Back in January, when cinemas were closed and we had no idea if/when they’d reopen, as part of a project I was working on, I was asked to write a love letter to an aspect of cinema. I instantly knew exactly what I wanted to write about, Cinema Curtains! My next thought was ‘Why on Earth?!? What are you thinking?’ Once I got writing though, it really became clear.
There are few inanimate objects that can cause a hush to descend upon a crowd. One of the few exceptions are the curtains in a cinema screen, those undervalued and underappreciated and underseen beauties that command a presence most of us could only dream of having.
Of the many, many, many things I’ve missed these past ten months – my more-than-once-a-week cinema visits are towards the top. But, within that, the aspect I’ve most missed are those bloomin’ cinema curtains. The curtains at BFI, at Picturehouse Central, Regents Street and Prince Charles Cinemas – as mad as it sounds, I miss you all as much as I miss some of my friends. That’s because I miss what you bring us. Your opening, often accompanied in this blissful choreography with the lights switching off, brings a stillness I’ve craved. A stillness I don’t think I’ve ever fully appreciated until now, and certainly one I need back again.
There’s a degree of liberation to be found when those curtains open, the lights turn off and the screen ratio adjusts. It’s a release of breath, a calmness takes over as we’re about to begin a pause from reality and an escape into another world. No matter how similar or dissimilar that world on the screen is going to be from our own, the very act of it being unveiled by those curtains makes us safe in the knowledge that the show can begin. For those 90+ minutes we shall find a freedom in fiction or a respite in reality.
And, no matter how hard you try, it’s an experience near impossible to replicate at home. Since March 2020, we’ve spent our days plugged into screens of varying sizes, but rarely the one that reaches the heights we love. The big and beautiful screen hidden behind those curtains that connote intrigue, mystery and a journey about to begin. A journey most of us cannot wait to recommence once more.