A BRIEF & PERSONAL HISTORY OF CINEMA…


OVERTURE

Self indulgent though this story may appear, this is surely the purpose of blogging. I normally regale you all with my views on film, and have gone onto comment about issues within the genre which have caught my interest, but this is about as personal as I can get. This is the story of how cinema has impacted on MY life, as I attempt to convey, though not in graphic detail, the key experiences from my life which have played such a key role in driving my passion for the subject.

The narrative structure is simple. It will take the form of a chronological look at the cinemas that I have visited over my life so far and how they have impacted and influenced my life, hobby and some may say obsession with film. As well as a personal take on the subject matter, there is a serious look at the cinemas which have played a part in this story and what has become of them. But this is a personal and biographical tale of one 32 year old’s passion for movies and a brief insight in what makes me tick…

THE REGENT

Since I was born in 1978, I’ve been lucky enough to have been exposed, pardon the pun, to cinema from a very young age. I think that my first trip would have been as a five-year old, to see Star Wars: Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi at the Marple Regent, near Stockport. This was an old school cinema first established in 1931 in the dawn of the sound era.

I saw a few films here, including Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. By old school, I mean that it felt like a night out, with pre-show cartoons, intermissions, ice cream girls and velvet curtains. It also had the segregation of the cheaper stalls from the premium circle. This is the ONLY cinema from my childhood which is still operating and it was the first.

Then, in early 1987, we went to the newly opened Cannon cinema at Salford Quays to see Star Trek IV: Then Voyage Home. I can remember the contrast between the small Marple picture house and one of the countries first major multiplexes. This had 8 screens and was the first and only venture by EMI Screen Entertainment in running a multiplex cinema in the UK.

I can still remember the moment that I looked up as and nine-year old and was greeted by the Star Trek IV banner hanging from the new building and this was literally a sign of things to come, as besides one more visit to an old traditional cinema, their days would be numbered.

INTERMISSION

And here it is. The Curson Cinema in Flixton, Trafford.  It’s 1989, and the final instalment of the Indiana Jones trilogy would also mark another final event in my cinema experience. Though only a hand full of films actually contained an intermission placed there by the studio, a lot of movies were presented with a break half way through in order to sell ice cream etc… Well, this was it. The final time that I would ever see an intermission in a cinema. I can even remember the moment, as having boarded the German Zeppelin at Berlin,  the Doctors Jones realised that it begins to turn back…

The Curson Cinema has since closed and become a dance studio. The building is still standing and the name is still standing tall on the front elevation but sadly, no more films will be shown there. Though saying that, this was my only visit there in it’s working life.

VILLAGE LIFE

CREDIT: http://minta.posterous.com/
CREDIT: http://minta.posterous.com/

A year previously, in 1988, Christmas Day was brightened by a surprise hit, with me anyway… Back To The Future. I had seen the adverts and trailers back in 1985 and as a 7-year-old, was keen to see the film. But it was not be, not until 1988 that was. I was thrilled and blown away by the time bending opus but still, four years later, we still didn’t bother to see the sequel.

But after watching it video, tape that was, we decided to watch the final part of the trilogy at the cinema. So, in 1990, and after moving house again, this time to Radcliffe, near Bury, we made our first of many visits to the Warner Village Cinema, in Pilsworth. The film was good, but the cinema was spectacular. It still had the old style box office at the entrance with the audiences standing out in the rain, a trend that has now quite rightly corrected  by simply moving the ticket office INSIDE!

But once inside, you were greeted by a massive foyer, with the concessions stand, a circular counter, standing at its centre. Some of the cups were plastic, the walls filled with posters and stands as usual, with the upcoming films being advertised and plaque would eventually appear at the entrances, letting you know which sound system had been fitted. But no coffee houses. This would be a few years off…

Later, in 1995, I would be transfixed to during the showing of the Bond revival led by Peirce Brosnan in Goldeneye, as the first Dolby Digital logo appeared. “The Train” was impressive to say the least, more so than the film to be honest. But this revolution is sound would continue to drive me and become my obsession as I strove to recreate this at home.

In 1996, we ended up in an unadvertised showing of Apollo 13 on a Saturday afternoon and besides a couple, we were the only people in! It wasn’t really until 1997 that this cinema would prove its worth, as we saw more films that year than any other. The Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition, Contact, the slightly disappointing The Lost World: Jurassic Park, my all time favourite film, L.A. Confidential. And each film for a seemingly never-ending period in 1997 was preluded by the BBC’s Children In Need version of It’s A Perfect Day, with the vocal talents of many a singer of the day, including Take That in tin foil!

But it wasn’t until January 23rd, 1998 that I had one of my most memorable cinema experiences when Titanic hit our screens. Though, it was mis-projected for the first few minutes and with wrong aspect ratio, but this was soon corrected. Suffices to say that I loved it, and went back a week later to watch it again! I had already being keen on seeing this as I’ve always been fascinated by the tragedy but the film more than lived up to my high expectations.

The last film I recall seeing there may well have been Titanic as living a good nine miles away, transport became a problem.

CINEMA TO CINE

But back to 1993,  the Cannon Cinema at Salford Quays had now changed hands three years earlier to MGM. It was July 1993 when my mum had to convince me to see Jurassic Park. This is now my second favourite film, behind L.A. Confidential and pretty much changed my life.

This was the first film to feature DTS sound and from the moment that, that logo roared onto the screen, my entire perception of cinema sound was changed forever. Steven Spielberg and sound designer, Ben Burtt, had always been at the forefront of cinema sound and in many ways, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade was the beginning of this type of sound design, but Jurassic Park nailed and set the tone, literally for the future of theatrical sound design.

A thrilling film which blended all the key elements, both artistic and technical to deliver what was for a 13-year-old lad, 121 minutes that would change everything for me and begin what some would say, my obsession with cinema. From this time, I would explore cine projection, with Super 8mm and 16mm formats. Experiment with sound systems and never having a real money to play with and just an old second had Chinnon C300 Super 8/Standard 8mm silent projector and an old Bush mini Hi Fi system.

Luckily, my dad, who was a film fan long before me had a SOUND Super 8 projector, so I used to run the films through that, record it on to a tape recorder and then manually synchronise the sound the old hi fi. We made a hand painted CinemaScope screen and used our £200 Scope Lens to present films, though mainly trailers, as a full feature cost around £200 – £400!

PICTUREVILLE

Not long after, still in 1993, we made our first visit to the what is now the National Media Museum in Bradford. I think it was the called the National Film and Television Museum back then. It was there that after being taken on a tour through the history of photography and film, that we saw our first IMAX projection booth, though didn’t see an IMAX film at that point. In fact, until that visit I had never even heard of it!

After that we visited the Pictureville Cinema, attached to the museum, which is home to England’s only surviving Cinerama screen. The format had intrigued me, but nothing prepared me for my first and to date, only experience of Cinerama, with a showing of the first film of the limited format, This Is Cinerama. With three projection booths glowing in the rafters, the velvet curtain parted to reveal the massive curved louvred screen and though the film isn’t great and as it declared at the beginning, “this film has no plot, no characters etc…” this show reel demonstrated the power not only of Cinerama, but cinema as a whole.

This was a day that I would not forget and only served to inspire me further…

JULY IN AUGUST

On to August 1996. Knotts Landing was on BBC 1 after Neighbours. We had just bought a Pro Logic amplifier and the move into home cinema without cine projectors had begun. Then on a Friday night, we went out to see Independence Day at the UCI Cinema in Warrington for a change. It was the one and only time as it was raining that night. I know that because we could hear it in the auditorium! The film, which led the way in blind hype advertising, was received averagly by me at the time, but it would grow into a film which I think of very fondly now.

After Titanic in 1998, we moved on from the Warner Village in Pilsworth and found the newly opened Arena 7 Cinema, in the Nynex arena in Manchester Centre. It it now better known as the MEN Arena, and the cinema is long gone. It was a serviceable a multiplex, but some screens were tiny, others were large, but there was no sense of a night out, with a simple white foyer and not much else. It was at this cinema though, that we saw such films as Deep Impact, Man In The Iron Mask, Godzilla and one of my favourites, Armageddon.

But in September of 1998, something else happened that would have hugely influential impact on our cinema going habits. On The 10th of September The Trafford Centre, England’s largest shopping centre, opened it doors, along with a 20 seat UCI cinema.

The first film I saw there was Saving Private Ryan, which boasted Sony’s SDDS 7.1 channel sound, very appropriate for this World War 2 epic. And it was a lad selling popcorn that told us of this before we saw the logo. Between 1998 and 2000 we would see films such as Lethal Weapon 4, The Exorcist, Star Trek: Insurrection, Gladiator and the ground breaking The Matrix.

FILM CENTRE

In 2000, I spent a bit of time in St. Austell, Cornwall were I made one trip to a now demolished cinema. At the time it was called the Film Centre, but it was opened as an Odeon in 1936, with the typical stalls and circle setup. It was replaced by a new 4 screen cinema, which I understand is now called the White River Cinema. The only film that I ever saw there was The Perfect Storm, and was told a tall tale that the stalls, which were unused at the time, were condemned as unsafe because in 1983, the audience were all stamping their feet in anticipation of Return Of The Jedi. I was told this by a serious Star Wars fan though…

Upon our return to Manchester it was back to UCI in the Trafford Centre, and it was about to change to its name to the Odeon but I can’t quite remember at what point this happened, though I do believe that it was around 2003. At this time, we saw such films as Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, X2 and the final and very underrated Star Trek: Nemesis, as well as in 2000, two early showings of Odeon Digital. These were Toy Story 2 and Brian Singer’s X-Men.

DIMENSIONISED

2003 saw the release of James Cameron’s first film five years, the ground breaking IMAX 3D documentary, Ghosts Of The Abyss. This was of course the Titanic documentary, charting a follow-up voyage to the wreck in 2001, with some stunning 3D, paving the way for 3D, Avatar and IMAX as it gained more popularity in 2000’s.

One afternoon, after work, we went to see an afternoon performance, the first ever IMAX show that I had seen, let alone 3D. It was exiting but after the hour, I wasn’t as impressed as I would have liked. The film was fine, but the 3D was difficult to process and was quite ghosty, but the whole idea had fascinated me, again!

3D became a small obsession for a time, as I had now moved into home video projection, had amassed a large DVD collection and 3D seemed to an interesting area to explore. It was a tough nut to crack though as there was very little available in what was very specialised, pretty much incompatible and expensive.

It would be three years before 3D would break in to the cinema and longer than that before it would become the so-called “The Future”. It wouldn’t be until 2005 before we returned to Bradford and saw yet another IMAX 3D film and I can’t remember the title! But it was an underwater documentary and had a lot to do with sharks… I enjoyed it but the 3D still gave me a headache. This was still the case when I saw my third IMAX 3D picture, back at the Printworks, with Harry Potter And The Deathly Halllows Part 2 back in July. The picture quality was near pefect with the DNR that has been applied, but with the screen being so large, if you move you head, you lose the 3D, and gain, gain a headache…

DIGITAL

I then went on to explore the conventional Odeon at the Printworks, with the first two films that I saw there being on my 25th birthday in 2003 being, The Italian Job (2003) and later that night Underworld, with the better of the two being the former without a doubt. In 2005 we chose to see the final instalment of Star Wars, (Episode III), here because the screens were/are massive. The problem was that they were so big that the image was soft, clearly being blown up too much to fill the screen and the screens also had no adjustable masking, so if the image wasn’t at the screens native ratio of 2.35:1, it looked a bit silly.

I had hoped that there was a reason for this and I believe that I was proven right as now we have entered the digital age, borders and masking are a luxury, and in all fairness, though it pains me to say, are not essential. It’s because of this digital improvements that the Printworks is now our cinema of choice.

But between 2000 and June 2011, I would spend most of my time in the Trafford Centre, were films such Transformers, Star Trek (2009), Inception, Batman Begins, the masterpiece that is The Dark Knight.

2009 was an interesting year, with heightened use of Digital 3D, with my first experience being that of The Final Destination 3D, but later in the year would be the landmark Avatar. But as an interesting footnote, it was after a showing of  Night In The Museum 2 that we were greeted by the news of Michael Jackson’s untimely death.

But from June this year, X-Men: First Class christened our return to this theatre, which, with its huge screens, crisp sound and convenient location, is certainly a more appealing venue than the Trafford Centre, which has lost its charm over the years, since it’s had very little work done nor much cleaning…

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