I Took a Microwave to the Cinema to Make My Own Popcorn
Or, how I saved the UK cinema industry in one fucking weekend.
The other week, there was a bizarre story about two grandmothers being kicked out of a cinema for laughing. The duo were at a showing of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie in Islington, but apparently it was too funny.
That seems like a fairly draconian policy for a cinema showing a comedy film. But it's also further proof that cinemas can no longer compete with the luxury of home entertainment. These days, we're used to watching films and boxsets in the comfort of our own home, spread-eagled on the rug, eating snacks of our choosing and laughing at a volume that suits us. You simply couldn't bring that level of comfort into a cinema.
If cinemas are to survive they need to compete with staying in at home and watching Netflix. Punishing people for laughing is a step in the wrong direction.
Perhaps I could be a kind of movie messiah – an eye-opener - delivering a wake-up call to the frontlines of the film industry and dragging it into the 21st century, ensnaring disenfranchised millennials and saving the box office from "weaker prospects going forward than at any time in the past 30 years". So, like a brave apostle on a mission of enlightenment, I decided to head out and educate different cinemas by bringing the art of 21st century viewing to them.
If there's one thing that really puts me off joining people for a trip to the pictures, it's the dress code. That library chic at the Curzon just makes me feel so impotent. I want maximum comfort before I settle in for a three-hour foreign language epic. So for my first foray, I slip into my best dressing gown and a good pair of worn boxers and get on the bus to Peckhamplex. This Patsy is going to see Ab Fab.
I grab myself an extra-large sack of popcorn and take my seat in the centre of the front row. Sprawling my bare legs across empty seats, I get cosy. During the trailers, my friend rings me. I answer, stand up to the side of the aisle and swiftly tell him what time the showing will finish. Returning, a lady behind me tuts loudly: right now she is an agent of cinema's impending downfall, but after my work is done, she'll merely be a relic. So to mark the moment of this passing of the torch – from old to new – I cracked a beer and took a selfie.
The film started. There they are: Eddy and Patsy, on the big screen! I yell into the air and clap when they appear. Patsy - dirty as ever - falling asleep on the toilet seat. Hahahahaha. Whenever she delivers a zinger I swirl my beer and toss it up into the air. This is the life. This is what watching films should be about. It's the best experience I've had in front of the big screen in years. It's so good, as a matter of fact, I decide to do what I do when I'm having fun: get out my Mac out and let people know what they're missing out on.
I ask the lovely lady behind me whether she has the WiFi code and she stares blankly at me – what is wrong with these fridges? It's no biggie, I can hotspot. Soon I hear a "psst" from the side of the aisle: it's tall cinema employee who I had friendly banter about popcorn size with on the way in, calling me over.
"Sir, we've had complaints that you're filming the movie on your laptop?"
"Oh, sorry. You must be mistaken: I'm just charging my phone and tweeting to my friends."
"Well, can you put all of that away, mate?"
"I suppose, yeah."
The guy walks on and I get the message: it is chillout time. So I let the story kick on, taking deep drags on my e-cigarette and bathing in its vapour miasma. It is an absolute blast until I feel a sharp poke in the shoulder; he's back with reinforcements.
"You've got to go sir, come on." The guy starts helping me pick away all my stuff.
"But what did I do?"
"We've had four separate complaints about you, mate. I've already had to give out a few full refunds. You know what you've done."
"I was just trying to get comfy," I say, as I'm led through the cinema, where dozens of staff – some laughing, some with furrowed brows – are gathered watching me drag my stuff out.
And with that I'm out on my arse. Sat on the benches outside gathering my thoughts, a staff member walks past and mumbles 'prick'. Twenty minutes I lasted, before being forcefully ejected. Clearly this is not the place for me – well, it won't be for at least a few months, as I've been banned – and not a place to start a revolution. Onwards and upwards, I'll have to birth a new dawn on a new horizon.
I AM THE BIG SHOT
Maybe people would respect me more if I looked more 'cinema'. Then perhaps I could enjoy Ab Fab in the comfort I so richly deserve. So I've drank seven cups of coffee, dressed up as Ron Howard, brought my favourite chair along and am in search of that magical shot. Time is money, people, so I blast through the foyer –"one big shot of espresso and a ticket to Ab Fab, please!" – and I'm on my way. I walk around the screen finding the perfect spot and set out my chair somewhere on the second row in the aisle. The credits roll. "Roll titles," I mutter quietly, immediately ingratiating myself with the film community.
"Perfect shot," I say to myself at the end of every scene, proving my spectacular film knowledge. Soon, however, a couple on the row behind are rubbernecking. Can a man not speak to himself during a film? It says 'big shot' on my chair, for crying out loud. Sure enough, a security guard emerges from the outside, bounding down the stairs towards me.
"You can't film in here! Do you know how serious this is? You can get a £500,000 fine for it. My manager will call the police if he sees you doing this."
"But I'm not recording."
"No, I'm not recording, really."
"Oh," He says confusedly, before disappearing off up the stairs. I've already missed out on a bucket load of shots and that's only going to get worse, as the door fast reopens.
"My manager is worked up, he doesn't believe you. Can you please come with me?"
"Ok, fine." I climb the stairs with him and outside stands a congregation of staff.
"Is this about the chair? If so, I'm sorry but my back really doesn't agree with-"
"No not the chair, mate, more about the fact you're filming!" The manager barks.
"I'm not filming, seriously."
"I can see you on the cameras inside, holding the thing up to your eye. This is a serious offense."
"But it's not a camera. Look, let me show you." So I put down the device on the floor, and the group gather.
"Almonds? Is that Piriton? What even is this?" The manager asks.
"It's my lunchbox."
"Then why does it have a lens on top of it?"
"Oh, that's just a pair of binoculars. I like to have them depending on where I set up my seat – I just want to get the best shot possible."
"Is all this spraypainted?" I nod, and the manager scratches his head and picks up the box to feel its weight. "This was a waste of time." I'm encouraged to go back to my seat. And from there, I enjoy the rest of the film in the best seat in the house, chowing down almonds and Percy Pigs. Adaptable, accommodating, it's a great score here in Brixton, and though I unnecessarily missed five minutes of the flick, they're going to be fine once the revolution comes.
If there's one thing in particular that perturbs millennials and stops them from heading out to the cinema, it's the money. And in a world where we'd rather skip buying soap to save for the bus, we're not going to spend six quid on a frankfurter with three fried onions, are we? But I've discovered a little loophole - a foolproof method as it were - to save you money and bring the legions back to the box office. So I headed to the biggest iMax in Europe with that recipe.
One man; one microwave; one mission: to make his own popcorn to enjoy the film with.
So I stroll into the lobby and what's the first thing I spot? All I need: I got the power. I plug the little fella in and start taking the popcorn out of my bag - it's all too easy.
"Man, you can't do that." A clerk rushes from behind the ticket desk, then stops blankly. "Have you brought your own microwave here to make your own popcorn?" He's staring up at me - I nod. "Well... that's awesome. But don't do it directly in the view of the main door like this, go around the counter."
Well, why won't you look at that? The tide is turning! I rush around the corner, giddy, and find the perfect spot. Out comes the popcorn and the microwave goes on: just two minutes and counting until everything changes. 50 seconds fly by and the heat thunderously rises with every rotation; people gather in disbelief, taking photos on their phones. 40 more: am I Gandhi, amid gathering crowds, leading the march against imperialism? 30 creep by to the hum of this marvellous machine and the beat of its timer. I watch, hypnotised: I can see the light.
"What do you think you're doing?" A man rushes over and yanks out the cable.
"I'm just, making my own popcorn, it's my favourite."
"You've brought a microwave, presumably all the way from home, to make your own popcorn at the cinema?"
"Correct, yeah. Do you mind if I just finish it off with 30 or so more seconds?"
"Are you joking? We can't let anything be plugged into our walls for one, it's dangerous."
At this point, the manager dismisses the security guard and assumes the dominance, packing the cable away.
"Now the popcorn is essentially ready anyway, can I just take it into the screening and see the film?"
"Are you crazy? You can't take a microwave into a cinema screen. It's a hazard. Think about it: people walking around, in the dark, and you've got a microwave there. They could break their toes!"
"Well what about if I buy a seat for the microwave?" I plead.
"A seat, that I can put the microwave on."
"Just think about what you've just – no - I'm sorry but you can't come into the screening. You're going to have to take the microwave away from here."
The manager turns away for a second and I call him back. "Would you like a bit of popcorn?" He swivels 180 degrees, wearing a face twisted with bemusement. It fast explodes into knowing smile, and he takes a handful, engulfs it heartily, and turns away. My work here is done.
You can't be surprised by the staff taking me to the dogs after a few disturbances: this is commonplace when you're bringing about change, upsetting the status quo. And these guys just aren't ready to be saved, yet. But you saw the sign, you saw the manager taking a handful of popcorn. A small gesture that, like the fluttering wings of a butterfly, could reverberate around the globe and go down in the history books as the moment that saved cinema culture. That mouthful and smile told me one thing: it didn't matter that this man has a lifetime's supply of professionally made popcorn at his behest and probably spends most of his days picking at the stuff; he wants to break bread with the proletariat; he wants a taste of the working man. And as far as I can see, it is simply a matter of time. A matter of time until everyone is carrying their microwave, showing up to the cinema in their underwear and making a pitch for their own chair.
You mark my words, today is the day that we saved cinema.
Photos by Dean Noroozi, James Butler and Jamie Hubball
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