The best part about the multiplex is that even in places like Paris and Germany where movies are dubbed, there is a good chance you can find something in the original language, but they are no different in form and feel than the ones I visit regularly back home in India.
India: India is a cinema crazy country. You are likely to find a theater in most cities and towns. The metropolitan cities have over the years seen the mall culture increase and as a result multi-screen cinema halls can be found everywhere. But, if you really want to experience an Indian film. If you want to watch a film like it should be, then make sure you head to a smaller town’s single screen cinema. Cat calls when the heroine enters, cheering when the hero hits the first punch, shouting at the villain, standing on seats and dancing every time there is an “item” number (song and dance sequence), it’s an experience like no other.
Movies have always been an integral part of my life. For me they have always been an excellent way to get away from everyday life and just immerse myself into a story for a few hours. I can’t be sure whose genes really are responsible; my Mom who watched a number of movies around the time I was born or my Dad who was an avid film watcher and VHS collector in his youth, but we are cinema crazy enough to have made our own little theater when we built our house a decade back and that is where my journey ends, in the comfort of my home surrounded by my family and my DVD collection.