The last time I watched a movie at the cinema was in October last year. It was nearing the end of QCinema 2019, and I remember catching the final run of Glenn Barit’s Cleaners in between meetings on a work day.
Writing this now, I struggle to remember what it feels like to enter a darkened theater just before showtime, sneakers dragging along the carpeted floor as I try to settle into my seat before the ads (those darn ads!) ended. Cinemas closed when the lockdown began in March and haven’t opened since. I now realize I shouldn’t have taken those little things for granted.
Since the start of this seemingly never-ending government-imposed quarantine, I’ve gone through a rough estimate of 70 films and shows, all streamed online. Like everyone else, this is the most I’ve ever consumed since I started working; a direct result of being stuck inside.
Curious about other peoples’ viewing habits, I put up a poll on my Instagram Stories. How many shows and movies had my friends gone through over the last 10 months of being stuck at home? What percentage did they watch with other people?
Many had taken to watching local films they’d missed in theaters by streaming them when they were made available online. Others straight up told me that all they watched these days was trash. As for the numbers, most already lost track of all the titles, answering with the simple “A LOT”, but they were 100% sure it was more than last year. 76% said they watched a majority of things alone and 9% said they watched with others.
My watchlist isn’t nearly as impressive as my other friends (one tallied around 200 films alone, not counting rewatches and multiple seasons), but what struck me about this figure was that out of those 70 titles, I watched maybe only 10 of them by myself.
How had I, a hermit on normal days, consumed this much /content/ with others during a time when we can barely even see each other IRL?
In the pre-pandemic past, watching with friends was a bigger commitment; something I didn’t do often because we never really had the time in between busy work schedules. We’d much rather spend those two hours catching up over a good meal over sitting in silence at a dark theater.
While I’d occasionally binge certain shows with family, my working life was spent watching most things in solitude. This way I could go at my own pace and give my squirrel attention span a break by pausing and picking up where I left off another time. This way no one could judge my trash movie taste and my favorite drama tropes, or ruin the experience by making insensitive comments. The downside to this is it’d take me forever to finish or even start on something new, and I’d end up gravitating towards the same stories every time.
In late July, a friend invited me to watch the surfer anime Ride Your Wave over Discord. By then I had grown accustomed to watching in silence; any opinions about the movies left to simmer until the topic came up in group chats later on.
Discord’s voice call and streaming function was a game changer. We made comments and little observations just like we would’ve if we were sitting next to each other. The movie turned out to be a tearjerker and I may never look at the shaka hand sign the same way ever again, but I was glad to hear another voice at the end of the line process these ~emotions~ with me.
From then on we began an (almost) nightly routine, during which we breezed through quite a number of anime and western TV shows I probably wouldn’t have watched on my own. It didn’t matter what we thought of Idris Elba’s naked feline figure in Cats (2019), or if those 10+ hours of the Twilight saga were hours of life that we couldn’t get back. We were watching because these titles interested us and because we enjoyed each other’s company. It wasn’t the same as being together in the same room, but it was something.
It was also a way to relearn how to pay more attention. Alone, it’s easy for my mind to flit elsewhere, scrolling through Twitter or Instagram. Being aware that someone else is there watching with me made me focus on my screen.
The routine led me to join and initiate other watch parties with friends — a welcome break from the stress of seemingly never-ending workdays and deadlines. We could be drinking and talking and watching a movie simultaneously, just like if we were together physically. Let’s go technology! There was never any judgement or snarky comments, or any pressure to have a Serious Review ready by the end of it.
The start of the pandemic found us all stuck at home with our families and roommates. Movies and TV shows didn’t just offer temporary reprieve from the Groundhog Day simulations that we found ourselves in. Alongside quarantine food trends, buzzy game releases, and K-Pop livestreams, they were now the easiest connections to the outside world; a form of escape from the reality of being shut in.
Connection by way of Discord streaming and the Netflix (now Tele) Party plugin provided me with ways to live outside of my brain; a reminder that other people are going through the same thing and that the outside is more than a concept.
I watched Cleaners again during it’s online run earlier this December. And while it was still as excellent as I remembered, the novelty of its black and white photocopied frames was not the same on my laptop screen.
With the way things are going now, there’s no telling for sure when (or if?) movie theaters will ever reopen here. Watching with people I know is a form of bonding, but I still miss those rare days when I’d get to sit in a theater with complete strangers, hearing their reactions in real time. But until then, I guess these watch parties will have to do. Hit me up so we can cry over a new film together.
Header art by Thea Torres
Gaby is the full-time Editor of Underdog and part-time (ok, also full-time) stan. Her brother says that she is only cool on paper and much of her time is spent trying to get her dog to notice her. More of her work can be found in Young STAR, CNN Philippines Life, Rookie, and Twitter publication @tybutdisagree. Tweet her @gabyabbyy.
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