1 March 2011

Double seats, dinner suits and choc ices

Last month we went to our local cinema to see The King's Speech one week and True Grit the following. As both choices were of such a high standard, you remember why you like the cinema experience so much. 

Cinecity Cinema, Beloura, Sintra - part of the Fashion Spot complex

Portuguese cinemas, like the UK ones, are incredibly popular venues and the architecture of some of the original ones is outstanding.  However, as in the UK, the independents have nearly vanished in favour of the giant 10 screen monsters and because of that, it is hard to see the independent films that are sometimes more appealing than the 'blockbuster' variety.

When I first went to the cinema in Lisbon, I used to go to a fabulous little art house cinema, Quarteto, which took you back to the very early days of basic seats, wooden floors and a bar!  The decor around the foyer was old posters, old cameras etc all adding to the atmosphere.  I used to go with a friend to the late night showing - over here it can be 23.00 or even midnight.  The cinema is now closed and in a sad and sorry state.

The iconic advertising for the cinema

The now closed Quarteto cinema in Lisbon

Another nice cinema I went to was San Jorge, which was also a theatre, and is on Avenida Liberdade in the centre of Lisbon.  Again a beautiful edifice but I seem to remember being rather cold!

The Sao Jorge cinema in central Lisbon

The first cinema I vividly remember going to as a teenager was in Whaley Bridge.  A gang of us would catch the bus from Kettleshulme to Whaley Bridge and have a great evening watching whatever was on - I don't remember us making any considered choices then.  If it was a long film we sometimes missed the last bus home which meant we had to walk - it was quite safe in those days and we were always in a gang which helped. 

Whaley Bridge cinema on the right next to Burgons, the wonderful grocer - both now long gone and possibly a supermarket

My parents preferred to go to the cinema in Stockport and we were regular attendees at the The Davenport in Stockport and, if my memory serves me right, it had a huge Wurlitzer organ which majestically rose from the bowels of the theatre with a musican frantically waving his feet across the pedals and pulling and pushing loads of buttons on the front, before slowly disappearing from view before the film started.  The scene in Private Function with Maggie Smith and Liz Smith riding the stool, always reminds me of this.

The Davenport Cinema, Stockport

When I moved to Macclesfield, I was sadly too late to visit some of the cinemas it had during the 40s and 50s, but I was a great fan of The Majestic Cinema - the only cinema I have ever been to that had double seats and a proprietor who greeted people wearing a dinner suit.  It also had a bar in my early visits but I think that was closed at a later date.  I also occasionally frequented The Picturedrome, which was less salubrious and colloquially known as 'the fleapit'.  The films used to break occasionally which led to outbreaks of fierce stamping of feet.  If we wanted to see something a bit highbrow, it was The Rex in Wilmslow.  Manchester was for the big films - Woodstock and Dr Zhivago were two I remember vividly as the cinemas were bigger and more classy than our local ones.

The old Picturedrome in Macclesfield, now looking very smart

The Rex, Wilmslow - the Creole Club was above it

The old Majestic Cinema in Macclesfield, now a bar

By the time I moved to Malmesbury, its cinema had been long closed and if you wanted to go to the cinema your choice was the Astoria in Chippenham, which I am really pleased to see is still functioning as an independent cinema; the Little Theatre in Bath for foreign language choices; or The Regal in Cirencester, now demolished I believe, forcing people to travel to Swindon for a night at the cinema.

The Astoria, Chippenham

The Little Theatre, Bath

The now demolished, Regal Cinema in Cirencester

By this time, of course, the big screens were starting to spring up all over the place and a different style of film going began.  The seats were more comfortable, the sound was better, albeit very loud and even the advertisements became more up market.  With the advent of the modern big screen night out, along came the inevitable downside - popcorn, hot dogs, drinks, pic and mix, texting and talking.  Cinema floors now seem to resemble rubbish dumps and the smells of over-sweetened popcorn and plastic hot dogs don't do it for me.  A friend once said that her enjoyment of the film was spoilt by her being unable to concentrate due to the man in front chewing a hot dog which made his ears go up and down.  When I went to the cinema in New York I was astonished at how much people ate during the film and the non-stop talking through the film - it was if they were in their own houses - very bizarre and quite spoilt what was a good film.

Long gone are the days of viewing the film through a haze of cigarette or cigar smoke, the half time choc ice that always dribbled down your front, the Kio-ora drink that everyone made rude noises with and the fun of spotting people you knew tucked away on the back row, on a date and in a double seat, or down the cheap seats if they were broke.  Trying to flee the cinema before the National Anthem came on and we all had to stand to attention.  Sometimes we were not fast enough and with bad grace, stood and mouthed the words. Many a time, my friends and I were warned by our dinner suited proprietor to behave and put our feet on the floor and stop singing the theme tune.  He used to come down the aisle, torch in hand searching out the naughty ones.  Once at the Astoria in Chippenham, an usherette reduced my  friend and I to tears, when struggling to sort out the seating for a viewing of Bridget Jones' Diary, she lost the plot and shouted at the row in front of me to "budge up and let the others sit down!" 

Going to the cinema in Portugal is great as unlike some other countries, all the films are sub-titled so unless you have a severe aversion to sub-titles, it is just like viewing in the UK.  Quite often the film will have an interval which I found odd to begin with, especially as there seemed to be an arbitrary decision on where to make the break.  The cinema seating is comfortable and it is usually around 6 euros for a film, with a Monday being cheaper.  The films change on a Friday and sometimes we get films before the UK does.  I have seen many films, good and bad since I moved here, and plenty of them in portuguese when I used to take children to the latest Disney.  Now watching a Pixar or a Disney in portuguese is challenging to say the least, but some were better than others depending on the quality of actor used to dub it into portugues.  If it is a children's film, you often find you are given the option of VO (original voice) or VP (portuguese), however you can find they fib and it is only in portuguese!!!  Also sub titles can be a source of amusement as your portuguese improves and you can tell whether the person doing the sub titles is as proficient in English as they seem to think they are.  Some mis-translations are side splitting.

The cinemas closest to me are all within shopping centres.  My nearest one is at Beloura on the outskirts of Sintra and the foyer is full of large statues of famous figures from films to amuse the filmgoer.  It also has popcorn - small, medium and large or in my terms, - large, huge and monstrous with the same for drinks.  Pic and mix is a favourite too.  Another bonus is, that some of the cinemas still have the truly awful advertisements for local shops or takeaways - takes you right back to the ones we used to roar with laughter at in the old days.

Cinecity Foyer, Beloura, Sintra

If you go to an early showing here, you have to buy your ticket from the popcorn counter as the box office is closed.  The first showing is usually lunchtime in most of the cinema complexes.  One good thing is that there are tiny lights alongside the aisle which is very helpful in the pitch blackness.  Children have the option of a booster seat too which you pick up from just inside the door of the screening room.  Comes in handy as a footrest for midgets like myself.  The other thing which makes it pleasurable for me is the fact that now modern cinemas have the seats graduated at a slightly better level than the old days, I don't get caught with the 'big' person in front of me which meant I was leaning left and right to see the screen.  The best bonus is if you go to the lunchtime session you usually find you are practically alone in the room - The King's Speech was watched with one other lady and the following week, she was there plus a couple for True Grit.  There was no munching, texting or slurping to be heard - sheer bliss and to be recommended.

I am sad though that Almocageme's cinema is no longer a working cinema because I think going there in the old days must have been wonderful judging by the lovely building.

The old cinema in Almocageme

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