Big heavy curtains drew slowly and magically back to reveal the glowing screen. There was often a short, informative film on before the main picture, about logging in Canada, or a day in the life of a biscuit.
Finally, the proper film would burst onto the screen, which was probably only a bit bigger than the show-offiest domestic TV currently blighting Curry’s. My Mum would remove her hat, and light the first of many cigarettes. No-one really spoke. Anything above minor whispering and the odd giggle would summon the usher or ette, and the Torch of Shame would be shone along the rows until the culprit was found and de-fused by savage hushing.
Children’s matinees were a tad rowdier, but I wasn’t allowed. And I had to clean my rabbits out on a Saturday. My Mum was an avid cinema-goer, during WWII, and before she had children, she used to go three times a week, often with multiple members of Her Majesty’s Forces. I must admit to wanting an armed guard myself when visiting one of the noisier multiplexes.
But now I am the same age as my Mum was when we went to see “Thoroughly Modern Millie” together and far too many elements of the contemporary cinema experience make me cross. I certainly don’t feel inclined to dress up in order to sit in an odorous hell-hole. Trying to watch a film while people text each other in the quieter moments , when they are not devouring an over-priced picnic or attempting to identify every character in the film and tell all their mates what that person has been in before, or helpfully predict the next action of that character, and preferably, the dénouement of the plot, is not an immersive experience. There are a few alternatives to be had; Liverpool’s FACT, and Manchester’s Cornerhouse, for example. However, I yearn for a truly retro cinema; surely we could have one or two? Conservation areas for the vintage-lover, fitting settings in which the elegant, the mannered, and the artificial movie-lover could escape from Modern Life Being Rubbish. If cinema is about immersion and escapism, then the building which houses it ought to enhance the escape. The gilded pleasure domes of the Deco Thirties, with balconies and enamelled railings, the lush Roxies and Palaces of the post-war era; so few are now left. Many of my younger friends tell me how much they would like to swan off to see a film, in that type of setting, perhaps taking in a cocktail or two in a lushly appointed cinema bar, and luxuriate amongst the trappings and manners of a lost world.
I know everybody smoked, and sometimes the screen was swathed in grey clouds of Kensitas and Wills Whiffs, but now everybody eats smelly food instead, which I am convinced must give you secondary something or other.
I have a teenage son. Most big commercially successful films are made for, and possibly by, his age group. He overcame his mandatory embarrassment about my existence sufficiently to go and see “The Inbetweeners” with me recently. Although I did have to promise to put a bag over my head if we saw any of his friends. It was a daft, funny, noisy film, with an audience to match, and that was fine. But wouldn’t it be lovely to have an alternative cinema experience; one worth putting on hat for? Of course, we would all politely remove them when seated. This won’t happen, market forces are all, and there are insufficient numbers of nostalgia freaks, vintage types, and crabby old ladies like me for the figures to make any financial sense. But we can dream, can’t we? And the cinema is, or was, the place for dreams.