IF you think modern cinemas have lost their movie magic, why not try out a friendly local alternative? STEPHEN LEWIS heads for the South Bank Community Cinema for a screening of film classic Some Like It Hot.
THERE are many classic moments in Billy Wilder’s 1959 screwball comedy Some Like It Hot. There is Marilyn, dripping out of her dress while singing, all wide-eyed innocence, “I wanna be loved by you.”
There’s Jack Lemmon watching Marilyn walk past him on a railway station platform, then turning to Tony Curtis and saying: “Will you look at that! How she moves! It’s like Jell-O on springs. Must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell you, it’s a whole different sex.”
There are Lemmon and Curtis dressed in drag, of course, as two musicians fleeing the Chicago mob following the St Valentine’s Day massacre: Lemmon all gauche and awkward, Curtis worryingly convincing.
And there is what is widely regarded as possibly the best last line in film history. Lemmon, still dressed in drag as Daphne, is trying to convince his ‘fiancé’, rich playboy Osgood Fielding III, that they can’t get married.
“I’m not a natural blonde,” says Daphne.
“Doesn’t matter,” says Osgood.
“I smoke! I smoke all the time!” says Daphne.
“I don’t care,” says Osgood.
“I can never have children”, pleads Daphne.
“We can adopt some,” insists Osgood.
At which point Daphne, desperate, plays ‘her’ final card. She pulls off her wig, and says: “I’m a man.” Osgood shrugs. “Well, nobody’s perfect!”
Maybe not, but that ending comes about as close as it’s possible to get.
There are wonderful lines sprinkled throughout this wonderful film. Marilyn, as Sugar Kane, gasping: “Real diamonds! They must be worth their weight in gold!”
Lemmon in drag, watching Marilyn sipping from a whisky flask, saying to Curtis: “How about the shape of that liquor cabinet?”
And two Chicago hoods, discussing the possibility that police will raid an illegal liquor joint that is disguised as a funeral parlour. “Who’s gonna raid a funeral?” asks one.
”Some people got no respect for the dead,” says the other.
If you’ve only ever seen the film on TV, however, what you won’t have noticed is how great it looks and sounds up on the big screen, the way it was made to be seen.
Monroe is mesmerising, shining in a performance she perhaps never bettered. But what comes as a real surprise is the scale of everything, and the sheer quality of the cinematography.
A car chase through the dark, rain-damp streets of Chicago early on is a revelation: you can feel the hurtling momentum of the cars as they skid around corners, and almost hear the hissing of the tyres on the wet streets.
Just over a week ago, members of the South Bank Community Cinema in – naturally enough – South Bank got to see the film in all its big screen glory.
For many of the 70-odd people in the audience at the Clements Hall, it was a real treat.
Among them were John and Joan Willcock, who came from New Earswick especially.
“Joan and I saw this film in 1959, at the Gaumont Cinema in South Shields, when we were courting,” said John. “It’s one of our favourite films.”
The South Bank Community Cinema is no ordinary cinema. It is essentially a film club, run by a committee of volunteers. But the quality of the film experience you get is different to any other cinema.
Every second Friday evening, the main hall at Clements Hall is converted into a cinema. A large, drop-down screen is put in place at one end. And a modern projector is used, beaming high quality images over the heads of the audience.
The sound, too, is top notch. The community cinema’s volunteer projectionist, semi-retired ITN cameraman John Beecroft, wouldn’t put up with anything less.
But what really makes this such a great place to come and see a film is that it feels more like a club or a cabaret than a cinema.
Tables are set out in front of the screen, each with a small tea-light to give atmosphere. There’s a bar, so that you can enjoy a glass of wine or beer while you watch: and an interval, when you can happily chat about the film with your neighbours.
Perhaps best of all, this is a club with 130 or so members – many of them community-cinema regulars. So everybody knows everybody – or is keen to get to know them.
“There’s a really nice atmosphere,” says 48-year-old Liz Savage, who’s come with her friend Corine Deliot, 50.
Liz isn’t a member, but Corine is. “It’s a place I can come on my own, sit next to people, meet new people,” she says.
There is another thing about the club-like atmosphere of the cinema that makes it special, says community cinema chair Linda Speidel: because so many people know each other, everyone enjoys the film that much more. “In a big cinema, people might laugh a bit,” she says.
“Here, everybody laughs as one.”
The real magic of this community cinema, however, is that it is run by people who genuinely love film.
All the committee members – Linda, a 46-year-old York Playspace co-ordinator; treasurer Glenda Shearer, 64, a retired secretary and bookkeeper; John Beecroft; Hilary Osborne, the thirtysomething membership secretary; Paul Ireson, a retired schollteacher who looks after the cinema’s website; and Graham Lawson, the 45-year-old publicity officer, who in his day job works in the mail room at the University of York – are full-blown cinephiles.
Between them – and with the help of suggestions from members – they put together a wonderfully varied programme.
They are often, but not always, films you won’t get to see on the big screen in a mainstream cinema, says Linda. “Older films, art-house films, foreign films.”
But they do show blockbusters, too: just before Christmas, more than 70 people turned out to watch the latest Bond move, Skyfall, while sipping a glass of wine.
This season is equally varied.
This Friday the cinema will be screening In Darkness, Agnieska Holland’s 2011 film about a Polish man who hides a group of Jews from the Nazis in an underground labyrinth beneath the city of Lwow in the early 1940s. Based on a true story, it won strong reviews.
“Touching, warm and dramatically satisfying,” wrote the New York Times.
In a couple of weeks, it will be Franco Zefirelli’s 1968 Romeo & Juliet: and after that there’ll be a Hitchcock double bill: the recent 2012 film starring Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, plus Psycho, perhaps the master of suspense’s most notorious film.
“There have been films I’ve watched here that I would never have seen otherwise,” says Hilary, the membership secretary.
For anyone who loves film, that in itself is reason enough to come along.
• South Bank Community Cinema, Clements Hall, Nunthorpe Road, York.
Films are screened every other Friday in season. Doors open 7.30pm, films begin at 8pm. Tickets: £3 members, £4 non-members, on the door. Annual membership is £5.
To find out more, visit sbcommunitycinema.co.uk
South Bank Community Cinema is one of the pioneers of a blossoming alternative cinema scene in York which has now been backed by the British Film Institute distributing lottery funding, writes John Beecroft.
The other players in this movement are:
• Aesthetica, with its annual Short Film Festival – asff.co.uk
• Orillo Cinema, which does large outdoor screenings – orillocinema.co.uk
• Dead Meet, a specialist Gothic/Horror film club in York Cinem@, pop-up movie shows in bars, historic buildings, libraries etc – email@example.com
• Fiendish Thingee , multiple-venue film programme – firstname.lastname@example.org
• The Arts Barge, opening 2015 – theartsbargeproject.com
• Students at York Universtity and St Johns University also promote ad hoc screenings off campus at various venues in the city.