(Paul Fitzpatrick: London – April 2021)
I think it was the author Ralph Waldo Emerson who said ‘life is a journey not a destination’, which is a quote that grows in relevance as the years roll on.
His quote is relatable to me in a few ways, one of them being how tastes and preferences change.
Take going to the cinema as an example of changing times and tastes.
The first cinema experience for many of us was Saturday mornings spent at the the ABC minors club, or the like.
Those weekly events were a big step towards our adolescent freedom… pure independence from the minute you left your house and hopped onto the bus or train until the minute you got back.
For those that remember, the ABC minors club was a feast of cartoons and old black and white movies like The Lone Ranger or The Three Stooges, with a few pop hits of the day thrown in at the intervals to allow you to fill your face with Kia-ora and choc-ices.
Jump forward a few years and the next stage of the cinematic journey involved going on dates… with chicks to the flicks.
Saturday night at eight o’clock
I know where I’m gonna go,
I’m gonna pick my baby up,
And take her to the picture show.
Saturday night at the movies,
Who cares what picture you see
When you’re huggin’ with your baby in
the last row in the balcony?
Sounds romantic doesn’t it, but it never quite worked out that way.
there was no pickin’ your baby up for a start, she was usually dropped off (and collected outside cinema the minute the film finished) by an overprotective Dad, drawing daggers at you as you gormlessly stood there drenched in Brut.
Looking back…. sitting in silence, side by side, in a large room with no lights was probably the perfect scenario for all involved, particularly when you were a 13/14-year-old monosyllabic boy with a bad haircut.
Back then, I hadn’t mastered the art of small-talk, (or banter, or bantz as it’s now called) or even basic conversation, so what could I chat to girls about when the only topics I could talk about with any authority were football and…. well actually nothing else, just football really.
It was clear therefore, that the perfect setting for this total lack of discourse was the dark silence of the local fleapit, regardless of what film was viewing.
Of course, what goes on in the back row stays in the back row so there’s going to be no juicy gossip shared here, but as most of you will remember, 75% of the film was spent contorting your arm around the shoulder of your date, 24.5% was spent fighting cramp and building up the courage to make that awkward next move…. and if you eventually overcame all your fears and anxieties, then you maybe got to share a wee snog for 90 seconds before the lights came on… realising you’d missed the conclusion to the film.
I was genuinely gutted to learn years later that General Custer did not survive the Battle of Little Bighorn, and that (spoiler alert) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Bonnie and Clyde also perished in the dying embers of said movies.
No wonder there were no sequels!
Where The Drifters got it spot-on however, was that when you were that young it genuinely didn’t matter what film was on… the event was everything.
Within a couple of years however, it was a different story, we started to become a bit more discerning about the movies we wanted to see, and it’s at this stage X rated movies came onto the radar.
In our mid-teens gaining admission to an (18) was a badge of honour but as things transpired some of the best features at that time just happened to be X-rated.
As an example, five of the best movies of that period were all (18) X-rated……
A Clockwork Orange, The Exorcist, Enter the Dragon The Godfather 2 and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
A Clockwork Orange was a strange one, it was probably my least favourite of the five, but culturally it had a huge impact on us back then.
Within a couple of weeks of seeing it the impressionable ones amongst us were wearing Crombie coats, white sta-prest trousers and nicking our Dad’s umbrellas so we could be suede-heads and strut about like Malcolm McDowall’s character, even in the rare days that the sun was splitting the sky…
We must have looked like the numpties we undoubtedly were.
The cinematic landscape has changed a lot since then.
I can think of six cinemas that I used to go to regularly in that period, only one, The Grosvenor in Hillhead, remains open as a cinema, the rest are flats or in the case of The Salon, also in Hillhead, a trendy bar (Hillhead Bookclub) where patrons play ping-pong and drink concoctions called coconut firecrackers.
I have mixed emotions when I go there now, trying to work out where I used to sit, and remember who with.
It’s nostalgic to see the remnants of the great old cinema, but it’s also poignant to think of all the fantastic movies, the nervy first dates and the collective memories that the grand old building harbours.
Who knows what the old playhouse will be transformed into next but at least we still have access to it today…. which is a blessing.
We all seem to be time-challenged these days but if you needed to kill 4 or 5 hours in the 70s there used to be some great double bills available to see…. a couple I remember with relish were Blazing Saddles + Monty Python & the Holy Grail and Midnight Express + Taxi Driver.
Thinking back… including intermissions each of those double bills accounted for approximately 5 hours’ worth of entertainment…. even the 70’s adverts were hilarious.
Is it any wonder then, that these old cinemas went out of business? Nowadays a blockbuster will be shown on a loop, five or six times a day on one screen in a multiplex that has 10 separate screens…. so up to 60 showings a day.
Compare this to two showings a day on one screen in the old style cinemas and do the maths…
I guess it’s just another example of changing and developing tastes…. we start off as impressionable kids thinking that nothing can beat these grainy old black and white movies on a Saturday morning…. that our local cinema is the most exotic place in the world, and before you know it, we’re watching computer animation in a 10-screen multiplex with queues a mile long waiting to buy rubber hotdogs, cardboard popcorn and a gallon of carbonated liquid for a small ransom…..
Sometimes, the ‘journey’ doesn’t always take you to a better destination!
For anyone who’s interested, here’s my top ten 70’s movies in no particular order, based on repeat viewings over the years…
- The Godfather
- The Godfather 2
- Blazing Saddles
- Monty Pythons The Life of Brian
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- Young Frankenstein
- The Sting
- The Jerk
- Saturday Night Fever
As a p.s. here’s some of those classic cinema ads from the 70’s, they don’t make ’em like this anymore….