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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A visit to the Stack

There seems to be a vogue for container parks at the moment in Newcastle, as one has opened on the Quayside, and a couple of weeks back The Stack opened on the site of the old Odeon cinema. Although billing itself as a “Creative Social Hub”, at the minute is seems to be basically a food/beer court with a few boutiques thrown in – albeit in an attractively arranged setting, with plenty of seating, decent choices (including some vegetarian / vegan spots).

I walked past on opening day and it was rammed, but today it was much more leisurely, so I availed myself of a halloumi wrap and a glass of wine on the upper mezzanine (where you can only purchase alcohol on presentation of a token to prove you have bought food, presumably to stop people getting tanked and falling off the balconies onto the diners and drinkers below.)

It’s an undeniably charming spot – lots of glitter balls and polished wood – so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle a Northern winter, given how much of it is exposed to the elements, and if it does develop into something more than a nice place to eat and drink. It’s a great location – just off Northumberland Street, opposite the Tyneside Cinema – so hopefully it will thrive. Certainly the Enchanted Garden gin palace would seem to have my name on it…

Odeon Memories

Walking back to the Metro today, I walked past Stacks, the super trendy new restaurant/bar/culture thingy that just opened opposite the Tyneside. If this was a cool lifestyle blog, I would have been already and taken pictures and reported back – I briefly considered going just for the sake of writing about it, before remembering this isn’t a cool lifestyle blog, it’s the meanderings of a middle aged Geordie who hates crowds and always wants a seat. So, maybe I’ll go on a week day, when it’s less busy, but until then all I can say is it looks kinda nice when you walk past.

But it is also sort of heart-breaking, because it stands on the site of what was once the Newcastle Odeon, and, when that got torn down, an awful lot of my memories went with it. The Odeon was a lovely cinema – one of the old-fashioned movie palaces filled with crimson drapes, not a new, soul-less multiplexes – and it played a seminal role in my movie-going youth.

It should have been the place I saw my first film, except my mum got the timings for Bambi wrong and we ended up across the road at the Tyneside watching The Amazing Mr Blunden instead. But, that mix up aside, it was the scene of many firsts over the years.

It was there when, on a trip when she had actually got the times right, that I realised my mum was an Actual Human Woman with Real Feelings, as she got increasingly flustered over Christopher Reeve’s Superman. ‘He’s so handsome! And tall! And handsome!’

It was the cinema where I saw Star Wars for the first time. And where I saw the remastered Star Wars for the first time. And where I saw the remastered remastered Star Wars for the first time. And where I saw the Phantom Menace for the first time, but let’s skip over that. (It was there I realised a relationship would never work, when my then-boyfriend turned to me as the lights on Empire went down and asked, ‘So, Darth Vader is the bad guy, yeah?’. Funnily enough I went to see one of the reissues with Caution Spoilers – who now WRITES ABOUT FILM, people – and she was similarly ill-informed, but friendship is clearly stronger than romance: the boyfriend is long gone, she’s still around).

It was there I queued for Return of the Jedi (the first time) for FOUR HOURS. Nowadays I wouldn’t queue for four hours if Chris Hemsworth was handing out hugs and tenners.

It was there I saw a Sunday morning preview screening to Desperately Seeking Susan that I had won tickets to, and me and my friend C were the only non-rabid fans there – everyone else was in full lace gloves and crucifixes mode. They took a picture of the queue and it ended up in the Evening Chronicle.

It was there that, on another trip with Caution Spoilers, we went to see Scream. At the very start of it she turned to me and said, ‘I don’t know why I agreed to this, I hate horror’. Which was a surprise to me, as I thought it was her idea. “I hate horror too!” I exclaimed, and we both sat there, petrified, for the whole movie. (I also spent the next few days in terror as CS, with whom I was sharing a flat at the time, went away on business almost immediately afterwards, leaving me to check our bathroom for psychos alone. And I was doubly freaked as I went into work the day after the movie and a colleague exclaimed, ‘Oh! You’re alive!’ ‘Um, why wouldn’t I be?’ I asked, slightly perplexed. ‘It’s just I dreamt you were murdered,’ she explained, cheerily. ‘And it’s funny cos my dreams usually come true…’  Well, THANKS.)

It was there, also, I learned from bitter experience that the worst film for a first date – I’m not kidding, the absolute worst, most terrible, most awful movie ever for a first date – was David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers.

On second thoughts, maybe I’m glad they knocked it down.

 

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Donate to my Ko-fi. All the cool kids have one. (I am not cool, obviously, but have been assured this is true).

Buy my books: Some are available for as little as a quid! Not these two, mind, but others.

Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues

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