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Why the cinema is not dead

Arianna Muñoz tells the story of her relationship with the silver screen and explains why the cinema is so much more than a place to watch movies

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The cinema is irrelevant. Ask around, and you’ll hear that sentiment expressed over and over. To many, it’s seen as just a place to watch movies. No, it’s more than that – it’s considered an impractical, uncomfortable place to watch movies among an annoying audience munching on popcorn, a lesser alternative to the ease of streaming at home.

But I disagree. In my many years of watching movies I have visited giant chain cinemas and tiny arthouse ones, watching blockbusters and indie films alike. Through these many experiences I’ve realized that the cinema is not just a place to watch movies: it is a place where some of life’s most memorable, magical, and formative moments occur.

Santikos Palladium, San Antonio, Texas

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Santikos Palladium, San Antonio, Texas. SANTIKOS.COM

Like everything in Texas, the Santikos Palladium is massive. Huge auditoriums fit hundreds, popcorn buckets are filled to the brim, towering screens give the front row an achy neck. This was the first cinema I ever visited. I was eight years old, and more excited by my bucket of popcorn than the movie itself. Bubbling with energy as my parents and I entered the cavernous building, I broke free of their hands and ran down the carpeted hallways, searching for the right auditorium, ticket stub in hand. Snug in my seat, I quickly became enraptured as I watched that classic of 2000s cinema: Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Though I didn’t realize it then, going to the Palladium in 2008 planted the seeds for my burgeoning love of movies and cinema.

Angelika Film Centre, New York City

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Angelika Film Centre, New York City. ANGELIKABLOG.COM, ROBERT CARNATZ

Ten years later, I moved to New York City to study filmmaking. While up until then the cinema was not an integral part of my life, that changed when I discovered the Angelika Film Centre.

Nestled in SoHo, the Angelika is an intimate arthouse cinema. My friends and I went there to watch the latest indie darlings, discussing them exhaustively from the moment the credits rolled. Precious memories abound: a Halloween screening of The Lighthouse; watching A Hidden Life with a new friend, our friendship cemented by the shared near-spiritual experience. There was the time when, after watching a movie, a friend and I decided to see another movie in a cinema blocks away. We sprinted out of the Angelika, laughing as we careened across the city, a haze of neon lights, wet streets, and camaraderie. Here I discovered the cinema as a creator of friendships, of the magical moments you remember years after they’ve passed.

Months later I returned to the Angelika for a final time. I didn’t know it was the last then – I just wanted to see a movie with my family. We watched Emma in a near-empty cinema, nestled against one another. The next day NYC became the nation’s Covid epicentre.

The Living Room in my House, San Antonio

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Arianna's living room. ARIANNA MUÑOZ FOR VARSITY

Ok, so this technically isn’t a cinema. But when you’re stuck at home for months on end you make do with what you’ve got.

The monotony of pandemic life brought me to an all-time low. I slept constantly just so there would be one less day to endure, and I suffered panic attacks and mood swings. I needed an escape and found none.

Then I remembered the cinema. I remembered the warm, dark embrace of the auditorium and recreated it at home. Late at night, when everyone else was asleep, I turned off the lights, grabbed snacks, and watched a movie on the large TV in the living room. I ran away to the Italian summer of Call Me By Your Name, the fantastical realm of Labyrinth, the gothic excess of Crimson Peak. My home-made cinema reminded me of the cinema’s ability to provide comfort even in the darkest of times. In those months, I can honestly say the cinema saved my life.

Village East Cinema, New York City

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Village East Cinema, New York. ARIANNA MUÑOZ FOR VARSITY

A year and a half after I left, I returned to a slightly back-to-normal NYC to visit friends. A summer downpour rendered our plans impossible, so two of my friends and I bought tickets to The Green Knight instead.

The Village East Cinema is even tinier than the Angelika. Featured movies are advertised on a black-and-white marquee, and auditoriums rumble when a subway train passes underneath. Entering the auditorium as previews finished, my friends and I fell into our worn-down seats and were instantly pulled into the immersive fantasy. Three individuals who hadn’t seen each other in over a year were now laughing, gasping, and crying together. Once the movie ended, we ran out into the street, shouting excitedly about the masterpiece we just witnessed. We didn’t care who stared; we were electrified by our shared experience.

After such a turbulent year, a night in the cinema reaffirmed and strengthened not only our love of movies, but of each other.

This is the power of the cinema – to bring people together, to inspire new passions, to provide an escape at the darkest of times. Though movies are available at the push of a button, the magic of the silver screen still calls to me. And despite the change in tastes and the passing of time, when I walk into the cinema I still feel the childish excitement I first felt years ago. I buy the largest popcorn and sit in the best seat (middle row, slightly to the right), ready for the movie to start: ready for memories to be made.