'The experience of looking at a pair of lips 20ft wide, at the downy hair in the tender ditch beneath the nose, the way lipstick can flake and smear, is a privilege of this cinematic century'

The pleasures of size...

The news, earlier this week, that Warner Brothers are going to build more multiplex cinemas in Britain was generally welcomed as evidence of the renewed health of the industry. The graph at the bottom of the patient's bed has turned upwards, after a long period in which no cure seemed available for the slow haemorrhage of cinemagoers. But if it's good news for the industry, it's may be bad for the medium. I found it distinctly depressing myself, a melancholy that was accentuated this week by going to see Waterworld at the Empire, Leicester Square - one of the old breed of cinemas, where the screen doesn't put you in mind of a bedsheet tacked to the wall of a youth-club hut.

It wasn't that Waterworld itself offered much of a hymn to the virtues of size. Quite the opposite in fact - the film might be an object lesson in how to dissipate the thrills of massive scale. Part of its problem is unavoidable - 200 square miles of sea look pretty much the same as one square mile and there was never going to be a way the movie could awe you with the extent of its imagined flood. On a hazy day even the English Channel can do a passable imitation of global inundation. But at the same time this is not a film that knows much about the spectacular, about the pleasures of size. Apart from a couple of cheesy shots, in which Costner's boat is framed against a huge moon, it doesn't use scale to any great effect. It's clumsiness does prompt the thought, though, that the cinematic experience of size is a unique aesthetic experience, one which can't help but be threatened by the viral spread of the multiplex.

Of course other art forms are drawn to bigness too, but the attraction is often a hazardous one. Giganticism in sculpture and architecture is rarely a tender or intimate thing, as it can be in a cinema. And when the theatre aims at effects of size it can't escape from the inflexible corporeality of the actors. One of the most dramatic stage settings I've ever seen was for the Schaubuhne production of Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape (seen here at the National) in which the proscenium was filled by a wall of steel, the side of the ship on which the drama takes place. The effect was wonderful, placing the action, startlingly for a theatre, on a vertical plane rather than a horizontal or inclined one. But the whole point was to dwarf the principal characters, servants of this colossal machine. Cinema is alone in being able to enlarge the human without losing humanity, which is why a cinematic star has an impact on our imaginations quite unlike a great stage actor or actress.

And the experience of looking at a pair of lips 20ft wide, really looking - at the downy hair in that tender ditch beneath the nose, at those fine vertical creases, at the way lipstick can flake and smear, at the transition from dry to wet - is a special privilege of this cinematic century. What's special about the enlarged figures on the screen is that they are not colossi - they do not stand in relation to smaller figures to remind us of our triviality. Nor are they the giants of novels, wonderful in their stature. Their scale is unique - both realistic and fantastic.

What's actually magnified, you realise, is not so much the objects on screen but our capacity to see them, Scorsese knows this simple thrill well - The Color of Money, not an entirely successful film, is none the less memorable for two or three stunningly beautiful close-ups. One in particular also employs slow-motion (a temporal close-up which is also a particular privilege of cinema; sculpture can do freeze-frames, as Bernini's Apollo and Daphne proves, but only film can make movement obedient to our attention). The image is of a pool ball struck by the tip of a cue, the instant of impact registered with an explosion of blue chalk dust. A Jean Luc Godard movie, I forget which, offers a similar close-up, this time of the tip of a lit cigarette as someone draws on the filter. And what you think is not "God, what a vast cigarette" but "God, how beautiful a cigarette looks - how marvellous the way that flameless fire crinkles through the tobacco". Television and the diminished screens of the multiplex can offer a shrunken version of this pleasure, but not the awe of looking up to the image. It reminds you that a spectacle, as the dictionary confirms, is not just something to look at but something that helps you see.

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game