I grew up with the cinema until the cinema stopped growing up, when I left it for several years, or possibly decades, on the grounds that, in the multiplexes at least, it had become a children’s medium.
I think the first multiplex to be opened around Leeds, in the 1980s, was the Showcase in Birstall. This, I decided, would obviously fail on the grounds that the cinema era was over and an increasing number of people would rely on watching films much more cheaply on video players.
Plus, I thought, the design of multiplexes – plain concrete buildings with none of the theatrical panache of the old picture palaces – was expressly designed with the possibility of failure in mind; the cinema complexes could always be converted into glum warehouses with minimal effort. I’m pleased that I was very wrong – the Showcase, and all the multiplexes which have opened since, is still going very strong.
And actually, in the dying years of classic cinema the multiplexes were a great improvement. Gallon buckets of annoyingly-smelling popcorn, outsized hot dogs, health-threatening quantities of e-number sweets and being surrounded, in new-build multiplex complexes, with a collection of dreadful, mock-American fast-food outlets seemed better than sitting in an empty, flea-bitten cinema on its last legs.
The downside was that, as the multiplexes blossomed, it became very hard to find films made for adults. I thoroughly enjoyed – especially when I had children who needed to be entertained – clever, brilliantly-produced nonsense such as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids or the Back to the Future series. It’s just that, very slowly, I matured a little.
I now prefer to watch films at the two remaining old-fashioned cinemas in Leeds, the Cottage Road and the Hyde Park Picture House, not least because they’re mostly staffed by grown-up cinema enthusiasts, rather than, as it sometimes seems in the multiplexes, work-experience teenagers.
Not that I’ve got misty-eyed. The first film I ever watched, in a dying cinema in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, where sometimes screenings ended before the final scene because the projectionist
had to get his last bus home, was Blue Hawaii starring
I thought at the time it was the finest film ever made but now realise (I’ve not seen it since – has anybody else?) that it was probably dreadful.
Another old-fashioned cinema experience I would have loved to have seen but didn’t, happened in the early-1970s at a cinema in Leicester, where I used to live and where my local cinema survived by showing Asian films all the time except, as a multi-cultural concession, English-language films on Wednesday evenings.
The occasion was a screening of a reissue of Gone With the Wind, where, as was typical of the time, the projector broke down a few minutes from the end. The usherette and manager immediately jumped on stage and performed the “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” finale to great applause from all seven members of the audience, except the ones who had fallen asleep.
Recently, I went to the Everyman cinema in the Trinity centre Leeds, which offers a new (to me) grown-up model of cinema-going, with proper food, notably well-made pizzas, plenty of sprawling space on the sofa-style seats and handy buckets which, rather than holding obscene quantities of popcorn, are for wine-cooling. The staff are well-informed and helpful and really if I could have all this at multiplex (or, even better, flea-pit) prices, I would go to the cinema a lot more often.