My first red carpet: is it the experience that counts?

There was an advert in cinemas with a Scots voice intoning – “Cinema, it’s the experience that counts”. Preaching to the converted, I thought, but it is the experience of seeing a film in a large room on a big screen with others which makes leaving the house (as opposed to ever easier home viewing) worthwhile.

So what about the experience of seeing a film in an extra special setting – that of film festival, or better still, a premiere?

This was not my first film festival or occasion when cast or crew took part in the programme, but it was my first red carpet at Britain’s biggest film festival in London’s Leicester Square, the traditional site of many of the nation’s first showings.

When I enquired at the box office what the procedure was for ticket holders to enter the screening, staff teased and said I had to use a secret tunnel! But I did reasonably wonder, with all the cattle railings and security and a wall of photographers, how I got in without disturbing the trail of stars. There’s nothing on the venue (Odeon) or BFI Film Festival’s websites. To others wondering: we came in behind the photographers between celebrity arrivals – and we did have to walk on the red carpet, albeit a shorter stretch than the special guests, and enter the same foyer and auditorium as they did, and show tickets MANY times.

Now I have to tell you how gutted I am: for as much as I was pleased to hear from director Alan Rickman, the biggest star in his new film A Little Chaos was in the continent furthest from the screening, and appeared only by a brief video, giving her filming location and newest child as her reason. I have followed Kate Winslet’s 20 year career for most of it, and made a special sacrifice (eating only bananas due to low budget and using sickness inducing buses) to attend – only to learn she wasn’t coming. Last year, I talked myself out of the £20-30 ticket because I didn’t expect her – only to see her on the carpet in a matching dress in the next day’s news. So this year, I felt it reasonable to assume her presence at the first gala screening of the LFF and British premiere, only to be gutted on arrival.

What then does a film festival atmosphere give to a film, beyond a brief chance to hold up a camera phone to a celebrity who is mostly hidden behind a screen (as any non ticket holder can do at the cinema entrance), and then hear them talk for up to half and hour? Is the introduction and Q&A alone enough: the chance for anyone to hold up a hand and ask a public question, the chance to interact with and see someone famous you likely admire in the same room?

This auditorium – Odeon West End 2 – was sold out, recalling the last Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet film I saw at the cinema, which was also sold out and on its opening weekend – Sense and Sensibility in 1996. And there is a comparison of a typically English period drama, with romance and sadness, but lots of distinctly national humour that will likely delight anglophiles around the world as well as British viewers.

Like my recent experience at Cambridge Film Festival, there were public laughs, but these came at sometimes inappropriate times. At a previous CFF, the explicit and disturbing scenes in Dog Days got a regular laugh until someone yelled back – it’s not funny. I thought it was, said the chastised guffawer. We should have the right to laugh as we are tickled, but it’s also exposing to reveal your humour, and can spoil a moment for others.

There were moments in A Little Chaos that I felt the audience expected to find funny, like the regularity of jokes in a sit com, rather than remembering that films often elicit many emotions and that pathos or shock can be just as possible. The gasps of the sudden throat cutting in Hidden/Cache, the squeals and jumps in The Woman in Black and then the young men in front apologising – that alone was worth the ticket price – are part of what makes cinema special. But often silence or a gesture – I covered my mouth with my hand during the scenes that Kate Winslet’s character is most troubled in A Little Chaos – is as powerful as the vocal response of amusement, which can feel canned and cued.

Of course, the experience can be negative because of talking, rustling, the stink of beer or smelly food, the late coming or re-entry of other customers, the use of phones. In this mostly respectful audience, still a couple of people left the auditorium – in the presence of the press and the film’s maker – and the couple beside me not only gave an unnecessary feature length commentary but talked through the Q&A and didn’t clap the various cast and crew asked to stand. That to me was utterly rude, as you’re here to appreciate their work, and it’s etiquette and respectful.

So was my £20 worth it – plus the now illegal booking fee and an hour lurking round the carpet and my 7 hours on buses? Not quite, and mostly for a missing Winslet. Odeon West End is less large than its black towered sister across the square, and the auditorium itself, although with an 814 capacity, has no special architecture: the early 20th C picture palaces (of which London has several) or the BFI’s own 1960s screen one at Southbank have a sense of occasion that is not present in this fairly usual mainstream subdivided chain cinema. As for the film itself, reviews will appear nearer the film’s UK release date, which is early 2015. More on this and other venues at my sister blog

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One response to “My first red carpet: is it the experience that counts?

  1. Pingback: London’s Odeon West End premiere | Cinema with Elspeth

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