I’ve got to be there before the trailers. In truth, it’s only since the advent of reserved seating that I’ve been OK with getting there once the adverts start. Need to get a seat on the end of a row, preferably with no-one in front. Really, I’d like the screen to be completely empty but that’s only happened once that I can remember (2005, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at 11am on a Tuesday). Bag of Minstrels that will not be opened until the film starts, bottle of coke all tucked away in the inside pocket of my coat.
That’s my cinema experience. I guess we all have our rituals.
It all began when I was… actually I don’t really remember. All I can do is guess. It might be Octopussy in 1983.
That would make me 7 years old. I must have been to the cinema before that. I remember seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark but I was only 5 when it came out so I could be mistaken. It might have been a re-release. It’s probably one of those, or something else.
My brother used to take me to the cinema every Saturday. I have no memory of this but he tells me that Dad used to drop the two of us off in the centre of Newcastle and he would take me to the ‘pictures’. I was 5, I think, which would make him 10.
My obsession probably began when I was old enough to go on my own. The first time was Back to the Future Part 2 in 1989.
That was at the Odeon in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle (a cinema that is sadly no longer in existence). That’s when I started saving my tickets. That’s also when I started ‘The Book.”
The book was a small, school exercise book that I covered and ruled columns into. There was a column for the date, the title, a star rating out of 5 and any comments. I so badly wish I had that book today. I kept all the ticket stubs and they too are lost. I went every week, using the money from my Sunday paper-round to pay my entry. It would either be the Jesmond cinema, though not as much as I got older as they only showed one film at a time, the Odeon, if I was feeling cultured the Tyneside cinema, or more often than not either of the two available multiplex cinemas at Manors or the Metro Centre. Back then it cost about £2 to get in. Once you were in at Manors, if you timed it right, you could hop from screen to screen and see a few films in a day. It just required a thorough look in the newspaper listings. I never did this, I hope you understand! I just heard of other people with less scruples than myself doing it. Manors also had a great arcade where I burned a few pounds playing Narc in between films.
The next bit wasn’t me either. It was a friend. His name was Fred. Fred was a big fan of Schwarzenegger around this time. His Mum and Dad had let him watch most of his films (the ones they hadn’t let him, he’d watched anyway) and he really wanted to see Total Recall (Certificate: 18) when it came out.
This was 1990 and Fred was a very young-looking 14. Fred was also pretty resourceful, however, so one morning in the half term holidays, he thought he’d chance his luck down at the multiplex. Better get dressed up, thought Fred. A shirt and tie will make it look like you’ve just come from work; just nipped out in the middle of your shift to see a film. That’s what adults do, right. He borrowed a tie from his dad’s drawer, stuck it on over one of his school shirts, pulled on some smart trousers and off he went. Oh wait, one more thing. The finishing touch, the apple in the pig’s mouth… a tie clip. That’ll seal the deal, he thought. Fred approached the ticket counter with great trepidation. This was do or die. He would require absolute confidence if he was going to sell his barely pubescent, hairless face and rake-like body as that of an 18 year old.
The man behind the ticket counter looked him up and down and pushed a ticket over the counter. Sold! Truth is Fred doesn’t think, in hindsight, the gentleman behind the counter (who was probably barely 18 years old himself) really cared an ounce how old he was. He looked so bored.
There were so many films I wanted to see back then. I used to buy Empire magazine every month and scour the new releases for a plan of attack for the month. What came out when? What certificate was it? This was around the time they invented the 12 certificate so they could make more money out of films like Batman. That opened up a lot more possibilities. I must have seen so many films between the age of 13 and 16 when I left Newcastle. I collected all the ticket stubs and made all the entries in the book.
Off the top of my head, during that time, here are some that spring to mind: Navy SEALS, Hunt for Red October, Green Card, Home Alone, Ghost, Ghostbusters 2, Scenes from a Mall, Narrow Margin, Desperate Hours, The Guardian, Robocop 2, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, Dick Tracy, Regarding Henry, Shattered, Class Action, Pacific Heights, and many, many more…
Then I moved to Staines and a brick fell on me. All of a sudden I had no paper-round and I was being asked for £3.75 just to go to the cinema. this would require desperate measures – I would have to get a job!
This is the first film I saw in Staines, at the old cinema (also now gone) on the riverside.
Not seen it? You surprise me. It was pretty dull. It had James Marshall from Twin Peaks in it, learning how to box from Brian Dennehy. All I remember is some bare knuckle fight where Dennehy ducks his head down so Marshall hits him on the top of his head, which nearly breaks his hand. “That’s why they invented gloves, kid!” Riveting stuff.
I saw loads of films over the years at the old cinema in Staines. Highlights included A Few Good Men, Event Horizon, Schindler’s List, the Matrix and Fight Club. I also had a brief foray into school journalism when i wrote a review of the Robert Redford ‘tech-comedy thriller’, Sneakers for the college newspaper. It was mostly plagiarism from the Empire review and I don’t know how I got away with it. I mean, how would a 16 year old from Newcastle know what “fresh views of San Francisco” were. Sadly, the cinema in Staines was knocked down and replaced with a multiplex in the centre of town.
Living in Staines also gave me access to the wide range of cinemas in London. I regularly travelled up to town with my friend Graeme to see such delights as Reservoir Dogs, Man Bites Dog and The Fugitive.
So, that was the beginnings of my obsession. I’ve been thinking as I’ve been writing about just how much I used to go. Between 2004 and 2009, when I was living in Staines for the second time, I would go to the VUE multiplex pretty much weekly.
I’d get up to London quite often and see stuff that wasn’t in the multiplexes like Inland Empire, Garden State or that one with William H Macy that I can’t remember the name of (the title is his name!!! Aaaghh!!). Even on holiday, I’d try to sneak in some trips to the pictures. I saw The Dark Knight in Hong Kong, Clerks 2 in New York and always managed to make a trip to the Paramount Theatre’s summer classics season whenever I was in Austin.
It was in Staines that I managed to get two of my own films screened in 2010 and 2012. They were both projects I did with my Year 6 classes at school. One was Dancing Into Death, a murder-mystery about an ageing movie star conned out of a million pounds by a scheming charity worker. The second was Keystone, a supernatural dimension-jumping thriller set in my school. Seeing films I had worked on up on the big screen, even if it was just for me and my class and their parents, was a massive thrill. Bits of me had always wanted to be a film maker.
From Staines, I transferred most of my movie-going trips to Feltham when I met my wife, Serena. The first film we saw together was 2012. She fell asleep (lucky for her) and I endured most of it solo.
We got the Unlimited deal at Cineworld and went fairly regularly. Then, when our son was born on 1st January 2015 (you’ll read more about him when I get to M), my hobby since childhood went into indefinite hibernation. Since he was born, I’ve been to the cinema, I think four times in two years (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: Rogue One). The good thing is that I’m not bothered. It’s not like quitting sugar or anything like that. It just kind of stops and you find other things to do, like making your own stories as opposed to watching other people’s. Besides all that, it’s so expensive these days that I don’t think I could afford it any more anyway. The way things are going, you’re looking at £14 just to get through the front door before you’ve got popcorn or anything. That’s a far cry from the 50p I paid at the Jesmond to see Police Academy 6 (for shame). These days I just wait for it all to come around onto Satellite TV. Where will things be by the time my son is old enough to be taking himself off to see a film? Hopefully there’ll still be the opportunity to pay monthly but that will probably not include “premium films”. I don’t know but I’ll bet it’ll cost him more than paper-round money to see anything and that will be incredibly sad. There is something very special about seeing films up on the big screen. A special kind of escape from everyday life that comes in that darkened room.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please check out my other entries in the Blogging form A to Z challenge, or have a look around my website for other film related stuff.