Back on my Usual Stomping Ground

October 2014: Mothra and Godzilla at QUAD, Derby

'Godzilla' by  clry2  on Flickr, used under a  CC by SA 2.0  licence

'Godzilla' by clry2 on Flickr, used under a CC by SA 2.0 licence

There is a dictionary - a certain online dictionary - that is a little less conventional than the Collins, Chambers and Oxfords of this world. I'm reluctant to name it because some entries are unsuitable for folk of a sensitive disposition, but let's just say it's not very rural...

Anyway, this dictionary defines the phrase 'fashionably late' as:

Showing up to a party late so everyone thinks you have a life.

Now, I've always viewed punctuality as a virtue. I've never been fashionable either, so the concept really is alien to me. But even if you like projecting an image of being at the social vanguard, there are still occasions where showing up on time is the right and proper thing to do.

Like going to see a movie. Nobody appreciates people who arrive after the title card; the ones who let light spill into the darkened screen and make a racket as they shuffle to a vacant seat. The film is the star of the show; nobody looks cool by being late. And whatever the Not-rural Dictionary might say, if the movie screening in question is also a party then a lack of punctuality still isn’t appropriate.

Every month, QUAD hosts Satori Screen. It’s a film night specialising in East Asian cinema and October 2014 marked its second anniversary (and my first attendance). To turn the evening into a proper celebration, a special double bill had been programmed and somebody had baked a birthday cake for the interval. Turning up late for a party like that, I think you'd agree, would have been downright rude.

While my love of sweet treats is no secret, it wasn't the free cake that enticed me to head up the A38 for the evening. Oh no. The chance to see the original Godzilla, on the other hand... now there was an incentive! Unfortunately, the A38 was precisely the reason that I did end up being late, thanks to a Friday night traffic snarl-up.

By the time I got to Screen 2 the lights were down and the first film - 1961's Mothra - had already started. It meant I'd missed Satori Screen's founder, Peter Munford, give an introduction to the two films - and that was even more disappointing considering he had agreed to wear a Godzilla onesie while doing so! As a result, I didn't know a great deal about what I'd walked into.

I'd heard of Mothra vs Godzilla (from 1964), but didn't know the giant insect had starred in her own film. Because she lacked the sort of instant recognition that the name 'Godzilla' conjures, it was easier to laugh at the ropey special effects than be impressed by the imagination used in bringing Mothra to technicolour life. The film risked being judged on the quality of the 'devastation' wreaked upon its toy cars and model cities by the 'tornado-like' gusts generated by Mothra's wings.

Amateurish effects are part of the charm of these films, but they only grant so much grace. Thankfully, the story of an island's native population being exploited by ruthless profiteers stood up in its own right, and ensured that Mothra wasn't simply an unremarkable preamble to the main attraction: a 35mm print of Godzilla.

Having been awed by Gareth Edwards' 2014 take on the classic creature, I was eager to see the film that, sixty years earlier, had spawned so many sequels and imitations. The 1954 original is famed for its monster being a man wearing something not much better than a onesie(!), so I wondered how convincing it would look. Happily, the crackling black and white film was the perfect medium, emphasising the shadows that added menace and hid any lack of refinement.

A few scenes failed to convince, but the monster mayhem generally possessed an unexpected beauty in its purity. The design of Godzilla was inspired by a variety of dinosaurs, and the sheer weight of the suit hampered actor Haruo Nakajima so much (he was reportedly unable to wear it for more than three minutes at a time) that his movement possessed a perfect lumbering, prehistoric quality.

Six decades of developing technology ensured that 2014's Godzilla could flawlessly realise the destruction of modern cities. No level of carnage was beyond the digital artists' capabilities, but it avoided gratuitousness because it felt like a natural result of the creatures' behaviour. While the original film wasn't shy in witnessing Godzilla trample civilisation either, at times it felt like the film makers wanted to see just how far they could push things.

Where they truly succeeded, however, was the emotional impact. Cutting edge digital effects might impress, but sometimes it's the simple things that work best. The script from 1954 included a scene of schoolchildren singing a prayer the morning after Godzilla's rampage, and it haunted me in a way I didn't expect of a movie starring a man in a rubber suit.

That’s what you want from going to the movies. Different films and delicious cake made for a great evening, sharing in the cinematic passion of others and experiencing an unfamiliar genre. That's my idea of having a life – not showing up to parties late. It might have been my first visit to Satori Screen but it won’t be my last, so here's to plenty more birthdays!

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If you enjoyed this blog post ...

... then you might like the tale of my journey around some of the UK's finest indie cinemas (and a few further afield). A Tour of the Indies: A Creative Quest for the UK's Best Cinema's ... and Cake has this dedicated page where you can read more.