A View From the Stalls, April 2016

Michael Rowan, a member of Chiltern Film Society's committee, provides personal musings about his cinema experiences.

It can’t only be me whose heart grows cold whenever a well meaning friend promises that the next best thing is heading my way, be that food, drink, theatre, film or whatever. This of course applies especially to film and sometimes that well meaning friend is film critic Mark Kermode (whom I have never met, but do feel as though we would get on famously).

It’s that moment in the cinema when your companion is on the edge of their seat whilst you are wondering if you can surreptitiously steal another glance at your watch.

Like all art, film is subjective, so pity your Chiltern Film Society committee as they wrestle with diverse films for the coming season. Of course if your film companion has recommended a film it is only polite to be understated in your disdain but if the entire membership are asked for their views after seeing a film any misrecommendations are writ large for all to see. Although they would never say it, you just know that your fellow committee members are thinking, ‘but you argued so hard to get this rubbish onto the final list.’

Of course this works both ways and I have been persuaded by people that I trust to see the most unlikely film.

As someone who has difficulty adding up three figures without the need to remove my shoes and socks the film ‘X+Y’ was one such case. It’s about a maths competition; my friend enthused to my glazed eyes. Similarly the film ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ a film about a young teenager with terminal cancer and ‘Room’ a film about a kidnapped woman who has a baby by her captor and kept imprisoned in one room for five years. Despite such an unprepossessing premise all are excellent films (in my opinion, obviously) that I would otherwise have missed.

However, before I build my part, I should confess that the films I have mentioned were all in receipt of a slew of good reviews so whilst my friend talked me into them, I was basing my acquiescence  on more than one opinion, so not so much of a risk you might think.

But what happens when you are invited to admire the Emperor’s new clothes only to find that you are staring at his unmentionables?

My first experience of this was, ‘Forrest Gump’ a film that I originally dismissed as not being for me, but then over the following weeks I succumbed to the hype and as it was showing at the Elgiva what was there to lose? As it turned out the answer was 120 minutes of my life although in all honesty it was slightly less that this as it was also the first film from which I walked out.

‘Avatar’ was another film that saw me buy into the hard sell. I had lived through three or four 3D revivals so I should really have known better, but I was seduced by the siren voices describing this revolution in cinema. Perhaps I was expecting too much and whilst the film was ok it was not a film I would ever have recommended, a thought I suspect echoed by my wife and mother in law who I had persuaded to accompany me.

A lesson in faithfulness came courtesy of Boyd and Floyd who stood in for an absent Mark Kermode on the film show of which I was a fan. This coincided with as visit by my young nephews and I was keen to find a film that would demonstrate my street credibility. Either Boyd or Floyd I know not which, waxed lyrical about an action/horror film called ‘Piranha 3D’ It is hard to describe how bad the film was and it was to my nephew’s eternal credit that all they said at the end was that it was so bad it was almost good. (I know, damned with faint praise - both me and the film)

Perhaps that is why I felt so let down by the aforementioned Mark Kermode on whose film critique I depend to inform my cinematic viewing.

I recall his fulsome praise heaped upon a film entitled ‘Upstream Colour’ and, settling into my expensive West End seat, I seem to remember being surprised that such a lauded film had such a scant audience. It all became clear as I sat through the following 120 minutes of pretentious drivel. On this occasion I had my revenge and when it was put up for consideration for the Chiltern Film Society 2016 season I launched into a polemic. Reader I have suffered so that you didn’t have to.

My dilemma continues today. I looked forward with relish to ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (I know, but please don’t judge me) but know I will be disappointed and I have so far resisted ‘Dad’s Army,’ despite the stellar cast.

Soon I will be locked in a room as we debate the 2016/17 season, selecting films that we are sure you will enjoy - but may I suggest that you don’t just take my word for it.

Michael Rowan