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I love going to the cinema but assumed I would have to stop for a while after having a baby earlier this year . Luckily for my son and I , the Dalston Rio lets us in once a week to enjoy the latest releases. But is watching a film with a baby any fun, or would you be wiser to stay at home with a DVD?
The parent baby screening at the Rio starts at 9.45, or thereabouts. I arrive at 9.50 after a last minute feed and still have time to park the pram and grab a coffee and cake before the film starts. The auditorium is almost full. The film this morning is “Greenberg”, directed by Noam Baumbach and starring Ben Stiller. Six other mums from Hackney and Islington NCT ( February Births) have also arrived and we all try to chat/ drink/ eat/ jiggle baby as the lights go down.
“Greenberg” turns out to be a good choice, for the babies at least. There is a lot of mumbly self-examination and a folksy soundtrack ; Leo is interested but not overwhelmed. He spends the first twenty minutes of the film standing up on my knee to get the optimum view and we happily watch together. I find Stiller’s character, Roger Greenberg, awful, but Leo seems quite taken with him. Watching a film with your baby proves that they are mood sensitive.
Roger goes into meltdown at a surprise birthday party and a wave of crying ripples across the cinema. Leo is swept up briefly and begins to sob, time for a feed. With Leo asleep on my lap I manoeuvre my coffee into reach, sit back and enjoy the movie.
This makes baby cinema sound idyllic and me sound smug. Of course it’s not always so easy. While I strike lucky at “Greenberg”, a friend spends the whole film stood up at the back jigging a cranky baby. For another, an ill-timed nappy change means she misses the pivotal scene. I struggled more recently at “Inception”, screened at the luxurious Screen on the Green. Constant explosions and a thudding soundtrack meant Leo never nodded off or sat still, his gaze swinging wildly from the screen to the bar behind us as he tried to work out the difference. I left exhausted and none the wiser about the storyline. Sometimes the collective crying reaches a pitch that makes you wonder whether joining up with 60 other babies was really what you needed.
On the subject of noise, an audience of babies is nothing compared to Hackney pensioners. A friend and I met up while pregnant to watch “Nowhere Boy ” and inadvertently wandered in to the OAP screening. It was lively from the start ; few people seemed to acknowledge the film had started and continued to chat or shout friends to the appropriate seat. Bad language and sex on screen was greeted by loud heckling. In the loos at the interval it was generally agreed that John Lennon could have done with a clip round the ear.
Later, Cynthia’s sudden death drew a collective gasp that must have been heard down Kingsland Road. Several mobiles went off, one was answered, (“ I’m in the cinema” ) and a public-spirited viewer who tried to bring the conversation to a close was told to shut up. It was brilliant.
No outing with a baby is guaranteed to be a success, but the cinema has been my favourite activity so far. Although babies up to one year old can attend, I think it’s trickier the older they get. At six months, holding on to Leo for two hours makes following a film pretty difficult. (One mum at the Rio had commandeered and aisle and sensibly brought some toys) . However, if you are looking to venture out with a newborn for the first time and feel you could keep your eyes open in a quiet, darkened room, this isn’t a bad choice. Yes, your baby will cry, but no-one will see! You are out of the house, with other adults, doing something grown-up. You’ll feel ten times better afterwards, especially if you go for a post- film lunch on Kingsland Road. Less demanding than a massage class, more anonymous than a cafe and if your babies in the mood, you can almost relax. Maybe the Rio should buy some bigger speakers and start letting grandparents in too.
Dalston Rio parents and baby cinema, Tuesdays and Thursday, times vary
£6.50/ £5 concessions
For more information, go to Rio Cinema