How Has the Experience of Cinema-Going Changed over the Past Century

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MAS205 – Essay #1
Question 1

The film-industry has changed dramatically since its birth over a century ago. With these changes have also come great changes in the cinema-going experience. In the MAS205 unit reader for 2005, a number of the readings aim to address many aspects of the experience of cinema-going. Included in the unit reader are pieces by Barthes, Carriere, Sontag, Moore and Lowenstein. Each of these writers has varying feelings to cinema-going over the past century and this essay will aim to address these different aspects.

Roland Barthes' in his article ‘Leaving the Movie Theatre' provides us with an interesting way of looking at cinema-going. He paints a picture at the start of his article about moviegoers always leaving the cinema in a hypnotic state, describing the moviegoer is "a little dazed, wrapped up in himself…sleepy…and he feels a little disjointed." (Barthes, R. 1986) These traits are common to moviegoers as they leave the cinema. My previous opinion on these traits was that since you have been sitting down for the past two to three hours, you must be tired. However, Barthes argues that when we enter the cinema, a "dim, anonymous, indifferent cube where that festival of affects known as a film will be presented", we are entering into the state of mind that we want to become a spectator and, in a sense, be hypnotized. We experience an "absence of worldliness", a "relaxation of postures" and an "inoccupation of bodies." (Barthes, R. 1986)

The primary focus once we enter the cinema is the screen and this is what hypnotizes us. Barthes provides an interesting anecdote in which he describes the screen as "a long stem of light [that] outline[s] a keyhole." (Barthes, R. 1986) Human beings are naturally voyeuristic and have a fascination with staring into the lives of others. While what's happening on screen may be fictional, we are staring through this keyhole into the private lives of others; and we are "glued" to it (Barthes, R. 1986). Barthes goes further to describe this fascination as animalistic, and comments that "I [Barthes] fling myself upon it [the screen] like an animal upon the scrap of lifelike rag held out to him." (Barthes, R. 1986) Although the article may appear to condone cinema-going for its hypnotic affect it has on us, this experience helps us escape reality for a brief moment and absorb the film as if it's reality.

Jean-Claude Carriere's introduction to his book The Secret Language of Film, discusses whether we can ever truly ‘see' a film. Carriere makes the comment that when we see movies, "we see [movies] imperfectly." (Carriere, JC. 1994) The most obvious reason for this is Barthes' theory that we have entered a hypnotic state and therefore our mind may be elsewhere at a crucial moment of the film. However there are lots of other reasons why viewers may see a film "imperfectly" (Carriere, JC. 1994). For example, we may already have preconceived notions about an actor/actress in the film due to another film they appeared in or a secret scandal that's in the tabloids that will change how we read the character. Another example may be if we see a film that depicts a certain historical event. If someone with historical knowledge of the event saw the film and noticed an inconsistency with the real event, they may view the rest of the film negatively. It can be seen that our cinema-going experiences can be affected by our previous experiences and knowledge.

Another interesting point raised by Carriere was that all moviegoers will experience a movie at the same pace. Carriere mentions that when we visit museums, we choose how quickly we wish to move between exhibits and that some people believe you should never linger so that a "fresh and powerful impression" never gives way to "cold analysis." (Carriere, JC. 1994) Similarly, we can choose to read an entire book in one sitting, or we can spread it out over a series of weeks. This is not the case for moviegoers. Unless you...
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