Not something we can do at moment of course but that doesn’t stop me reminiscing.
My memories of going to the cinema, or to the flicks as we would have said in those days, began in the early 60s. As a teenager in I went to the local cinemas, every town had one, and, if you were impatient for the latest release there were the big chains: the ABC and the Odeon in Chester.
The local cinemas included the Hippodrome in Connah’s Quay, the Alhambra in Shotton and Plazas in both Queensferry and Flint. They were of a type. Upstairs and downstairs with different prices at the front and the back, there was a ‘first house’ and a ‘second house’ with a second feature sandwiched between two showings of the main feature, and usherettes to show you to your seat and to serve ice creams and such in the intervals. But the big attraction for some was the double seats in the back rows upstairs.
Late 60s I was in Cambridge where there were three mainstream cinemas, the Victoria (now Marks & Spencer on Market Square), the Regent opposite Emmanuel College (which is now the Picture House), and the Central on Hobson Street. There was also Kinema on Mill Road and the Arts Cinema down Market Passage along with a plethora of college film societies which in total offered a choice as good as any in the UK.
There was one other public outlet in Cambridge in those days: the Rex on Macgrath Avenue. It became a bingo club in 1967 but continued to run late night movies a few nights a week. You could only sit upstairs but you could get a drink from the bar and take it in with you. You didn’t get new release movies of course but I remember enjoying the Marx Brothers and several others from the past, recent and more distant.
(There’s more detail about yesterday’s Cambridge cinemas at https://cambridgestuff.xillennix.com/cinemas/)
After working in London for almost 4 years and a brief sojourn in New York with their access to every movie you’d aspire to watch I spent 2 years in Indonesia where the cinemas were less sophisticated and the films were censored. They were advertised with big dramatic billboards, all apparently individually painted, with often questionable likenesses of the stars.
All the latest films were shown but they were shortened so no nudity and no sex. But we did joke that they had something else (we weren’t very PC in those days).
It was the time of disaster movies and in modern cinemas you would watch Earthquake with Sensurround which used low frequency sound to give the sensation of movement. In Jakarta we reckoned that in the absence of the technology you could hire a local to shake your chair. Similarly we suggested that the Towering Inferno would come with Infernaround which would be enabled by switching the air conditioning off.
After Indonesia I lived in Hong Kong for 3 years where there were big cinemas which showed great movies both local and international. But watching the movie was only a part of the experience. As you approached the cinema you got a choice of snacks from cooked food stalls to take in to see you through the movie. These of course would be complemented by a 6-pack to make it an all round culinary experience. I’m glad I didn’t have to sweep up at the end of the day.
Now I’m back in the UK (after 13 years in Switzerland) and it’s the age of the multiplex. Here in Cambridge we’ve got three. There’s the Vue at the Grafton Centre, the Light down at the Junction and the Arts Picturehouse which shares the site of the former Regent with a Weatherspoons. Although all three show the latest popular films the Arts continues the tradition of its namesake showing foreign and ‘arthouse’ movies. It’s also got a bar and if you think you can last the duration you can take your drinks in with you. Nowadays its a glass of wine rather than the pints we drank at the Rex or the 6-packs we consumed in Hong Kong.
Some might say that now that we’ve got movies available to download and big screens at home there’s no reason to go to a cinema to watch a movie but I disagree. Going to the cinema is an event, it’s a rounded experience and it’s not just the movie it’s also what goes with it. Furthermore I recall Ian McKellen talking about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he entreated us to watch the latest in a cinema. It was, he said, the only way to fully appreciate its power. he was right when you’re sat in a modern cinema with a widescreen, which you have to turn your head to fully take in, and high quality sound it’s something else. Fingers crossed the lockdown will ease sufficiently to allow us to thrill again sometime soon.