I'm sitting in the darkness, pen in hand distracted by the person sitting next to me. I should be focusing on the film I'm due to review but I am preoccupied by the gentle sound of the pen gliding across the page. I've never been in a cinema before and seen another person making notes while watching and I'm mesmerised by the novelty. Cinema note-taking has become second nature to me.
I've always been a fast writer and able to write without looking at the page – whether I do or not in fact makes little difference to the appearance of my characteristic messy scrawl – indecipherable boy's spider writing. I've always comforted myself with the belief that illegible writing is supposedly a sign of intelligence.
At school I took pride in my writing being like a sort of code to crack but as I got older it posed a problem in the exam hall. Somehow my English teacher managed to get me extra time to make my letter formations clearer linking my appalling handwriting to my equally terrible eyesight. I've always been a bit of a perfectionist, often obsessively thorough but this has never really extended to presentation – something I have never had much talent for, at least not without the aid of a computer.
Reviewing films I like to have detailed notes of quirky character traits, stand-out sequences/camera shots/scenes, poignant/ridiculous/humorous/terrible lines and of initial reactions I may forget later. The first time I took a pad into the cinema it felt like a way of justifying my presence – the paper pardoned my lack of companion. Now biros and paper have become essential film-watching equipment like binoculars at the opera. I feel naked without my pen and a slight panicky sensation as I worry I'll forget some detail I'll deem vital later. Sure, I've written reviews without notes and will if necessary but the perfectionist inside me laps up the sight of the reassuring pile of scrawl snaking across the back of now redundant print-outs.
I'm unable to start a book without reading all the blurb, any review excerpts included and any background notes about the author or novel first. For this same reason, walking around galleries and museums with me can be an infuriating experience and a friend recently pointed out why I don't cook. I've always said I can't be bothered cooking and would rather spend my time doing something else but when I did cook for friends a few weeks ago, this same obsessively thorough compulsion came out to play again as I meticulously chopped up the herbs - no wonder I have no time to prepare everything from scratch!
Unable to resist the temptation of glancing over at the pen-pusher next to me, I'd unintentionally pitted myself against him – every time he wrote, if I wasn't writing too, I couldn't help but wonder what I had missed. As the credits started and the room got brighter, I froze in my chair. Although, I enjoyed the film (and thoroughly), it's not this appreciation that holds me in my place but the inexplicable urge to speak to this possibly equal-minded fellow reviewer. Seeing a likeness in someone that is so rare prompts the desire for communication but I can't see our conversation going beyond:
So you take notes too.
So instead of possibly making a fool of myself, I linger, exit the building, indecisively pace outside for a few minutes and walk away, wondering if he is as obsessively thorough as I am and whether he sees it as a blessing or curse?