Monday, October 05, 2009


Back Row Brighton

Today's cinema-going experience is frequently one of being trapped in an overpriced chav-hole, mobiles bleeping and the rattle of ice in cups of Coke. Maybe some people still subscribe to a notion of the magic of cinema-going, but it seems that idea largely belongs to a past long gone.

QueenSpark Books' latest project conjures up that golden era of cinema-going from the 30s to the 60s, in the book Back Row Brighton, which came out this week. It's hard to believe now that Brighton has had over forty cinemas in its time, with just the ghastly Odeon and Marina monstrosities and the historic Duke of York's left, due to celebrate its centenary next year. And Brighton (well, Hove actually) has its own notable place in cinema history with the pioneering studios in St Ann's Well Gardens, and the early cinematographic experiments of William Friese-Green.

A remarkable number of films have also been made in or feature Brighton, and at Sunday's book launch at the Duke's, Frank Fludd presented a fascinating short DVD he's compiled of extracts from films made between the forties and the early seventies, with famous titles like Brighton Rock, Genevieve and Carry on at Your Convenience, and unknown and often now-unavailable films like the comedy Penny Points to Paradise (Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Alfred Marks, Bill Kerr) and thriller Jigsaw (Jack Warner, Yolande Donlan, John Le Mesurier).

The book doesn't pretend to be a definitive history of cinema in Brighton (check out David Fisher's brilliant website and My Brighton and Hove for that); rather it's oral history testimonies of memories, from the charming - the old dear dancing with the Teddy Boys in the aisles at Rock Around the Clock - to the alarming - being sprayed with pesticide at every screening.

QueenSpark's also produced an illustrated 2010 calendar to coincide with the book, featuring 'then and now' pictures. What's saddest is to see how these beautiful Victorian and art deco structures have been ripped down and replaced with 70s and 80s slabs of grim concrete. At least the Astoria (pictured above, closed since 1977) has been preserved thanks to its art deco interior, but the longer it remains closed, the more the fabric of the building deteriorates. Maybe cinema-going would be a more magical experience today if we still had such magnificent places to enjoy the latest Harry Potter epic or Bruce Willis masterpiece.


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