After struggling to make it out of the house all week due to the dreaded cold I managed to be plagued with and thus failing to get to the cinema, — a capability constraint explored by Torsten Hägerstrand, — I resorted to interviewing my favourite subject yet again. This time I asked my mother Margaret about her remembered cinema experiences and how this has changed over time.
From the get go I could tell that going to the movies was a fond memory for my mother. She got all nostalgic when telling me about her most vivid movie memories, her eyes lighting up and her voice filled with excitement. Whilst she noted that going to the cinema was not an indulgence her family allowed for regularly — a migrant family of seven couldn’t afford the cinema experience all too often, highlighting Hägerstrand’s constraint in capability and coupling, — when Margaret did get to go to the movies, it was something she looked forward to.
Margaret recounted some of her most memorable cinema experiences as she recalled seeing the famous hit Grease featuring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. She had travelled into the city by train as a teen, as cinemas were not as dispersed as they are today — Margaret’s own residency now has at least “three cinemas” in close proximity. The chance to see Grease on the silver screen was “a big luxury” back then. Margaret described the anticipation of having to wait in line, as she states “the line was — oh my God, I don’t think I’ve seen a line like that since then.” The movie theatre was not very big, with only one cinema to screen the story of Sandy and Danny Zuko. Margaret describes the wait as worth it, as Grease is still one of her most enjoyed movies.
Margaret then began to discuss her memories of seeing thrillers in the cinema, noting that she particularly enjoyed watching Jaws, even though it “was quite scary at the time.” Margaret recalled hearing the screams and fear of fellow movie-goers as she ate Jaffas and popcorn whilst watching the enormous shark attack civilians — the film is now infamously shared on an annual basis thanks to the Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week‘. Margaret said she “still enjoys watching Jaws even today” despite its improbable plot.
When asked if she saw any other scary movies on the big screen, Margaret remembered the title of a film I had never heard of before — American Werewolf in London. When asked to recount the plot, Margaret excitedly described the film as being quite similar to the contemporary television series Teen Wolf, wishing she had a copy of the film on DVD to show me. She stated that whilst she found it frightening in the past she would “probably watch it now and laugh at it” suggesting that since the enhancement of special effects, former thrillers had become comedic in comparison to their contemporary counterparts.
I asked Margaret about her most recent cinema experience in order to compare and contrast the shifts in cinema. Margaret saw the popular new release Trainwreck just a few weeks ago, starred in and directed by comedian Amy Schumer. She said that in the past cinemas often screened one particular genre over others, “scary movies” were much more prevalent on the screening lists she read whereas now “there’s a good variety of films to choose from.” Margaret further indicated that in the past the cinema was more of a lavish experience — a constraint of authority and capability she encountered, and claimed that today many people go to the cinema for social reasons. She also commented on the cost of the cinema — an adult ticket at our local Event Cinema is around twenty dollars, “unless you go on ‘Cheap Tuesday.’”
The cinema space today is much more “comfortable” in contrast to Margaret’s remembered movie theatres, with reclining chairs and dining becoming part of the ‘Gold Class’ movie experience. But Margaret also noted that whilst going to the movies is still a “very popular” past time, the cinematic experience is slowly entering the home. She stated that as television screens continue to grow, high definition leads to 3D viewing and surround sound becomes clearer, watching from home is more accessible, affordable and just as good as the silver screen. Despite this, Margaret’s concluding comment was that “going to the movies is still a good night out.”
From the interview with my mother, the three time-space constraints explored by Torsten Hägerstrand presented themselves as obstacles to overcome when experiencing the cinema. The cultural and social significance of the cinematic experience is also something that undeniably shapes an individual. Even Walt Disney himself stated “movies can and do have a tremendous influence in shaping lives.”
- Bowles, K. & Turnbull, S., 2015, ‘Lecture 5: Cinemas- Strangers in Public’, BCM240: Media Audience and Place, Lecture, 24 August 2015, University of Wollongong.
- Mackay, M., 2015, Interview, 30 August.
- Schensul, JJ. & LeCompt, MD. (eds), 2012, ‘Specialised Ethnographic Methods: A Mixed Methods Approach’, Vol. 4, AltaMira Press, viewed on 30 August 2015.