Our dreams and our memories and our truths, flickering by at exactly twenty-four times the speed of our life.
The sign at night, flashing in between films. The lane, and street. The balcony, the railings, the corridors. The chairs, empty. People filing in. The projector, light cutting through the room. The curtains begin to pull back. Creak. Dust. Popcorn is munched. The projector whirls. The lights dim. The Cinema.
The memories of a cinema, sitting comfortably, staring up at the giant canvas they call a screen. Wondering what to paint it with, as the frames flicker before your eyes. If you asked any Eastern film director what film was to them, most would answer “film is a captured dream”. The West would reply with “memories, stuck on replay”. Memories, playing at twenty-four frames per second. Memories, full of empty stairs and vacant chairs, the corridors full of the ghosts of cinema’s past wandering the halls and projector booths.
Tsai Ming-Liang’s distressingly reflexive love letter to cinema and cinemas turns the lens on the audience itself, expressing an emotional journey through smoke-filled projector booths and worn-down theatres with battered screens and mauled seats. He wonders why anybody would choose not to be there, right then, choose not to be there instead of just floating through, waiting and gathering as they need and dream and reminisce and smoke and drink and eat and consume and create and be. As we look up at the screen we forget that it doesn’t matter that we’ll never know who we are and that the gravitational pull is too much for us to ever confound and the molten lava will eventually devour us as quickly as the day we were forced out.
And then we leave and join our friends in the city, stroking the hair of those we love, sharing our smokes and our drinks and our food in the hopes that we meet someone wearing our colour or sharing our expensive taste for something that, ultimately, will be consumed and forgotten. In the cinema, all of that is gone: the birds are silent, the stars are artificial, nature is stone and brick, people are striped and escapists, where books are only judged by page 185 and are only truly even considered once they reach “happily ever after”. And as we look up at the screen, that canvas, projecting not light or image or life but our dreams and our memories and our truths, flickering by at exactly twenty-four times the speed of our life, just one second at a time…
When a film runs through a projector, for every frame there is an equally long moment of black, leaving the audience to fill in the blank. The audience, a collective community, together for an ironically isolationist experience, all in sync. Each cut of a film setting them up for the next. They begin to blink at the same time, the same time being right before a big cut. They do this because they know, just as well as you do, that they don’t want to miss a frame. This is the cinema. Life, taken one frame at a time.