Tuesday 22 November 2011

Zombie Wicker Women - (FrightFest 2011 Part 4 in 3D)

Ladies and gentlemen, the first few lines of this blog are in 2D – however you will still need your 3D glasses...
It’s a fine crisp Saturday morning as yours truly strolls with some purpose and several egg McMuffins in his stomach toward the Empire cinema for the third and final day (for this young(ish) handsome (*cough*) attendee at least) of FrightFest 2011. I am scheduled to go troll hunting at 11am. 

Monday 10 October 2011

A Quantum (Leap) of Solace - (FrightFest 2011 Part 3)

Warning: Once again, this blog contains explicit name-dropping. Those of a nervous celebrity disposition are advised to read the following with extreme caution...
FrightFest Day 2 (Friday).
I finally succumb to Twitter and get myself an account. I’m persuaded by the promise that a selection of fellow FrightFester's tweets will be projected onto the Empire’s screen between films. (Like that ever happened). I peruse through some of the suggestions for celebrities to follow (on Twitter you understand, not literally – I haven’t resorted to actual stalking – at least not yet). Amongst the obvious suspects I initially select; Stephen Fry, Sarah Silverman, William Shatner etc, etc, there is Jonathan Ross, or @wossy if you prefer.  Anyways, I choose to follow Mr Ross and his morning tweet pops up:
“Good morning. It’s unpleasant weather in London. I am glad I’m not a fox”
Without a moment’s thought I reply:
“@wossy You should get yourself down to FrightFest sir. Weather proof fun!”   
And think no more of it. Then shortly after, I receive a notification on my iphone: “jonathan ross (@wossy) replied to one of your Tweets!”
“we are going tonight!!”
I’m stunned. Me, a novice at this Twittering lark and here I am bantering with Jonathan Ross (ok, so one tweet doesn’t exactly constitute ‘bantering’, but be fair, it’s still a fine start to my Tweeting career).
The first film on that damp and overcast Friday morning was about to start (‘Rogue River’) so like all good FrightFesters I switched off my phone and proceeded into the auditorium for the first of my frightful films...
At this point I should mention that if you are curious as to what my thoughts were on the films I saw (and yes, I did actually spend most of the 3 days watching films – not stalking celebrities – honest), I will post my mini-reviews in a future blog.
But for now you re-join me dear reader some 4 films later in the day. It’s shortly before 7pm and yours truly is mingling with intent once more in the Empire’s busy foyer. And then I spot him, my old Twitter buddy Jonathan Ross, making his way through the foyer! Quick as a flash I intercept @wossy and introduce myself as the guy who twittered him this morning about FrightFest. Half-expecting a blank response at best, or perhaps at worst a two-word reply beginning with the letter ‘f’ I’m genuinely surprised when he says “I know, and I tweeted you back!” This most certainly warrants a photo, and Jonathan duly obliges. Huzzah!      

Twitter ye not - it's @rossy!

Now Jonathan must be here to watch the world premiere of ‘The Glass Man’ starring the very wonderful Andy Nyman. Andy is already giving interviews for the press in the foyer but I am distracted by a flurry of activity out of the corner of my eye. This flurry consists of none other than Scott (‘Quantum Leap’, ‘Lord of Illusions’, and ‘Enterprise’) Bakula. It’s too hustley and bustley to begin to manoeuvre my way over to him, in fact it would have taken (wait for it) a quantum leap to get to him (stop you hysterical fool my sides are just splitting I hear you cry!). So let’s instead jump-cut to the end of ‘The Glass Man’. Amid much applause the wonderful Andy Nyman, sorry the very wonderful Andy Nyman, takes to the stage in front of the vast Empire screen and proceeds in his humble and unassuming way to undertake a Q and A with the audience. Being a great admirer of Mr Nyman naturally I am keen to hear what he has to say about his remarkable performance. But then again Scott Bakula’s in the audience so like a bat out of hell I shoot out of my seat and charge toward the foyer (Fickle – me? I really have no idea what you mean...).
No sign of Bakula.
I can only conclude he must have left his seat in the circle before the end credits in order to avoid fans and autograph hunters descending on him. I have every sympathy for the poor chap – they can be awfully persistent and intrusive you know. So I return to the wonderfully cavernous Empire 1 where the very wonderful Andy Nyman is in mid flow waxing lyrical about the role and...well I’ll just take one more look out in the foyer because you never know and fortune favours the brave and all that...
Still no sign of Bakula.
Scott Bakula (oh ye of little faith)
The snidely ungrateful blighter has scarpered. Not a thought for either his fans or those patient unassuming autograph hunters. I’m still fuming as I make my way back (yet again) into Screen 1 and as I see the very wonderful Andy Nyman is now signing autographs at the front of the stalls (see Mr Bakula – that’s a sign of real class) I produce my little autograph book and Sharpie pen, check my camera, and walk straight into Scott Bakula.
A photo is duly taken, and I attempt to make my way toward the front of the auditorium when I am forced yet again to stop in my tracks and have a photo taken with Saul (‘Warehouse 13’ and so much more) Rubinek. I tell you it was a nightmare. And then it dawns on me that Andy and Scott are both about to perform in Saul’s play ‘Terrible Advice’ here is London, it all fits. Right, Andy Nyman, no more interruptions. Well, only one, Don Warrington (or as I remember him, Philip from ‘Rising Damp’) smile please! Right, finally, I present the (and I honestly do mean this) very wonderful Andy Nyman with my as yet unused autograph book and ask him if he would kindly be the first to sign it. He seems genuinely touched, and as we exchange pleasantries the by now inevitable photo is duly taken.  
Andy Nyman (VERY wonderful)

Then I grab both Scott Bakula’s and Saul Rubinek’s autographs (both very amenable I might add) and consider the evening to have been a roaring success!

To be continued...        

Monday 5 September 2011

Yes Prime Minister - I'm off to Frightfest! (FrightFest 2011 Part 2).

WARNING: this particular entry contains frequent and explicit examples of name-dropping. If you are easily offended by shameless gratuitous references to celebs (albeit mostly from the horror genre) then please read on at your own discretion knowing you have been duly warned...
Alastair McGowan (not a Mexican Director / Producer)
So, having failed miserably to acquire Diana Rigg’s autograph (last blog entry dear reader, do try and keep up), and having spent far too long hobnobbing with Alastair McGowan I trudged back to my hotel on Leicester Square. On route I completely ignore that fine English thespian Simon Williams, currently playing Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes, Prime Minister in the West End, who passes me by not once but twice, by the theatre, clearly hoping I will whip out my autograph book and Sharpie and offer them to him. But what Mr Williams doesn’t realise is, this little autograph book of mine is brand new and is yet to garner a single paw print from anyone. And, (no offence Simon) but I wanted my little sky-blue book’s first time to be with someone a bit, well, special. Thinking about it though, Simon might very well have been waiting for Ms Rigg rather than hoping to be recognised, in which case I’m very sorry I didn’t approach you Mr Williams, and I sincerely hope Alastair McGowan didn’t keep you too long (he does go on a bit).
Ditching the unsigned stills of Ms. Rigg from ‘Theatre of Blood’ back at the hotel I proceed with purpose and renewed optimism around the perimeter of the building site that is currently Leicester Square toward the Empire Cinema, home to FrightFest for the next five days. My agenda is simple: to watch fifteen horror films in the next three days and nights; and to get my photo taken with as many celebs as possible along the way. Tonight Matthew I will be a celeb stalking tart. Now when I say celebs I mean primarily people of some note within the horror genre itself, but of course anyone remotely recognisable from further afield will also gain my polite and courteous attention.
Joe Lynch - sober(ish)
Upon entering the grand foyer of the Empire I immediately hone in on my first two targets, both of which are pre-planned (on my part that is not on theirs) They are the very amenable and very approachable young American directors Mr Joe Lynch and Mr Adam Green. Both are regulars at FrightFest and have become an integral part of the proceedings with their jolly japes and bawdy across-the-pond humorous quips – oh they really are quite special. Joe happily signs my DVD cover of ‘Wrong Turn 2: Dead End’ with the touchingly sweet phrase: ‘Three-finger loves you ‘and whilst posing with me for a photo I pay this fine filmmaker due respect and deference and explain I’m getting his autograph now whilst he’s still sober and his handwriting is vaguely legible (He concurs wholeheartedly with my strategy).  

Adam Green, the director of such chuckle some cinematic capers as: ‘Hatchet’ and its startlingly original titled sequel: ‘Hatchet 2’ is presented with a DVD cover from ‘Hatchet’ for scribblation for which he very kindly inscribes: ‘Victor Crowley lives’ and convivially acquiesces to a photographic commemoration with yours truly of this momentous occasion. Huzzah! Two autos in the bag before the Fest has even started!
Mr Adam Green - jolly chap.
Now my keen Spidey-sense is scanning the foyer for my next rendezvous; a outstandinglycreative visionary Mexican director / producer who to date has given us such extraordinary works as ‘Cronos’, ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and well I could go on, but seeing as the bugger didn’t show up I won’t waste any more words on this clearly overrated upstart.
Neil Marshall, director of the ferociously fabulous werewolf flick ‘Dog Soldiers’ and ‘The Descent’ (the scariest film about potholing ever) appears in my line of vision, but he’s deep in conversation with his other half, and as I grabbed him for a photo last year I turn instead toward the entrance to Screen 1 and the first film of FrightFest 2011; ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ (produced by some relatively unknown Mexican bloke...)   

To be continued...

Monday 29 August 2011

Emma Peel and the case of the fake moustache (FrightFest 2011 Part 1)

WARNING: The following blog contains frequent and intense use of alliteration that some readers may find upsetting. You are therefore strongly advised to reasonably refrain from reading this recent review. Thank you.   
As I start to type this dear reader, FrightFest 2011 will be well into its fourth day of five of fearsome fantastic fare at the Empire Leicester Square. I attended this festival of ferocious filmic fun for three days this year. During this gloriously, gory, gallows-humoured laden time I gorged myself on numerous new horrendously horrible highlights heralding from the UK and the rest of the planet. 

From its modest beginnings back in 2000 this festival has grown in both size and reputation and is now the biggest event of its kind in the UK. From the relatively humble beginnings at the Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square, to the Odeon West End on the square where it in turn progressed from the 500 seater screen to its 800 seat bigger brother downstairs and then ultimately in 2009 moving into the prestigious Empire Leicester Square. It cannot be underestimated what a delicious delight it is for both the eyes and ears to be able to watch horror films on such a magnificent expanse of screen (25 ft high and 60ft wide) in pin-sharp definition with booming sound. How so dear reader? Well my friend, in comparison, back in the grim and dark 80’s we were sat at home on our sofas screwing up our eyes (literally) trying to discern what (allegedly) diabolical moral challenging shenanigans were being portrayed through the wobbly tracking, snowy grain, garbled squelchy sound and squashed pan and scanned images from our fifth-generation dodgy VHS copies of the so-called ‘video nasties’.  Of course nowadays the internet can provide the dedicated horror aficionado with downloads of practically anything – legal or otherwise (or so I’m led to believe dear reader), but nothing compares with the collective experience of sharing FrightFest’s delightfully dreadful cinematic pleasures with an auditorium crammed full of fellow fear fan boys and girls, together with a generous sprinkling of actors, directors, producers and technicians thrown in for good measure. Unless, that is, they constantly nip to the toilets during the film, instigating unwelcome impromptu Mexican waves from their unfortunate row sharing neighbours...
Sorry, I seem to have somewhat ruined the mood with that last sentence. Please ignore, and let me give you a flavour of the FrightFest experience this year. Rest assured I will not dwell on the content of the actual films I saw, we are after all still getting to know each other, and I’m yet to ascertain whether you have the stomach for such delights. So take my hand, as our FrightFest tour this year starts not in any cinema but instead in Boots the Chemist...
Thursday 25th (afternoon).
The opening film of FrightFest 2011 was due to start at 6.30pm. My plan beforehand was to catch Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg (DBE) (or The Avengers’ Emma Peel as she’s perhaps best known, or James Bond’s only wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and acquire her autograph and - with a bit of luck and a favourable wind - a photo with her. No, not in Boots, but rather at the stage door of the Garrick Theatre in the West End where she is currently performing in Pygmalion. Really, what DO you take me for, some kind of stalker who lurks around pharmaceutical practices in the vague hope a celebrity will come in to collect their Night Nurse and Nurofen? I’m truly shocked, really I am

However, I will accept your apology, a misunderstanding and we shall speak no more of it. Now where was I? Ah yes, I was in Boots to print out a couple of images of Ms. Rigg for her to hopefully sign; one with her in disguise as a policeman looking resplendent in full British bobby uniform and sporting a nice bushy fake moustache, and the other as a chef looking equally resplendent in a Persil white disguise with chef’s hat and another fake moustache as previously referred to.  Oh ha ha, that’s really very amusing, but in answer to your absolutely hilarious japing, I most certainly do not have a ‘thing’ for actresses wearing fake moustaches. It just so happens that these images were taken from one of my all-time favourite films: ‘Theatre of Blood’, in which Ms. Rigg plays the daughter of demented Shakespearian thespian Edward Lionheart, played by the legendary Vincent Price. Her role requires her to adopt several disguises in order to aid her father’s gruesome revenge on the theatre critics who foolishly (and fatally) fail to award him the Critic’s Circle award.
Right, now that’s cleared up, we can get back to the matter in hand. I am shuffling along Piccadilly carrying a shoulder bag the contents of which include, but are in no way restricted to, a clutch of Sharpie pens in four different colours, autograph book, camera, mints (well you never know do you) and a travel bag, also slung over my shoulder, containing clothing and essential supplies to last for three days of FrightFest. The sweat is dripping into my eyes as I barge my way through the steady stream of tourists and sharp suited business people, nervously checking my watch every twenty-seven seconds hoping I would get there by 1.30pm. The matinee performance was at 2.30pm and I figured an hour would be sufficient to catch Ms. Rigg on her way in to the theatre. I reached the Garrick at 1.35pm and prepared the photos, pens and camera for action. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a small cluster of ladies by the stage door and I went to join my fellow like minded autograph seekers. One of them appeared to be holding a Pygmalion leaflet which in turn very much appeared to be sporting a flourish of handwritten black ink.
I’d missed Diana Rigg by about five minutes.
She was very nice apparently, and signed the leaflet as the lady hadn’t got anything else apparently, but she’d really been waiting for Alistair McGowan you see, apparently, so why would she have specially selected freshly printed 7x5 images from one of Ms. Rigg’s lesser know films which had been chosen for it’s unusual character and for which it was hoped, would amuse Ms Rigg who would hopefully find it refreshing not to be presented with yet another Emma Peel image, or worse a free leaflet from the foyer of the play she was currently performing in.
Naturally I was a tad disappointed by this rather unfortunate turn of events, but fortune favours the brave as they say (whoever they are), and after checking with the ticket office I resolved to return to the Garrick’s stage door at 4.30pm, a full fifteen minutes before the performance was due to finish, and hope for better luck.
Now dear reader, here’s a little fact you may not be aware of. No reason at all why you should after all, but as we’re hopefully becoming friends you and I, let me share this tiny crumb of information with you. Diana Rigg didn't come out between matinee and evening performances as she liked a little snooze between shows.
Alastair McGowan told me that at 5pm.
Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg DBE (20 July 1938 – 10 September 2020)
To be continued next time...

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Time for Tubby bye bye's...

I used to be given chocolate bars from a rotund cinema usherette nicknamed ‘Tubby’.
There, I’ve said it, and now that it’s out in the open I feel much much better, so can we move on now please? Look it was a long time ago, I was probably only 2 or 3, and it’s not like my parents weren’t with me at the time. Must I explain myself further? Ok, for the sake of closure, ‘Tubby’ was a barrel-tummied man with brylcreemed thinning hair and a kindly disposition, who worked at the Biograph cinema in Wilton Road in Victoria. Often, when passing by with my parents (we lived literally around the corner in Gillingham Street) I would regularly be presented with a bar of confectionery whilst ma and pa would converse with my chubby chocolate benefactor. About what they would chat I couldn’t say, I was probably far too busy munching on my cocoa gift to care. What became of ‘Tubby’ (his real name will remain a mystery for ever more I’m afraid), I know not, but the cinema he presided in front of was demolished in August 1983. I don’t recall ever actually entering that particular palace of delights; however that may not have been such a bad thing given that it went on to become an establishment largely frequented by men looking to entertain each other rather than by whatever happened to be flickering across the silver screen before them. (Apparently the queue for the gent’s toilets was consistently long throughout most screenings). Did ‘Tubby’ still preside over the Biograph during it’s rather notorious final few years – I really cannot say – but to me he will always have a special place in my early childhood memories as ‘Tubby’ the chocolate giver.
As for the cinema he ushered for, the site is now a rather swanky, utterly soulless hotel. Incidentally, the B+B my parents ran just around the corner in Gillingham Street, The Albion, would itself go on to acquire a modicum of notoriety itself thanks to a certain ex-politician / popular author and his (alleged) dalliance with a lady of easily purchased virtue. (Of course this took place well after we’d left this establishment you understand; we would never have tolerated such lurid behaviour on our watch.)
Right dear reader, I must leave you here as I’m off to FrightFest at the Empire Leicester Square tomorrow to gorge myself (not on chocolate from rotund usherettes) but instead on the latest horror genre offerings from around the world. We shall resume these little soirees as soon as I return. I think for out next outing we’ll head up to the West End and see what’s playing there....
Till then, take care, and remember – never, ever, accept sweets from strangers.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Pasta á la Noddy

Again, so soon? People will talk you know... Oh well let them! Don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to this film seeing as I’m a HUGE Slade fan. No that’s not a miss-print, you did just read that I am a HUGE Slade fan – or at least I WAS (caps lock getting a good workout isn't it?) back in January of 1975. Okay, so to continue with the awkward expositional opening paragraph if you don’t mind, today it’s the turn of the Metropole Cinema in Victoria Street to provide our cinematic pleasure in the form of ‘Slade in Flame' aka: 'Flame’, a gritty little gem of a film charting the rise and fall of a fictional rock band played by the very real glam rockers from Wolverhampton known as Slade. For some reason my mum and I were both into Slade at that time – why – well, as it was January that would have meant we’d just experienced: “It’s CHRISTMAAAAS!”  (poetic licence is employed with this Slade gag – ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ by Slade which features Noddy Holder’s iconic rasping battle cry to turkeys up and down Britain was actually released in Dec 1973 but I couldn’t resist it so sue me). Actually, I didn’t really mean that so please read that as please don’t sue me. Talk about treading on egg-shells, you readers are so pedantic. Now I’ve gone and lost my original thread – you see you wind me up and this is the result – a blog that rambles even more than the previous ones. 
Quick re-cap: January 1975 (it must be January as ‘Flame’ was released in that month and mum and I would unquestionably (don’t even think about it) unquestionably I say – have gone to see it as soon as it opened. In fact, probably straight after she’d treated me to sausage, chips and baked beans in the café across the road in Victoria Station: smashing! Now, seeing as I was only 6 years old at the time, my finely hued critical faculties which I possess today (along with my deep humility dearest reader) were yet to blossom and as a result my favourite scene in ‘Flame’ involved the character Stoker (a.k.a. Noddy-‘It’s Xmaaas’- Holder) having to slam shut a van door twice as it fails to close fully on his first attempt.  There you are, now I fully expect you all to rush out and erm, well not exactly rush out more like rush to your laptops or smart phones and order a copy from one of the popular online retailers (no product placement here my friend – all references to Kia-Ora orange juice, Rowntree’s Wine Gums and Butterkist popcorn are merely used for illustrative purposes and are in no way an attempt by me to influence in any way my bloggerees* confectionary purchasing habits). So is that all I have to say on ‘Flame’ I hear you mutter disappointedly at your monitor whilst absent mindedly kicking your cat/dog/rabbit/goldfish/Shetland pony in utter frustration and disgust? (In case anyone from the RSPCA is reading – that was also a joke, blimey, everything I type seems to be getting me into hot water tonight – my fluttering heart can’t take much more you know, I’m fragile). Well actually I’ve re-watched ‘Flame’ since then and I found it to be a gritty, cynical and thoroughly entertaining slice of 70’s rock cinema which is well worth a butchers (if only to see that absolutely hilarious moment with the van door).
Ok, so here comes the slightly tear-stained nostalgic moment so prevalent in these blogs of mine where I wistfully reflect on what has now become of the cinema to which we’ve just spent 2 very happy hours together in. It’s now an ASK pasta restaurant**, ironic considering the last ever film shown there was a Bette Davis picture called ‘Burnt Offerings’ (Here we go again – I just want to make it crystal clear that in no way am I implying that the ASK restaurant on Victoria Street nor any other branch of this fine chain of reasonably priced pasta /pizza restaurants has ever, or will ever, serve cuisine which is in any way over-cooked in the slightest).
If you do ever eat in this particular branch of the aforementioned pasta/pizza chain (no product placement here see) you will be struck by the magnificent grand high ceiling and glass frontage which used to allow light into the cafe above the cinema’s original entrance. What more could any Slade fan want?
So, here we are again. I hoped you enjoyed ‘Flame’, wasn’t that bit with the door...anyway, we’ll have to leave the Victoria area of London for our next cinematic soiree as I never had the pleasure of frequenting the Classic (also in Victoria Street, and now funnily enough also a pasta/pizza chain restaurant: Bella Italia). I have no idea what the last film ever shown there was, although I do recall a former chambermaid employed by my mum at the B + B we used to run in Victoria saying she’d gone to see ‘Grease’ there a ridiculous amount of times. (I just want to make it crystal clear that in no way am I implying that the Bella Italia restaurant on Victoria Street nor any other branch of this fine chain of reasonably priced pasta /pizza restaurants has ever, or will ever, serve cuisine which is in any way over-greased nor that any of their kitchens have an inordinate amount of grease prevalent in their cooking areas).
Till next we meet, take care and remind me to tell you about ‘Tubby’ at the Biograph.

*Bloggerees - I hereby claim copyright of this term (for what it's worth - which is probably nada).

**Sadly, the entire block on Victoria Street has since been completely demolished to make way for a monolithic Minecraft-like slab of office concrete. (Progress...?)

Sunday 19 June 2011

Tristan Fry is not my dad.

Ah, there you are, I’m so glad you came back! Have you been queuing long? Anyway here we are outside the New Victoria cinema in Wilton Road SW1 - but then you knew that already otherwise you’d be around the corner at the Metropole, or the Biograph, or maybe even the Cartoon Cinema in the station (see previous blog if you’re just joining the back of the queue).
So we’re here today to see a double-bill of ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’ coupled with a film whose title, along with the entirety of the plot, sadly escapes me. All I can remember about this second feature is that there was a scene set in a large dusty yard involving numerous cars circling around and around (accompanied by large clouds of dust). Title anyone? Answers on a postcard please and the first correct one pulled from the hat gets a free box of popcorn (or a packet of toffee Butterkist, Butterkist, rah rah rah...you remember how that old cinema advert went don’t you – or did I imagine it in the haze of some Orange Kia-Ora*and wine gum-fuelled hallucination?).
But I digress, it’s a habit of mine and one I’m afraid you’ll just have to get used to if we are going to remain friends. Anyway it’s 1973, I’m 5 years old, and I’m admiring the cheap ring on my finger which my mum has just bought me from Woolworths (aka ‘Woolies) just along the road. I have no idea why I wanted this cheap piece of costume jewellery, so please don’t read anything whatsoever into this nugget of detail. In fact this tiny insignificant piece of metal is destined to play no further part in this blog as I drop it down between the seats in the circle of the New Victoria before the house lights dimmed that day whereby it disappears forever – a bit like Woolworths. Now this particular Woolworths closed some years before the ‘great collapse’ towards the end of 2008. The pain that was felt across the country when the lights finally went out in every remaining store was nothing compared to the hammer blow to the heart when our local branch shut up shop forever. Practically everything I’d ever owned in those formative years had come from the shelves of that fine establishment. (For years after its closure I looked upon the Edgware Road with pure jealousy as it still had its Woolies - back then it also boasted the largest cinema screen in the country at its delta on Marble Arch). Today on Edgware Road where once there was Woolworths there’s now a Waitrose and the once magnificent Odeon Marble Arch is now a giant rabbit warren made up of 5 hutches. There’s an Argos and a Wetherspoon’s public house on the site of MY Woolies these days, whilst the New Victoria is now the Apollo Victoria Theatre and is home to the musical ‘Wicked’ (which in my opinion it most certainly isn’t - to use the vernacular of the young people of today). 
So there I am watching in awe as Ray Harryhausen’s wonderful stop-motion creatures battle with Sinbad (whilst no doubt secretly wishing the creatures would win – you see the signs were there already), and mourning the loss of my Woolies ring, in the splendour of the New Victoria cinema. ‘My precious...’
The New Victoria stopped being a cinema on 1st November 1975 with the last show comprising a double bill of ‘Legend of the Werewolf’ and ‘Vampire Circus’ (a pretty darn good programme if you ask me and one I’d have swapped my best Pocketeer** to sneak into).
Since that afternoon of Sinbad and lost jewellery I can recall only two further visits to the New Victoria since its retirement from cinematic delights. Once to see ‘Wicked’ the musical, and before that sometime around 1980 to see the classical/rock hybrid band Sky give a matinee performance for schoolchildren. It was my first ever concert and I loved everything about it, well nearly everything, I did object to this older boy from another school constantly whispering to me that Sky’s drummer was my dad. 
The man on the far right is NOT my father.
Admittedly we did both sport large rimmed glasses nestling on fat chubby cheeks framed by a large mop of unruly hair. But apart from that me and Tristan Fry (drums, percussion and occasional trumpet) had absolutely nothing else in common that afternoon (apart from maybe both of us having beaming grins on our faces: Tristan’s from the sheer joy of beating the crap out of that drum kit during the solo from ‘Hotta’, and me from watching him do so with such infectious enthusiasm).
Now, as we exit the cinema and head back out onto Victoria Street, (or Vauxhall Bridge Road if both exits are open), what shall we go and see together next? On yes, how about that new film opening at the Metropole...?
 (*Please be advised that Kia Ora is too orangery for crows, it’s just for me and my dog.)
(**Pocketeers were hand-held mechanical games of skill which pre-dated video games.)

Sunday 1 May 2011

Ming the Merciless

Welcome dear reader to my first posting on my blog of eternal stench (an alternative title I’d seriously considered at one time). In fact, I found choosing a title for my blog far harder than composing these inane disconnected ramblings of gibberish and nonsense you see swimming before your tired straining eyes. Allow me if you will to share with you some of the alternative titles I’d originally considered for my blog - it might give you a flavour of what you could be letting yourself in for should you choose to subscribe to future postings – or, on the other hand (and far more likely) it will convince you beyond all reasonable doubt to click ‘exit’ and instead continuing browsing for pictures of cats that look like Hitler.

Potential blog titles:
1.   Popcorn and wonderment (conveying the sensory essence of the cinema experience). Rejected for being too pretentious, cuddly, and vaguely sounding like a phrase from a poor-man’s Ray Bradbury.

2.   CINEMAyhem (clever huh? See what I did there – combined the word cinema with ‘mayhem’ to reflect the fact that most of my favourite films involve mayhem of one sort or another). Rejected for sounding too gimmicky and for giving potential subscribers the impression that I can’t control the CAPS lock on the LAPtop.

3.   Crazy Ralph’s unheeded warnings of doom (a reference to the original first two instalments in the 'Friday the 13th' franchise - a 'guilty pleasure' amongst many that I'll be sharing with you in time...

4.    Invitations to the curious (with apologies to M.R. James for plagiarising his ghost story entitled ‘A warning to the curious’. Again a reference to all things scary, spooky, frightful and a tad pretentious too me thinks (or thought).

Ok that’s enough: you get the picture I’m hoping? There were of course countless other variations using words such as: ‘fearful’, ‘fright’, ‘monsters’, ‘maniacs’ and quite frankly more over-used examples of alliteration than you could shake a short slightly severed silver stick at. But I finally settled on ‘Fleapits and Picture Palaces’ in order to convey my fondness and unabashed nostalgia for the many cinemas that I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of frequenting from an early (and clearly formative) age, and the (alliteration alert!) memorable moments of mayhem and magic I’ve witnessed within them. 

So come with me dear reader if you will on a journey – not into the ‘Twilight Zone’ (at least not yet anyway), but back in time to the very early 70’s (that’s the 1970’s smarty pants and I’ll make the jokes ok?) where, with the help of the Ghost of Christmas Past, we can see a small boy standing on the concourse of Victoria railway station by platform 19 with his father...

The boy is slightly podgy, with a big round face, a kindly disposition, but a rather unfortunate hair cut architecturally inspired by a pudding bowl. The gentleman by his side has curly hair threatening to turn grey beyond the high English forehead, a sharpish nose, an equally kindly disposition and a very well spoken tone as he requests for one adult and one child to be admitted to the cinema below.

Both these photographs were taken in 1933 when this marvellous palace of delights was called the Victoria Station News Theatre. By the time my dad and I came along it's name had changed to the Victoria Station Cartoon Cinema (but I suspect little else had changed).So here you go; this is where my love of cinema started. That’s also where my love of Kia-Ora orange squash and Rowntree’s Fruit Gums began. It’s probably also where my tooth decay started to form as well come to think of it. 

But from these humble beginnings and all that...in this case the (very) humble special effects which helped Flash Gordon’s spaceship escape the evil monochrome clutches of Ming the Merciless in just the nick of time each week using a technique I’ve since come to understand as ‘a bit of string and a sparkler’ - eat your heart out ILM, chew on that CGI, screen it BFI – sorry got carried away there for a moment with abbreviationitis (LOL). Where was I? Oh yes, after Buster Crabbe (always thought that name sounded vaguely cruel to our crustacean friends) had shown the merciless Ming no, erm, well mercy I guess it would invariably be time for Mr Stan Laurel and Mr Oliver Hardy to bounder onto the silver screen and cause me to have tears of laughter streaming down my cheekbones where they would begin to collect in a pool on the weird square-shaped top of the Kia-Ora orange container. A news trailer would temporarily dampen my mood before another instalment of my favourite animated wild-life documentary series exploring the timeless struggle between feline predator and rodent prey - more commonly referred to in popular culture as Tom and Jerry – would get those slightly podgy cheeks smiling once again.

Now just before we leave that delightful little palace of delights and that 3-4 year old boy with his mouth full of gums (disease?) I must just share with you one single solitary sliver of a memory, like a shard of glass from Superman’s ice-palace decanter of knowledge, which for some reason has remained with me till this day – no doubt at the expense of something useful. I recall watching a documentary one afternoon above platform 19, in colour and up to date for the time, about a man travelling across America chasing migrating birds or something (it was nearly 40 years ago dear reader), and basically he lived on cold baked beans eaten straight from the can. Sorry, I’ve now got this image of Marlon Brando’s head hovering in a greenish tint in front of a caped Christopher Reeve in his Arctic ice palace: “My son, if you are to live on this planet called Earth I must impart to you knowledge of a man who drives across America chasing birds and eating baked beans (see separate shard of glass marked:’ protein pulses in tomato sauce’) from the can that contains them”. Anyway (this is beginning to feel like one of those meandering Ronnie Corbett monologues), when the film showed us a close-up of the aforementioned gentleman scooping up a great spoonful of Heinz’s 57 varieties into his bearded-framed mouth, two boys about three rows behind my father and I both exclaimed “uuurgh!” in unison. I have no doubt this was a genuine instantaneous response with no hint of pre-meditated audience disturbance intent, but the chubby usherette promptly threw them out. 
Clearly I was shocked by this miscarriage of justice and would no doubt have stood up and defended my fellow cinema-goers were it not for the fact that my gob was probably glued shut with an adhesive layer of wine gum – and I was only about 3 and I’m not sure my opinion would have held all that much sway.

The Victoria Station Cartoon Cinema closed on 27th August 1981 in order for the Victoria Place shopping plaza to be built. I reckon if you visit Boots today you just might be standing on the site of the old cinema.

Until next time then dear reader, the house lights have come up, so please exit the auditorium and I'll see you here sometime soon for the next instalment