A View From the Stalls, September 2015

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

Of course there comes a time in every film enthusiast’s life when it becomes necessary to separate from the common herd and so it was that I found myself in a mouse ridden cinema in Leeds watching Andy Warhol films.

Films with more flesh on show than could be imagined by a young chap schooled by the Jesuits. What the Fathers would have made of scene after scene of drug taking was anyone’s guess. In fact what I made of it was also anyone’s guess other than it seemed boring and repetitive and if such films were ‘cool’ I was decidedly lukewarm.

This was not my first experience of niche cinema. As a pupil at the aforementioned school, my journey led me past what was euphemistically described as a membership only gentleman’s cinema. Outside contained inside a clear Perspex case, three or four grainy black and white photo’s of scantily clad and topless women, stills from the current film. Each week boys from our school would crowd around the case. One film title stays with me, ‘On the Verge’, though I knew nothing of such things and why anyone should make a film about a strip of grass was totally beyond me back in the 1960s.

At college I was elected to the student union and sat on a committee that ran films for the benefit of the mostly male student body. I and a chap called Phil argued for French films, the height of sophistication, but in an early lesson in compromise we could only get agreement if it was shown alongside a film best described as soft pornography. Today it would probably be shown on TV at 9.00pm with barely a comment.

As a committee we had to be business minded, so we had agreed to the showing of the more obvious film first to ensure a full house, followed by the French film with subtitles. The first film shown on a reel to reel projector was met with the odd cat call, but mostly rapt attention.

A short interval allowed Phil and I to change the reels, we sat back to enjoy something more intellectually challenging. The subtitles proved necessary as within minutes the audience were in uproar and no dialogue was to be heard. A hastily convened meeting and in order to avoid the threatened riot we agreed to re-run the first film, with only two votes cast against.

Peace was duly restored and Phil and I repaired to the Student Union Bar, having learned never to make assumptions about the taste of one’s audience. We were duly removed at the next meeting.

The move to London offered films to fit most, if not all niches. I saw Hamlet performed as a body on a slab in a mortuary and more Warhol, this time in 3D at the ICA. I have since seen films with violence and nudity, with and without subtitles, but I am still to see a film about a strip of grass.