|"Hmm, what are they showing tonight?"|
In Chapter 62 of All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot recalls the evening he met Helen outside the cinema for their second date. With ten minutes before the first of the two movies was due to start, he found the doors shut and the lights off. He had lured Helen here with the promise of seeing the second movie, a film about the Hebrides, a group of islands off the coast of Scotland. Yet, as he stood in the darkened street, he wondered if the cinema would open. After their misadventures at the elegant and expensive Reniston Hotel, the local cinema had seemed a safe choice. Would their second date prove as disastrous as the first?
My wife and I usually arrive at the movies with time to spare, and our visit to Ritz Cinema in Thirsk was no exception. Unlike Herriot, we arrived not ten minutes before the movie was due to start, but well before the doors were scheduled to open. As I set about documenting our visit, one of the workers saw me photographing the schedule. She opened the door and handed me a copy, asked if anyone else wanted one, and then shot back inside.
It seemed we still had to wait until 7 pm, the scheduled “opening time.”
With a single screen, Ritz Cinema harkens back to an era before televisions found their way into our homes, let alone the multitude of electronic devices that allow us to access any kind of recorded entertainment whenever we desire it. I studied the schedule, noting the mix of movies listed. An animated movie by Aardman Entertainment, the studio that brought us our beloved “Wallace and Grommit,” had shown two weeks ago. We had wanted to see it back home, but we had been too busy preparing for our trip to England. Last week, it seemed we had missed “The Last Marigold Hotel,” a film that had not appeared in the multiplexes back home. The movie starred Judi Dench, an actress best known in the U.S. as M in the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig “James Bond” films. We had first fallen in love with her for her portrayal of Jean in the British TV sitcom “As Time Goes By.” Even though the story dealt with British people spending their retirement in India, there were so many actors we recognized from British TV and movies that “Marigold” seemed the ideal movie to see in a British cinema. Yet the poster for this week’s offering, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” promised to be “The British Comedy of the Year.” (Well, we’d just have to make up our own minds about that). The next week, the cinema would screen a documentary about the legendary reggae singer from Jamaica, Bob Marley. After that was Marvel’s “Avengers,” not the old British duo of John Steed and Emma Peel, but a team of superheroes such as Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, and Thor that we had seen in San Diego before leaving for England. The mix of films seemed eclectic, and rich with international flavors.
I smiled, remembering the single-screen cinemas of my youth. With a thirteen-inch black-and-white TV at home, no cable or satellite channels, and no VCR, I had visited such cinemas regularly. (They had been outdated then). As with Herriot’s visit to Ritz Cinema, I had spent entire evenings in two local cinemas, often enjoying double and triple features. Sometimes the one I most wanted to see was the older movie on the bill. Thus, I caught films I might not otherwise have seen, particularly low-budget Sci-Fi movies that had not earned much money in the modern multiplexes. (As with most of the single-screen cinemas, many of those movies exist only as memories today). On such evenings, I saw the movie that kick-started Mel Gibson’s career, the post-apocalyptic adventure “Mad Max,” long after its sequel, “The Road Warrior,” appeared in the multiplexes. I snuck into the R-rated “Galaxina” at one of those cinemas. (Sadly, its star, Dorothy R. Stratton, had died before the movie’s release). I discovered Roger Corman’s signature low-budget style with “Galaxy of Terror.” On several occasions, I enjoyed the stop-motion animation, laser beams, and explosions of “Laserblast.” It didn’t matter if the scripts could have been better written, the actors’ performances wooden, or the special effects cheesy. Just going had been an event, and sitting before the big screen, watching the stories unfold, had been one of life’s great pleasures.
Perhaps that’s why we still arrive early at the cinema, even if we know we’ll have to endure twenty minutes of trailers after the scheduled start time.
Hollywood often releases so many movies at once that we don’t get out to see some of those we’ve been looking forward to, let alone discover a gem among the rest. Usually, movie attendance is relegated to a matinee on Sundays, when prices are reasonable and crowds minimal. I could not help but wonder: if my local cinema offered me fewer choices, if they charged a more reasonable admission price, and if each week they showed a mix of movies similar to Ritz Cinema, might I forsake my widescreen TV, my DVD collection, and all the recorded shows on my DVR to frequent my local cinema on weekday evenings?
If I lived in Thirsk, I couldn’t help but think that, with its seemingly attentive staff, I might make Ritz Cinema a weekly event.
Still waiting for the doors to open,
Related Dragon Cache entries featuring
Wallace & Grommit: