Friday, September 24, 2010

I'll Have Some General Custer Grits, a Milkybar, and a Quickie Burger with My Movie

My wife and I are not global tourists, but we were fortunate enough to spend three weeks in Great Britain back in the 1980s--when airfares were cheap and our bodies were young. Armed with nothing more than our BritRail passes and backpacks, we trekked from London to Straford-Upon-Avon to York and deep into Scotland. The highlight of our trip was a visit with Leslie Halliwell, author of The Filmgoer's Companion--but that's another story. This one is about the movie theatres we encountered across the big pond.

We saw our first London film, Personal Services starring Julie Walters, at the Empire 4 in Leicester Square. A large urban theatre, the Empire sold tickets for 4 to 5 pounds, which was probably around $8. Patrons reserved seats on a computer (maybe that was done in NYC or L.A. back home...but not where we lived). The lobby included a bar--not just a snack bar, but one served that alcoholic beverages. There was a Baskin-Robbins in the lobby as well as a video gift shop. There were snacks aplenty, but with unusual names like General Custer Grits (I think they were pork rinds), Quickie-burgers, and Milkybars.  Interestingly, there were no loos (I mean...restrooms) in the lobby--they were located inside the auditorium.

The Empire 4 was a nice enough theatre...although 25 minutes of commercials prior to the feature seemed excessive (especially back then). The bottom line is that it was pretty much a big city movie theatre, not unlike, I suspect, what one would have found in Chicago, New York, or L.A. at the time.

In Bath, we found a movie house with much more ambiance: the appro-priately named Little Theatre. Its exterior, consisting  of whitish stone and old-fashioned framed movie posters, lacked the pizzazz of the ornate movie palaces. But it possessed its own distinct charm, helped immeasurably by its delightful fare of non-mainstream films. Of course, our movie-going experience may have been enhanced by the film we saw there: Claude Berri's tragic classic Jean de Florette. I'm glad to report that the Little Theatre in Bath is still flourishing today and has amassed 411 fans on Facebook.

I confess that I can't recall much about the movie theatre in Edinburgh where we saw John Boorman's Hope and Glory. I just remember that it seemed like the perfect film to see during our visit to Great Britain. When we returned to London at the end of our trip, we were lucky enough to catch Manon des Sources, the sequel (second half is perhaps a better description) to Jean de Florette. Again, the movie dominated its surroundings.

We didn't see a film at the Leicester Square Theatre, but I couldn't pass on the opportunity to snap this photo of its marquee with a statue of the Little Tramp in the foreground.
In the end, we didn't visit any elaborate showcases of cinematic splendor. However, we did get to experience watching a movie in another country, albeit one that speaks the same language. That left us with some great memories which come flooding back whenever we see those movies again. I haven't seen Jean de Florette in a few years, but just thinking of it makes me yearn for a Milkybar!


  1. What a lovely reminiscence, Rick! It was especially nice to read that The Little Theatre was still in business because it looked very quaint in the picture. Thank you for sharing these precious memories with us.

  2. The movies theatres are interesting, but I'm intrigued and extremely jealous of your trip! Sounds like a dream. Oh that days when one could backpack like that -- these days I could maybe backpack to the alley and back, probably not too much further. Stratford-on-Avon -- wow. As a Shakespeare lover, that sounds like a dream come true. That is a true treasure of a memory!

  3. Rick, What a wonderful recollection of your trip and the theaters and films you took in. I remember seeing HOPE AND GLORY long ago, and it does seem like a perfect film to see while visiting GB. Great post, and thanks...

  4. Toto and Eve, it's a lovely memory we'll always cherish. Whenever I smell diesel fumes, I always think of the trains. Becky, Stratford-Upon-Avon was one of the highlights. We saw JULIUS CAESAR there, although I was surprised that it was performed against a brick sets at all. We saw some West End plays in London courtesy of half-price/same day tickets. Stephen Sondheim's FOLLIES starring Diana Rigg was always sold out, but we did get into the delightful comedy THE ROVER with Jeremy Irons, Stephanie Beacham, and Imogen Stubbs (who sparkled in the film A SUMMER STORY).

  5. Like Becky, I enjoyed your details of the movie theatres and found your London, et al. trip even more intriguing. And like Vincent Vega in PULP FICTION, my interest is thoroughly piqued by the European nuances, the little and seemingly insignificant differences between the U.S. and over there. Two British terms I think we should adopt: lofts in lieu of apartments, and torches in lieu of flashlights. Thanks, Rick, for a wonderful read, which makes me want to hear more of your trip and also makes me crave a Quickie-burger.

  6. Rick, I always love to read and see the wonderful pictures of others travel adventures. How fun that you were able to experience the movies in another country. Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories with us.