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My Cinema of Attraction

August 29, 2014

“A cinema that displays its visibility, willing to rupture a self-enclosed fictional world for a chance to solicit the attention of the spectator”. Tom Gunning on the ‘Cinema of Attraction’

Cinema to me is not only a medium of moving images and filmed stories, but moreover a visceral spectacle, an occasion, a pilgrimage, and uncanny marker for my own trajectory through this thing called life. Just as people often say pop music acts as sensory sonar into our personal and collective nostalgia, so cinema – especially the actual experiencing of films in an auditorium – has always performed a similar function for me. Casting my mind back over the years, here are five memorable screenings I recall – not necessarily for the quality of the films themselves, but for what they signified in my genesis as not only a cinephile but a citizen of life…

Madame Bovary (dir: Claude Chabrol) – South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell

Being dragged to the local arts centre (merci Mme Martin!) to watch an austere French literary adaptation probably wasn’t this schoolboy’s best idea of a fun way to spend a Monday evening, but in retrospect – what genius from my teacher, taking me to see Madame Bovary by Claude Chabrol, and featuring the great Isabelle Huppert. I’m absolutely certain that the visit had a subliminal, formative impact on the future cinephile in me. Being screened in a gorgeous little bijou cinema in a grand arts centre, it created a certain ‘mystique’ over arthouse cinema, and an early exalted veneration for subtitles and French cinema (something I have since grown out of, unlike many bourgeois middle-Englanders). It also helped implant a certain mnemonic link between foreign cinema and my curiosity for all things travel and culture-related – something Giuliana Bruno was to explore in greater depth in her seminal ‘The Atlas of Emotion’.

Good Will Hunting (dir: Gus van Sant) – Miami International Mall, Miami

Prior to this screening, films were just another pastime – not of any more resonance than watching a game of football or reading a great book. Incredibly gauche though it now is to admit (check out the adult corrective I’ve written to the film here:, Good Will Hunting was something of a cinematic Lacanian moment for me. Staring back at me from the screen was a reflection (or possibly a projection?) of myself. I don’t mean figuratively in the character of Will Hunting, but more in the way that the sensibility of the main character and the evident aspirations behind Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s whole conception of this feelgood fable, chimed so much with my own late-teenage sense of identity and yearning (as well as happily gorging on the romantic myth that you can be handsome, macho, a genius, as well as a vulnerable, wronged bad boy all in one!)

The Thin Red Line (dir: Terrence Malick) – Showcase Winnersh, Reading

If Good Will Hunting marked my sentimental attachment to cinema, then The Thin Red Line signalled my awareness of the transcendent emotional and artistic power of the medium. I particularly remember the screening of The Thin Red Line because it so easily might not have happened. By now I was following cinema much more zealously, and I’d been hearing about an amazing Second World War movie (the “thinking man’s Saving Private Ryan” apparently) from this cult American directorial genius, Terrence Malick. So when I saw there was a single showing of The Thin Red Line at one of the local multiplexes, I managed to lobby less cinematically-inclined pals into coming with me. I recall waiting irritatedly at the front door of my parents’ house for one of my blasé friends to come and pick me up. The film was due to start in 10 minutes, the cinema was a good 15 minutes away, and I hate missing even the first frame of a movie. In the end we arrived bang on time, and Terrence Malick’s colossal, achingly beautiful film had me hooked from the off – especially the mysterious pictoral and musical cut from a portentous looking crocodile to an idyllic shaft of sunlight cascading through a dense rainforest. I particularly recall being mesmerised by Jim Caviezel’s graceful lead turn, and still to this day consider it to be one of the greatest and most effective male performances seen on screen.

American Pie 2 (dir: Chris Weitz) – UCI Bracknell, Bracknell

There’s a twofold memory to going to see the otherwise forgettable American Pie 2 at a concrete New Town multiplex cinema on an unassuming Friday evening in dank October. The first is that the film print caught fire halfway through the screening (we momentarily thought it might be part of some leftfield meta-cinematic joke on behalf of the filmmakers before realising this was the ultra-calibrated American Pie 2), but also this visit marked a time when most of my hometown school buddies (myself included) were in the hinterland of our early 20s, still living at home, yet to branch out from uni graduation into more concrete personal and professional commitments, so we tended to visit the local multiplex most weekends as a means of alleviating the inertia. Also, although the American Pie movie series is hardly a direct template for how my group passed our juvenile years – its theme of stunted male maturity (masked by an underlying camaraderie/sentimentality) seemed to chime with where we were in our lives at that precious juncture in time.

Irréversible (dir: Gaspar Noé) – Curzon Soho, London

I always remember stumbling out of a shift in some mediocre junior office job in the West End of London on a wet and rainy February evening, and wanting to catch a film (preferably a classy, thought-provoking one) to recalibrate my brain. Irréversible was playing at the Curzon Soho and I recall it had been the scandalous ‘talk of the town’ at all the recent film festivals – so I thought why not? Well, if I wanted awakening from my white-collar drudgery this was it – a pure, propulsive shock of electric, experiential cinema. I know the film has a questionable politique (and I don’t want to get into that here), but I must confess I thought it was absolutely fantastic – a complete antidote to the increasing numbness I felt over the predominant literary appropriation of the cinematic medium. In many ways, this screening acted as harbinger for my cinematic tastes moving forward – I gorge on poetic, immersive cinema (read the following piece where I’ve written more about it tangentially – and I suppose I have in some small part the dark imagination of Gaspar Noé to thank for that.

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