Friday, 30 March 2012

You Always Remember Your First Time

Thinking about my favourite film the other day (as detailed in an earlier blog entry), I also found myself recalling my first visit to the cinema.

This would have been when I was 4 or 5 yrs old, which places it at the fag end of the 1960s, and the cinema was in a nearby town in the North West. I know that we would have had to get in the car and driven there, which made it a big event, and that both my Mum and Dad were there (which, as my Dad worked night shifts, was remarkable in itself).

I remember thinking the cinema was huge, and not really understanding what it was (was it a giant tv? I know that the film I was coming to see had been seen - briefly - on television, on Clapperboard with Chris Kelly. Or was it Screen Test? I was an avid watcher of both. But if we were going to watch a tv, why did we have to come all this way, and what were all these other people doing there?). In my memory, we were quite close to the screen and it was huge - the size of a double decker bus, at least.

And I remember people smoking around me, my Dad probably amongst them. There was a constant haze of smoke hovering above our heads from all the nicotine being expelled, but even that was magic - not knowing the health hazards back then, it added to the feeling of being allowed into another world, a more adult world. The light from the projector cut through the smoke like a beacon.

There was something already playing when we got there - I don't remember what, probably a trailer, or a public service film, not what we had come to see. In those days, film programmes ran continuously and you could come in half way through a presentation and leave halfway through the next showing of it if you wanted; there was a constant flow of people getting up or arriving (and we complain about people texting!).

The other thing that was different back then was that you didn't just have one film... For the young ones out there, I should explain that you had the main feature and a 'B' film (often with no relationship to the one you'd come to see, often much lower budget, occasionally quite wonderful). My Mum and Dad had brought me to see Bambi as my first cinema experience - a heart warming tale of cute furry animated animals (and yes, we're ignoring the wholy traumatic 'Mother' sequence in that description) - but what I actually got was another Disney film, a live action tale called Doctor Syn, Alias The Scarecrow.

As you might guess, this was not cute and cuddly. Although made for TV originally, as part of The Wonderful World Of Disney hour, it was released over here as a fully-fledged film. Starring Patrick McGoohan, it was a tale of Smugglers outsmarting the King's Men in Olde England - and it's opening shot has stayed with me forever:

A blasted heath, windswept and dark, and the King's men searching for the smugglers they know are nearby. But there is no sign of them and eventually, frustrated by an empty landscape punctuated only by scarecrows, they give up. Once they have gone, the camera returns to the heath, and the scarecrows, one of which moves...

Yes, smugglers evading capture by dressing as farmyard furniture is a bit far fetched, but for the 4- (or 5-) year old me it had a dramatic effect. It scared me half to death. But I loved it still. I still credit that film as the reason why I have an abiding interest in and love of Horror Films, evidently imprinted from an early age. My first visit to the cinema was therefore also a formative one for me, and one which (you can tell) has stayed with me. It shows the power of film - or at least, of images - and I'm sure many of you out there have had similar experiences, even if it wasn't with your first visit.

But I have to wonder what I would have been like if Bambi had been on first...

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