Inauguration of Pleasure Dome : ‘The Star and Shadow’
My favourite cinema, 'The Star and Shadow', is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights. Its clientele, though fairly large, consists mostly of 'regulars' who occupy the same seat for every screening and go there for conversation as much as for the films. If you are asked why you favour a particular cinema, it would seem natural to put the films first, but the thing that most appears to me about 'The Star and Shadow' is what people call its 'atmosphere…' Admirers of George Orwell may recognise the above paragraph - it's the opening of his classic 1946 essay 'The Moon Under Water' (in which he describes his ideal imaginary pub) rejigged by myself in accordance with the theme of the publication which you currently hold in your hand. 'The Star and Shadow' does sound more like a pub than a cinema, of course - especially as the name doesn't make any astrological sense, unless said 'star' is the nearest one, aka the sun. I'm guessing that the 'star' here is a human one of the showbiz variety - like the brassy trouper who features on the painted sign outside that semi- (but not quite disreputable) boozer 'The Star' on the bottom section of Westgate Road, opposite what has recently become the Carling Academy, and was previously the Gala Bingo (boo!) and the 'Majestic Ballrooms'. Before that, it was a cinema: 'The New Westgate' was opened in 1927, on the site of what had been the 'Picture House' - which burned down in 1918. But this isn't a place to dwell on cinemas burning down and closing down. There are plenty of buildings in Newcastle that used to be cinemas. Now we have a cinema that used to be a building. One, brief, furtive look back should be enough: I saw my first film at CineSide (aka The Side Cinema) on November 11th 2001. It was Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game from 1939. While fine, the picture didn't match up to its uber-lofty critical status - even more disappointing were other lukewarm Side 'classics' like Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (Nov 01), Fellini's 8 1/2 (May 02); Wilder's The Lost Weekend (Nov 02); and Rossellini's Germany Year Zero (May 03). But the point wasn't that the films were only so-so - it was the fact that Side Cinema gave me the chance to see them on a big(ish), local(ish) screen, and decide for myself. And there were just as many times that a picture I saw there justified or wildly exceeded expectations: the legendary tequila-soaked screening of Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (May 03); William Burroughs (disappearing) in Anthony Balch's short Towers Open Fire shown as part of the legendary red-wine-soaked 'beat' evening (Jun 02); Hal Ashby's Harold & Maude (Dec 02); Peter Bogdanovich's Targets (Mar 04); Stan Brakhage's Dog Star Man, projected in eerie (near-)total silence in Dec 04; Mervyn Le Roy and Busby Berkeley's euphoric Gold Diggers of 1933 (May 02); Albert Finney's Charlie Bubbles (Nov 03) and, the last film I saw there, John Farrow's Where Danger Lives, a cracking little thriller from 1950 that I knew nothing about until I saw it in the Side programme for November 2005.
'The Star and Shadow' has a lot to live up to: but if Side was any guide, part of the fun will be discovering weird and unlikely stuff in a weird and unlikely setting. And hopefully the organisers will continue to be open to audience suggestions for their programming. Me, I'm dreaming of Limite, Mario Peixoto's silent Brazilian classic from 1931. And that, when I settle down in my comfortable 'regular' seat, my enjoyment isn't imperilled by any 'drunks and rowdies'. Or maybe just one or two: 'where danger lives,' and all that…
23rd February 2006