February 11th, 2005


The Forgotten Room

That's what I used to call it. Up on the top floor of 54 Loveridge Road, first door on your left. It wasn't always uninhabited, for Genido lived there with his future wife for a fair while (and may well be a site of pilgrimage for those two), but that's how I always thought of it. It was the room that served as a place you could put large pieces of furniture or other things you didn't want crowding elsewhere.

I've become habituated to one room living over the years. Sure, I want the washing and cooking elsewhere, but I really don't know what to do with another room. The one I spend my time in here is large enough for the bed, the bookcases, the musical instruments, a table to eat at (well, provided you're happy sitting on the floor, which I prefer in honesty, it does make the ceiling look higher. I'm thinking East Asian literati rather than hippy abandonment. Note to JS: I shan't insist upon sitting on the floor next week!) and use for writing and drawing. The other room, for it does not strictly count as forgotten since it offers access to the kitchen area, seems to serve only as storage overspill and an occasional sleeping area for visitors. One day I'll get a decent dining table in there, but in the meantime a thought has occurred.

When I was working in Anglo-Japanese relations, one of my responsibilities was the data projector. Since I knew of any bookings well in advance, I'd look after it at home and use it to project films onto the wall. It was a splendid way of watching films. Well, I've done the maths and I reckon I can afford to buy my own. That's what I can do with that room. Cinema is one of my strongest interests after all. But, home cinema is fraught with certain associations. I bought a copy of a home cinema magazine on the way down to Newbury a few days ago to see what suggestions it may contain.

What I quickly realised is that home cinema, according to What Home Cinema at least (a disappointing read for any Japanese attracted by the byline "AV Mag of the Year!" Err...), is an attempt to recreate the full splendour of the contemporary cinematic experience. That is, it's a very masculine obsession of technological fetishism about various forms of connectors, types of surround sound and so on. Although I'd like to have a good sound, I'm not too fussed about creating a floor-rumbling 3D sound experience. Here are some of their insightful comments for the prospective domestic cinema owner:

Philips LX7500R
"The compact subwoofer produces an impressive amount of bass, and Will Smith's vague sounding dialogue is much improved by selecting the 'voice' mode."

Pioneer DVR-920H
"The myriad creeping colours of a powerful sunrise across the Egyptian desert not only illuminate the dead city of Hamunaptra, but also this machine's quality."

Yamaha DVX-S200
"Voices sound thin through the slimline speaker, and Tobey Maguire's dialogue as Peter Parker sounds even more feeble than usual."

I've seen these films (I, Robot, The Mummy, Spider-Man 2) and they're okay. Well, Robot was fairly dire, but I can't deny there's a certain attraction to a hot, dusty and breathless Rachel Weisz, although most certainly not Kirsten Dunst. I've no interest in recreating a multiplex, I want a 70s arthouse. At no point in the magazine does any reviewer consider putting any other disc in the tray than a Hollywood blockbuster - "The JVC's composite video does nothing to improve the drab outlook for Hanna Schygulla in Pioneers in Ingolstadt." or "Although the Denon lacks sufficient bass presence, the track noises in Stalker were filled with a melancholic poignancy by the wireless 7.1 speaker arrangement." and so on...

Just as the magazine is, for me anyway, overly concerned with a videophile view of the cinematic experience as being overly dependent on the technical palette, so too is most contemporary cinema. I get the feeling that home cinema is rather like kitting out a dream kitchen and then heating up canned soup on the stove. I don't suppose such a magazine can be different really. Anyway, I've made my technical choices, with not too many thanks to What Home Cinema. There will be a projector, some speakers and a white wall. It won't be perfect, but the choice of films will be sublime. Perhaps.

I've long wanted to run an arthouse cinema, more or less a miniaturised recreation of the Scala of years past, in which I could concentrate on the cinema I love most. That being the sort of European films that I grew up watching. I've plenty of thematic triple bills in my head already, it's just a matter of sorting out the supply. In due course, I'll be happy to throw open my doors for those who may care to attend. The sofa fits four at a squeeze and there's a bench that another three could fit on. You can always sit on the floor...

Disappointingly, What Home Cinema contained no suppliers of domestic hotdog servers or popcorn makers. Go round to Jim's house, the films are free but the food's a bloody rip-off. I'm prepared to serve tea, coffee or any drink particularly suited to the theme free of charge. Kieslowski goes well with Wyborowa, or maybe it should be a dusty bottle of Zytnia. It wouldn't be too tricky to cook up a large amount of chlodnik either with maybe some of those old-school zapiekanki that are about a metre long. Korean day would probably just be Shin Ramyun instant noodles though, I'm not going to try to operate a barbecue concurrently with the film. I think. I'll let you know in due course when the first showing will occur. You'd be advised to bring a cushion. Maximum audience would be about 20 (at a severe squeeze) and I don't imagine I'll stop anyone smoking, but I do advise against heavy petting or seat slashing.