So There Are Limits

This post was originally published in February 2011.

I feel like a washed up member of the landed gentry, looking back with nostalgia at the prestige and privileges I used to enjoy. It was once all so different. It couldn’t last forever, that exotic world of excess, and nor should it have. I accept that times move on but sometimes I can’t help but look back to the way things were.

It has been several years now since I owned a Cineworld Unlimited Card.

The card, a fantastic birthday present, granted me free access to as many films as I wanted at Cineworld cinemas for a year. Those halcyon days! Although it wasn’t all glamour, I still had to queue with everybody else to pick up my ticket. In my mind the Unlimited Card was a far more powerful talisman than some mere voucher. I assumed that I would be able to saunter into the cinema wearing a bathrobe and tatty slippers, card swinging round my neck on a chain like a military dog tag. After all I was Unlimited.

I thought I would pad around the cinema flashing my card at ‘whomever it may concern’ (or rather haughtily – who it might not concern at all), roaming freely and boundlessly between screens plunging my hands into the pick n’ mix and warm tanks of popcorn. If anyone complained I would just wave the card at them – that would silence them pretty sharpish. Capricious? Yes, but I was giddy with power, the power of a card without limits.

As I shuffled along with all the other limited customers I grew to realise that I was similarly limited and that these limits were actually essential. The reality is that the magic of the cinema ritual involves the queuing procession and the tangible tickets as much as watching the film itself. To lurch around the cinema as described above would have been hollow and cheapened the experience. We’re at risk in a multi-platform world of sometimes neglecting crucial components of experience. It’s like music fans lamenting that digital downloads degrade the record store experience flicking through shelves and shelves of records. There’s some phenomenology for you.

The card enabled me to enjoy the cinema just as much as I always had but with the opportunitiy to see so many more wonderful and varied films such as Everything Is Illuminated (whimsical, charming), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (slick, witty) Paradise Now (about social and political turmoil – haunting) Broken Flowers (about Bill Murray’s cryptic facial expressions – haunting).

In a strange twist of fate I got a reality check that reinforced my acceptance of my limited status. The cinema, apparently in an attempt to recognise my misguided aristocratic ambitions, had sent me a promotional letter addressed to (and this did genuinely happen) a ‘Countess James Cathcart.’

A Countess! I mean come on! There are limits.

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