Cinema Paradiso

Last month began badly. One of my favourite cousins died at the ridiculously early age of 59. As children, she and her younger sister were the nearest thing I had to siblings, then as adults, we discovered that we had a natural rapport.

I heard the news from her husband, who wept as he spoke. I’d never witnessed such a raw, visceral grief before and felt utterly impotent, unable to think of anything to say other than “I’m so sorry”. Privately, I could only wonder at the cruelty of a universe in which a random mutation can separate a couple who had loved each other deeply.

I was reminded of the famous Kurt Vonnegut quote and felt in a very bleak mood, so when my wife started getting excited about the opening of a new cinema in Lewes, I really didn’t want to know. What was so special about a cinema? I told my wife that I wouldn’t be joining her and her friends on the opening night.

But on the day I suddenly had a change of heart. It was a beautiful, airy afternoon and the thought of staying indoors didn’t appeal, so as our older son was having one of his relatively saner days, we decided to leave him in charge (hoping that the house wouldn’t be a smouldering ruin when we returned).

I liked The Depot cinema as soon as I saw it, although the sign needs changing.

depot01

The building is in the usual postmodern style, but the addition of local flint adds a nice vernacular touch. To the left of the photo, there is an outdoor seating area with sofas and tables, but there’s also plenty of space inside:

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We joined some friends for a drink and for the first time in ages, I felt my mood lift.

In hindsight, I suppose I’d become increasingly weighed down by a sense that life was, as they say, one damned thing after another. In the past, I dealt with feelings like this by having an adventure – I once alleviated the horrors of working in Slough by flying to Chile on a whim – but my childcare duties now made this strategy impossible. I felt stuck in a rut.

However, sitting in the sun, talking about Hitchcock films with a neighbour and planning which films we were going to see was all I needed to break the spell. Suddenly, I had things to look forward to again. A sense that life was full of possibilities as well as challenges.

As for the cinema, it has three screens and a wonderful Dolby sound system, with the added bonus of no adverts before the films. This is because the cinema is run as a non-profit making charity, thanks to a very healthy donation by a local philanthropist.

The films shown are a mixture of modern independent productions, mainstream features like Alien Covenant and classics from the era of Hitchcock’s The Birds, which my son and I are going to see tomorrow. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing old favourites as they were meant to be seen, on the big screen.

I also enjoyed watching Mad to Be Normal, a surprisingly funny new film about the controversial psychiatrist RD Laing (there was some confusion when my wife told someone that I’d been to see a movie about KD Lang).

I’ve no doubt that half of the films I’ll see are available on YouTube or Netflix, but I’ve realised that the movie itself is only part of the pleasure of going to The Depot. For me, the 15-minute walk there and back and the experience of sitting in a dark room with no interruptions are just as important.

As well as the delights of sitting in a dark room, I’ve been enjoying the light of the South Downs:

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I first got to know this landscape when I was 11. I was living in a sanitorium at the time and one morning, the nurses suddenly announced that we would be going for a walk.

It was a rare treat to be allowed outside and I assumed that we were going to visit a local playground. Instead, we walked through a succession of dull, residential roads with identical 1930s houses, many of which had twee names like ‘Ashdene’ and ‘Haymede’.

Several of us began to quietly complain to each other that this was a bit of a ‘swiz’ when suddenly, we reached a high wall with a narrow, iron gate. One of the nurses pushed the gate open and as we walked through, we found ourselves in open downland with views of rolling hills and the sea in the distance. It was an exhilarating moment and I’ve loved the Downs ever since.

In between looking after my sons and watching episodes of The Brothers (a programme that deserves its own blog post), I’ve been reading quite a lot recently. The discovery of Barbara Pym has been a particular pleasure and I also really enjoyed Sister Carrie. I hadn’t heard of the novel until, many years ago, a girl of about 14 asked me if our bookshop had a copy in stock. I assumed it must be some sort of jolly Louisa M Allcott-style story for young ladies, or perhaps a wholesome tale about a nun.

How wrong I was. For the 1900s, it is positively shocking and I can imagine that many early readers were scandalised by its contents. Perhaps they were also expecting a wholesome tale about a nun.

In addition to all of the above, I also briefly escaped to the 15th century:

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But that’s another story.

20 comments

  1. Annabel (gaskella)

    So sorry to hear about your cousin. You have found some great distractions though – I wish Abingdon could have an arty cinema like your local. As for The Brothers – oh, how we all loved that series (and Howard’s Way which seemed to follow on). Do please write a post on it.

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  2. kaggsysbookishramblings

    That’s so sad about your cousin – sending best wishes to you and your family, as it’s always awful to lose someone so young. I’m glad you’ve found some pleasures in life to hang on to. The cinema looks absolutely lovely and you’re definitely blessed to be in amongst such wonderful countryside. I’ll look forward to the story about the 15th century…. 🙂

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    • Steerforth

      The 15th century was lovely in some ways, but the people were very smelly, with breath that could knock an elephant dead. That doesn’t come across in the paintings. I’m glad I’m back.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. George

    The sound track might be better for the KD Laing movie, if you like country music. My chief complaint about movie ads regards the trailers: even movies that will be domestic dramas seem to be out to deafen me. Why should a movie about an unhappy couple of late middle age make as much noise as one about Dunkirk?

    My condolences on your cousin’s death.

    At St. Anselm’s Abbey in Washington, DC, there is a Benedictine who now and then writes short pieces about Barbara Pym. So far, I haven’t made it past Jane and Prudence, not because I didn’t like that book, but because there is so much other reading to hand. But I supposed that if I were locked up with her complete works, I would spend the first few weeks happily enough.

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    • Steerforth

      Yes, movies do seem louder and over here, a lot of people are complaining about the tendency of young actors to mumble in BBC dramas. Loud music and mumbling aren’t a good combination.

      I used to hate country music, but during the last few years I’ve becoming increasingly fond of it – a sign of maturing tastes, perhaps.

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  4. Dale

    That’s rotten news about your cousin. Do stay close to her husband, he will need family support.
    With summer upon you (can’t say “us”, it’s winter down here in the South Seas) you can get out into those downs and feel less housebound.
    My little town (pop 12,000) also has an art cinema, who survive by having a sweet mini cafe selling coffee, alcohol and simple snacks. They also rent out one cinema at a time to local groups doing fundraisers, providing table and cloths for them to have pot luck finger food before the show, and they go all out to alert various groups to films available which might fall into their field of interest and be good for a fundraiser. Small businesses in small communities have to be both inventive and inclusive! I offer this idea in case your cinema falters at any stage.

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    • Steerforth

      I will try and maintain contact with her husband – he’s a lovely chap, so it would be a pleasure rather than a duty. I’ll organise a family get-together at some point.

      Our new cinema seems to be making enough money, thanks to its bar and restaurant (which specialises in Australasian ‘fusion’ cuisine, which sounds alluring), so I hope that the cinema won’t be under threat at any point. I really enjoyed seeing ‘The Birds’ on the big screen – a completely different experience that made me realise that the narrative is only half of a Hitchcock film.

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  5. Elsa Louise von Schreiber

    “I was living in a sanitorium at the time.”

    Whoa. Full stop. My goodness. Pardon my curiosity, but have you covered this topic before?

    Sincere condolences on the loss of your cousin. Agreed that 59 is far too young an age for dying, especially since I shall turn 59 this September.

    I think you did the only mindful thing a person could do: you lived a bit of your life.

    We all should pursue that course more often.

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  6. Pete

    First, my condolences.

    Second, very good to have you back.

    Third, I now intend to amass riches so that I can open my own local cinema:
    “I wish to see ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ again tonight.”
    “But sir…”
    “You heard me!”

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    • Steerforth

      I love ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ and David Shire’s funky, atonal theme tune is superb, really capturing the frenetic atmosphere of early 70s New York. It hasn’t been the same since the crime rate fell.

      Good luck with your cinema. If you don’t manage to find the money, you can always just turn the lights off and sit much closer to the TV (and for full authenticity, ask a friend to rustle and eat noisy in the background).

      Thanks for your condolences.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Lucille

    So happy to find two posts but not so happy to hear of your cousin’s death. I greatly value the existence of my one cousin.
    The Kino in Rye is a great asset. We were the only people in there for the screening of a film about Emily Dickenson, A Quiet Passion the other week. My Cousin Rachel was packed out though, so let’s hope it can keep going.

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  8. Lucille

    Four of us with mixed tastes went and the consensus was good yes (with assorted grumbles afterwards). We all thought we’d read the book but couldn’t remember much about it and I managed to confuse it with I Capture the Castle so was briefly puzzled by the period dress. The link with Bamber Gascoigne is interesting. My friend went to school with Rachel Weisz and they were both inspired to read English at university by Miss Gough.

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