'This is where we came in' is one of those idioms, like 'dialling' a phone number, which has long since become unhooked from its original practice, but lives on in speech habits like a ghost that has forgotten the why of its haunting duties. The phrase is used now to indicate a tiresome, repetitive argument, a rant, a bore. But throughout my childhood in the 1950s and into the 1970s, it retained its full meaning: it was time to leave the cinema - although, exceptionally, you might decide to stay and see the movie all over again - because you'd seen the whole programme through. It seems very extraordinary now, and I don't know how anyone of my generation or older ever came to respect cinema as an art form, but back then almost everyone wandered into the movies whenever they happened to get there, or had finished their supper or lunch, and then left when they recognised the scene at which they'd arrived. Often, one person was more attentive than the other, and a nudge was involved: 'This is where we came in.' People popped up and down in their seats and shuffled along the rows, coming and going all though the B-movie, the advertisements, the newsreel and the main feature. No one dreamed of starting a novel on page 72, or dropping into the Old Vic mid-Hamlet (though perhaps music hall worked the same way; was that the origin of the movie habit?), and not even the smallest child would let anyone get away with starting their bedtime story halfway through, but the flicks were looped, both on the projector and in our minds. You went in, saw the end, and after you'd watched the beginning and a bit of the middle you figured out how and why it had happened that way. In the introduction to Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson claims that postmodernism proper dates from the later 1960s, but let me tell you that the dismantling of narrative was rampant in cinemas up and down the country for decades before that. Maybe, after all, it was an interesting way of learning about story structure, but even so, how odd that no one thought it a strange way to proceed.
LRB 7 January 2010 | PDF Download