Buried Treasure

Prog1Prog2

 

Facebook followers will have seen this already, but last week while removing the old worn out floor from screen two, previously the balcony in the single screen days, we found an old programme from November 1941. Quite a thrill. Not so much because of it’s age, I have some that are older, but because it’s been sitting under there all those years, waiting to be discovered.

It also comes from a time when cinema was a very important part of life in the Britain. This was a dark time, it was in November 1941 the Ark Royal was sunk off Gibraltar and the Nazi attack on Russia was in full flight. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was a few weeks away, finally bringing the United States into the war.

I wonder who was it that dropped the programme? Someone local, someone who still lives in the town, or someone who went off to war to die? We’ll never know, but holding it in my hand this week, particularly in light of the V.E day celebrations, it feels like a direct physical connection with that far off, yet still vivid time in our history.

It’s a minor piece of ephemera of course, but it’s a wonderful window on an era when cinema wasn’t just the place to see newsreel footage, it was also a vital form of escapism. The ability of cinema to transport you from your own life and it’s troubles, the delicious vicariousness of the big screen was at it’s most essential during the grim times of war.

How incredibly exotic Down Argentine Way must have appeared, in glorious three strip Technicolor. A colour process that made ladies lips glow an irresistible scarlet and the impossible glamour of a Buenos Aires nightclub, so far from bomb ravaged southern England, come vividly to life.

Remember, no T.V then, no constant barrage of entertainment round the clock. To go shopping for the meagre rations the people of Britain lived on at the time and stop off to watch a couple of hours of handsome Don Ameche  making love to sweetheart Betty Grable must have been not merely diverting, but positively invigorating. Unless it had the opposite effect of merely underlining the desperate situation we were in. I doubt it though, cinema rarely seems to work in that way.

Some of the films are lost in time, some of them were old favourites returning as second features, such as Ronald Coleman’s Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond in Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back.

Because in those days, you got two films for the price of one. There’s another British favourite in the cockney detective played by Gordon Harker, Inspector Hornleigh, another colourful musical,  Tin Pan Alley with Susan Hayward, actually retitled for UK cinemas from it’s US title With a Song in My Heart.

The plot of Public Deb No 1 has to be one of the most bizarre listed on IMDB.  “When a waiter gives a society girl a public spanking for attending a Communist rally, her soup-tycoon uncle makes the waiter a vice-president of his company.” As elevator pitches go, you have to say it’s original.

The eagle eyed among you will notice the second feature for that show is Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise. Inconceivable as a portrayal of a US Chinese today, nevertheless the detective series was incredibly popular during the thirties and forties. Sydney Toler would play him in no less than 11 Charlie Chan films, proving that Hollywood’s propensity to repetition is certainly nothing new.

The best film that month, by some margin, is The Mark of Zorro. A 24 carat classic, the swashbuckling story of  a young 19th century aristocrat, Don Diego Vega, who leads a double life in Mexican California. By day the foppish son of wealthy land owners, by night as El  Zorro, the righter of wrongs and the champion of the common people.

A top drawer 20th Century Fox production, produced by the great Daryll F Zanuck himself and directed by Robert Mamoulian, it really is rip roaring, sword fighting fun, not least because of the tremendous central performance by Tyrone Power and a fantastic moustache twirling baddie played by the inimitable Basil Rathbone. If you’ve never seen it then I urge you to seek it out, it beats the pants off the Antonio Banderas version and invents the dual identity concept copied by Batman all those years later.


You may also notice we weren’t open Sundays then either, in fact it was my father who finally started opening Sundays in the mid sixties. Also the concept of continuous performances is something almost impossible to describe to people today, the idea that you came in at any point and could sit round until the point you arrived. Very strange, but there’s another blog post in that.

It’s almost impossible to imagine us showing The Mark of Zorro as a run of the mill thing, being the classic it is, but we did. That’s what I find one of the most affecting things about such an innocuous looking piece of cardboard, I have a direct line back to that time as the person looking after the cinema now and programming the films. The man listed on the front as proprietor, P V Reynolds, is the previous incumbent to us and he took it from the original owner.

It also illustrates how relentlessly the old girl has sat at the top of the hill presenting the world in all it’s glory to the people of Uckfield and it’s surrounding towns and villages. Through the good times and, as then, through the bad, sometimes taken for granted but more often treasured by the local community.

So as I look at this thing that has survived, like both Britain and The Picture House, against all the odds, if it’s not to grand a thing to say, I feel just a little of the weight of history, and I feel proud.

Off we go again.

Grubs up.

Grubs up.

Ereiamjh. (Name the film for a bonus point.) I have emerged blinking into the sunlight, a full six months after making what turned out to be the monumental decision to acquire the restaurant over the road.

Having run restaurants before I can’t imagine why I didn’t think me and my family’s life wouldn’t be turned upside down.

Half a year down the road we have started to build something quite groovy over there. Inevitably not everyone agrees, but that’s the nature of business. Most people though, seem to think we are doing a good job.

What Tansy, my wife, and I want to do is make this part of the high street a genuine destination for the complete night out. Dinner, movie, me talking bollocks. What more could you possibly want?

Anyhoo, enough of the propaganda, brain washing marketing tosh. I’m back in the land of the living, older, wiser and recovering from plantar fasciitis. That’s a bad foot to you.

Six months on my feet every night did it in. It’s getting better now though, thank you. Our new restaurant manager, Gary, is doing a fine job, which means I can go back to doing what I do best, sitting around cooking up more plans to improve our lovely cinema.

Which also means the refurb we started in 2014 can now continue. Screen two has now closed and will emerge in six weeks as dead sexy as the other two theatres we finished last year. Increased legroom, those lovely seats and the best picture and sound around.

I have to say I’m so proud of the screen one and three. They have turned out so well. Screen one particularly is a marvel, with the larger screen and 7.1 sound. I sometimes just go in there and sit and look. Is that a bit weird?

Screen One Done 2

Screen One earlier today.

 

Inevitably the restaurant has sucked up a lot of the resources we were going to spend on the foyer, but we will still be tarting that up. New bar/kiosk, groovy new decor, that sort of thing. All being well we should be finished by the middle of the summer. Then I’m going to have a lie down.

Anyway, I’m back, and as belligerent as ever.

I’ll post more refurb pictures as we go.

Kev. X

Refurb Update

The old girl is undergoing a facelift.

The old girl is undergoing a facelift.

Work is well underway, colours picked out and the new seats are apparently in a container on their way through the Suez canal. Given how it looks, it seems impossible that screen one will be finished around October half term, but hopefully it will.

The Facebook page is proving very popular and gives a nice timeline of the work so far, it’s also a chance for people to interact and give their opinions about what’s going on.

Pile of Seats!

Pile of Seats!

First to come up were the seats. My boy Joe and his mates toiled all night and did a great job, while I slept soundly in my bed. It’s good to be the king.

Notice just how Coca Cola stained the carpet had become, and this was only cleaned about six weeks before we started. The new seats have cup holders which should reduce that problem.

Screen comes down.

Screen comes down.

Then it was time for Powell & Co to pop in and take the screen and frame down. I would have done it, but would have probably killed myself and everybody else in the room. The speakers have gone into storage to avoid putting a foot through them.

IMG_2872

All the timber surrounding the stage is out.

Old stage area now almost gone.

IMG_2904

Screen and staging gone, floor coming out.

Cleared and ready to take up the floor.

IMG_2914

Joists revealed. Weird.

IMG_2900

Looking house right.

Taking the screen and stage out revealed the old colour scheme from when I was a kid and it was all one big (ish) cinema.

Sadly I have no pictures of the single screen auditorium. We will be on the hunt for them next year as we prepare for the 2016 centenary celebrations.

Annotated-Building-Site!

Echoes of versions past.

With floor right out, many of the original features were revealed. Remember the screen was on the wall to the right of the picture in the single screen days.
I posted this annotated picture on our Facebook page.

IMG_3038

Joanna repository.

This is a close up of the well where the piano went during the silent days, which has been hidden under the floor for 35 years.

IMG_3030

Extra wallage.

We’e had problems since the advent of turbo nutter six channel digital sound with breakthrough between screen one and two, which is actually the old balcony.

This new, incredibly dense (and expensive!) second wall between the theatres will eliminate most of those problems. I hope.

IMG_3051

Door.

So the old entrance to screen one is now blocked by the extra wall. As part of the larger plan a new corridor will serve all the screens and the toilets, the new door into screen one off the existing corridor is the start of that process.

IMG_3083

Scissor brothers.

The soundproof wall is now finished and the chaps make good the last remaining gap. This is the boxed in area that will house the new curtain and masking tracks.

IMG_3084

At last.

Now the new, all stepped, groovy floor is finally going in. You can see that the back row will be quite a bit higher than before from the outline of the old one!

 

Meanwhile, outside…

.IMG_3081

Redecorating and new roof tiles on the turret.  Also awaiting a replacement for the gnarled and rotten old flag pole.

Sunday 12th October sees the closure of screen three and the work on the new air conditioning begins.

So far so good, and by the first week in November we will have two refurbished screens out of three.

Good job I’ve got a full head of hair, For the moment.

Punch Drunk Love

tiff_logo1

 

In non refurbishment related news, I’ve just returned from my first visit to the Toronto International Film Festival. I know that probably looks like a dereliction of duty, given the chaos we’re currently in, but don’t worry I left the place in capable hands.

Toronto seemed like a really groovy place, sadly I didn’t get to see much of it. I sat through 26 films in 6 days. Most people seem horrified at the idea, but for me it was hog heaven. My natural habitat, the inside of a cinema.

Believe me when I tell you, I watched some of these films so you don’t have to and there’s no chance of them ever playing. Sadly the current climate of fear around posting negative comments about studio films prevents me from naming them. They’re watching.

What I can tell you is to look out for a few titles that are so far up our street, they’ve put down an offer on a house in Ridgewood and enrolled the kids at Harlands.

Among that group are The Imitation Game in which Benedict Cumberbatch gives a moving performance as Enigma code breaker Alan Turing ably supported by Keira Knightley and Charles Dance. If it doesn’t quite face up to the way Britain treated Turing, it’s still an affecting and hugely entertaining piece of work.

Another Oscar baiting turn is given by Eddie Redmayne as Professor Stephen Hawking in the very neatly packaged The Theory of Everything. He really does inhabit the part and looks eerily like Hawking all through the picture. Both Theory and Imitation game are 3-4 hankie films, so come prepared.

The really big one for us though is Mr Turner, Mike Leigh’s beautiful rendition of landscape painter JMW Turner. It features a towering, sensitive and utterly convincing central performance by Timothy Spall who was rightly lauded at Cannes, where he picked up the best actor prize. An Oscar nom is a certainty.

Whiplash is great fun , the story of a music student who dreams of becoming one of the great jazz drummers. He encounters the worlds toughest teacher played wonderfully by J.K Simmons and comes to learn you should be careful what you wish for.

Honourable mentions for Nightcrawler, featuring a bug eyed emaciated Jake Gyllenhaal as a sociopathic, ambulance chasing video news gatherer. Foxcatcher is a strange and uncomfortable film with Steve Carell and St Vincent is tremendously entertaining, not least because we get to watch Bill Murray do what Bill Murray does best for 90 minutes.

One of my particular favourites  was Peter Strickland’s latest exercise in 70’s nostalgia The Duke of Burgundy. I can’t see it being a huge commercial hit, but those who seek it out will be rewarded with a unique tale of a testing lesbian relationship set in an unspecified time and an unspecified place that looks like a Silverkrin hairspray commercial from 1974. It’s amazingly entertaining, even if you don’t fully appreciate the references to 70’s European exploitation cinema. It stars Borgen favourite Sidse Babett Knudsen.

All these films should be released over the next 3 or 4 months. Lucky us. So despite lack of tourist based activity, a very successful trip. And we sat next to Adam Sandler in the pub. I didn’t tell him about how his films are banned in my cinema.

Next year I’ll try and hit 30 films, and make an effort to go up the CN Tower.

 

Here goes then, point of no return approaches.

Screen One earlier today.

Screen One earlier today.

 

Tonight (August 28th 2014) we close the number one screen and start ripping out the seats. At this point, there’s no going back. I’m spending ½ million pounds, not much if you say it quickly. Actually it is quite a lot, I’ll still be paying it back when I peg out probably.

It’s been a long time coming this refurbishment, mainly due to a combination of indecision and health and safety gone mad stuff. I reckon it was much easier building Ely cathedral, so you had to hang from rickety wooden scaffolding and a few surfs died in the process, but anyone who’s had a nice picnic on the lawn surely agrees that’s a small price to pay.

The work will be in two phases. Phase one, starting tonight, involves the complete refurbishment of screens one and three. Screen one is being utterly gutted, floor out and screen coming down. This will expose the dividing wall between screen one and two, where we have the worst sound proofing problems.

When we converted to two screens in 1977, creaky old mono sound barely got to the back row, let alone through a wall into another room, however, with multi-channel turbo nutter digital sound it needs sorting out. Two noisy films don’t cause too much of a problem, but if Thor is banging his hammer in one and Judi Dench is having a quiet cup of tea in the other the rumbling in the background sounds like a distant war.

To fix this everything is coming off the front wall of screen one and we are building another soundproof wall from floor to roof, isolating the two halves of the building. Lord Dench should then be able to enjoy her tea in peace.

When this is done a new floor goes down, introducing steps all the way as opposed to the back four rows, this will make the back row higher. New carpet and dead sexy new seats. The new seats have cup holders at last, and I’m taking a row out to improve the legroom.

The entrance is being moved to the side, meaning we can take the curtains and screens all the way across the front wall. This means a bigger picture and with the groovy acoustic fabric going on the walls, watching a film in there is going to be an even more wonderful experience. I also intend to upgrade the sound to 7.1.

 

Phase one plan. Great reading for builders and architects, probably confusing for everyone else.

Phase one plan. Great reading for builders and architects, probably confusing for everyone else.

 

Screen three will also have new seats, carpets and acoustic treatment. I’m raising the screen up a bit to improve the sightlines and a new air conditioning system that will be much quieter.

Once all that is done we stop for Christmas. There are simply too many good films to have nay part of the building out of operation November to March. Once we have squeezed every last drop out of Marigold Hotel 2 the work will start again.

That’s the really challenging bit, completely removing all the walls in the foyer and building an extension on the north facing part of the building. We can then accommodate you all in more comfort and with the new bar we can offer the complete night out. At that point we refurbish screen two.

Then I pass out and retire to my bed until Christmas 2015.

The point of no return is always good to reach. When the work started on building number three in 1999, I remember clearly standing outside as a JCB gently nudged the back of the building off, thinking there’s no going back now.

It’s oddly calming, because from this point on the only way out is to finish.

Wish me luck.

Why aren’t you showing what I want, Kev?

american_hustle_char-posters

The first part of the year is always a good one for us as all the distributors release their top-drawer awards baiting fare. Generally these films are catnip for my lovely, sophisticated, and let’s face it, demanding patrons and we’ve been bursting at the seams with 12 Years a Slave, The Railway Man and Mandela.

Inevitably when distributors decide to release all the films we could happily play at exactly the same time, something is going to get left out, and some people are going to get grumpy. It’s the way of things.

American Hustle is one such film.

Let me take you now in to the dark, arcane world of film booking by way of justification.

When booking a film there are several main criteria, the first being a subjective judgment about whether it will take money in my cinema. I’m not always right, sometimes I’m spectacularly wrong, but given my length of service I hope I understand my audience better than anyone.

It’s also important to consider what impact that film will have on those dated around it, both before and after. A film may well be worth a punt, but if it means taking a film off to accommodate it we judge will do better, then it becomes more risky.

There could be be an important film dated behind it as well, so I can’t commit to the two week playing time usually demanded by the distributor. All of this is irrelevant of course if you have fifteen screens. Then you can do what you like.

The glut of product at certain times definitely gives multiplexes an advantage, although ironically most of the awards baiting product does far better in situations like Uckfield. When the opposite is true, i.e there are no decent films released then that’s how we end up with dumb films about robots hitting each other.

Sometimes we ‘re in the position of picking the best one for us, sometimes picking the least worst.

Back to American Hustle.

I should also bring Inside Llewyn Davis into to the discussion. I can’t say we’ve had many enquiries for it, but it’s a good film and under less crowded circumstances would definitely have played.

American Hustle is also a fine film, however without the advantage of hindsight, it was far less Uckfield than the other three films on offer. I could have dated Hustle the week it came out, but only for a week as Railway Man and 12 Years a slave were sitting right behind it and I couldn’t take Mandela off after just one week. We also had to allow The Hobbit to run for a week after Christmas. It’s a nightmare!

So American Hustle had to go.

That’s no reflection on the film, but given how indifferently we did with Silver Linings Playbook  (same director and cast) and how confident about 12 Years A Slave I was, that’s the decision I made. So shoot me. I’m just trying to do the right thing OK?

I know we have lost some customers to the opposition, which is frankly a bit disappointing. However, given the awards traction and the requests we are getting it will play at some point. I don’t like playing films late, but that’s a whole other blog entry.

I’m writing this on the opening Friday of August: Osage County. All of the above applies and I made the decision that Llewyn Davis was the one that had to go. I figured Meryl Streep chewing the scenery was going to be far more attractive to my audience than the hipster folk singer shtick of the Cohen brothers.

Let’s check back in a week or so to see if I was right shall we?

Uckfield’s Top Ten Films 2013. How many did you see?

You wait all year for a new blog post and then two come along at the same time.

It’s not been a bad year at all, I assumed we would see quite a dip without the behemoth that was Skyfall but the combined power of The Dench in Philomena and Gravity sort of filled the gap. We love The Dench.

So here are our top films of the year, once again we run contrary to the national chart, which can be found here in Charles Gant’s really brilliant Guardian Box Office column.

I don’t think there are too many cinemas out there that recorded Quartet as the second biggest film of the year. Planet Uckfield again.

What we clumsily call Alternative Content or the preferred Event Cinema, is the big news box office wise. Live opera, ballet and particularly theatre now account for over 15% of our ticket sales. The top titles in 2013 were: 1. The Audience 2. Richard II 3. Othello 4. People 5. Nabucco 6. This House 7. The Magistrate.

As you can see, apart from Nabucco they are all NT Live, remarkable. This side of things is only going to grow.

So here are the top films for 2013, I sincerely hope you enjoyed those you saw and that 2014 will be equally groovy.

Happy New Year everyone!

1. Les Miserables

1. Les Miserables

More emoting than has ever been put on the big screen.
A film that starts at 11 and pretty much stays there. Our biggest film by quite some margin.

2. Quartet

2. Quartet

More feisty veteran acting than has ever been put on the big screen.
If they’re going to make a sequel they should probably pull their finger out.

3. Despicable Me 2

3. Despicable Me 2

The number one film everywhere else. Despicable Me 3 an inevitability.

4. Philomena

4. Philomena

More Judi Dench than has ever been put on the big screen.
Even they can’t make a sequel to this one.

5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Hello and welcome to the middle of the film.
It’s had to go some to make number 5 given it only opened on Dec 13th.

6. Lincoln

6. Lincoln

More Oscar winning stove pipe hats than have ever been put on the big screen.
Sequel also unlikely.

7. Captain Phillips

7. Captain Phillips

Wobbly cam based action thriller. Oscars likely.

8. The Great Gatsby

8. The Great Gatsby

Baz Lurhmann’s bonkers adaptation of the beloved novel.

9. Frozen

9. Frozen

More Disney Princess based entertainment.
Also had to go some as it only started December 6th.

10. Gravity

10. Gravity

The film that even I would recommend in 3D. Staggering stuff.

And the wooden spoon for lowest seven day gross? The Fifth Estate. Shudders.

K