An escape from the drab black and white landscapes that surrounds us .
When I was as child in Belfast every chance we Dad took me to the cinema as there was always a good picture on somewhere . Movies were an affordable luxury and I got a regular taste every week when we went to one of the old cinema houses in Belfast
I loved the way the man who played the pipe organ would suddenly appear from the floor on a rising platform to entertain patrons before the feature film began . Places like the Ritz in Belfast had class with a capital C . Queues would line up on the pavement for hours to get a seat .
Movie theatres were an affordable luxury in the 1960’s and I got the taste of the cinema very young . Apart from my Father paying for my tickets there were other means of getting in like knowing the theatre ushers who would leave the side door open so you could sneak in before the film began .
Some of the beautiful names given to the theatre houses added glitter and a senses of romance to the buildings . Apart from the Ritz there were other Belfast palaces like The Coliseum , The Duncairn , The Grand Opera House The Broadway , The Majestic , The Astoria ,The Park , The Lido , The Ambassador , The Apollo , The Lyceum , The Tivoli , The Savoy , The Classic , The Imperial . The Odeon formerly known as The Hippodrome and then became ,The New Vic in 1974,
The Capitol and in my village there was the Forum picture house . The forum was opened in 1937 and closed on the advent of the troubles that erupted all over the city in 1967 .
Every week at my school in Butler Street there was a free Forum ticket up for grabs for the student of the week . I did my best to win that by collecting the dinner ticket and running messages for teachers . Being well behaved also helped and it was well worth the effort when you got a Forum ticker as a reward .
My grandfather told me that during the war you could have gained entry for the an empty jam jar .The Forum could seat 1250 people and had a front and back entrance as well as a few side doors . On Saturdays , there was a children’s matinee and all the local kids queue up at the back steps entrance to gain entrance .
As a child this technicoloured lifestyle was a great escape for me as often you would feel trapped within the drab black and white landscapes of factories , shops and construction sites . In the world where I lived it was so easy to get pushed inside a social closet that fitted you up with a black shroud that hung over the city . The constant smoke that poured out from chimneys , factories and linen mills offered no colour to the lifestyles people had . So its no wonder that the picture houses became as popular as they did .
As I grew up times were changing . The troubles arrived in Belfast in 1967 and slowly most of the old picture palaces began to close their doors , Thwe Forum and The Savoy first closes in 67 and then like skittles one by one all the other palaces started shutting their doors and sadly any chance of an escape from the dark shroud around the city was finished .
The Ambassador closed 4th March 1972 , The Astoria in 17th August 1974 ,
The Capitol closed 11th January 1975 , The Broadway 31st January 1974 , Duncairn closed 22nd November 1969 The Grand Opera House closed 7th April 1972 , The Classic closed 1st January 1972 , The Lido 1970 , The Majestic closed 4th October 1975 , The Park closes 27th May 1972 , Belfast Picturedrome closed 1970 , The Regal closed 7th January 1967 , The Tivoli closed 7th June 1975 , The Stadium closed 13th March 1976 , 1981 saw The Ritz close it doors and my technicoloured existence had suddenly disappeared .
I thought will they ever come back . Is there any chance the magic will return .
I left with for Australia in the seventies and remember for the first time going into Sydney to the movies to watch Earthquake . What a great thrill to have feel an new experience called sense surround . You could actually feel the tremors as you sat in your seat . As a regular movie goer I discovered an escape into my technicoloured world where there was no fear of a bomb going off in the middle of a picture . Back in the seventies people could smoke in the pictures houses in Australia .
When I turned 16 I got my drivers licence and soon experienced something that took me out of my technicoloured closet and into a very personal coloured car park . Drive in movies had its grip on me . I was hooked on drive in movies . Every week I went to watch what ever was worth watching around one of the Sydney drive in movie sites from Casula to Chullora , or Bass Hill to Dundas .
As the years went by people found a new experience in the comfort of their homes . The arrival of video players brought a the technicoloured dream closer than ever before and it wasn’t long before drive in movie theatres started closing down .
Now in the 21st century crowds are coming back to the picture houses again with new digital productions and huge improvements with sound and picture quality . Three dimensional effects are hitting the big screens and people are again finding an escape from their drab black and white landscapes .
We all need an escape hatch at times and going to watch a good movie is still Its still an affordable luxury and one that churns out billions in the movie making industry .
All we need are good scripts , talented actors , comfortable seats and most importantly the colour of life that keeps us thinking we have a chance to continue the technicoloured dream .
By Paul McCann