A View From the Stalls, August 2016

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

Charlie Chaplin once said that he liked walking in the rain so that no one could see him crying, and I have to confess that’s the reason I like watching films at the cinema.  In the dark no one can see you cry.

The first time I realised that I was capable of total immersion in a film I largely got away with it, after all which 4 year old hasn’t cried when Bambi’s mother gets killed?  But one doesn’t get older without learning the lessons of youth and I have since stayed well away from The Lion King - just in case, you understand.

The closing scene of Mary Poppins, as she flew away over the roof tops, brought the by now familiar prickling sensation to my eyes.  Seven years old, and with my mother’s words that ‘big boys don’t cry’ at the forefront of my mind, I had to pull myself together before we got outside and my mother could see that her brave little soldier was in fact a chocolate soldier and one made of spilt milk at that.

Skip forward a few years and the cinema was clearly the perfect venue for a first date. OK, I confess that at 15 I knew little if anything about women, even 15 year old ones. So how was I to know that I was going to fare so badly against James Bond, even George Lazenby’s Bond? On her Majesty’s Secret Service had the cartoon quality of all Bond films. We held hands in the dark and from my limited (non-existent) knowledge of such things I felt that the date was going well and I was beginning to plan where we might go afterwards, and then we got to the end of the film.  Now although my companion was my first real life love, on television, Emma Peel had long held my affection.  I was quite prepared for her to marry James Bond, but when the inevitable happened to Diana Rigg, I was inconsolable, and before you ask, no there was no second chance, for me or George Lazenby.

A year older, and yes perhaps I should have done more research before suggesting this film to the latest love of my life.  Love Story had the tag line that ‘Love is never having to say that you’re sorry.’  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, as it turned out, quite a lot as my 16 year old girlfriend was having none of it and a blubbing boyfriend singularly failed to impress.

A young and fairly unknown Mel Gibson starred in a relatively low key film called Gallipoli which a friend and I saw in the West End.  Unsurprisingly the film was a gruelling watch, but for once I managed to hold it together, until that is the final scene, when the male lead ran to his death.  As is customary the credits rolled and the lights came up and I of course was revealed shedding manly tears.  However for the only time in my life the entire cinema was sat in stunned silence and I wasn’t the only one hastily wiping away the tears.

As I grew older, more politically aware and with a new found maturity, I grew adept at identifying films that perhaps were best avoided. So what possessed me to go to the cinema with friends to see When the Wind Blows was anyone’s guess?  I had figured that as the last cartoon I had cried at was Bambi I would be fine.  Which is probably how I acquired the nickname ‘Crying Isaac’ from my fellow CND activists?

In 1993 I took my wife to the latest Tom Hanks movie, Philadelphia but when he told Miguel (Antonio Banderas) ‘I’m ready’ and took off his oxygen mask he was not the only goner and I couldn’t stop blubbing until well after the funeral scene.

It was 2000 before I dare risk another Tom Hanks film and I am prepared to admit that The Green Mile was probably not my finest hour.  It was a good job I recognised his voice as I couldn’t see him through my tears when he said ‘May God have mercy on your soul’.

So pretty much for the next few years I chose my films with care, conscious that a man in his fifties weeping like his four year old self was less than edifying for those sitting around me.  However as a member of the Chiltern Film Society I felt that it was incumbent on me to watch those films critically acclaimed.  Hence despite my better judgement I settled in to watch 12 Years a Slave.  The scene where the slave Patsey is whipped mercilessly had the tears rolling down my face as if I had been chewing on a raw onion.

Which brings me to this season’s films, of which all I can say is, wish me luck with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and if you don’t wish to see a grown man cry you should check where I am sitting.  On the other hand if you, like me, just have to go with the flow…..  please pass me the tissues.

Michael Rowan