Notes from a newcomer

Marion looks back at the joy of going to the pictures

Sitting in your favourite armchair, glass of wine to hand, watching a DVD -how Saturday night at the movies has changed! Who, these days, would dream of putting on their scarf, coat and hat to queue for an hour or more, probably in the rain, outside their nearest Odeon,

Gaumont or Empire?

But that is what everyone did before TV brought entertainment into our homes.

Our patient wait to reach the head of the queue was rewarded when the uniformed commissionaire called out grandly, ‘Two seats in the one-and-nines!’ and in we went, guided by the beam of the usherette’s torch. Just to make things more interesting, cinemagoers took their seats not as the main feature was starting but halfway through so we had to sit right through the Pathe News, the Pearl & Dean advertisement and the B film, to find out how it all started.

But nobody minded that. Going to the flicks was the highlight of the week. No matter that the air was thick with cigarette smoke or there was chewing gum stuck to the seat after the mayhem of the children’s weekly matinee. People of all ages flocked to their local fleapit – but the back row was sole the preserve of young courting couples who made the most of the friendly dark.

My earliest memories of the cinema are of the inside of my grandfather’s tweed cap which had been placed over my eyes to shield me from the nightmare-inducing sight of Indians on the war path. But it didn’t block out the sound and to this day I can hear the bloodcurdling whoops of Sioux braves and visualise the yellow diamond that was hatmaker’s logo.

My grandfather adored all Westerns but the only one that really caught my imagination was Annie Get Your Gun, a film which instilled early feminist ideas with its feisty rendition of Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.

The 1950s was a golden age of British comedy. I saw most of Ealing’s hilarious output at the Astra (every RAF camp had an Astra) where everyone stood stiffly to attention for the National Anthem before trooping out into the night. Kenneth More was the star of many of those lighthearted films – Genevieve, Raising a Riot, Doctor in the House – and who looked jauntier than he in a tweed jacket and silk cravat?

It was around this time I was so bowled over by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes that I instantly decided to grow up to be a platinum bombshell exactly like Marilyn. A rather hopeless ambition for a plain, dark-haired little girl growing up in rural Wales – but that was what the movies were all about – impossible dreams. That is something that today’s film reviewers don’t understand; when they snootily dismiss a new film as a ‘feel-good movie’, I make an immediate note not to miss it.

Marion Clarke

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