A View From the Stalls, May 2016

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

I’m not sure what precipitated my nostalgic urge, maybe it was my entry into a new decade or maybe it was CFS showing Blade Runner as the penultimate film of the season.

My memories seem to be inextricably linked not only to the film but also to my film going companion, which over the last 60 years amounts to a lot of friends and a lot of films.

My earliest memory was going with my mum to see the latest Norman Wisdom film back in 1959.  I suppose that would be The Square Peg at the Clifton Picture House in York.  We would sit there in the dark watching the clowning of Norman Pipkin and my mother had to drag me out of the cinema because I always wanted to see it again, which I had worked out was possible on a continual screening.  ‘We’ve seen this bit’ she would say in the face of my adamant denial.

I wasn’t too much older, when I was taken to visit my Aunt in Pickering.  My cousin was aged 17 at the time and he and his girlfriend obviously thought that they would try to experience the domestic bliss of married life by taking yours truly to the Castle Cinema.  They may have bitten off more than they could chew when I demanded to sit between them and a hold each of their hands throughout Walt Disney’s Pinocchio.  Regardless of this my cousin married his girlfriend though I note I was never taken out to the cinema by them again.

My independence grew as the 1960s got under way and came the glorious day when I was allowed to go to the cinema without an adult.  Oh the freedom of not having to sit far away from the screen and the speakers at my mother’s insistence, in order to protect our young eyes and ears.  The Guns of Navarone was the film of choice and  three friends and I were to make the expedition to the Odeon Cinema.  However with great rights came great responsibilities and so it was I had to take my younger brother who was about 5 or 6 at the time.  We sat on the front row right next to a speaker to test my mother’s theory to max.  However I was forced to take my brother out when he fell asleep during the blitz scene as the bombs fell and his snores proved too distracting for my friends.

1973 saw the arrival of The Exorcist at our local ABC cinema and as a young man about town this would provide me with the perfect chat up line.  So my friend John and I donned our best suits and liberally doused in the great smell of Brut, prepared to offer a manly shoulder to some trembling damsels in distress.  We carefully selected our seats in front of two young ladies and in the time before the film commenced, turned around and began to engage them in conversation.  Our steely nerves clearly enamoured the women and we were beginning to make plans for after the film.  Halfway through the film we heard one of the objects of our affection announce that she was going to be sick and being the gentlemen that we were…….. we legged it, conscious that there were plenty more fish in the sea but it would cost a fortune in dry cleaning.

Come 1982 I had met the girl I was to marry and what better way to woo a girl than take her to the cinema to watch a sci fi movie. Blade Runner was the film of choice and though she protested to the contrary I noted that she never came to another film of that genre in the ensuing 34 years.  Furthermore I sat alone at the Elgiva this time despite issuing the requisite invitation to my beloved.

In 1993 I had very much more sophisticated taste which is why we drove with friends to the Cineworld multiplex in Uxbridge to watch Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing.  To my eternal shame I spent the entire journey throwing a tantrum and banging on about how Keanu Reeves and ruined Shakespeare forever because he spoke it not like poetry and more like he was reading a telephone directory.  I banged on so much that it was notable that our friends never suggested another trip to the cinema.

By 1994 I realised that it was better to check out the reviews before inviting someone to the cinema and so recalling my mother’s love of comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral was an obvious choice.  Mother, now in her 70s, looked forward to the film that I waxed lyrical about as we drove to the Cressex at Wycombe.  I was grateful to be engulfed by the darkness as the first scene was five minutes consisting of nothing but the F word and later wished I could have done a runner as the sex scene in the cupboard unfolded.  ‘Is that what they call a RomCom?’ asked my mother quietly.

On another occasion we took an elderly friend to the cinema in Richmond to see Brokeback Mountain, but post film it was noticeable that in the restaurant afterwards our conversation was solely about the beautiful Australian scenery and the big skies.

But it was watching Berbarian Sound Studio with my friend Ed that really did it.  This film had a limited distribution but as it was Mark Kermode’s film of the year I persuaded Ed that we should buy the dvd and watch it at his flat.  Ed did his utmost to create the cinema ethos with the large 75 inch tv screen and the room plunged into darkness.  Both of us are obsessive adherents to the film goer’s code of conduct, so we watched the film in complete silence.  At the end of the film the lights came on and we prepared to discuss it.  I waxed lyrical about the film, the depth, the nuance and Toby Jones performance, the denouement until I became aware that Ed was not joining in.  ‘The most boring pretentious twaddle’ was his summary and another cinema companion bit the dust.

Which I guess is my way of apologising, as shortly I will be helping the rest of the committee to select films for our next season and I very much hope that you will join me in watching them. Though to be honest I will completely understand if you don’t.

Michael Rowan