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Scott Begbie: When cinemas would double down to get the crowds in

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No doubt once we all start going to the cinema again, we’ll find it a bit odd to begin with.

But then, going to the cinema was an odd experience in the past, too. I don’t just mean back in the days when smoking was banned… but only on the left hand side of the auditorium. That worked.

Nor do I refer to the rather weird watered down orange drink that passed for a top-flight beverage to go with your evening’s entertainment.

And let’s quickly pass over the bizarre ads for local places. “That’s when it hit me like a cross-town bus”, said the Chicago film noir detective…  click, jump, hiss “Bar Napoli makes the finest pizza,” said the Scottish boy… click, jump, hiss “only 10 minutes from this theatre,” said the posh London boy.

 

Cue “ba-ba-ba-bababa-ba-baa-baaa-ba”.

Pearl and Dean was the soundtrack to my youth.

No, the weird thing was the way we just took it for granted when you went to the cinema it was to see two films.

Obviously, the main attraction was the “feature presentation” – sometimes with that posh London boy, again.

But they were tag-teamed with some filler film that these days would be lucky to see the light of day at the fag-end of Channel 5 on a Wednesday night.

And some of these pairings were very odd indeed.

One of my earliest memories of a double bill was on a family holiday to visit relatives in Faversham.

Grandad and I were hived off to the flicks, while everyone else went shopping. And the edifying offering put before my impressionable wee mind?

Eh, The Belles of St Trinian’s and The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery.

The Belles Of St Trinian’s – a film for all the family.

I think grandad enjoyed them on a different level to me. Slapstick and suspenders. Welcome to 60s family entertainment.

Still, on the plus side, cinemas quite often teamed up a couple of Bond films when there was a new one on the circuit. I was a bit bored by Thunderball (who wasn’t) but riveted by You Only Live Twice… One of my earliest memories is me as a six-year-old shouting ‘good shot James’ – in a posh London boy accent – at regular intervals.

You Only Live Twice … “good shot, James”.

It was only when the credits came up, I realised my entire family had moved to the row behind, so people didn’t think I was with them. Thanks for that.

Growing up there were other pairings of franchise films that were a huge draw. Back-to-back Planet Of The Apes with Escape From Planet Of The Apes and just enough time in between to get some watery orange juice.

Monkey business in Planet Of The Apes.

Some double bills were, frankly, bizarre. No doubt, this was due to cinemas taking any copies of films they could get their hands on. But A Man Called Horse teamed up with The Omega Man?

A Man Called Horse … not a science fiction film.

One was a rather grizzly western for its day with Richard Harris pretending he could ride a horse … the other was an uber-70s science fiction film about vampires at the end of the world with Charlton Heston in a weird jabot thing. Not to sure who the target audience was in that double header.

The Omega Man… not a Western.

Double bills started to peter out during the 80s, but not before delivering one of the most depressing nights of my life.

I was on a journalism course back when I was a young trainee reporter and dispatched to Cardiff to learn the finer points of editing. I arrived on Sunday night for a Monday start, so thought I would kill time at the cinema. One local flea pit was offering the edifying double bill of As Naked As The Wind From The Sea and Groupies. Eh, no.

The local, classier, cinema had something to fill the time nicely. A double bill of Midnight Express and Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver with Robert De Niro… “You talkin’ to me?” There’s no one else to talk to in Cardiff on a Sunday night.

Aye, nothing like lifting your spirits in a strange city where you know no one than two of the bleakest and darkest works committed to celluloid. There is a special place in hell for whoever put those two together. Mind you, that’s probably where he came up with the idea.

Midnight Express… escapism, but not in a good way.

The last time I saw a double bill (before all these let’s-watch-all-of-Lord-Of-The-Rings-in-a-oner nights) was when Chariots of Fire came out.

I went in expecting to be thrilled by all the boys running along the sand of St Andrews to the soaring Vangelis score.

Chariots of Fire was a marathon not a sprint.

I came out thinking it was over-egged tosh. Mainly because I had been blown away by the supporting film, a wee thing called Breaking Away.

Starring a very young Dennis Quaid, it’s an unassuming coming-of-age piece set in small town America, building up to a climactic cycling race that will have you on the edge of your seat. Funny, moving, uplifting… everything that the bloated Chariots of Fire wasn’t.

Breaking Away… an film that really was edge-of-the-seat stuff.

Double bills are a thing of the past now, a relic of the days when projectors could stall, sound could go out of sync and you went home smelling of fags.

But cinema is here to stay… and I’m looking forward to getting back in to them. Even without the watery orange.

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