Dear Cinéaste, or Cinephile, or whatever you prefer to call yourself, the papyrus scroll said, you are invited to see for yourself whether cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world, and truth twenty-four times a second…
And so it went on – a mish-mash of puns, quips, and quotations… money and ideas; content and style; beginnings, middles and ends… they all got a mention.
As media critic for The Sunday Times, I had been invited to the opening of Cutting Rooms, and here I quote – The Cinema of the Future.
I remembered when I had been invited to the launch of a now-defunct television station; the affair was held in a cinema, and the entertainment was a 3D ‘underwater’ film.
At the time, this had been a relatively new concept; the glasses we were given had one green and one red lens, reminiscent of the ones given out with comic books to make sundry dinosaurs, dragons, vampires, zombies, monsters of the deep, and aliens, stand out in Horrid Dichromatic rather than Glorious Technicolor. But I digress.
The combination of coloured lenses and underwater scenes in Coral Reef Adventure had made me seasick, and it was all I could do not to chuck into my popcorn bucket.
I therefore scanned down the page; had I found any mention of 3D I would have ticked the RO box under the dotted line and sent it off by homing pigeon before you could say Jean-Luc Godard.
For that matter – there was no mention of anything at all, rather than the aforementioned humorous spiel and promises of the moon and a bag in which to put it. Oh – and there was also mention that it would be a day-long event, and that finger-food would be provided throughout.
That having been said, I find nothing better than watching a film in the comfort of my own home – I can press Rewind and watch Gregory Peck look over Audrey Hepburn’s left shoulder as they ride the Vespa, as many times as I want, or try to imitate Hannibal’s hiss to perfection, and tick of items in lists such as Fifty Continuity and Anachronistic Gaffes in Indiana Jones (flight path map shows Thailand, which was called Siam at the time; Iran, Iraq, and Israel did not exist in 1936 etc.).
But sometimes, it’s fun to make up a party, watch a film, and have a pizza to round off the outing. It helps if you can buy the book of the film, because sometimes, the pictures are much better in one’s mind than those on the silver screen.
Cutting Rooms promised to deliver. What, I was eager to find out; would it be new, improved CGI with motion-capture technology? Would we be able to interact with holograms of Grace Kelly and River Phoenix? Would this be a retro drive-in cinema where Fred and Wilma would have felt at home?
No one had managed to winkle out any information about this Top Secret project; speculation was rife. So kiddo and I wore our best casual smart togs and set off for the event. We were not disappointed.
Cutting Rooms delivered. And how. Housed in refurbished warehouses in Qormi, there were different halls hosting different types of what was quaintly named “cinema experiences”.
The ticket concept was akin to that of the Arriva bus service; €6 would allow you to stay inside the cinema for four hours, and €10 allowed you to stay inside the complex for ten. A number of mini-diners would cater to you whether you wanted Maltese, Chinese, Indian, or European foods. Not a hamburger or potato chip in sight. Good. You could also purchase merchandising items.
“Welcome to Malta” was the first room, and the focal one – a homage to all films wholly or partly shot in Malta. The screen was the visual version of sound-surround; a panopticon with pivot-seats for the audience, who could watch the action move along the 360o screen if they wanted, by swivelling their armchairs.
Jerome Cachia, Managing Director, told me that it was based up on the Cinerama widescreen process, which as everybody knows works by simultaneously projecting images from three synchronized 35 mm projectors. The huge screen, deeply-curved, is made of hundreds of individual strips, like hi-tech vertical blinds.
And yes, there was 3D – and when the usher heard my sharp intake of breath and saw me turn on my heels, he asked what the matter was. I told him – but he insisted I give it a go since the technology had been much improved since the first films. And it was true.
The Interactive Chamber was all that, and more; it was like a big recording studio where you could make as much of your own film as you could manage in an hour, with sub-titles should you so desire, and then burn it on DVD, and take the montage home with you. A techie was on hand to help you use the equipment (and probably, to ensure you did not ruin it).
Another salon allowed you to watch Collaborative Cinema. The audience held thingummies akin to television remote controls in their hands, and according to how many pressed which button when the blue dot appeared on-screen, the action continued in the way selected by the majority.
For old times’ sake, one of the showrooms was dedicated to Silent Movies. Up till the moment I walked in, I had never realised how like Buster Keaton’s my sense of the ridiculous is. Opera buffs had their own theatre – decorated, of course, like an elegant drawing-room.
It was perhaps inevitable that there would be an IMAX Hall; this was certainly not the place for agoraphobics. The dome was cathedral-high, and the seating resembled that of a football arena (with the chairs being padded!). Just for the record, each frame is ten times the size of one in an ordinary film – and ear-muffs are provided at the entrance, to soften the sound just in case you think it is too loud.
But what had many members of the press drooling was the Visual Media Parlour. This had a number of side-by-side booths with the latest state-of-the-art immersion techniques. Sight, sound, and smell blended into a homogenous event, providing each film-goer with the ultimate experience. Wake up and smell the coffee just got real.
Of course, I was not there (only) to enjoy myself – I knew I would have to write it up once I got home.
So I took notes and chased familiar faces for quotations, and very soon I had enough material to allow me to enjoy Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre – and the sushi.
Before leaving, we were given a Chinese folding paper moon – and a bag in which to put it.
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'Ghandi x' Nghid' (I have something to say) is a blog that focuses on current affairs and personal reflections - Andrew Azzopardi