I cannot say for certain that the first film on the big screen I saw was at the cinema that has occupied the corner of King’s Road and Old Church Street for as long as I can remember, but I cannot think that it would have been anywhere else. This is where I believe my love of film began. And sadly, this is the place I must say goodbye to next week, because they are closing their doors. When I found out that news a month or so ago it felt like a chapter of my life was ending. Similar to the way you feel when you leave school. That place where you became who you are, no longer part of your every day.
When I tell people that I grew up at this cinema here that is no exaggeration. My mum, as well as series of godmothers and family friends, worked there up until I was in my teenage years. Even now when I go there’s a possibility that someone I call ‘Auntie’ will be taking my ticket. I remember it first as a Cannon, then a MGM, a Virgin, a UGC, and now its final incarnation as a Cineworld. I remember when the box office and kiosk were both on the ground floor, and what is now the kiosk was an actual bar. When the uniform was a brown skirt and blazer and the tickets were printed on a dot matrix printer. One of my mum’s friends would watch my sister and I as she served behind the bar. We would eat the peanuts as we waited for our mum to collect her wages. No bank transfers then. Sometimes we’d go upstairs and look over the side of the bannister on the first floor into the lobby, now that space is a second kiosk. When I was a child watching movies there used to be an usher standing in the screen selling ice-cream before the film started, I remember their names were Sue and Maria. Sue had curly blonde hair and wore glasses. Maria, with her silver hair always tied up neatly, reminded me of a kindly grandmother from a storybook.
Screen 4 – the basement, if you wanted to you could sit all by yourself in the single seat on the left, bathrooms conveniently located just outside the door. Screen 3 – take the back row on the right, that way you get the rail. Screen 2 – the bigger screen, where we used to sit on the left because that way my mum could find us if she needed to, but middle-middle is where you wanted to be. Screen 1 – the screen at the end of the corridor, middle-middle. Three Men and a Little Lady. The Woo Woo Kid – before Patrick Dempsey became McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy. Turner and Hooch. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure – that one was a little frightening. The Princess Bride. My Girl – it was the last show that day and my sister and I were the only ones in there, but we were waiting for my mum to finish her shift anyway. Who Framed Roger Rabbit on my then best friend’s seventh birthday – I still have the cinema ticket for that one somewhere. Mermaids – my first 15 rated film in the cinema, I was not 15 but it was the start of my Winona Ryder fandom.
So many memories. It is only now that I take the time to think about it that I realise how many there are, and how so much of my life was influenced by those walls. Simple things that seem unrelated, like my watching Eastenders. My mum would have Thursday and Friday off, and Thursday used to be the only day Eastenders was on so that was the show we ended up watching. Every Thursday, after Top of the Pops. We would tape Dallas – yes, on a VCR (with a plug in remote I might add), because that was on a Monday. I am not a big fan of metal staircases because of the ones that go up to the staff room. In my mind I remember them being dimly lit with water dripping between rungs. That memory is probably more influenced by a movie I saw there rather than actual reality.
Practically I understand the decision, even if there wasn’t issues with their lease. There’s another cinema a short walk away. That one’s recently added a Starbucks franchise and the screens are much larger. It is probably a better cinema, although I will never fully admit that. A rivalry again from my childhood because that cinema was originally part of a different franchise – an ABC. We didn’t go there. We just accepted that if a film we wanted to see was there we would have to wait for it to be on video to watch it. My cinema certainly doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles of 4D and leather chairs on offer in other cinemas and other chains. However, none of those will ever feel as much a part of me as this cinema came to be.
I have taken the day off work with the intention of watching as many films as I can, which given the current schedule most likely means three. Now to decide what that final film will be. It will quite likely be a choice between Logan, Kong: Skull Island, or Hidden Figures. Wolverine’s last hurrah seems fitting, and I have certainly seen many a comic book based movie here. Kong, featuring my current silver screen crush – Tom Hiddleston, and of course a Hollywood legend – the ape. Or perhaps the story of three extraordinary women whose determination brought us to the stars. I’ve already seen Hidden Figures, but it seems fitting that a movie that teaches us to see a world bigger than the one we might have imagined possible might be the last one I see there. That place where I was carried to a thousand different worlds and times.
My choice will most likely be determined by time. Aren’t most things these days? Under that roof though, in the darkness, sat in those seats, for however long that movie was on for, the rest of the world didn’t matter. You didn’t look at your phone, you might not even talk to the person sat next to you. Instead, you were carried away to wherever and whenever the screen took you.
I will miss these walls. I will miss the chance to be carried away again in this most familiar of environments. Chelsea cinema – in all of your guises, for all of the memories and the movies I thank you. Goodnight.