A View From the Stalls, August 2015

Michael Rowan, a member of Chiltern Film Society's committee, provides personal musings about his cinema experiences.

It doesn’t take a man rising from the floor and playing the organ, or a woman sat to one side of the cinema screen playing a piano, to make me realise that I am getting older. All it takes is a look of incomprehension from my nephew and I feel my colour draining to be replaced by sepia tones.

As a child the time of the film was merely a guide, it never really mattered what time it started in fact, I don’t recall ever seeing a film from the beginning. That isn’t to say that I never saw the whole film, I did, just not in the sequence the director intended.

Today I have the opposite problem. The advertised start time is the time for lengthy adverts and 20 minutes of film trailers that I may or may not be interested in. I try to minimise this time by arriving 20 minutes later, allowing 10 minutes to negotiate the queue for tickets and gallon buckets of coke and packing cases of pop corn.

Of course back in the day there was really only ice cream at the interval. Oh yes we had intervals then when there was time for a lavatory break and to buy noiseless refreshments that didn’t annoy other cinema goers.

Often the interval was between films, because yes young ones, back in the day we expected two films for our money along with a short ad break for G Plan Furniture and a new type of cuisine described as a local Indian restaurant just yards from this theatre by a man with Received Pronunciation.

But I digress. Mum and I would head for the cinema at or around the advertised time, give or take 30 minutes. On arrival we would be shown to our seats by a torch wielding usherette (remember them?) where we would whisper profuse apologies to those patrons who had got there on time and who had to stand to allow us to pass along the row.

We would duly watch the remainder of the film, followed by the advertisements then the other film which would either be the main film or the B feature depending on how late we had been. We would then watch the adverts again, followed by the beginning of the film that we had missed due to our late arrival. At some point Mum would lean over and whisper, ‘I think that this is where we came in,’ at which point we would stand to disturb a new set of cinema patrons who had filled the adjacent seats and who now had to stand to allow our departure.

My nephew looks at me the same way that I used to look at my parents when they spoke of films without words, but whenever we stumble towards our seat, tripping over coats and bags in the darkness I occasionally wonder about progess.