The Boy Who Loved The Spy Who Loved Me

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The Spy Who Loved Me was Dodger’s, as we affectionately called Roger Moore, third outing as James Bond 007 and without a doubt his best. You can judge for yourself this Friday Sept 29th. I’m very excited to be showing the newly restored digital print at my cinema. We can even discuss its place in the James Bond pantheon over a drink afterwards if you like.

Growing up in a cinema James Bond films were very important to us, they weren’t simply a nice opportunity for the family to go to the pictures, in fact a nice family outing to the pictures was not something we ever did, coals and Newcastle obviously spring to mind, that and Dad always working at the pictures put paid to that.

No, James Bond films were something you cleared the decks for, something that meant more shows, more staff and a chance to make lots of money. In our house the films didn’t didn’t have actual titles, they were just “The Bond”.  Dad’s going to be busy this week because it’s The Bond. We booked The Bond, not The Spy Who Loved Me, you get the idea.

A new Bond was also something special because we had spent the last two or three years playing all the old ones. In those days you could do that, often in a double feature. Thunderball and You Only Live Twice was always my favourite. Not only was it a double dose of Sean Connery, always a good thing, it went on forever. The Bond is rarely under two hours, often more, so two of them and ads and trailers, you were in the cinema for what seemed like an eternity. From Russia with Love and Godfinger was also cinematic bliss

Bond Double

In later years The Bond double bill became a thing of the past like all double bills, but I still mourn their passing. Bigger, Better, Bond and Beyond!

All this means that a new James Bond was a big part of my growing up, not just because they always put a smile on my Dad’s face, but because The Bond was one of those times when we, the cinema, became the focus of everyone’s attention. It happens from time to time, when a film becomes a cultural phenomenon. It happened with Grease, it happened with Mama Mia, it happened, of course, with Skyfall.

Spy Soundtrack

I still have the soundtrack album I bought with my hard earned wages in 1977. Probably from Fred. (Uckfield reference there, sorry.)

The Bond is always a cultural phenomenon, even the less successful ones. The fortunes of The Bond go up down over the decades but in Uckfield he is always popular. Maybe it’s where we are, maybe his simple brutal patriotism appeals to the with us or against us sensibility in such an obviously Conservative borough.

However, when The Spy Who Loved Me came out none of this mattered to me a jot. I was approaching my 15th birthday and very excited. It had also been four years since The Man with The Golden Gun, which I remembered, but was truly too young to appreciate. This was the first new Bond that I would take real ownership of and as I was already working front of house on Saturday afternoons, be part of.

I’d had to wait far too long for us to play it, the reason being the release pattern of The Bond at that time. In those days United Artists had very specific ideas about how The Bond should be released across the UK. The world premiere took place in early July 1977 and then it would have played in the West End at the Odeon Leicester Square for a few weeks and then it had what UA called a coastal only release in time for the summer holidays. Because obviously everyone was going to boarding houses in Bournemouth or Blackpool for their holidays. Nonsense of course, but the UK cinema industry at that time wasn’t blessed with particularly imaginative or forward-thinking executives. It was still an industry set up to protect the circuit dominated duopoly.

Although hilariously some very low status halls suddenly won the movie lottery because of their geographical location when it came to the release of The Bond. It used to drive my dad nuts, to paraphrase, any old shit hole could come in on The Bond as long as it had the bloody sea lapping at its front doors.

So being an annoying 25 miles inland we had to wait. There was what they used to call a London release late August and then we were allowed in two weeks later. So, a full two months after its UK premier and after multiple weeks in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, we finally started our two week booking of The Spy Who Loved Me on September 18th 1977.

Ledger Entry

Here is my dad’s record of the two weeks we played The Spy Who Loved Me for the first time in Uckfield back in 1977. Not bad considering it had played almost everywhere else by then. The first column is admissions then gross take.

I went every day. I loved everything about it, not just the film but the artwork, the soundtrack album, which I still have, and again that feeling of being part of something special. It’s a privilege to be in our business a lot of the time and this film was the first time I understood that. Audiences loved it, they loved Dodger’s raised eyebrow, his keeping the British end up and particularly his union jack parachute just before Carly Simon’s iconic title song.

In many ways The Spy Who Loved Me was my Star Wars. By the time we got round to that film I was already a sullen, grumpy 16 year old determined to be more impressed with Annie Hall.

The more forgiving 15 year old me though, was ready to take all the action and camp sophistication Bond could give me. The film also gave me Barbara Bach in that black evening dress, something for which I shall be forever grateful.

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Punch Drunk Love

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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?

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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?

What’s New Kev?

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Waiting in the rain for the excellent Selfish Giant. Cannes 2013. Go me.

Thanks for asking. There’s been all sorts going on around here, not least the latest version of the refurbishment plans which are a step closer to being ready for submission. Very exciting and when I can tell you more I will.

I went to Cannes last week which was very pleasant, when it finally stopped raining. Met lots of wonderful people and managed to see some good films, most of them will never see the inside of a commercial cinema, some of them are lucky to have seen the inside of a cinema at all.

The Cannes film festival always feels to me like one of those inside the industry things that a lot of people spend a lot of money swanking around, feeling very self important and rushing to get their opinions out on TwitBook or whatever, while the rest of the world doesn’t give a flying Dingo’s kidney.  Acres of print coverage, web blogs, live text updates and reports from the red carpet.

Here’s a test, industry types are not allowed to compete and you have to answer without Google.

1. What won the Palme d’or last year?

2. Name one other film that has won a Palme d’or.

3. Name four of the films in competition this year.

4. Who was the head of the Jury this year?

You might get the last one, but there is a good reason for that, he’s the most famous film director in the world. My theory’s not in the least scientific or even tested if I’m honest, but I reckon if you stopped 30 people in the street you’d be hard pressed to find one correct answer. In fact, I’m not sure I can answer.

1. I think that long one about the nuns won last year or was it Amour?

2. Something by Michael Haneke probably. Or Jean Luc Goddard.

3. Now, I think I can do this. Nebraska definitely because I saw that one, it was great. The Cohen brothers film, whose name escapes me, probably blotted it out because I queued for hours twice and didn’t get in. Only God Forgives was certainly one. How many is that? Three? There must be one non American film I can think of. I’m struggling. The lesbian one? I don’t think that was in the main competition. Arse.

4. Steven Spielberg! Come on, you’d have to be an idiot not to know that.

It’s not that I can’t look them up, God knows that would be easy, but I can’t remember off the top of my head. That might have something to do with turning 50 of course.

The other thing about Cannes is that it’s full of young men and women, most of them expensively educated, running around taking important meetings about their slate of films and non of them will produce a single film, ever.

Still it’s nice we all get to go on a jolly and feel very special, and it proves just how much more exciting our lives are than every one else’s.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression, I had a brilliant time. Great food, even better company and I wasn’t in Uckfield. Who could want more?

I was just making a general point that it’s nothing like as important as everyone there thinks it is, that’s all.

If you want to know what did actually happen at Cannes this year, unfiltered by my whinging load of self loathing, I can recommend The Guardian film pages. They saw everything, at least twice, and were probably invited to every party. Unlike me. I wonder why?