Private Viewing: Using the arts to bridge the generation gap will benefit us all

A still from the new Paddington movie which has proved a hit with audiences of all ages.

A still from the new Paddington movie which has proved a hit with audiences of all ages. - Credit: PA

There’s nothing like watching a film with an audience. Arts editor Andrew Clarke thinks that it’s time for the generations to mix

Thomas Pickles (Alan), Robert Gill (Frank) in Sign of the Times a play which should appeal to teenag

Thomas Pickles (Alan), Robert Gill (Frank) in Sign of the Times a play which should appeal to teenage audiences as well as those approaching retirement - Credit: Photo: � Keith Mindham Photo

Last week I had one of the best cinema experiences of my life. As a regular cinemagoer I thought that I had seen it all, that nothing could surprise me any more but I was wrong. My latest Road To Damascus moment came watching a half-term screening of Paddington with my wife and grown-up daughter at IFT, the re-branded Ipswich Film Theatre.

We had been endeavouring to see the bear from darkest Peru for nearly three months and had been repeatedly turned away from full-up screenings over the Christmas and New Year period. Number one daughter had to return to university and the whole thing got put on hold.

After such a long wait, I am happy to report that we all absolutely loved the film. It was a sharp, swift, wonderfully inventive movie that had the whole auditorium in fits of laughter and the 90 minutes seemed to disappear in next-to-no-time. However, it was my fellow audience members which provided my latest moment of clarity. Not only was the screen two-thirds full but the age range went from five to 85 and it was gratifying to see that although there were parents and grandparents present, accompanying junior family members, there were a significant number of grown-ups there who were happy to go and see a family film without feeling the need to rope in some younger folk to legitimise their visit.

There is something electric about sitting in a packed auditorium with a throng of like-minded souls and collectively enjoying a film, a play, a dance performance or a concert.

There was a moment in Paddington when Mr Brown, played with consummate ease by Hugh Bonneville, is about to open the bathroom door after Paddington has accidentally filled the room with water. Behind me a voice cried out: “Don’t do that,” just a split second before Niagara Falls was let loose inside No 32, Windsor Gardens. That young lad was totally caught up in the moment and it was a joy to share that with him.

This feeling of camaraderie was reinforced by a recent visit to see the re-release of the Cary Grant-Katherine Hepburn classic The Philadelphia Story. It is a film I have seen dozens of times on telly but watching it on the big screen and with an audience totally transformed my perception of it and just made me love it more.

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My attention was drawn to bits of business I had missed in the past and my fellow audience members laughed at different moments in the film. I felt I was being introduced to the film for the first time.

The Paddington experience heightened that feeling further because the age range was so broad. This set me thinking. So often films, plays or dance are sold as either children’s events or something for adult audiences when in reality the vast majority of cultural activity would appeal to a wide-range of ages.

Family-friendly shouldn’t be a synonym for child-like. Instead it should indicate an entertaining experience which can be accessed and enjoyed at a number of different levels by a wide range of people of different ages and life experience. Paddington is a superb example of this. It is a well-written, imaginatively-realised, hugely entertaining film which young children, teenagers, young parents, old parents and grand-parents can all see and get something different from.

Pixar’s films like Toy Story, Up and The Incredibles also achieve this most difficult of tricks. Really good art, in whatever medium, should appeal to a broad audience. It’s not just cinema that works best when it casts it net wide. Theatre also has a rich vault of plays which would appeal to people of all ages. The Tim Firth play Sign of the Times, currently playing at The New Wolsey, has just as much to say to teenagers as it does to those looking at retirement. The soon-to-open The Three Lions comedy which puts David Beckham, Prince William and David Cameron in the same Swiss hotel room on the eve of England’s World Cup bid should appeal to everyone. Likewise The Mercury theatre at Colchester is offering Noises Off and the musical Little Shop of Horrors both of which have huge cross-generational appeal.

The time has come for us to find some cultural common ground. All our lives will be enriched by sharing the arts together. Some subjects will need to be age-regulated but not that many and I suspect we often over-protect our youngsters from challenging dramas when exposure to potentially disturbing situations as part of a play, in the company of an audience, may actually help to prepare for life in the real world.

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