I ought to perhaps begin by declaring that I’ve not actually been to the cinema for some years – in fact it’s so long since that I can’t actually remember what we saw. You might wonder therefore, what on earth qualifies me to be blogging about the flicks now – and it would be a fair question. Well, here’s the thing: driving home from work last week I listened to an item on Radio Four’s Front Row about the emergence of new snacks on sale in cinema foyers. Along with the ubiquitous popcorn, Haribo, crisps and soft drinks (all dispensed at just under the price of gold) it seems that film buffs are to be provided with the additional choice of fresh food such as sushi and noodles.
It’s true of course that new foods might not catch on – indeed until the banks start lending more readily and attendees can more easily take out a second mortgage I suspect they will be out of most people’s financial reach anyway. Selling snack foods in cinemas originally came about in the United States in an economic downturn – in order to entice punters to continue attending, the price of admission was drastically cut, which in turn ate into theatre-owners’ profits (pun intended). To counter this, they began offering food for sale and popcorn in particular was, well, cheaper than chips to buy in and made for a huge profit margin when selling on. Only time will tell whether the viewing public will favour potato gnocchi, baby artichokes and black olives over a tub of salted popcorn and a diet coke.
My own relationship with the cinema began aged just three when my parents took me to see Star Wars in 1977 – I recall little of the film that first time round, but lots about the magic of the dimming lights in the ceiling (ours at home were either on or off), the curtains which opened (and closed) seemingly by themselves and my first taste of Opal Fruits (now long since gone). It was a magical room where lighting and drapes – familiar to me in the domestic setting behaved in new and exciting ways (oh, and there was a screen with stuff going on with space ships too).
In my teens I discovered the pleasure of attending with friends. Most weeks we could be found in the neo-gothic “Unit Four” cinema in Blackburn. The building itself, with its castellated spires and sweeping arches was out of place in the modern shopping precinct – indeed the fabric of the place was often more interesting than the programme itself. Over the course of my two years in the sixth form we watched many and varied films, enjoying all but one (Last of the Mohicans) which we left around half way through.
For me, the cinema is no longer the place of anticipation and excitement that it once was. Now I prefer the comfort and privacy of home to the hard-backed chairs and cramped leg room of the stalls. It’s true, it lacks the “pa pa pa pa pa pa pa pa papapa” of the Pearl and Dean ad’ but you can’t have everything. Perhaps this explains my wilderness years of non-attendance of late – but, on a rare visit to Blackburn in the summer of last year, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness when I noticed that Unit Four was closed and abandoned. Who knows, if it had just had a little booth selling steamed langoustine with ravioli and a spicy consommé things could have been so different.