The Classic, Westcliff on Sea

This is what I remember, although you can’t call it a memory.

Poster frames outside. Six frames, left to right. The two central ones are advertising ‘Now Showing’. When I try and focus on the one second from the left I can’t get a firm image in my head. It might be advertising local businesses. It’s certainly not as interesting as the others, which are advertising all sorts of coming attractions. The one furthest to the right is advertising late night shows on Fridays and Saturdays. The posters for the late shows are pretty lurid, and either scare me silly or tempt me with the forbidden depending how old I am at that particular moment. Scanners, Videodrome, Play Misty for Me, Come Play with Me, Lemon Popsicle, Confessions Of.. through to The Witches of Eastwick, Ruthless People and beyond. Movies I’m not allowed to see. By the time I’m old enough to do so, many of them will be quaint relics of another age.. So the power lies in the posters, and for me at least it always will. In the tease, not the strip. Sell the sizzle, not the steak.

Inside, the lobby smells of cigarette smoke, candy and popcorn. An assistant looks out from behind glass, dispensing little numbered tickets depending on what screen I was heading to. The assistant, who much have changed a dozen times over the years but is present in my mind as either a cheerful balding guy or a faintly disapproving middle-aged woman. They ask my age once only (Lethal Weapon 2, 1989) and the rest of the time just check smoking or non-smoking.

Screen One is downstairs. A whole bunch of memories trip over one another as I try and picture the screen. I’m sitting looking at the pillars and the cladding on the walls whilst waiting nervously to watch The Black Hole, the advertising for which both scares and intrigued me. I glance at my Scooby Doo watch and wonder how many minutes until the film starts. Scooby’s arms are the hands of the watch, and I’m getting pretty good at working out the time. Then suddenly, I’m sitting with my Mum eating Revels and watching Breakdance, whilst some kids smoke dope a couple of rows behind us. Then I’m watching Howard The Duck with my buddy Dan Rice, and we’re the only people in the screen until about a minute before the film starts.

But this film isn’t in Screen One. It’s in the smaller screen upstairs, which means walking past another ‘Coming Soon’ poster midway up the staircase. It’s for Damien: Omen II and now I’m too scared to go past it because I’m only a toddler. But somehow I manage it, and I end up in the upstairs lobby looking at a big cardboard stand for Battle Beyond The Stars which looks brilliant, and suddenly I’m a couple of years older and I’m at Saturday Morning Cinema. Screen Two is full of a hundred or so kids all about my age, and a long suffering member of staff called Uncle something is entertaining us and handing out prizes prior to the films. The films are a collection of shorts and cartoons. The main feature is called Electric Eskimo and is about 50 minutes long. There’s a serial called Chimp Mates which we see a different episode of every week, except we don’t because it’s now 5 years later and Uncle something doesn’t do the Saturday Morning Cinema anymore, and they show proper, actual films and don’t give out prizes. The only criteria is that they have to be PG, so the films aren’t always tailored to a crowd of 7-13 year olds. Thus we watch Police Academy 2. And then I’m once again too old to be going to Saturday morning cinema.

And then I’m making plans to go off to University, and I’m too busy thinking about sex and music and pubs and girls and videos to particularly worry about that little cinema down the road because I’ve, quite frankly, got a lot of other stuff on my mind. And I don’t even bother to go to the final show there in 1991.

And then I’m 36, I’m married and I’m probably as grown up as I’m ever going to get.

I’m looking at a Halfords in Westcliff that happens to be standing where some cheap little second-run cinema used to stand. I’ve stopped by because I need some antifreeze for the car engine but, for some unknown reason, I’m fighting the urge to cry.

5 Replies to “The Classic, Westcliff on Sea”

  1. Great post. The modern cinema experience just ain't what it used to be. I have fond memories of the "coming attractions" posters in various foyers of local fleapits, and always trying to best-guess the story from those few select images. Another reason why the internet has ruined some of that movie magic…

  2. You've triggered a vivid sense memory of getting to this cinema too late to get tickets to a sold out showing of The Waterbabies. Have to take you to the little theater on Henry Street next time you're in New York . . .

  3. Great post Pat. Brought back a lot of memories for me going to my local. Queuing outside on a Saturday morning only to get to the front and they turn the sign round to say "full". There follows an agonising decision. Do we stay and be at the front for the next showing guaranteeing a great seat or bugger off into town. Remember intervals and ice-cream ladies. Little 10 min shorts before the main feature. Fabulous 🙂

  4. I have similar memories of a cinema in Glasgow called 'The Toledo'. I used to ride there on my bike. It's a distant memory now…great post.

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