Throughout my life there have been a number of places I feel completely cuddled by. Those places are cinemas. One that I will remember forever is a theatre in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia where I saw Lawrence of Arabia on my mother’s lap. I was around four or five. It must have been a repertory programme. What I remember is the vastness of the theatre and how it contained the vastness of David Lean’s movie. And how I was lost into it. This was a very important transcendental moment.
For me entering into a movie theatre is an unconscious experience. It’s about abandoning yourself to the vastness of the place in community with other people. What makes it special is a mixture of the individual feeling of immersion but also the beautiful sense of sharing. It’s really something unmatched.
There is another theatre, Cinema Gaudium in Palermo, which I remember is the first time I realised the concept of electric shadows, as the Chinese call cinema. I was watching Richard Donner’s Superman (1978). I was still very young. I connected the light that was coming from the booth behind me to what was on the screen. That was the first epiphany I had about what happens in a cinema. Although I thought there was somebody inside the booth playing Superman being projected. I had the idea of Plato and the cave, even before reading it.
Lots of other cinemas have been formative for me – in particular, festival theatres like the Sala Grande in Venice. I’ve been going there since 1992. The first time I went there I was a student. I spent 11 days in screening after screening, consumed by the sheer enjoyment of discovering films. That was the year I saw Bob Altman’s Short Cuts in a packed theatre.
There are many others too… the Cinéma Christine 21 in Paris: I like to go there a lot. I also like the opposite experience of the multiplex. Sometimes going to the movies for enjoyment is as great as going to the movies for opening up windows into your sense of self. I’ve been enjoying going to the cinema since the first lockdown was over. Even if there is social distancing and the capacity of the theatre is not full, you can still feel the beauty and energy of the experience.
I believe that we’ll see a great return of the moviegoing experience as soon as we can get over this pandemic. But it is important to be said that much aid has been given to the world of business and I believe there has to be systemic infrastructural help from governments for cinemas, and for the theatrical and the live arts experience in general, in a strong, strong way. We need a Marshall plan for cinemas. I urge whoever has that power to do that. It is not banal. It is a huge worldwide industry that has to come back and become stronger. Also, help us filmmakers to make great films – not just bankable films – to be seen on the big screen. I am worried about the future of cinemas in Italy and everywhere. We need to become a united group and fight and make every kind of possible positive lobbying to make sure that help can be given to the system of the moviegoing experience.
I don’t want to be polemical but the present Italian government (and the previous one) lacks real knowledge and understanding of how important the cultural sector is. For the benefit of the country itself and the country in relation to the rest of the world. They claim they are going to do something. I hope they will. Viva cinema!
- Luca Guadagnino was talking to Isabel Stevens.