|Not quite that long ago, but not far off it...
The first film I saw in the cinema was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, in 1984. I was six years old. I remember that I wanted to see Star Trek: The Search for Spock. My parents told me that it was "all talk", and that I would find it boring. Even all these years later, I feel a mild pang of regret about this. Movies can’t have too much dialogue for my liking. However, they were probably right. All that earnest talk of phasers and warp speed would doubtless have been over the head of a six-year-old.
We went to see it in the Savoy in Dublin's O'Connell Street. I can very vividly remember glimpsing “the silver screen” for the first time. As John Keats might have described the moment : “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, when some new planet swims into his ken…” The screen was already alight with images, as a previous screening of the movie was coming to an end.
I can legitimately say that my first movie had me on the edge of my seat—literally. I didn’t realize that the seat folded down, and I spent that time sitting on its upturned edge. I was spared the embarrassment of anybody noticing—eventually, I worked it out for myself.
I'm surprised at how clearly I can remember the movie, in which the adventurous archaeologist falls into the clutches of an Indian cult which practices human sacrifice. A scene in which all the characters are hanging from a rope bridge is particularly vivid. Although Temple of Doom was a PG film, it got criticized for its darkness and violence. I wasn't in the slightest bit scared or traumatised, however. I was in raptures!
I'm sure that, whatever film we’d gone to see, my reaction would have been the same. The cinema was an experience unlike any I’d had before. The screen was so big, the theatre was so dark, the decor of the cinema was so plush and elegant, that I was awe-struck . Going to the movies was a bigger experience than any I'd ever had before, and somehow it made life itself seem more exciting. The world never looks more promising than it looks through the window of a cinema screen.
I encountered Indiana Jones again when I was twelve, this time in The Last Crusade, but I hardly remember it. Nostalgia is an unpredictable thing. Despite his major role in my early cinema trips, the name “Indiana Jones” doesn’t conjure up the slightest glimmering of nostalgia in me.
Around the same time, I went to see a cinema release which was surrounded by more hype than any other piece of entertainment I can remember. This was the first Batman movie starring Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson. Although I remember enjoying the movie, the thing I recall most vividly is the sight of a life-size cardboard Batman in the lobby.
When it came to movies, I was quite a connoisseur even at a young age. Since my brother was a fan of the Biggles books, which featured an English flying ace, we all went to see the movie version. Even at nine years old, I knew it was terrible! In an effort to make the old-fashioned stories more modern, time travel and a rock soundtrack were added. Critics, audiences, and one little boy in Dublin were all equally unimpressed.
No such reservations applied to Young Sherlock Holmes, a movie which imagined Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson meeting as teenagers. This boasted the first computer-generated character in screen history—during a hallucination scene, a stained glass knight leaps from a church window and attacks an unfortunate cleric. But it was the strong script and the cosy Victorian visuals that impressed me most. This trip to the cinema was also memorable because me and my brother should have been in school—but my mother, resigned to the fact that we’d played truant, brought us to the cinema instead! I’m sure I gained more from that day out than I would have from my classes, anyway.
The magic of the movies extended beyond the walls of the cinema itself. I remember how avidly I used to follow the cinema listings in the Evening Herald. The chick-flick Dirty Dancing seemed to dominate them for weeks and weeks, and I imagined it must be the biggest blockbuster of all time. I’d never heard of Gone with the Wind, which still holds the record for most cinema tickets ever sold.
I was enthralled to hear second-hand accounts of trips to the movies, too. A family acquaintance told me that she’d fallen asleep in the cinema—watching Batman, as it happened. I was scandalized. How could anyone waste a moment of a trip to the movie? And I must say, all these years and hundreds of cinema trips later, I’ve never once fallen asleep at a movie—even when the film deserved it!