Why bother going to the cinema?

I took my mum to the cinema to see PHILOMENA last night…

The last time we saw a film together was in 1978 when she took me to see STAR WARS for the second time. I remember chatting to an old lady on the bus on the way there and telling her how excited I was, and she tried to look sympathetic but told me she didn’t understand any of that spaceman stuff.

That wasn’t mum’s last ever visit to the flicks – not long after she saw ABBA: THE MOVIE and had a great time – but she stayed away after that. It was around this time that my dad, one of those people who has to have the latest gadget*, bought a VHS recorder. Why go to the movies when you can watch them at home? A man used to come door-to-door on our Hornsey estate with a typed, mimeographed list of films available to rent. Our first ever VHS rental was SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, and I would scan the list for more, intrigued to know what kind of movie LEMON POPSICLE could be (there were no illustrations whatsoever to give us any hints or clues). I begged dad to let us rent FLASH GORDON, only for him to point out that the film listed was actually FLESH GORDON and not entirely suitable for children (he, uh, saves the Earth from Emperor Wang’s incredible sex ray, according to the trailer)…

Things got better, of course. To the point where I have HD TV, a Blu-Ray player, 5.1 digital surround sound, Sky Movies, and Apple TV with Netflix streaming and a few hundred DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. If the robot occupation ever did become a reality, I’d be well set for the rest of my life.

But I still go to the movies. In fact, I reckon I’ve already seen more films in the cinema this year than any other. So why, when you take into consideration getting a babysitter, paying for parking and over ten quid for a ticket, do I still go to the cinema?

In short, the memories.

For example…

Seeing all the STAR WARS movies

Going to the West End for the first time with dad to see THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN. I don’t remember much about the film, but remember the bright lights of the stores and restaurants in Chinatown making a big impression.

Going on a school trip to see SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS after we did it as a school play (I was Grumpy… typecast from the start).

Watching GHOST BUSTERS on a ferry to Ireland in a storm. The ship listing heavily from side to side added considerably to the feeling of horror and unease.

Watching THE GOONIES while on a soccer exchange in California. I was horribly homesick, but this had me hooting with laughter.

Swinging on lampposts and singing the Raiders’ theme after seeing INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.

Bluffing my way into TOTAL RECALL with my best mate Tim (our first 18 movie – we were only 17… yes, shocking, I know).

Deciding to see GOODFELLAS with my A-level drama class after going to the West End to see a play, only to discover that it had closed the previous week (a great bit of planning on the part of our drama teacher). In the row in front of us were a pair of little old ladies who must have just come from the wrestling as they revelled in the film’s visceral violence while sucking on bonbons.

Bumping into Claire at a screening of ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES. We weren’t seeing each other at the time, but it’s since become “our film”… aww, stop puking at the back.

My first free preview of a movie was CASINO, hosted by Transworld, the publishers of the book. Free food and drink and a private cinema?! Nice. I could get used to this.

Taking Claire to see RESERVOIR DOGS and knowing that she was the girl for me.

Taking my young nephew to see the 1997 re-release of STAR WARS (he fell asleep).

Watching SKYFALL with the kids – their first cinema Bond movie – and seeing their little faces light up at the big screen mayhem.

And many more that I won’t bore you with now, but these are all about sharing an experience that you can’t get when sitting in your own living room. I always feel a tension when a film begins. Partly it’s “will that twat who was chatting all through the trailers continue to do so through the film?”, but it’s more to do with what kind of emotional rollercoaster is this story going to take me and my companions on today?

Going with mum last night was a shared experience. Having a drink and a chat before the film, I learned stuff about her that I never knew before. Watching the film we laughed and cried together, and I suppressed a giggle when she called the nuns “Bitches” just a little too loudly near the end.

And that’s why I go to the movies.

*An expensive habit that I’ve inherited from him big time.

A movie pilgrimage – “I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne…”

What sort of middle-aged movie dad would I be if I didn’t take the opportunity to drag the family to some remote location just because it was once featured in a film?

We’re currently holidaying with Claire’s parents in Spain and yesterday we undertook an epic pilgrimage (well, three hour drive) down to Almeria, location for so many incredible movies, not least Lawrence of Arabia, Once Upon A Time In The West, Conan The Barbarian and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.

Our primary destination for the day was Oasys – one of a handful of western theme parks in the area trading on their movie history, though this one got extra Brownie points from the kids as it was a location for the Doctor Who episode A Town Called Mercy. It was originally built for For A Few Dollars More and then The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and then the extras bought it and set it up as a theme park.

The town itself is impressive, especially if you’re a Spaghetti Western nerd like me. You can explore many of the buildings, clamber up the steps onto the landings and generally stride across the middle of town feeling like Clint Eastwood (it also helps that they play Ennio Morricone’s greatest hits through a tannoy the whole time).

Mini Hollywood, Ameria
Mini Hollywood, Ameria

There are also museums housed in a couple of the buildings. First up was a museum of cinema, which was little more than a collection of old projectors and Spanish Western posters. My favourite was the one for Y Ahora Le Llaman Aleluya (aka Deep West), in which the hero uses a machine gun disguised as a sewing machine…

Double stitch THAT, y'bastard!
Double stitch THAT, y’bastard!

The other museum was dedicated to coaches, starting with horse-drawn buggies, and fire trucks and, er, a BMW 3 series from the 80s. That made me feel old, and I questioned its value in a museum, as you could probably get one on eBay for under a grand. There was no real attempt at curation in these museums, but who cares when you have such wonders to entertain you?

At noon we joined the crowds for the first Western show of the day. I was looking forward to this as the leaflet promised that it would be performed “by actors” no less. Just in case anyone was expecting the real Hole in the Wall Gang to show up and start blowing people’s heads off. Over the distorted tannoy a recorded voice explained that “Mffrm meefle frrp villainous brothers grlgle flan frrop arrested furgle jail.” Oh, good to get all the exposition out the way, eh?

So a man was dragged to jail, his brother came to the rescue, a Sheriff fell off a balcony onto a poorly-disguised crash mat, another fella was dragged through the dirt by a horse, there was lots of shooting, and this guy…

This is still better than pretending to be a tree on the Edinburgh Fringe.
This is still better than pretending to be a tree on the Edinburgh Fringe.

… died first and spent the remainder of the show face-down in the dirt in the blistering heat. I guess he does this three times a day, six days a week. Now THAT’s acting – take that RSC!

Your basic, run-of-the-mill Mexican stand-off.
Just waiting for my Spanish Equity membership and then I can join in too!

My horse allergy started to kick in (the only thing stopping me from becoming a massive Western movie star) and so we left the Western town and explored the zoo at Oasys, an expansive collection of enclosures featuring some fairly miserable-looking animals. There were no keepers to be seen and no evidence of the kind of zoological research undertaken in UK zoos. But if you’re a fan of bored animals skulking in tiny slivers of shade to stay out of the relentless glare of the sun, then this is the place for you!

We ended the park experience by the family pool, and the kids had great fun. There are a couple of slides and a bacteria-filled jacuzzi with a sign declaring in many languages that it was strictly for adults only (it was packed with kids).

But it was in the gift shop where I made an important discovery. We knew that one of my favourite scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was shot near here, but looking it up online could only give us a vague destination. However, the gift shop had a Spanish-language book that had more detail and, more importantly, gave us the name of the beach – Playa de Monsul. We punched it into the sat-nav and hit the road.

It took about an hour to get there and the kids were getting tired. ‘Hang on,’ George said, ‘we’ve come all this way just to see a rock?’

But Emily got it, ‘I love my geeky daddy,’ she said.

The road ran out of tarmac and the sat-nav was trying to send us into neighbouring fields, but we followed the signs along 5 km of incredibly rocky road. I spent much of that drive quietly muttering ‘Don’t get a flat,’ over and over as the car rocked perilously from side to side (there is also a bus service available, but at this time we still didn’t know if we were in the right place).

We eventually came to a row of parked cars. Even now, as the sun was low in the sky, the place was busy. It’s a beautiful beach. Isolated, with gentle waves and perfect for families.

And there was the rock. We took a few photos, gazed upon it in admiration and I quoted from the film in my best Sean Connery.

"Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky..."
“Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky…”

That wasn’t enough for George, though. The rock he’d bemoaned en-route now presented him with a challenge. He climbed all the way to the top. When he returned he reported that from up there he could see “six boobies and two couples making out.”

What did we get from that extra few hours out of our day? I’m not sure. Pilgrimages are weird things. Religious folk will talk about how they feel kindred spirits in a place, I know football fans who will go out of their way to visit a stadium if they’re in a particular city, and I love to just be where films have been made. Maybe it’s that thing of wanting to step through the screen and be part of that world – surely the sign of a successful movie? – or maybe it’s knowing that every time we watch the film from now on, we can all yell “We’ve been there!” Who knows? All I know is, we went all that way and I forgot to pack a bloody umbrella…

Postscript:

After a day of western-themed activities, it was sad to come home and find that Elmore Leonard, author of many fine Westerns, had passed away. Most writers will know his ten rules for writers. If you don’t, here they are, and heed every word, they are wise and sublime.

ELMORE LEONARD’S RULES FOR WRITING

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

 

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