The local fleapit is integral to the mythology of the small town childhood. The kind of place that’s decked out in tatty red upholstered seats, holds two hundred people maximum and smells of rat droppings when the heating’s turned on. The kind of place where the films slips out of sync with the soundtrack and you have to yell to get the projectionist’s attention. The kind of place where the reels are shown in the wrong order, resulting in a sort of inadvertent William Burroughs cut up narrative effect.
My local cinema in Enniscorthy was such a place. My big brother John took me there on the back of his motorbike to see a double bill of Kingdom of the Spiders and Empire of the Ants in the late 70s. Saturday nights they ran late shows, everything from Confessions of a Window Cleaner to Easy Rider or Roger Corman specials like Pirhana and even Ferrara’s Driller Killer. 1982 to 1984 was a golden age: Mad Max, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Rambo: First Blood, Blade Runner, Evil Dead, The Terminator, Videodrome. This was our version of the Times Square movie houses much beloved by the 70s film school brats, places that showed European arthouse classics next to skin-flicks. The teenage years would have been unthinkable without it.
The old fleapit is long gone. Now there’s a sort of mini-multiplex, which I’m assuming is owned by some huge film corporation. Mostly they show children’s movies, Jennifer Aniston rom coms or the latest CGI blockbusters. The premises are big and plush but the place plays to near empty houses all week. Maybe people prefer to stay home and watch a DVD.
Last week I spoke to Will Self about the death of cinema as we knew it, a subject covered in his new book Walking To Hollywood.
“For people of our age, the screen and the group of people watching the screen was a kind of hallowed thing,” he said. “I mean, we were still at the level of cavemen huddling around the fire. But our kids have a multiplex worth of screens on their person at any given time. There’s just no way of recapturing that sense of the screen as being so iconic. I mean, maybe it’s just middle aged nostalgia, but there is something about the collective experience of things that is very powerful. What you were seeing and experiencing in a very powerful way was so at odds with the environment in which you were living and witnessing it. It was the extremity of the transformation of experience.”
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