1977. We’ve just been to see Star Wars at the Enfield ABC. Ahead of us, unknown, lie fights over collectible toys, tauntauns, ewoks, and referential homage in Gen X comedies. Even further lie monstrous sequels, and the sharpness of their disappointment will remind us how far this mythos has burrowed into our minds, but right now we’re ignorant even of where George Lucas has borrowed his hidden fortress from. Seated in the family Hillman Avenger, my mum turns on the engine. ‘I’ll have to remember I’m just driving a car,’ she says, ‘and not flying an X-wing fighter.’
1989. The Screen on Baker Street runs a midnight Friday screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I go with my girlfriend. Baker Street is alien territory to us Zone 4 types, the land of Madame Tussaud’s and Sherlock Holmes: a night bus home, and night buses are not that great in the 1980s. The screening involves an amateur performance troupe called the ‘Fabulous Underclothes’ who have learned by heart the call-and-response to the film that satirises the satire, seizes on the clunky moments in Richard O’Brien’s script. I loved it, and The Time Warp too, but that’s not something I’ll readily admit to now.
1993. Valentine’s night at the Duke of York’s in Brighton and I’m watching Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz and Bridget Fonda in Bodies, Rest and Motion with two single female friends. The Duke of York’s is my university arthouse education, the cinema that plays Hal Hartley double bills, its spot-colour fold-out posters as commonly found on student walls as Egon Schiele’s Artist’s Wife. It’s where we see what Heli calls ‘headfuck French movies’ when we don’t get them out on VHS from Video Box. But Bodies, Rest and Motion is a dreary indie tableau of needlessly emotionally tortured twenty-somethings, and I’m almost as annoyed at having wasted the evening watching it as I am at being alone on Valentine’s night.
2001. ‘All you need to make a film is a girl and a gun’. The NFT runs a Godard season, and I see as many of the films as I can, nearly twenty: the macho sci-fi detectivery of Alphaville, the political thrills of Le Petit Soldat, the simulcast translation of Un film com les autres. The pantomime war of Les carabiniers remains my favourite, and I still can’t see why anyone likes Pierrot le feu. A weekend devoted to the revolutionary work of the Dziga Vertov Group culminates in a panel discussion with Tariq Ali, Colin MacCabe and Laura Mulvey. I ask a naïve question about cinema trying to change the world. ‘We weren’t making agitprop,’ replies Mulvey, ‘we were addressing the contradiction in cinema itself.’ Through two months I pack my head and a small notebook with reminders, connections, observations and thoughts. It’s a notebook I’ve rarely opened since.
2005. Watching The Ipcress File in NFT3. At one point in Harry Palmer’s adventure of deception and torture he is put in a small box and subjected to a sequence of intensely flashing lights and bizarre sound. It occurs to me that I’ve paid good money to see quite similar films in this very cinema. Somehow, the most abstract moving image pushes buttons that paintings leave unpressed. The avant-garde cinema weekend in the London Film Festival has become an anchor around which revolve screenings in pubs and art galleries around the capital, Lux’s ‘Visionary Landscapes’ at Cecil Sharp House, shorts programmes at the ICA and salon screenings in Shacklewell. Trying to learn all over again what cinema is.