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writer...performer...sometime pop-up cinema host.

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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Movie Memories



The ABC cinema in Tunbridge Wells was magical; a wonderful art-deco structure with a large screen one, and two other more intimate screens. It used to house a bar, which then became a small sweet shop, and in the foyer was a ticket booth where the metal machine would spit tickets out to you in short stubs. That was part of the magic of the cinema.

The foyer also had a long counter for popcorn and bags of sweets and hanging up at the back of the counter were posters of the current movies. Remember those, special collector’s editions? I remember a Return of the Jedi poster and collector movie book which had behind the scenes photographs.

That was part of the magic of the movies. It gave a sense of excitement and anticipation that is only matched by the release of the latest film in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens.

Perhaps it is a Star Wars thing, although there was similar anticipation when Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released. The movies of Spielberg and Lucas got the imagination caught into their net. They played the long game, giving out snippets of information in much the same way that J.J. Abrams does now. Too many times a trailer reveals all (remember the trailer for Terminator Genesys, which revealed everything and made watching the movie utterly pointless?), and too many times a movie fails to deliver on its promise (remember the prequels anyone?).

So what is it that has changed dramatically about the movies? Well, nothing. It is still the money-generating machine that it always has been from the first nickelodeon. It still demands imagination, albeit more limited now with the advent of computer technology. The thing that has changed is the cinema experience.

All you have to do is take a look at the buildings that house the cinema screen and digital projector these days to realise where the magic has been lost. Why have the homes of the movies been stuck in out of town lego-style complexes that offer no form of meaningful entertainment other than a bowling alley and a plastic looking pub? This is taking away the art form of the cinema. A theatre, a cinema and a church should form the hub and central ideal of a town. It is where people congregate
to enjoy an event together. In the town centre you can then enjoy a drink or a meal afterwards, not if you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere.

I remember going to see Schindler’s List at our ABC and then all of us going for a pint to drown our sorrows after the movie. I remember seeing Batman in 1989 and enjoying a matinee performance after meeting all my mates in the town.

Town centre cinemas are not just the past, they are the future, they should be the norm. It was a travesty for town planners to remove their cinemas and place them in the middle of a developed field that has been concreted over.

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