Lately I have enjoyed going to the cinema more often than I have done for years. In these days of extensive video libraries and pay-tv, who really needs to? But it must be said that there are some films that just need to be seen on the big screen.
As a kid, it was quite a ritual during our school holidays for my younger sister and I to have a trip to the flicks. I dare say Mum went along with the idea to get us out from underfoot for a while, particularly as she still had two younger children to look out for.
Back then, we had just the one cinema in my home town, Bendigo. When I say one, I do not mean one complex with the standard cluster of small theatres in them that we see these days, but a single building, a single theatre, a single, monster screen. The Golden Plaza was a remnant of the golden years of cinemas before the television revolution killed so many of them off. Bendigo had at one time supported a number of cinemas but The Plaza was the only survivor.
This was a cavernous place. Ornate gilt-decorated staircases writhed up either side of the actual theatre entrance, leading to the luxury of the upstairs seating. Luxury was a relative term as I do not seem to remember much difference between upstairs and downstairs.
An attendant was resplendent in a green felt uniform with gold braid decoration, busy patrolling the place, his flashlight ready to stab out into the darkness to reveal troublemakers, or worse, a pair of teenagers engaged in a bit of sly snogging.
My sister and I sometimes managed to con Mum out of the extra couple of bob-forty cents each from memory- for us to be able to sit upstairs. Being the conniving little sods that we were, and it was probably my idea to begin with, we bought the cheaper seats downstairs and spent the difference on junk at the concession stand. Of course any lollies we obtained by that subterfuge had to be well and truly scoffed down before meeting Mum again afterwards.
Going to the flicks was a real experience back then, to be savoured, even though the fold-down seats were hard and not especially comfortable. People respected the unwritten rules. There was no talking. Rustling of chip bags etc was kept to a minimum. And of course there were no bloody mobile phones.
Today, the norm seems to be at least one burk per session who forgets to turn the phone off. Even worse are those idiots who decide to answer it. I've seen it happen – an effwit answering the phone and having a conversation on it during the bloody film. There is constant rustling and crinkly of bags. The bigger the audience, then the greater the chance of getting some whisperers who don't let up for the entire length of the film.
As I go to the flicks now, it is in much more comfortable seating. I can decide for myself whether to have a feed of overpriced snacks (or sneak my own in). If I am cunning, I go to mid-afternoon screenings (an advantage of being pensioned off and thrown on the scrapheap early) when there are very few in the audience and you could be all but alone to enjoy the visual feast. Yet somehow, it all still fails to capture that faded elegance and grandeur that I knew thirty-five or so years ago.
I still miss it.