I recently discovered that in 1986, Andrei Tarkovsky wrote this:
I think that what a person normally goes to the cinema for is time: for time lost or spent or not yet had. He goes there for living experience; for cinema, like no other art, widens, enhances and concentrates a person’s experience – and not only enhances it but makes it longer, significantly longer.
I was struck – not only because, as an obsessive cinemagoer myself, I recognised it – but by its apparent unerring prescience. After all, visionary director or not, the Tarkovsky of 25 years ago could barely have predicted the mobile phonecalls, instant messages, news feeds and twitter streams that would come to define our everyday experience. These are the conditions that lend his statement extra weight in a modern context: amidst the abundance of information and interaction, there is never a dull moment – but also never a spare one. Time itself begins to take on the guise of an increasingly precious commodity.
I feel as if my brain is slowly being trained out of its ability to concentrate, as if afflicted by some as-yet-unclassified modern form of ADHD. I don’t think I’ve finished a book since I left university – I’ve started lots, but always get impatient before the end, moving on to the next book, or article, or review, or email, or blog post, or podcast on the list. I can’t sit through a DVD without pausing it to get a drink, or answer a text, or look up the film on IMDb. My own blog is written only at the dead of night, when it feels as if the rest of the world has stopped and finally there’s some time to use, space to think. I can’t remember the last time I was bored.
Amongst it all lies the oasis of calm that is cinema. Somehow, when those lights go down, normal life is brought to stop: there is literally nowhere to look but at the screen, nothing to do but give yourself over to the images it holds and adjust to the rhythms it suggests. As brilliantly shown by Christian Marclay’s The Clock (the exception that proves the rule) narrative film exists on its own temporal plane, unconnected to the minutes passing outside the auditorium or even the time experienced by the actors, directors and editors who create it. The best experiences leave you unaware of what day it is, or where you are, or how you got there – until suddenly the screen goes black, the credits roll and reality bursts back in.
In fact, I can remember the last time I was bored – it was undoubtedly in a cinema. But ‘boredom’ in this context is a rare luxury – ‘slow’ films like Archipelago or Meek’s Cutoff provide a pleasing respite, giving your eyes time to see and your brain time to process a depicted fictional circumstance, without the multiple stimuli normally competing in everyday life. At some points there might not be much actually happening on screen – but that’s ok. Thoughts can wander, images can linger and phrases resonate. You’re offered the chance to think about the world in a way the real world doesn’t often allow.
Time lost or spent or not yet had. I think I’m discovering what it is that keeps drawing me back. There’s no decorum, and the performers can’t see you – so you can wear what you want and sit how you like without fear of showing a lack of respect. In that dark space you are, essentially, given your own little world in which to wallow – untempered pleasure, brought about through the marriage of physical comfort with gentle intellectual massage. I wonder if I’ll ever grow out of it, and come to a stage where the appeal begins to decline. It doesn’t feel like it at the moment.