Alex Cox is best known for his writing and directing skills. His impressive track record as a true maverick includes “Repo Man“, “Straight to Hell“, “Sid and Nancy“, “Movie Drome” to name but a few.
So called “cult” films were once the domain of a movie going elite and the intelligencia, but Alex has made such films accessible to the wider public both in the mainstream cinema and on television.
Many film and theatre professionals today owe much to his inspirational style and creativity.
AT THE PICTURES
The first feature film I saw was in Morecambe, back when the front had a bustling railway station and a massive funfair and there were many cinemas. I don’t know the name of the place, but the film was GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON, a dubbed Italian gladiator movie. There was also a dinosaur, a flesh-eating Brontosaurus.
Thanks to this vision of a dinosaur, I became a cinephile.
There were many cinemas in those days, even in my local haunts of Bebington and Rock Ferry. We saw THE WIZARD OF OZ at a cinema down by the railway station. I was disappointed when it began in black and white – I was expecting colours! In the1960s just as now the industry was in crisis: audiences increasingly expected colour films, but it was still cheaper to shoot and release them on black-and-white stock. From the filmmakers’ perspective, black-and-white might also be the better option, aesthetically. Cinemas were big barns, back then, with thousands of “stalls” below and a big “circle” upstairs, and smaller towns – like mine – couldn’t sustain a picture palace.
When my local cinema closed (it became storage for a moving company) my cinemagoing relocated to the Big Cities: Birkenhead, and that other one across the River, what was it called? Names of things elude me and I can’t remember what the cinema where I saw my first ‘X’ films was called. It was in Birkenhead not far from Central Station. It may have been an ABC – there were two big cinema chains then, the ABC and the Odeon – but it wasn’t the big one on the main drag. From the dark circle of this joint I watched the splendid DOCTOR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS; and returned a few weeks later for a double bill of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.
Over the river was film paradise. First, for us tots, there were the cartoon cinemas, the Tatler and the Jacey. They showed, well, cartoons, and shorts, often involving animals. Children love it, and if, after a day of arduous shopping, my mother fell asleep during Rin-Tin-Tin, I might get to watch the whole show twice! Then there was the centre of town with the biggest cinemas — the huge ABC on the corner (mostly showing mainstream films, so not so interesting), and down the street the Scala – which showed your dubbed-Italian sex-and-action features, and horror films, and Spaghetti Westerns – and next to it the Futurist, a fine, 70mm cinema where big “roadshow” films like GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WILD BUNCH would play.
Up the road was the Odeon, a cinema in a more modern building, and our first “multiplex” – a three-screener. Like the ABC it showed mostly American, first-run films. Further up still was the Essoldo, which I frequented once or twice to catch a particularly rare Italian item. My favourite cinema was across the screet from the Odeon: the Gaumont, a striking white building with a deco look to it. Cinema exteriors aren’t often a thing of beauty, whereas one of the pleasures of going to the pictures at the Gaumont was the approach to it.
Then came those unsightly concrete porn cinemas, only to be reborn as an art multiplex by Adrian Kai. And then there was FACT… And the Hoylake Community Cinema…
But the crown jewel of Liverpool cinemas had to be the “Abbey Cinerama” — a place far from the city centre, where truly gigantic films were to be seen. It was as if these epic pictures were giant behemoths like Godzilla, who had to be kept chained in the far outskirts of the metropolis… And it was here the Cox family watched IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD. (This later got a regular 35mm release and we saw it again. All agreed it was a fine film.) And here my father and I went to see 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, an amazing picture on an amazing screen, which puzzled us both. Years later we saw CLOSE ENCOUNTERS at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, when my dad visited Los Angeles. he wasn’t impressed: thought 2001 was much better. I had to agree.
And these are only a tiny and the most obvious fraction of the hundreds of cinemas that flourished in Merseyside, back in the day…
Requiescant in pace!
Take a look at the Flickr album;
The now derelict Futurist cinema 2007 – Alex Cox