I’ve always loved going to the cinema. Since I was a kid and the expedition to the two screener in Wimbledon a treat for high days and summer days and whenever we had the money to go. They still had a commissioner in those days (Ashes to Ashes territory), a short man with a lot of gold on his uniform and a hatred of kids. I can remember my mum getting into a row with him because she was bringing me to see a 15 certificate and I was only 12 or 13. He called her bluff but my mum was never a person to cross and he ended up backing down. The film, if I remember right, was The Assam Garden, hardly a riot of violence and torture porn.
When I was in school in Sligo the trip to the flicks was the once monthly treat for boarders. I went on my first proper date to the cinema. It was hardly the most obvious date movie…a film called Skindeep most famous for the scene where you see light sabre-like duelling condoms.
Once I’d left school and moved away from home, cinema became a refuge from long days and a strange city. The cinemas along Abbey Street here in Dublin were my favourites – the Adelphi for the Hollywood blockbusters and the tiny Lighthouse for foreign films and arthouse. I can remember a friend and I going to see Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves dozens of times during the summer of 1991. Both of us can still quote most of Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham dialogue by heart.
The Lighthouse was a different experience. Tiny and red carpeted the screens had an intimate atmosphere I’ve never encountered before or since. Screen two in particular only sat around around 30 people. I remember once, during a showing of Tous Les Matins du Monde staring the Depardieu father and son, someone started handing round Maltesers to the whole audience – there were only about six of us.
The Adelphi and the old Lighthouse are long gone, as is the Adelphi’s sister hotel the Carlton which used to be at the top of O’Connell Street opposite the Savoy. By then the Irish Film Centre had opened up in Temple Bar, showing art house and independent films, retrospectives, foreign films but also providing a hub for a certain section of the cinema going public. There was a restaurant there, a bar and a shop. The big airy space in an old glassed over courtyard seemed fresh and modern. I was working for a community radio station at the time, while I was in college. I’d got involved with the movie show and used to love going to the IFC in the morning clutching paper cup of coffee and balancing a notebook on my knee in the dark.
I saw so many films in those morning showings, too many to detail here. I’d always wanted to review movies and was finally living the dream. I used to sit in the dark listening to the scratching of pens from all the other reviewers around me. I enjoyed every film I saw, partially because they were free, even if I would sometimes find fault – just for the show of it!
I loved the IFC, now the IFI, but I always missed the Lighthouse. Even in the early morning press screenings, no one ever handed round Maltesers and there was never the same sense of camaraderie, that you knew you were in the company of like-minded people, or at least, one or two like minded people and quite a few homeless people and pensioners.
So I was delighted, ecstatic even, when I heard that, not only were we getting a local cinema in Smithfield but it was going to be the resurrected Lighthouse. This time last year it opened and we’ve been going ever since. In it’s new incarnation it’s a far cry from the tatty seats and cigarette stained red carpet of the old Abbey Street venue. The new Lighthouse is quite simply the nicest cinema in Dublin and in the top three of cinemas I’ve ever been to.
I love the multicoloured seating in the largest screen and the fact that every screen is different. I love the fact that it’s designed with lots of interesting spaces and places to sit when you’re not watching films…it cries out to be used for seminars and conferences and talks, and I gather it’s been pulled into service for that very purpose more than once. But probably the thing I like most about it is that it’s so far underground, deep under Smithfield Square, that mobile phones just don’t work – and anyone who’s had a pivotal cinematic moment ruined by some gimps novelty ring tone will agree that no signal is a good thing in a cinema.
I’ve become positively evangelical about the Lighthouse. It really is a world class place and worthy successor to it’s Abbey Street predecessor. It deserves to do well and I really don’t think I could deal with losing the Lighthouse for a second time!
I’ve nothing against the multiplex experience. There’s nothing wrong with a decent blockbuster when you’re in the mood and multiscreens are great for those. My favourite in Dublin is Cineworld on Parnell Street…a good selection of films and it’s actually a big enough place that even marauding packs of kids don’t get underfoot while they’re waiting for the latest pre teen sensation to start. But a small local cinema like the Lighthouse that shows interesting films and champions the titles that would never get a multiplex showing…that wins every time.
I love films and I will always love going to the cinema. Being able to get lost in another world for a couple of hours knowing that around you there are other people lost in exactly the same world is like nothing else. It’s a totally different form of storytelling than books, communal rather than solitary and there are times when that simply can’t be best. Theatre is a local experience. A play is done performed by a specific group of people in a specific venue and will only be that way with those people and that venue. Cinema is universal, one vision suits all, the whole world can see the same thing.
The Lighthouse is a cinema for people who love film, run by people who love film. That can’t be bettered!