I like to think that the seats were covered in red velvet. Perhaps they were. More likely, though, they’d been reupholstered in something more durable, something that’d withstand the Tassies stains and cigarette burns and melted Smarties that accompanied the students watching films. I’m going to go with my ‘romantic recollection’ of the two cinemas in Grahamstown when I was a student there. His Majesty’s and The Odeon. Beautiful in their worn-outedness, their slight dilapidation, even then. Now His Majesty’s is gone, burnt in a fire.
(Yes, you could smoke up on the balcony at His Majesty’s, and I may be aging, but I’m not old … this was, unbelievably, in the early 90s, not the 1950s. That wasn’t what caused the fire, though. I don’t think.)
Both cinemas, if I remember correctly, were owned by Sonny Six Fingers, who also owned the video shop (and the under-the-counter ‘X-Files’. The other two X’s presumably left out to ensure the undercoveredness of the whole operation.) They were beautiful old buildings and inside the air was thick with snippets of films and gasps of audiences (and smoke.) It was like being transported back to a time where TV didn’t exist and films had heroes who wore tuxedos. At 6 PM at The Odeon they’d show art movies – Cinema Pradiso, Delicatessen, The Big Blue.
And there’s the hint to why the sudden reminiscence of cinemas gone by. I rewatched The Big Blue yesterday. For research, of course, because for anybody who hasn’t heard me shouting it from the roof tops (read: plastering it all over Stalkbook, my blog, the neighbour’s walls), I’m going to watch Eddie Vedder play in Sicily and The Big Blue was set there and we’re, obviously, going to do some exploring on the beautiful island. So, yes, research.
Watching it (and anybody who hasn’t, do, it’s beautiful), threw me back to being a student and seeing it in that gorgeous old cinema. I watched it with my friend Gareth, after a sunny afternoon skipping a Chemistry prac in favour of friends on the beach in Kowie. We’d driven back along that oh-so-familiar windy road from Port Alfred to Grahamstown with sandy feet and salty bodies, our hair blowing in the wind on the back of a bakkie.
A quick stop for a bottle of Tassies and some (slightly stale) popcorn and we found velvet-covered (it’s my story and I’m sticking to it) seats that worked – many were lopsided, or lacked a sitting part completely – and off we went into the deepest blue seas and the perfect shores of Sicily. Sicily!
Little did I know then, as a 20-year old, that I’d be rewatching that film before heading for those shores and that the excitement and wonder that I felt then, watching a film, in that perfectly ramshackle cinema, I’d feel again, this time in triplicate – the joy and love of those perfect afternoons of my youth; the awe and wonder at the perfection of Jean-Marc Barr The Big Blue; and the anticipatory excitement of a trip to Sicily and seeing Eddie Vedder, who I’ve loved since those precise days of youthful exuberance.