A Broadway Treat

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by Patrick O'Connor

It used to be such a simple affair going to the pictures or the flicks as we used to call it.

Hand over a few coins, grab some popcorn from the small kiosk and sit through a support feature before the main event.

Back in those days –  I’m talking about the late 50s, early 60s here –  there was a huge selection of cinemas to go to. Grand names such as Regal, Alexandra, Classic and Gaumont.

The one within walking distance from me was called the Cavendish and it is there that my love of film began.

Saturday morning matinées for kids, what an adventure that was...

A varied programme introduced us to the delights of the cowboy, Hopalong Cassidy, the sci-fi hero, Flash Gordon, comedy duo, Abbot and Costello and the canine capers of Rin Tin Tin.

But what made the matinées even more of a treat was the atmosphere. Noisy, unruly, chaotic but in the main innocent fun.

Okay you occasionally inflated your crisp bag to produce a loud bang that startled your neighbour and if you were fortunate to find a seat on the front row of the upper tier then ice cream ‘bombs’ on the poor unfortunates below produced juvenile giggles.

All this bad behaviour before we’d even seen our first James Cagney gangster film!

Western films were a particular favourite, the joy of emulating the galloping chases making it a very physical experience. Booing loudly when the villains – usually clad in black – appeared on the scene also exercised junior vocal chords.

Happy, happy days which led me to relish my trips to the flicks, especially as my tastes matured and I marveled at the delights of offerings such as Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago.

The cinema experience has changed so much since then, especially since the introduction of the multiplexes.

Now the cinema goer has a multitude of choices from the vast kiosks – an array of consumables for them to nibble, chew or suck, much to the annoyance of everyone around them endeavouring to listen to the dialogue.

Years ago the term 'blockbuster' used to come along only every now and then and the product was much more deserving of the accolade.

Nowadays they seem to be ten-a-penny. Perversely as the quantity has risen, the quality has fallen. Even more perverse is the fact that the general public attend in their thousands, thus encouraging the film-makers to churn out more of the same.

I recently suffered – purely for the sake of this article I must point out – the agony of sitting through a showing at a local multiplex of Hancock, a massive summer hit starring ‘A’ list Hollywood star Will Smith.

Before the film started, I had to sit through a depressing array of items including adverts for a poker club, a skydiving company, film quizzes, telesales jobs, and reminders to turn off your mobile. It set the tone.

Hancock is described as a reluctant superhero who can fly, has superhuman strength and appears to be immortal. Unfortunately he is also an unwashed, unpleasant alcoholic. However things pick up when he saves the life of a PR executive who decides to give him a makeover. There is a sub-plot involving the executive’s wife but basically that is it.

Smith was quoted as saying: “We tried to break genre and create something that was different.”

My opinion, for what it is worth, is that the film was dire, cliché-ridden drivel with a plot full of holes and improbabilities.

Smith, the star of hits such as Independence Day, Men In Black, I, Robot and I Am Legend, is very much a one-trick pony with a limited acting style.

He sneered and grunted his way through the early part of the film but gradually, under the influence of the PR man, evolved into the usual smooth, all-American guy.

Apparently the film had a 150 million dollar production budget so every now and then instead of words, the director just filled in with chases and explosions - anything that prevented the audience from actually thinking.

Reports suggest that Hancock took 66 million dollars during its first weekend in the United States. It is Smith’s eighth 100 million dollar film in a row and his fifth film to open at No.1 in the US over the fourth of July weekend.

At the time of writing it had grossed an estimated $371,318,933 worldwide. And the most depressing thing is that the film’s ending left open the possibility of Hancock 2,3,4 ...!

A few days later I took myself off to the Broadway Cinema in the fashionable district of Hockley in Nottingham.

This renowned independent cinema has four screens, one of the rooms being designed by the acclaimed Nottingham-born fashion designer Sir Paul Smith.

The Broadway does show some mainstream films but is a haven for lovers of European and world cinema.

July’s schedule included films from France, North Africa, Germany and Australia.

And coming up are offerings from France, Argentina, Japan, Brazil, and a lesbian and gay film festival which includes the intriguingly titled Otto: Or Up With Dead People, a film based in Berlin about Otto; believe it or not, a ‘gay zombie facing an existential crisis.”

I went to see Summer Hours or to give it its French title L’Heure D’Ete, mainly on the grounds that it featured the fabulous Juliette Binoche.

It starts in a grand French country house where Binoche’s character, her two brothers and their families gather to celebrate the 75th birthday of their mother Helene.

The house is full of the treasured possessions of Helene’s late uncle, a well-known artist.

L’Heure D’Ete examines what happens when Helene later dies and how her children come to terms with whether to sell the house and its’ treasures.

Family relationships, the value of possessions, the role of museums, coping with bereavement, all are covered in a quiet, understated way.

Nothing much happens in this film – there are no explosions, physical or emotional. It just meanders along in a gentle way but you get to understand and explore how people behave.

You become engrossed in their lives, their fears and their hopes. It is a remarkable film which left me fully enthralled. And hopefully the other seven people watching!

You see, despite the Broadway’s splendid contribution to foreign cinema, we British do seem to have an aversion to sub-titles.

We have an aversion to learning other languages too, so it's probably not that surprising. (Mind you, it’s difficult when there are so many for us to learn! You’re lucky – you only have to master English!!).

Much more depressing is that like our cousins across the Atlantic we seem more than eager to wallow in films that do little for the soul.

So what’s the answer? There is, of course, room for art house, foreign and blockbuster films. But let’s not forget quality and integrity. Satisfying the lowest common denominator is not the only route.

In the meantime I will continue to spread the word and support independent cinema.

Now then, what time does that film about the gay zombie in Berlin start .