The silver screen

Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark. - Sunset Blvd (1950)

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As a child, growing up in London, I used to go on the bus to the Saturday morning picture show. I imagine the age limit was for eight to twelve year olds (adults were not allowed in). Since I don't have much memory past the age of ten or eleven (I was born in 1940) it would have been around the year 1950-51. And I don't remember the cost but I would have thought it might have been either thrupence or a tanner (sixpence).

Can you imagine a movie house full of eight to twelve year olds? It was a riot! We'd be watching The Lone Ranger, and we'd all scream out "Kemo sabe, look out, behind you!" We'd boo the bad guys and cheer the good guys. There would be cartoons and comedies but the exciting movies were serialized and would end with the line ... To Be Continued ... (which meant you HAD to go next week, please Mum).

Stuff would get thrown around. I can't remember what we used to take to the movies for food. Bread pudding most likely, or wooden sticks of liquorice. And the things we threw might have been what the bread pudding was wrapped up in, or the chewed-on butt-end of the liquorice stick.

One thing I do remember clearly is Superman flying through the skies and you could see the wires that he was suspended from. And cowboys were cowboys and Indians were Indians, if you know what I mean. It was all fantasy. Watch the opening scene to the movie Hope and Glory and you'll get a feel for what it was like.

I think life revolves around the things you loved as a child.

In my teenage years we moved out of London to a little village called Rayleigh, which, lucky for me, had a cinema. It was called the Regal. It stood all by itself, down a one-way side street called Bellingham Lane. From what I remember the exterior was a white stucco or plaster. The front was rectangular and without decoration. What was playing was displayed behind glass on either side of the entrance. The ticket booth was typical of those days, an employee sat in a glass cubicle and took the money through an opening in the bottom of the glass. The ticket would make a whirring sound and would curl up as it came out of the slot. Before entering the auditorium (between dark velvet curtains) an usher would take your ticket and tear it in half.

Upstairs in the theatre were three mezzanines. A long, double-row mezzanine on the back wall and two smaller, four-seater ones on the side walls (these were the ones I would head for if there wasn't already someone in them). The seats were made from some kind of plush material, and on the back, where the seats joined, would be a small ashtray. Smoking was allowed. The smoke became a part of the movie, especially if it was a black-and-white cops-and-robbers movie. I remember the smoke swirling upwards through the light from the projector. The same two movies would play every day, back-to-back, for a week. You got two for the price of one.

The curtains covering the silver screen would part in the middle and slowly, and noisily, slide aside. The first movie would always be a B movie. I don't remember any of the B movies except they were usually black-and white. They weren't very long. The curtains would close, the lights would come on, and there would be an intermission. A white uniformed cigarette/ice cream/chocolate-bar lady would then walk down the aisle, with a harnessed tray resting on her belly, to the front of the theatre. She held a flashlight in her hand, pointing down at her wares. She would turn and face the audience and stand still. Then she would slowly walk towards the back of the theatre, taking orders as she went. Being in the mezzanine had its drawbacks, she couldn't throw that high, so I'd have to leave my seat and go downstairs to the kiosk to get smokes and pop. After she left the lights would dim, the curtains would open and the show would go on. Sometimes there would be a cartoon, or the Pathe News, before the feature movie. At the conclusion of the feature movie, after the credits had rolled up, "God Save The Queen" would blare from the speakers and everyone would scurry to get out before it began. I suspect most people were anxious to get to the pubs before closing time.

I'm trying to think of some of the major movies I saw. Rock Around The Clock, Blackboard Jungle,The Girl Can't Help It, Zulu, Spartacus, On the Waterfront, Rebel Without A Cause, Trapeze and my favourite, and the worst, was the sub-titled And God Created Woman. It was a boring movie but it starred Brigitte Bardot and she bared her breasts. It was a first for nudity in the movies. You had to be eighteen to get in and I was only sixteen. I greased my long hair into the style of the day, swept back along the sides into a ducks arse on the rear, pulled forward at the front, cut square at the back, and sideburns. Put on a long black gangsters overcoat and talked my way in. It was a waste of money really but I'll never forget it (them).

In 1965 I came to Nova Scotia, Canada. My movie going was curtailed (due to settling in to a new land, family and work) and it wasn't until 1982 when I met Fishgirl that I started to renew my love of the silver screen. We spent our courting nights at the Sackville Drive-in watching such classics as a Cheech and Chong triple header and the 1985 original Fright Night (wanna see something really scary?). Drive-ins were fun, even when the fog rolled in. The speakers used to be mounted on posts at the sloped mound where you parked. You would unclip them from the post and then clip them on to the inside of your window. The wires from the speaker led to the post and you had to remember to replace the speaker before driving away. Obviously, from the number of hanging wires, some people forgot. Then the owners smartened up, removed the speakers, and switched over to receiving the sound through your car radio. Chomping on ketchup smothered fries in the comfort of your car while waiting for the sun to go down created a great atmosphere.

And then there was Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Cinema where you could buy a cup of tea and take it into the theatre, and where the manager would step on stage and give a brief synopsis on the movie we were about to watch. At the showing of The Kray's he told us that North Americans were used to gunfights but several people had walked out of the theatre because they couldn't stand to watch the knife-work displayed by the Kray Brothers. And how could we ever forget the brain in the jar in the sub-titled The City of Lost Children.

But the absolute highlight of our movie-going career was in 1984 when we went to Hyland Theatre on our wedding night. They were having a Hitchcock revival festival and we watched the beautiful Grace Kelly and the unforgettable Jimmy Stewart perform in Rear Window, one of Hitchcock's best.

Sad to say, the Regal, the Sackville Drive-in, Wormwood's, and the Hyland no longer exist. And there is only one stand-alone theatre left in town and only one drive-in left in the whole province. Nowadays we have these these multi-screen places where the atmosphere of the old days is lost.

If I had the money, one of my wishes would be to build an independant cinema. It would have a retractable roof so as to simulate a drive-in, plus a small dance area for such movies as Saturday Night Fever. And a coffee/tea shop where patrons could sit or buy treats to take into the theatre (coffee/tea included). I'd show the classics, my favourites, and bring back the Saturday morning picture show (parents would be allowed in, only they'd have to sit at the back). I'd show two movies for the price of one, just like in the old days. I'd have an internet site where people could vote for the movies they'd like to see. And the list goes on. Just a dream.

P.S. On September 13th, 2017, the last remaining stand-alone theatre in Halifax had it's final showing. We say farewell to the Oxford theatre, a place where we had watched many a movie. By the way, the car at the rear in the photo is exactly the same model as the one I once owned - an MG TD.

Wormwood's Dog and Monkey

The Regal, Rayleigh

I couldn't wait to go in

Note the ashtrays on the back of the seats

It wasn't until after I'd written this page that I found these photos.
Photos of the Regal courtesy of  Rayleigh through the looking glass

I have nine lists on the Internet Movie database. Here they are ...

  65 years of movie watching

  Hail! Hail! Rock n' Roll

  Favourite foreign films

  British tv crime series

  Documentary favourites

  Movie making documentaries

  Photography documentaries

  Music related documentaries

  Sports documentaries

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Pat Donoghue, Canada, ©1997