Scene 1 – No cinema
Let’s picture a scene. It’s April 1999, a 15-year-old version of me stands in the rain outside the closed ABC Cinema in Sunderland. Distraught and devastated this young movie fan now has no cinema in his hometown. Throwing his last ticket stub, for the surprisingly enjoyable Blast From The Past, at the boarded-up building, he keeps a lonely vigil until a cinema returns to the city. There would not be a cinema in Sunderland until November 2004. Okay, the bits about me in there aren’t true, but it is true that for years the city had no cinema (in credit to Sunderland they still managed to have a film festival during this time). This story is to illustrate just how important the Tyneside Cinema became to me. I didn’t actually visit this cinema until the release of Bowling For Columbine in 2002 and by this point, I was attending university in Newcastle which had cinemas – Plural. Growing up in the outskirts of Sunderland in a town split between being part of Sunderland City and Durham County councils, as if neither wanted to take full responsibility, did sometimes feel like I was living in a bit of a cultural wasteland.
The Tyneside Cinema was built in the 1930s by Dixon Scott (directors Ridley and Tony Scott are relatives of his). As a news cinema, it went on to become a wonderful independent cinema. And in my angry late teens, I saw it as a welcome outpost of culture. Over the years I’ve seen everything from John Cameron Mitchell’s comedy/drama/sex film Shortbus to action masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road. Undoubtedly had the cinema not existed my experience of film would be very different.
There is more to Tyneside Cinema than just a place that shows films – but let’s talk about films for a second. It’s a cinema where I had the wonderful double-bill of The Raid and Moonrise Kingdom, where I was able to watch brilliant films that I had been too young to see at the cinema: Jaws, The Princess Bride and Casablanca to name but a few. Every Christmas they have sell-out screenings of It’s A Wonderful Life. Their bar screens regular cult classics as well as family films on Sunday mornings over a nice brunch. They have legendary all-nighter film marathons; once I saw The Big Lebowski-Mad Max-The Thing-The Bride of Frankenstein-The Princess Bride and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I will say it was a mistake to end with 2001 as it gets too trippy for someone who is sleep-deprived. For the sake of balance, I should say I also saw 1962 French New Wave classic Jules et Jim which is perhaps the worst film I’ve ever seen in the cinema and probably would not have were it not for this cinema – it was so bad I was glad when the First World War started as I thought something interesting might happen. It didn’t.
Scene 2 – Continuing With Normal Life
Let’s imagine a second scene (but this one is entirely true). It’s January 2010 and I am in the Tyneside Cinema watching possibly the most depressing film ever made – The Road. I am in a nearly empty screen on a weekday afternoon and I am able to see it at this time because I am unemployed. I am able to afford it as the ticket cost £1; that is how much they charge the unemployed (and refugees and asylum seekers). When you’re unemployed a lot of your “normal” life is abandoned but because of this ridiculously low price I could keep films in my life and that really helped me.
In addition to showing films, the cinema also boasts some of my favourite places to eat and drink in Newcastle. The best burger I’ve ever eaten was in the Tyneside Bar Cafe (obviously it’s called The Royale with Cheese). They run excellent film quizzes there for people who really know about cinema (which I have won on more than one occasion – but not many more). They have the decades-old institution of the Tyneside Coffee Rooms and the modern coffee and cocktail bar Vicolo. The cinema runs workshops for young people, helping them learn how to make all sorts of films. Then there is building – both inside and out it looks stunning and is a Grade II listed building.
Scene 3 – A Temporary Absence
And now for the final scene, it’s February 2020 and I’m in a very busy screening of Parasite. I had been dying to see this film for a long time after hearing exceptionally good reviews and having seen some of the director’s previous films. It’s a great film and it seems like most of the audience enjoyed it. This is the last film I see before the cinema is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic... It’s possible the cinema might not reopen due to financial issues. It’s been a long time since 2002 when I first went to the Tyneside Cinema and the cultural world has changed quite a bit. A fifteen-year-old today isn’t dependent on just what’s being shown at a local cinema. Being able to stream films from home is great, but getting to see a film in a cinema is still a great experience, sitting amongst people who are all there for the same reason. Newcastle, and me, would be infinitely poorer without it.
To find out more about the Tyneside Cinema (and to donate if you want to) go to https://tynesidecinema.co.uk/