RBG at The Tyneside

Back to the Tyneside Cinema yesterday, having negotiated their slightly annoying system for redeeming free members’ tickets (you have to buy them in person, or book them over the phone and then collect them at the box office, so in effect queuing both on the phone and in person, which is kinda irritating). The irony that I was allowing minor stuff like this to annoy me while going to see a film about a woman who has more backbone and grit than I could imagine was not lost on me.

RBG is a fascinating documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court Justice who has become something of an icon in recent years. Being English, I was less aware of her formative – and formidable – career standing up for gender equality (including taking on a key case where a man was being discriminated against, a widower not eligible for the same survivor benefits his wife would have been given to support the raising of their son).

It’s unashamedly partisan, though not a hagiography, with plenty of input from the lady herself, her friends and family, as well as some of the people she has helped, and the younger generation who made her a meme. Senior figures like Bill Clinton feature (some of them Republican), and it doesn’t gloss over some mis-steps, or some things that baffle her friends (for instance, her ability to be friends with the late Justice Scalia, a man at the opposite end of the political scale).

It was well worth the trip, and I was pleased to get a chance to see the Tyneside’s Gallery Cinema – a tiny screening room (3 rows of seats) that is perfect for smaller films like this: on a Tuesday afternoon there were barely half a dozen of us in the room, but it’s great that the cinema is showing these kinds of films knowing they won’t get sell out screenings. Maybe I’ll forgive them for their Membership ticket scheme after all…

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Brinkburn Street Brewery Bar and Kitchen

As mentioned in my previous post, yesterday I went to the Cluny Cheese Festival with my friend L (of Raven in a Graveyard fame), and as part of our mini pub crawl afterwards, we ended up in the Brinkburn St Brewery Bar and Kitchen. I’ve wanted to try this place for a while – I saw it on the way to the Kiln, as it is on the same block – and wasn’t disappointed.

The vibe inside was laid back and friendly, and the space is very nicely laid out: a sort of mini-snug is partially cordoned off from the main space, allowing you to lounge on sofas near an open fire, but still feels part of the action and lets the place still feel spacious and airy. We didn’t eat there this time, though L tells me the food is good, with vegetarian options. The place offers a great selection of reasonably priced beers, is dog friendly (we had a very doggy day, since everywhere we went there were dogs, which is always a good thing), and the toilets were clean and in good working order, which is a thing I increasingly care about.

The staff were friendly, too – when I asked for a recommendation for an ale to try they were happy to give me a taster – and had we not been on a mission to try at least a couple of places that day, I would have happily stayed the whole afternoon. In fact, I am already planning my next visit…

The Cluny Cheese Festival

The first weekend after New Year – traditionally when all those resolutions to eat and drink less still seem like they might have a chance of working – seems on the face of it to be an odd time to have a festival devoted to the love of all things cheese, and hold it in a pub. But no one ever got poor counting on the hedonistic impulses of the Geordies, so when myself and my friend L (of Raven In a Graveyard) wandered down to the 2nd Annual Cheese Festival, we found it busy and in full swing.

The pub itself was heaving: part of it set aside for a small cheese market, and the menu of the day very much cheese influenced. We opted for cheesy nachos and a grilled cheese sandwich, both of which were fine, rather than exceptional (the Biscuit Factory has raised my standards for grilled cheese forever), and some of the pubs excellent beers.

To make the day more family friendly, not everything was in the pub. There was a cheese hunt in the morning for kids, and in the afternoon a range of ‘sporting’ events held in the Chedderena in the ‘Olympic Village’ – the bit of grass near the pub – where, when we wandered down, an enthusiastic crowd was cheering on those taking part in the cheese shot put (some with more success than others, since more than one cheese ended up in the river). Since the festival was right next door to the family-friendly Ouseburn Farm, I could imagine this could easily be turned into a cheap and entertaining day out for those with kids.

In search of more adult entertainment (calm down, I just mean beer), Linda and I decided to do a mini pub crawl of the area. L is a real ale enthusiast, so we decided to retrace the steps of a recent real ale tour she had done, stopping first at the excellent Brinkburn Brewery St Bar and Kitchen, another one of those Ouseburn venues that skillfully balances the hipster regeneration vibe of the area with actually being a nice place to hag out, and then onto more traditional climes – the proper old-fashioned pub that is the Cumberland Arms, a warm, welcoming space (where we met one of the dogs we had seen in the Cluny, whose owners had clearly had the same idea) where we had a couple of fine ales in front of a roaring fire before wending our way home.

All in all, a more exciting start to the year than some lettuce…

The Favourite (and some favourite memories) at The Tyneside Cinema

Yesterday marked my first return to the main screen at the Tyneside Cinema for probably 20 odd years. The Tyneside was actually my first ever screen visit – when I was a young child, my mum took me to see Bambi at the Odeon, but either it was sold out or she got the times wrong, and we ended up (literally, in those days) across the road at the Tyneside, and watching old-timey drama The Amazing Mr Blunden. (We went to see Bambi afterwards, which made for an odd and slightly traumatic day).

In my teens I became a regular visitor. I grew up in what in many ways was a great era for going to the cinema. I saw all the Star Wars movies at the Odeon on Pilgrim Street, (and queued, outside, for HOURS, to get into Return of the Jedi, SEVERAL TIMES – these days I wouldn’t queue if a shirtless Chris Hemsworth was giving out hugs and tenners). I vividly recall my mum having a crush on Christopher Reeve’s Superman – she was quite flustered by him (“he’s so tall!”) and this being one of the first instances I realised my mum was an actual woman with human feelings, not some nebulous, asexual mum-figure.

I remember the audience in the Westgate Road ABC cinema bursting into spontaneous applause when Marty McFly made it back to the future. I recall winning tickets to see a preview of Desperately Seeking Susan and turning up on a Sunday morning to join the line at the Odeon – another queue! – and being virtually the only one not wearing a crucifix and lace fingerless gloves, people dressed to the nines in honour of their icon, even at such an unreasonably early hour.

But the Tyneside Cinema will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first place I encountered LGBT films, and got an insight into a world beyond my own (fairly sheltered, not-that-well-educated) upbringing. Through the initial medium of my crush on Daniel Day Lewis (I forced my friend C to come and see My Beautiful Laundrette 4 times in 2 weeks so I could see him on the big screen, and there are still bits of it that make me swoon), I became interested in all things LGBT. (Like many 80s teens who felt like outcasts, I felt – probably insufferably! – a kinship with any group I saw as outsiders: it would take (ahem, quite a few) years to realise that the struggles of marginalised groups didn’t just exist to reflect my own insecurities and issues. But hey, cut me a break: this was before the internet, so it took a long time to figure out something these days you could get from 10 minutes on Tumblr) .

At a time when Clause 28 was making ignorance and hate popular policy, it was no small thing to have a steady stream of films about gay lives and the AIDS crisis on screen. It was here I found out who Harvey Milk was (a double bill screening of, if I recall correctly, Longtime Companion with the award-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk). I saw – twice – Parting Glances (one of Steve Buscemi’s first films) which remains one of my favourites and, perhaps bizarrely, was one of the first films to make me fall in love with New York. I loved the way it is a rather pedestrian backdrop to the film, rather than a glamorised soundstage: on a recent visit I found the monument featured in the jogging scenes and had a jolt of familiarity it took me a moment to place.

It was here I marvelled over the beauty of Desert Hearts – the first time I saw two women in love on screen. And here where, after a cheese stottie sandwich in the Coffee Rooms upstairs, I skived off a college lecture to cry my eyes out over Torch Song Trilogy with some friends, one of whom later told me that had shaken her at-the-time blinkered (and mostly negative) views of what gay people were actually like (her having had no idea of what the film was about when we went in, except that it featured Ferris Bueller).

It was here I discovered a love of foreign films, and a world outside my own – a love that would, eventually, lead me to a job subtitling foreign language movies, where I got to work on making those very films accessible to an audience like me.

I was also lucky enough to grow up at a time when working class stories were considered to be worthy of showing – when we could be more than a throwaway character offering grim contrast or comic relief. Films like Prick Up Your Ears, My Beautiful Laundrette, Letter To Brezhnev and Rita, Sue and Bob Too centred working class experiences in all their variety, and showed me that stories could come from anywhere – even from people like me.

So I have much to thank the Tyneside for, and when I moved back, I became a member, not least to pay that back. However, it’s taken me this long to get around to actually seeing a film on the main screen – though it was most definitely worth the wait. Although – perhaps inevitably – it seems smaller than I remember it, it’s still a gorgeous cinema, retaining much of its Art Deco beauty, lovingly restored. In a world of faceless multiplexes, it’s worth a visit for that alone.

It was a bonus that I really enjoyed the film. The Favourite is the kind of thing I would have gone to see in this cinema back in the day: a clever, complex film that centres on women’s lives and loves, with astonishingly good performances at its core (Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are all standouts – though Nicholas Hoult deserves special mention for a deliciously bitchy turn).

Ah, Tyneside. It’s good to be back.

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