Secrets of the Cinema

The Drifters – Saturday Night At The Movies

I love a random turn of events, and that’s exactly what I got last night.

My beau Sam and his Dad decided to take me to the cinema last night to watch us a bit o’ Shakespeare in the form of Ralph Fienne’s latest flick Coriolanus.

When we arrived, however, we were met by a very anxious-looking man who apologetically informed us half of the film hadn’t arrived, meaning the show would very much not be going on.

Not to be easily distracted from a lovely evening, we instead enjoyed a free beverage or two and some Pringles (it’s not quite Shakespeare but you can make the crisps into beaks and do killer Donald Duck impressions which is almost as good).

Then, the apologetic man – who we later found out was called Steve – asked whether we’d like to see the projection room instead. Never one to miss an opportunity to geek it up, I insisted we took him up on this offer.

The projection room was small but meticulously organised. The reels were huge and still looked like they did in The Artist (so, kind of a billion years ago), and Steve explained how the movies arrive in parts and have to be spliced together.

He then showed us backstage (the cinema doubles as a theatre), the dressing rooms, the props, and told us that the theatre has a ghost of a man who died in a fire before the cinema was built, and he has seen him more than once walking up and down backstage. He calls his name sometimes.  “I got the feeling he was a nice ghost, though,” Steve explains, although that’s probably just to ease the terrified look on the faces of Sam and I. We’re such pansies.

Steve is a man who clearly loves his job. He told me he’s been doing it for 20 years – only part-time, as he has a regular ‘day job’ too – but he works from 7am-11pm without a break every weekend.
Why? “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

He explained his passion surrounds the technology of getting the film into action. He loves the big projectors, he loves how much hard work it is, and he loves the giant old film reels.

“I’d love to get some real classics to show people like Mary Poppins and North by Northwest, but you can’t get many films in this format these days. They’ve fazing it out to introduce everything in a digital format instead,” he explains. I asked whether this would mean his beloved technology – and the reason he loves his job – would soon be obsolete. He nods.

“All of these machines – they were worth £80,000 when we bought them, but now they’re just going to be scrapped. By next year at the latest everything will be digital.”

I asked what he thought of the digital format instead. Diplomatically, he assures me it will be far more environmentally friendly as there won’t be tons of film reels rotting away in waste sites any more. And it will take about half the work and half the time to get a film ready for screening.

But he will miss the technology he has learned to master so efficiently. “I’m being really positive though. I’m being brave and moving with the times.”

Steve was a thoroughly decent chap (he certainly didn’t have to give us the delightful impromptu tour), and I really feel sorry that he is going to suffer at the hands of our ever-increasing technological wizardry. But I’m grateful to his kindness because I’m pretty sure that is going to be my one and only chance to see a real old-fashioned projector in action.

I’m a total geek, but my sweet little experience left me torn between my love for the old and the new. Obviously I didn’t get to watch it and so this next judgement sounds a bit daft, but I’ve a feeling that experience beat Coriolanus hands down.

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