Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Alone at the movies?

...When I was in my twenties, I developed the habit of going to the movies alone.  Of course, I go with friends, too, and sometimes my brother and sisters, but going alone can be cathartic.... I remember in Louisville hearing a woman say that she wanted to go to the movies alone, and wished she had the courage.  She ended up going with a bunch of other women to the bars that night, and I thought, "Jesus Christ, how will you have the courage to do anything in life if you can't even show up to the movies alone?"
This has nothing to do with Old Hollywood specifically, but the movie-going experience is a recurring theme here, and this is a subject I've seen come up now and then, so I figure it's worth talking about.

For generations, watching movies was very much a social experience. In fact, to find that stock image at the top of this post, I Googled the phrase "watching movies at the theater" and the vast majority of images that came up contained groups of people. Many of us grew up conditioned to think of the movies this way. I certainly did. But with the rise of home video, and especially now with Netflix and online streaming, a generation has been raised to rely more on having the movies come to them instead of vice versa, wherever and however they want, and these tend to be more solitary experiences, such as watching a movie on your cellphone while riding the subway. That's something I see fairly often.

And yet, some people these days seem to have an aversion to going to the movie theater alone - when they choose to go at all. It's an attitude I've seen expressed here and there, among friends and film bloggers, and I can understand it, to an extent, but what if you want to see something and you simply can't find another warm body to go with? Is it worth skipping the movie altogether?

Going to the movies alone has its advocates. Here's one recent example, written from the perspective of an older, single movie fan. This short video, by contrast, appeals to the younger generation:

Still, pieces like these all seem to come at it from a defensive position. There is a stigma attached to watching movies alone at a theater, which I find odd since no one says anything about watching a movie alone on a computer or an iPad. In a sense, this tends to confirm for me that there still is a value placed on theatrical movie-going, even in the Netflix age, and that pleases me.

In the link at the top, Michelle also talks about her film group. Regular readers here know that I'm in one too. Vija took it over from someone else and we go on a semi-regular basis, sometimes in small groups, other times in larger ones. We favor indie movies, and the tentative theme (not always followed, though) is art-related movies, since many of us are artists of one kind or another. Plus, there have been a number of such films being made lately! It's extremely informal; it's really just an excuse for a bunch of us to hang out. Every so often, we have debates about moviesI enjoy their company. Vija and I have gone to movies together for many years before this, and the addition of her friends, who have become my friends, has been a nice one.

Most of the time, however, I go to the movies alone. Why? I guess it's partly because I don't feel like waiting for someone to be available, partly compatibility issues (not everyone is interested in sitting through a black-and-white Polish film with subtitles), and partly because I simply prefer it that way. I don't always feel the need to have someone around, but I didn't always feel that way, and I wish I could pinpoint when that changed. Maybe when I became more discerning in my film choices? That would be around the time I started working in video retail, so that makes a kind of sense, but I can't say for sure.

It looks like this may have become less of a big deal now, but I suspect that there will always be those who look askew upon solo movie-goers, because generally, people tend to want to socialize with people. Live-tweeting movies and TV shows is a way to be alone with other people, and maybe that's a big reason why it's so popular. For me, I never thought of it as a conscious choice. Whether I see a movie with others or by myself matters less than actually seeing the movie.

Anybody wanna take a stand on this either way?


  1. I adore going to the movies alone.
    I also prefer a matinee when the the cinema is usually very quiet...
    To me it's perfectly normal!

  2. To me as well, but maybe we're among the exceptions.

  3. I like the spontaneity of going to the movies on my own. No high level planning of what time is best for everybody or which theatre is convenient or even if there is enough cash on hand. Just choose a time and go.

    On the other hand, silent movie screenings have turned into a family affair I look forward to. And when I attend the latest animated feature with my daughter we are raucously sarcastic during commercials and trailers. Really enjoy cracking each other up.

  4. From what I've seen of Maureen's pics, I don't doubt it!

  5. Hey, look at that! I'm quoted on one of those blog thingies! :)

    It occurs to me that those who don't want to go alone may be worried of what people at the theater will think, and what they think is...nothing. No one worries about what you're up to if you're alone at the movies or reading a book while eating your lunch somewhere. They've got their own business to attend to. It's a comforting thing, and a realization that some never truly have--"People aren't sitting around thinking about me."

    1. We have become a more narcissistic culture: we take selfies that we post on social media as we film ourselves partying or shopping or whatever and we text our every thought no matter how lame. Given all that, maybe going to a movie simply makes for boring fodder? If people aren't sitting around thinking about me, it must be because I'm not doing anything interesting. I'm doing something boring - like going to the movies by myself!

  6. I go see movies alone most of the time. I have no problem with it whatever. I also prefer matinees with less crowds. The only sad part is when a good movie's showing to a mostly empty auditorium. Then I wish more people were there!

  7. Ah yes. I know that feeling well.

  8. I got pretty used to going to the movies alone as a teenager - I too hated trying to figure out schedules or dealing with people who didn't want to see the same stuff as I did. I haven't been to the theatre alone (except for film festivals) since I started dating my now-husband, though - it would feel pretty weird to me to go without him, since we share pretty much the same tastes.

    In general, though, I wonder if there is still a lot more "hanging out with friends" to theatre going for most people than there is for us. I've always gone to the theatre to see a specific movie, but a lot of my non-movie buff friends tend to go to the theatre to see stuff with friends, and they often don't even care as much what's playing. I suspect they wouldn't even consider going to the theatre alone.

  9. Good point. In smaller cities and towns, one often has to settle for what's playing, and if that's the case, one might as well see it with friends and make a night out of it rather than go alone or not go at all.

  10. I had never gone to the cinema alone until I started studying Film at University... And then I never looked back! I agree with all of your points, I simply just don't want to wait for someone to watch the same film that I do ad I don't want it to stop me watching something. Before going to the cinema by myself, I have to say that the only people I saw going to the cinema alone were middle aged men, which I think added to my fear that if I went to the cinema alone I'd be seen as a bit odd... But then of course I stopped caring what everyone thought and concentrated on the reason I was at the cinema: to watch films.

  11. Purely speculation here - and this has nothing to do with you specifically - but maybe in SOME cases, a young woman alone in a dark room with strange men might prefer to be with girlfriends in order to feel safer? I could see how that might account for the example at the top.


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