Film is a wonderful, and if we are to look at box office earnings, a very popular form of entertainment. As it is a public place there is that unspoken social rule of how you are expected to behave. The obvious cinema experience involves selecting a movie that interests you, going to the cinema with a group of friends and buying your tickets, drinks and popcorn and then sitting down in the auditorium preparing to be entertained. Where I come from once we sit down, mobile phones are switched off, and we enjoy the movie quietly in the privacy of our own space and discuss our experience of the film after the movie either in a coffee shop or on the way home. A cinema experience in the UAE is very different, and it took my by surprise. Action blockbusters like Mission Impossible, XXX, and the Fast and Furious to name a few movies involve real audience participation. The good guy is cheered and encouraged, the bad guy is heckled and booed, there is even clapping and jumping up in seats to help the good guy along in fight scenes. Where I come from a comedy scene might have generated a few polite chuckles, but we would have been constantly aware of the stranger in the seat next to us while we nibbled quietly on our popcorn so as not to disturb those around us. I find I rather enjoy the UAE cinema experience as we have the freedom to involve ourselves more fully. All this audience participation in movies like Fast and Furious may well be a subconscious response to what has been seen on the screen – And the fact that there seems to be a national obsession with all things car related!
Something the audience may well not even be consciously aware of, yet they find themselves identifying with certain characters more than others. Why is this? Interpellation may well answer this question. In simplified terms Althusser explains interpellation as a form of misrecognition, where an externalised image is perceived both as self and an “other” and the person (or viewer) recognises themselves as an image or reflection of the other. This reflection of self will be influenced by our own life experiences, the type of movie we are watching, and how we project onto the movie based on our age, gender, and cultural backgrounds. A director and creative producers casting, narrative, aesthetic and marketing choices are particularly important in this regard. And in the case of the Fast and Furious franchise Latino viewers are specifically targeted through production and marketing choices interpellating a broadly multicultural and global audience and how they embrace an atmosphere of post racial multiculturalism. How we interact as an audience when we watch a film is governed by techniques used by the film makers to engage the audience and make them think and feel a certain way. A holocaust survivors experience of Schindler’s List, a spouse whose partner is suffering from dementia watching The Note Book, a military conscripts response to the Hurt Locker will govern not only our experience of the movie, but our cognitive responses to the story we are watching. I definitely choose (or avoid) specific movies based a certain “experience” I expect to have at the cinema and interpellation plays a huge part in this choice. I was 9 years old when Mean Girls with Lindsay Lohan came onto the screen and I was going through a tough time in school where I was feeling very isolated and different and I really identified with Lindsay’s character Cady Heron. I felt her pain and misery, and the need to conform. As I have matured I have learned to embrace who I am, but at the time the film had a big impact on me because of how I identified with the experiences Cady was dealing with – they were very real to me at the time.
Some other more obvious aspects of my cinema experience that make me want to go to the movies are the great surround-sound systems; they produce sound from the sides, the front, behind you, and above, or below you. I’ve even been in cinemas where the ground vibrates if there is a huge explosion or earthquake occurring in the film. And now the whole 3D experience, even though still in its infancy, adds to that feeling that I am in the film’s world, and experiencing what the characters on the screen are experiencing. This escapism allows me to remove myself from the pressures of my day for an hour or two so when the movie ends I can walk away feeling that not only was my money was well spent, but I had a “real” experience. As an audience we have more, and more expectations of what we want to see and experience and for a movie to become successful it will need to tick all of these boxes to satisfy a more demanding and discerning audience.
Then of course there are the fun movies where it is all about escapism and audience participation is not only expected but encouraged, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This is a movie experience I go to for pure escapism and entertainment value. This 1970’s British-American musical horror comedy has a cult following. The story centres on a young engaged couple whose car breaks down in the rain near a castle where they seek a telephone to call for help. The castle is occupied by strangers in elaborate costumes celebrating an annual convention.
Although largely critically dismissed on initial release, it soon became known as a midnight movie when audiences began participating with the film, Audience members returned to the cinemas frequently and talked back to the screen and began dressing as the characters. So much so, there are blogs out there detailing the audience participation script for the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
In contrast, when I watch films in the comfort of my own home, I usually watch movies that either didn’t interest me enough to go to the cinema at the time of their release, or because I want to re-watch movies I have already seen at the cinema to follow the editing, cinematography, or just pick up on aspects I missed the first time around. I prefer to do so in the dark with a big bowl of popcorn so it is similar to my cinema experience. Some of the more B grade movies I am less invested in, I like to watch at home, but I don’t fully concentrate on what is happening. I usually have my phone in my hand, or am doing something on my laptop.
Besides the movie experience social media, reviews and film advertisements play a large part in my decision to see a movie in a cinema. Furthermore, who is cast in the film, or who it is directed by also contributes to my decision to go to the cinema. After reading reviews, watching trailers online and interviews with cast and crew I generally make a judgement on whether to see it at the cinema or wait until it is out on DVD.