There’s something incredibly romantic about the modern cinema. Yes, the modern one. All feelings of nostalgia are generally directed towards the old battered movie houses that have only a couple of screens but I always loved the many screened cinemas. From the outside they look small and inconspicuous, but when you go inside you are led through a maze of corridors and stairways, trying to imagine how this never-ending Wonderland you’ve found yourself in matches to the simple exterior, before you finally come to the door with your number on it. It makes you slightly uneasy to not know exactly where you are and you wonder where do those doors in the screening rooms with the exit signs over them actually lead to?
When you live in Dublin City and you want to see a film – let’s say any film – a number of considerations must be made. What time of day is it? Who, if anyone, should I bring? How much do I want to spend? What kind of film do I want to see? Do I have plans for after the film? What kind of audience will be there? Why go to the cinema at all? That last seems to me the most easily answered. The idea of shutting out the world completely for 90+ minutes is reason enough, but also specifically in Dublin to know you’ll be walking back out on to a city street when you’re done has a wonderful sense of disruption to it. It’s like for the run-time of that film you completely disengage from the life outside, but when it’s over you’re right back in the middle of it again. Watching a film on a laptop, checking your facebook, your phone, answering the door, trying to ignore the traffic or not look out the window, it’s a completely different experience.
One of my favourite cinema memories is going to see Samsara in the IFI about a year ago. I walked into the cinema at about 10:25am and watched this alien’s eye view of my planet unfold before me, especially the section of the film that shows how food goes from the farm to the fast food restaurant, shot and edited together to make humanity look like a completely unfamiliar race, simply by contextualising all these typical human mechanisms and systems we’ve set up for ourselves. Walking back out into the middle of Dublin after that was bizarre, like being teleported from an observation point in space down amongst the strange and strangely efficient animals I had just been studying. That you can’t get off a laptop screen.
Even an adventurer such as yourself needs a plan and you will be seriously punished for not having one, as cinemas are probably the last things left on this earth you absolutely must get to on-time (add time for trailers). If you have evening plans in the city then the Irish Film Institute is the best choice. It has the most exclusively art-house line-up in Dublin and if you are really passionate about the art-form you’ll rarely find a night there without something worth seeing. It also has special events quite frequently including retrospectives and thematic seasons, often showing films on 35mm prints. They also host a free monthly film club called ‘The Critical Take’ where panelists and the audience get to talk about three specific films that screened in the IFI in the previous month, which is a particularly enjoyable way to spend a Wednesday afternoon, especially when something about that pesky art-film you saw last week is still trying to click with you.
There are days in the IFI where you can feel unwanted. It’s nothing tangible and nothing that is the fault of any one person but it’s something to be aware of. I’ve had both my best and one of my worst cinema-going experiences there, the best being a screening of the 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia a screening the pure beauty of which threatened to draw my image as an icon of stony-faced stoicism into disrepute. One of the worst screenings was an even longer film Heaven’s Gate and just before the screening started we were informed the hard drive wasn’t working (digital!) so we spent the next 225 minutes watching a DVD. Some might consider this sacrilege and you’d understand why if you spent nearly four hours watching a film renowned for its beauty completely obscured by blurry images and a sound so flat that you can’t make out large sections of the dialogue. Also this screening took place in Screen 2, which for anyone above, I’d guess, 6 feet in height, is one of the least comfortable places to sit possibly on earth. If I had not been in such a pleasant state of mind at the time things might have gotten ugly.
These are the extremes of the place. I’ve frequented the venue many times and have never had an experience that bad before or since – although during the fire scene in Days of Heaven the screen did go green for about ten minutes (digital again!) – and many that have been above average or very good. The Almodóvar retrospective earlier this year was great and I’ve seen some of my very favourite films of recent times there, films that didn’t show in any other cinema in the city, including About Elly, A Simple Life and Something In The Air. Also those pesky texters who always come late and sit near the front usually get a good tasking from the vigilant punters who do not expect to watch an art-film while being forced to tolerate wayward light-shows from the audience. For the uncomfortableness of Screen 2, Screen 1 always feels like it’s hosting an event, even when you’ve sneaked in for an afternoon screening. In the evenings, due to the cinema’s location right on the edge of Temple Bar, there’s always a great atmosphere in the place. It really is more of an evening cinema eventhough the ticket prices at that time of day do threaten to linger around the €10 mark.
For he who has no plans, and wishes to compose an evening of sensory pleasures then one of the very best things you can do is go to Mulligan’s of Stoneybatter for a beer and a meal, go to the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield for a film and then wind down from that experience with another beer in the Cobblestone, also in Smithfield. After that you will be having such a good night that you will be perfectly willing to freewheel your way back into the city with no specific destination in mind, glad for the cool of the air and the dark of the sky. The Lighthouse gets to boast about being the most comfortable cinema in Dublin, and while it could be considered a subjective thing, objectively it definitely is. The cinema is located in Smithfield which still finds itself in a state of purgatory between renovation and desolation without ever going into either state with much conviction. This has the effect of giving the Lighthouse an eerie stillness at times as, unlike the IFI, it doesn’t often get people coming in just for the coffee.
In terms of price it’s a bit better than the IFI. It’s selection is not as exclusive but they have a wonderfully elastic timetable so some films end up playing there for months that have been long gone from cinemas elsewhere. They also have special seasons from time to time and host event screenings like the GAZE Film Festival and late night screenings of cult films. The long downstairs trek into the cinema’s underground screens is usually decorated by unique art-works celebrating films or sometimes just anything at all. The one draw-back of the Lighthouse is just how far from the city it is. When picking a cinema to attend the 15-20 minutes it can take to get to Smithfield from O’Connell Street might be a deal-breaker, but when you plan your night well you cannot go wrong here.
Dublin’s last three big cinemas – excluding the Odeon in Point Village which I’m not yet convinced actually exists – have always felt more suited to day-time excursions, as in you want it to still be light out when you come out of them. Despite this they are very different cinemas. Screen Cinema on Pearse Street/D’Olier Street/No Fixed Address: my last two experiences in that cinema sum up fairly well its flaws and its charms. A screening of What Richard Did, a film that has many moments of quiet and stillness, was disrupted by the intense engine-revving of Drive which was playing in the next screen. This is another one of those great cardinal sins that sometimes get committed by cinemas, that can be enough to turn you off for good, but a more recent sojourn for a screening of Frances Ha was particularly enjoyable. The place smelled bad, like it hadn’t had a good thorough cleaning in a year, but it was incredibly nostalgic for this, like the old small-town cinemas that didn’t have to take care of themselves because they were the only cinema in town and where else were you going to go?
What balls, what attitude, to be placed right behind Trinity College in the city’s very heart and to shrug at the received wisdom of what is and isn’t acceptable for a cinema in 2013. It was wonderful to walk into that old style building in the early afternoon and vanish into the black-and-white world on the screen for 86 short little minutes. No screen-bleeding incidents occurred either and at €6.70 (€5 Monday’s if you have a Student Card) it’s hard to go wrong, but it’s very much a day-time escape cinema, one where you just decide to leap out of the sun for a couple of hours; spending the evening time there is not a particularly endearing idea.
On the complete opposite side of the scale is Cineworld of Parnell Street. It has 17 screens, including a great big hospital room-like IMAX 3-D screen on the very very top of its long spiralling inner tower. It’s films are generally of the more assured popular types, but they also show Bollywood films there quite frequently. Again this is a day-time stop-over, possibly even a rainy day stop-over, where you can stand by the great cylindrical windows on the second floor and watch as the street below is drenched by Dublin’s characteristic rainfall. The early screenings are also appropriate as you can go to Chapter’s Bookshop further down the same street when your film’s over and then wander down the hectic Moore Street and buy some “tobacco” if you’re so inclined.
The great issue with Cineworld is how very expensive it is. Even the early screenings are outrageous but if you are one single adult going to see an IMAX 3-D film after 5pm Monday and Wednesday to Friday you can pay as much as €16.30. That’s before the cost of travel, popcorn (if you are an indulger in such things), drinks, almost a full ten euro more than Screen’s cheapest tickets for the same individual. In the evenings however the place can get quite packed as it’s an inoffensive impersonal venue where you can very much keep to yourself so perhaps popular for dates and the like. Although walking onto Parnell Street late at night is a sad and lonely experience.
The last cinema then is O’Connell Street’s Savoy. There’s not much to say about it really. It’s Screen 1 is the largest in the city, save perhaps the monstrous IMAX 3-D in Cineworld, which is great for losing yourself in a film. The rest of its screens are a bit of a Russian Roulette. One of the screens is about the size of a pre-fab (exaggerating for effect) and when it’s packed, like it was when I went to see Invictus it can be rather uncomfortable. Besides this, the cinema has the most generic selection of films you could think of – often’s the time you’d walk by and not be tempted one iota by the LED sign over its glass doors – and it hosts nearly all the film premieres that come to Dublin. As for time of day, O’Connell Street is a dreary place at the best of times but if you happen to be on a time constraint and it suits both your schedule and the selection of films you want to see then all you have to do is go, and cross your fingers for Screen 1.