This time last year: A look back at cinema before the pandemic

2019 feels like worlds away? To think that it’s scarcely a year since I was sat in a cinema balling my eyes out for the best part of two hours at Little Women is insane. It’s somehow stayed firmly on my mind since – do you really think a day goes by where I don’t think about “stop the carriage, Laurie!”? Would I embarrass myself like that again in a heartbeat? Absolutely. Unfortunately, however, that luxury feels as though it is slipping away once more. 

Seeing Tenet in cinemas in September was an absolute treat – it could’ve been any film and I would have been overjoyed at the mere opportunity to spend my money on an overpriced bag of salted popcorn and switch off for a few hours. Now, as Cineworld has closed its doors and things slowly seem to be shutting once more as the pandemic heightens again, it feels like that moment of normality was fleeting.

Last Autumn/Winter feels now like something of a fever dream – the thought of being able to go see anything from Joker to Parasite at the drop of a hat is a privilege unimaginable. Our cinemas were littered with something to tickle everyone’s fancy, and their 2020 barrenness is deeply upsetting for a lot of us. There was so much going on at this time of year that reflecting on it seems like a different world – Christmas markets and gigs and cinema trips? It seems impossible. 

It’s enough to make you even more aggravated at Boris Johnson’s fumbling of the pandemic than I thought humanly possible, but here we are. Although we’re deprived of some of our favourite ‘in-person’ experiences for the moment, I think it’s safe to say that some good has perhaps come from the lack of normality. As the reclining seats at Vue sit empty, our sofas have never had as much use. My Netflix account is practically screaming after being rinsed dry, as I’m sure many others are. 

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This new way of life has brought with it new experiences and appreciations for watching films. Personally, I’ve never watched more – part of it from the sheer determination to rack up as many reviews as possible on Letterboxd, part of it because I’ve found that being cooped up all day doing uni online makes me want to lean into the escapism of film even more. 

There are seemingly more options of things to watch on streaming platforms now than ever. Last year, many were eagerly awaiting the release of 1917, but I personally only got chance to watch it (and be astounded by it, naturally) recently, with its appearance on Amazon Prime. In a way, film has become more accessible, more of a talking point. 

Streaming services seem to have made more effort too – Netflix’s Originals seem to be growing in ambition and scope with each new release. Maybe I’m not talking about The Kissing Booth 2 here (let’s pretend I didn’t watch it as soon as it was released), but releases like The Devil All The Time have proven that the potential for straight-to-streaming-platform films to be dynamic and thrilling is there. It’s a new culture, of course, and one I’m not entirely sure I’ve adjusted to. I’ll be glad to be back to regular cinema trips and the hype around Oscar season that might be lacking somewhat in 2021.

That being said, there are some positives to this newfound way of consuming media – it’s perhaps easier and more convenient, even if it isn’t quite as immersive as a cinema trip might be. As what would be a season filled with big, blockbuster new releases approaches and films like Dune find themselves pushed back, it’s going to be startlingly different to what we’re used to and had the joy of experiencing last year. Hopefully, though, we can find a new kind of joy in experiencing things more intimately – the not having to move from bed factor certainly is a positive.

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