Kia-Ora. One word and I bet many of you are not thinking ah, a maori greeting but thinking more Pearl and Dean. I’m talking cinema going, a treat that has become awesomely boring and corporate but roll back the years to the sixties, seventies and eighties and you were in for a treat. Massive cinemas, one screen, a heightened sense of doing something special way before the convenience of video recording.
I remember going to see Star Wars for the first time, it was around Easter and the queues for the one screen cinema, yes, one screen, stretched around the corner and away for several miles. We had to wait for a comlplete showing before we shuffled forward only to be stopped at the door again because they were full. Awesome, four and a half hours later we managed to get in and ended up in a full to capacity auditorium with and extremely large screen that you had to look left then right to take it all in. You litarally fell in the death star trench at the end, it was thrilling! Cinema experiences were all about that, the big, big screen.
I returned to the cinema many years after it had fell on hard times and had been split into three or four screens. Yes you had more choice but gone was the sweeping staircases, the strangely lit corridors and the open ticket office, in was small pokey rooms for around a hundred people watching screens that would only appear large if you sat two foot away. The magic had disappeared and remains missing until this very day.
Anyway, what really made it all the more interesting was everything.
For a start you had the usherettes, not some new funky band of wannabes but a collection of rather stern faced individuals who would make ideal henchmen for a James Bond villain given the task of showing you to your seats using a small feeble torch. Worse though were the usher given the task of walking down to the front during intermission carrying a less than appetising tray of tubs of ice cream with little wooden spatulas, the said Kia-Ora, which always came in a filmsy plastic oblong carton in which you were given the task of puncturing the lid in the dark using a sharp plastic straw. Invariably as soon as it pierced the lid the carton collapsed in on itself and you turned into an orange fountain squirting juice right up to the upper circle.
Did I say upper circle? Yes, I did. In those days they allowed you to sit upstairs overlooking other cinema goers and giving you a distinct sense of unease not to mention an ideal opportunity to casually knock something off the edge. There was no real barrier between you and a fall of fifty feet so many could be found popping to the toilet only to fall and land somewhere in rows C and E causing the attending usherettes to check your ticket and escort you out for being in the wrong seat. You were lucky sometimes as occasionally one wrong move from upstairs could cause what we called edible rain as upturned popcorn cones discarded their contents over the edge, yum!
The upper circle was sealed off every Saturday morning as a precaution. Saturday mornings was kids club, a notoriously riotous collection of children crammed in little seats armed with squirty Kia-Ora and assorted bags of Revels to act as weapons as soon as the lights went down. We were supposed to watch the films from The Children’s Film Foundation but invariably children without the supervision of adults were never really going to sit still and the ushers usually gave up taking children back to their seats and preferred to lock us in and clean up afterwards. I did manage to see some fantastic stuff though through the mayhem. It introduced me not only to places around the world but also the genius of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy and many, many more.
We also had a straightforward classification system of U, A, AA and the notorious X. U was suitable for all, A was suggested it was not for under fourteens but you could bring a child aged five and above in with you, AA was fourteen and above only and X was eighteen. Getting in to see an X film required ingenuity and a duffel coat with a large hood, either that or a friend who opened the fire door for you. Classification today has pandered to the film industry with seven standards and two non standards. Mighty confusing to choose between U, PG, 12, 12A, 15, 18, R18 and PG12 and E, bring back the X, it sounds more daring and sexy. I mean who wants to brag about seeing a R18, that’s a bus number not a passage to adulthood.
In the end the humble video recorder helped to signal the demise of the cinema, no longer would you have to share in a social experience and worry if the seat in front of you will be filled by a three foot afro wearing popcorn eater, no longer would you have to endure that horrid man and his wife that insisted on bringing crisps and egg sandwiches along with them, no, now you could sit in your underpants and socks and watch in the comfort of your own home. The choice was simple.
Our cinema tried to fight back with marathon film sessions. All three Star Wars or Superman I, II and III back to back. It made for grim viewing. Most of the time people only popped in for one film, if you did stay for all three the cinema gradually began to smell a little ripe after seven hours in a sweaty dark room, endless popcorn fails to sustain life for long and always, always was there some unsavoury noises coming from the dark and dank back row.
It closed and became a snooker hall a fate most cinemas shared.
My last trip to a cinema was about two years ago, it was small, cold, empty, played endless adverts and had the choice of upgrading to a comfy chair rather than the stone seat they normally provide. It was a soulless and expensive experience to watch an average film in 3D. Gone was the social aspect, in was the cattle in, cattle out. At any one time you could choose between eight films at multiple times so queues were very thin on the ground just like the excitement. The thrill was now condensed into the advertising budget rather than the experience, slick well edited trailers help to get bums on seats and very rarely do films today command audiences like Star Wars, ET and the like.
You may laugh but queuing, the most basic part of cinema going all those years ago, enhanced your experience, the thrill of getting through those doors to see something exciting like Raiders Of The Lost Ark or thrillers like Jaws made you so excited you felt sick. You went to experience not just watch. The instant gratification of using services like Netflix combined with woeful cinemas have taken the anticipation out of it all so never again will children today experience the same kind of thrill we shared when visiting the cinema.
I was going to carry on writing about this but the radio is on in the background and I have just heard the DJ spout stupid. He has asked listeners to pander to his ego and phone up and tell him what they are doing.
‘I’m sat in the conservatory revising’ said Donna from Hull he chirped.
‘That’s awesome!’ He replied
What’s so bloody awesome about that? You have serious awesome issues if you think sitting alone in a glass room around 8:30pm mooching through a book listening to the radio is awesome.
Next caller gets through ‘I’m washing my hair and going out wi mi mates’ to which he replies ‘I hope you are going to smash it tonight with some random fella, are you gonna smash a man?’
What? So let me get this right, by using the line ‘to smash’ you have just asked live on air if they are going to have sex tonight with a random stranger.
Which brings me rather quickly around to slang. Everyday I hear the lyrics of songs, things that radio presenters say and snippets of editorials and news reports that fail to spot the nature of certain words. In the charts at the moment are three songs that talk about having a threesome, five that instructs listeners to forget their partners and just go for it and forget the consequences for one night, one that deals with oral sex and one that advocates prostitution all disguised using street slang and are played uncensored yet one song which has the words ‘Britney Bitch’ in it has been edited to just say Britney Britney just in case the word bitch offends. The BBC went one better when it compiled a report outlining the accessibility of hard core porn sites for children through search engines then went on to list a few of their names, you know, just in case children didn’t know what to type in to google to find them.
I’m off to play with my rainbows and ponies whilst I smash something, you will find me in the cupboard beneath the stairs with a feeble torch, a battered cinema seat and a 8mm projector trying to get the innocent magic back for everyone but deep down I know it will never be found no matter how hard I look.