From September to December of 2016 I was living in Montreal, Canada. I had taken a year off before college, studying French fifteen hours a week and doing little else. On Mondays, class would often start by discussing what we had done over the weekend. Without fail, I would say //Je suis allé au cinema!// Sometimes I elaborated by saying I went with my roommate (//mon colocataire//) or saying I liked comedies (//comédies!//). In reality, I never once went to the movies during my four months living in Montreal. In fact, I actively disliked [[going to the movies]]. I just didn’t want to explain that I really spent all my time watching obscure comedy shows and subsisting off a pitiful diet of bulk microwave popcorn and Lindt Lindor milk chocolate truffles. I was disappointing myself and I couldn’t really explain what was wrong, let alone explain it in French. For years, I have not liked going to the movies. I hated that theaters will play horror movie trailers before the comedies I see as a means of escapism. I was embarrassed by my own fearfulness, by my inability to enjoy the most passive and congenial of experiences. So I rarely went, declining invitations from friends until the invitations stopped coming. I watched movies on my own, from the comfort of my bed, where I felt some safety in the control I had to press play and pause. I researched any movie I did end up [[seeing in theaters]], wanting to avoid overwhelming myself. It wasn’t fun or cool. At the end of December, I moved home, back to my familiar San Diego suburbs. It wasn’t what I had planned for but it was what circumstances in my family called for. All my time was free time. I had one friend at home and four months until my former classmates would return from their second semester of college. I drifted for months, awash in my own sadness and unbound by any societal obligations. I remember very little of this time. Then tragedy cracked this nonroutine and things became even less normal in my life. I kept going in little, unimpressive ways. I got my driver's license, at 19. With time to spare, I began going to the movies. I would drive thirty minutes away to the theaters that played the sort of soft, [[unaffecting indie movies]] I found palatable. I timed my arrival so that I never had to sit through trailers. I saw //Norman// and //Paris Can Wait//, //Brigsby Bear//, //Landline//, //The Big Sick// (twice), a live from Lincoln Center recording of the musical //Falsettos//, even //Boss Baby//. There were more. Spring became summer became fall. I moved to New York, I got a Moviepass. I went to the Metrograph and saw an obscure movie by Juleen Compton, //Stranded//. I waited in line to get standby tickets to see the New York Film Festival premiere of //The Meyerowitz Stories//. I did it again the next week for //Lady Bird//. I read //Call Me By Your Name// out loud with my friend Katie, seeing it the day after it was released. The only reason I wasn’t there for opening night was because it was Thanksgiving. I laughed alone and more than anyone else [[in the back row]] for //The Disaster Artist//, sipping a coke slushie. I saw //Call Me By Your Name// two more times and //Lady Bird// three more. I saved every ticket stub.When I’m alone, I sit in the back row of the theater. In the back row, I can see all the audience before me. Yes, this draws me away from the picture from time to time. So what, I drift from fiction? I have learned to love the thing I hated, the palace of the theater with it’s spilled popcorn and [[many strangers]]. That alone makes me happy. Watching movies used to make me feel less alone. Now I go to the movies and not only do I feel less alone but I am less alone. There are people who have gone to the movies much more than me. People who have been going and will keep going. People who identify as Movie People or maybe (can you imagine?) Cinephiles. But I fell into moviegoing this year, when I was lonely and low and my days were vacuous. In the dark of theaters, I found a place to be kept. And I call them what I want. I “go to the movies” as a [[small rebellion]] against “seeing films”, a part of my perennial fight against seriousness. Growing up, scared of the movies, I would look back at the projector. I would focus on the blurred shapes on the small rectangle of light that when transposed on screen would become the thing I was supposed to be watching. I would watch the dust flicker and sparkle through the intense light beam. When I was scared I would say //none of this is real, I am here, and none of this is real//. I wonder if it would have made a difference, to have been able to recognize [[the people and the place]] as a real and separate thing from the movie. Durga Chew-Bose writes about the moviegoing experience in her essay “Summer Pictures” saying, “I experience the humbling feeling of being an audience member. Of succumbing to the emotional tremors of moving pictures.” I do not like giving myself away, but I am learning to do it anyway. I am not sure if I am humbled by being apart of the audience, but I am humbled by some part of the experience. Like when I hear the muffled noises of an action film from a closed theater as I head to mine, or when I can’t get the right amount of butter-ish stuff on my popcorn no matter how many ratios I try. [[Those parts]]. A rite of passage for those who have recently moved to New York seems to be writing about the city as if you understand it almost immediately. Forgive me. What I have noticed is that New York is a place of endless happenings, which should be exciting except being young and new and detached from social scenes means that I am not wanted anywhere. Nobody expects me, there is no place in the city with my name on a list. That’s why it’s nice that there are plenty of theaters in the city. They might not want me but they will have me, which is more than most places. What I feel towards the movie theaters of New York, especially, is something [[lovelike]]. Like any good and devastating crush, the movie theaters of this city treat me with ambivalence. There is no hope there that I have not devised on my own. The feeling in my chest burrows inward, thinking it can disappear but instead it grows deeper. And I keep showing up. Film theorist Christian Metz wrote, “The film is what I recieve, and it is also what I release, since it does not pre-exist my entering the auditorium and I only need to close my eyes to suppress it. Releasing it, I am the projector, receiving it, I am the screen; in both these figures together, I am the camera, which points and yet which records.” That this experience, the promise of great light in a true dark, is always reliable is what is teaching me to love going to the movies. I love to think about all the showings I didn’t see each day. The projectors faithfully whir through adverts and trailers and then to the main event. The house lights go up and down. The colors change. People filter through. Movies do not care if I am there to see them. How nice, I think, that we [[live two lives]]. Like friends who don’t get to see each other often and don’t talk in between meetings but always fall right into place. Friends who can’t remember a time before their friendship, not because it is hard to remember but because they don’t want to.In Godard’s //Masculin Féminin//, the main character Paul says, “We' went to the movies often. The screen would light up, and we'd feel a thrill. But Madeline and I were usually disappointed. But Madeline and I were usually disappointed. The images were dated and jumpy. Marilyn Monroe had aged badly. We felt sad. It wasn't the movie of our dreams. It wasn't the total film we carried inside ourselves. That film we would have liked to make, or more secretly, no doubt, the film we wanted to live.” But he says this in narration, over a clip of him and Madeline in the theater. And he admits they keep going. So maybe what he isn’t saying is that the movies are failing him but that going to see them is not. Maybe he is not saying that the fictions we observe are less important than the reality we live and the fact that we are choosing to live our reality, in part, in the cool dark [[quiet of a theater]].
Frank O’Hara could be my favorite moviegoer. I’m reading his biography. I’m learning all sorts of things. In his unpublished novel, The 4th of July, he writes about going to the movies as a kid. “He loved movies. The screen really was silver to him, and he was fond of going to the first show in the afternoon. The way you could sit and eat popcorn for a while before the lights darkened. Then he would always stop munching and get excited. The light that was gradually seeping out of the bulbs and fixtures around the theatre gradually flooded the screen like moonlight behind the heavy gauze curtains… His spine would stiffen and Billy would lean forward against the back of the seat in front of him, even if he knew what the picture was going to be about, even if he'd seen it already.” God. [[What more is there to say]]? Maybe this: Turrell says light has a thingness. Science tells us light is both a particle and a wave. There is a lot going on, then, just to make a movie be seen. And each time the mechanics in a theater are the same and yet the result is different. And even the bad times bring me back for more, because really any time in the theater is not so bad. I'll even admit I like it.