The Decline Of The Movie Theatre Experience In Trinidad

empty-cinema1_3028779bI will never be going to MovieTowne or Fiesta Plaza again!

I love movies. I loved going to the theatre. My boyfriend and I used to go to the movies twice and three times a week. It was our escape.

At TT$55.00 a ticket and TT$45.00 for a cardboard box of potato and a giant cup of liquid sugar, on average my partner and I would spend roughly TT$200.00 per visit, almost TT$600.00 a week at MovieTowne. That’s more than TT$2,000.00 / US$370.00 of our money, every month spent at MovieTowne. As a couple, we thought that was a sizeable investment in MovieTowne and considered ourselves loyal customers.

However, MovieTowne had other ideas about that expenditure.

I don’t remember when exactly it began. I imagine it was subtle at first. The couple six rows up, chatting quietly between themselves all through the movie. Then the cell phones and tablets being checked and the bright jarring glare in the dark of the theatre almost convincing you that you may even have died and should perhaps get up and walk towards it.

And then there was the walking, because somehow, in the middle of the movie people would need to get up several times to walk outside, squeezing between the tiny, almost airline-sized spaces of our knees and the chair in front of us.

The parents started bringing their children to watch movies. I went to see a few movies once with my parents, way back when cinema was a double show and a break between for snacks. If I so much as breathed heavily, my mother would reign down all hell on me, because everyone around us would reign down all hell on her. A few weeks ago, a mother was walking her child up and down the isle during The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Her child was wearing shoes that light up, bright electric red strobe lights when he walked. The MovieTowne attendants watched it and went back to chatting on their phones.

A few months prior to that, a man sat down next to us with his cellphone head set on and while he chatted through the entire movie, the bright blue strobe light on his headset flashed and drove everyone in our row, right down to the very end, insane.

My boyfriend and I went to see Ex Machina and had to leave in the first quarter, because the group of people sitting directly above us, kept shouting out their versions of the movie’s dialogue to the point where we couldn’t actually focus on what was being said in the movie. The MovieTowne attendants were standing at the bottom of the isle and said nothing, did nothing, even as patrons began to complain loudly about the groups behavior.

As a result, my partner and I started avoiding the prime time shows. It was simply impossible to enjoy a movie after four o’clock in the afternoon at MovieTowne. Determined to not give up on one of our few recreational options, we started going to 11am shows because we’re both self employed and can run away. Naturally, we started to cut back on how often we would go, because running away from work, three times a week wasn’t feasible.

But MovieTowne was determined to get rid of us, altogether.

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I went to see The Martian. It was the 1:15pm show. The theatre was fairly empty. We took our seat in a row occupied only by a group of three young girls who were all the way to the very end of the row. We felt safe. We were so utterly wrong.

It wasn’t merely that these young ladies chattered non-stop through the entire first hour of the show and I mean non-stop because I don’t think they were actually watching the movie. It wasn’t even that after two complaints had been made against them, and an usher had come and asked them to be quiet and then another complaint had been filed by us and the usher took almost 20 minutes to even come again. No. That was not what was infuriating. What was infuriating about the matter, was that after this man, employed by MovieTowne held a long second conversation, even louder than the girl’s chatter, for more than a few minutes, disturbing the entire theatre, he then proceeded to walk up to us and tell us how we should just deal with it because there is no law stating that people can’t talk in the cinema DURING THE MOVIE. When my boyfriend asked him to move from directly  in front of us where he had positioned himself to provide us with this pointless misinformation, he shouted, “No,” and continued to attempt to educate us on why we should tolerate this kind of behavior in MovieTowne.

By this time, the entire cinema was no longer watching the movie. We got up and left, along with several other patrons. MovieTowne did not refund us our money and we did not want a refund.

Because, as far as I’m concerned, this is the message that MovieTowne sent to us yesterday. MovieTowne condones people talking during our movie experience. In fact, MovieTowne staff will support the people who talk through your movie. Movietowne is not a place where civilized people should go for relaxation. MovieTowne, to me, is a zoo, where animals are welcomed and our movie experience means nothing to them.

So MovieTowne will never again get a single dollar of my money.

This is not a new issue. The decline of the cinema is a global business model that is failing. It is failing because people no longer want to spend the exorbitant amounts of money being asked by these businesses like MovieTowne, to be subjected to low-class, incivility and to feel victimized by the institutions into which they are pouring their hard-earned money. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the regular movie-goers who love film and are prepared to spend TT$2,000 a month on your business, will instead spend money on home entertainment. Like we plan to do.

Absent Memories

A childhood friend stays into my thirties and sometimes it feels like he is here to remind me of all the stories I have forgotten. Stories I should remember, stories that have seeped from me or perhaps were never stored to begin with. This night we sit at a lacquered table at the V & J Brauhaus sipping our German beers from tall mugs while he tells a story of us being robbed at knife-point. In his story, I am there but in my mind I am silently searching for this memory. Nothing he says triggers the familiar. I am lost to myself, I think. My stories are leaving me and I am lost to a past that has formed every inch of my conscience but one that I cannot touch my finger to and call into mind in order to address it face to face.

And it needs addressing. The hurt needs addressing but I cannot remember the moments. The abandonment needs addressing but I do not know when to look. The ultimatums need to be reconciled but there are no notes. And my parents need to be spoken to and held accountable but they are incapable of conceding. I am alone in resolving my pain and I suppose in reality we all are.

Two weeks have passed since that conversation and I am finding myself more and more desperate now to seek all the things I am imagining up that have been given away to absence. They resist me and I pry into everything to find them.

Another friend tells a story about her father and the wisdom he has instilled in her, flooding memories and the changes they create in the ways that she perceives her relationship with him. I want for these memories of my own, some moment where my father reached out with words of solace. Instead I have emails where he blames a seventeen-year-old version of myself for emotions neither he nor my mother taught me how to cope with, emotions they rubbed raw with their own fingers. His neglect sits at the table with these friends, and in place of sage words I find resentment festering to a virtual boil under my skin. The words, “I hate him,” slither back and forth across my teeth and fight to wriggle out. He does not belong at this table with other fathers who have sacrificed for their children’s love, for their children’s betterment. My parents do not belong at this table where love does not cast out children in anger, but reaches for them through it.

I have been told that in cases of severe depression, sudden shock or prolonged emotional trauma, the mind protects itself by not remembering the pain. Is it then, that I spent so many of my teenage years and twenties in such pain, that even faces have become muddled for me. I remember a moment, but not how I met someone, not how we grew apart. I see myself in a situation, but I don’t know the place, the time, the reason I’m there has left me. It is an insanely disorienting realization. And I wonder, if I forgot these people, these places, these memories that I took from myself, like a burden I tossed away, perhaps they do not belong to who I am now. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to remember.

But how can I tell stories when I don’t even remember all of mine.

In its devastation, I feel more alone than I have ever felt. I feel emptied of memories. An absent love, a desperate need and a vitriolic hate, have all turned my old stories to dust. I am like a stranger I must now get to know from scratch, like a foreign language I have no ear for, after so long.

Let It Go, To Let It Grow

The Whatsapp group is formed, I am added along with a bunch of people that have become the usual suspects for the Friday Night social. The instructions were, “Meeting at Shakers Bar for 8pm and onwards to Chill & Grill or Buzz and then to Katalyst or Paprika,” and I fade away into last week’s memory of sitting at a table of maybe ten people and saying very little while the banter went around of surface conversations about Carnival costumes and trips away and the next big party plans and the round of drinks we are about to order and how much money everyone needs to contribute to throw a big bram and… fade to black.

Silence. A strange silence has drifted over me the last few months. An awkward understanding of my disillusion, my disconnect, my distance from all these things. I am the stranger at the table that no one sees anymore. I am no one’s friend and no one thinks of me as more than a warm silhouette occupying a sliver of space here at this table. We are all silhouettes here. I’m not really all that different, except perhaps that my silhouettedness bothers me, makes me feel insignificant and wasted. It is the wastedness that bothers me the most. It is the desire to not be wasted that drives me further into my seat at the table and then suddenly, I have slipped through the rattan backing of the chair, dripped slowly down the back legs and trickled away.

But no one notices, because at these tables, in the shadows of loud, mindless music and superficial conversation, no one cares about each other enough to ask how we feel, are we happy with our lives, with our careers, with our families. No one cares about the other person’s personal growth or mental health. No one really notices anything.

So I disappeared quietly and have not been missed. In fact my absence has gone so unnoticed that I am still on the Whatsapp groups and the Facebook Event invitations. And in theory, I’m still someone’s friend and I’m still somewhere around. But there is no love here among these babbling strangers. And the waste has become insurmountable.

I see potential in contact now more than ever. I think of conversations and the intoxicating drift of knowledge and experience and life, from one person to the other and then I look for it at these tables and find it absent and myself even, not present here, and it feels like waste.

So I’ve let it go. The Friday night scene, the running after silhouettes of friends who vanish into shadows of old friendships, only to reappear when drunk, for brief moments and then they slip away again into the cacophony of silence. I’ve let go of my need to connect to old relationships, to try and persuade these strangers into something I can relate to again. It’s gone and what is left is sadness at the loss.

But also, there is growth. There is new space in me, for dance classes on a Monday night with interesting people and theatre lessons and time to read books and time to spend with those who actually ask me how I feel and give me the chance to actually answer honestly. There is room for new conversations and new emotions – there’s room for emotion – period. I feel myself changing into something curious and adventurous and experience-seeking. I feel myself growing. And it feels wonderful.

Because ever-so-often we need to re-pot the plant – give it new soil – for it to thrive.