My dad died almost exactly thirteen years ago. Now, I won't pretend that he was a sage man who imparted words of wisdom that have helped me steer a steady course through my own life as a husband and father (in fact, my abiding memory is of him muttering darkly under his breath), but I will say one thing: when I was growing up, wherever I wanted to go, he would take me.
More than anything, I loved going to the cinema. Looking back, it's not hard to see why. Our local fleapit was the Gaumont State on the Kilburn High Road in north-west London. An Art Deco masterpiece, it comes complete with an imposing 120-foot tower inspired by the Empire State Building, which can still be seen for miles around. When it opened in 1937 (George Formby and Gracie Fields were top of the bill at the opening night's Gala performance) it was - and remained - the biggest cinema ever built in Britain, with seating for over 4,000 people.
Doubling up as a musical venue, over the years it played host to Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Deep Purple – and that's a heavily edited list of some of the greats who played there. Inside, it was all chandeliers and sweeping marble staircases leading up to the auditorium. Think back to the pop video for “Vienna” by Ultravox - it was partly shot in the Gaumont State's lobby. By the time I made its acquaintance in the mid-1970s, the place had seen better days, but it still boasted a girl in every aisle selling choc ices from a tray during the intermission, to the sound of a massive Wurlitzer organ that would rise up out of the stage on an equally massive turntable.
I grew up thinking all cinemas were like this and - despite the efforts of various Odeon Multiplexes to beat the warm fuzzy feelings out of me - to this day I can't go to a cinema without remembering those childhood Saturday evening visits to the flicks, faithfully accompanied by my dad.
But good God, I realise now I forced him to sit through see some really rancid bits of crap. Going to see Star Wars in 1977 set me off on a not-terribly-discerning science fiction jag that lasted to the end of the decade and beyond, and trying to replicate the sheer terror of watching Jaws for the first time caused me to inflict on the poor bloke every cheap underwater monster rip-off that surfaced over the next few years. Although my appetite for film was huge, it wasn't very well informed; I remember coming home in glum silence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, pissed off at Dad for not having taken me to see Close Encounters of the First and Second Kind beforehand.
So, in tribute to my dear departed Dad, I'd like to share with you some of the cinematic turds that I coerced him into watching. Was there ever a greater love, than that of a father who would allow his son to drag him out and waste a perfectly good Saturday evening plonked in front of these clunkers? If either of my children asked the same of me, I know, deep down, that I'd tell them to fuck right off.
Thanks, Dad. Thanks for the shit memories....
A heart-warming tale of mutant pyromaniac cockroaches who emerge from their underground lair to wreak havoc on a small American town. I would have been way too young to see it first time around (though Dad was very liberal in that respect), so I guess it must have been a quickie re-issue to cash in on the cycle of disaster / monster movies that were doing such big business in the later 1970s. Includes a burning cat scene that, in retrospect, must have had my dad thinking “what the bollocking hell are we watching?" Funnily enough, the film was directed by one Jeannot Szwarc, who would later go on to direct Jaws 2. I can only imagine the conversation between studio heads was something along the lines of “Spielberg says he doesn't want to do a sequel!”
“Well then, dammit, get me the guy who did Bug!”
An Italian-American co-production that was quickly knocked together to cash in on the success of Jaws (on about one-tenth the budget). As somebody had already bagsy'd the “giant shark terrorises small seaside community” plot line, the producers opted instead for a highly original “giant octopus terrorises small seaside community” story. God knows how, but they also managed to assemble a cast that included John Huston, Shelley Winters and Henry Fonda (none of which meant a thing to my seven year old self), but a scene where the octopus snatches a baby from a stroller left unattended on a cliff top stayed with me. I can honestly say that, to this day, I have never, ever left either of my children unattended in a stroller on a cliff top. Call me paranoid, but that's just the way I am.
The Cat From Outer Space (1978)
Part of my post-Star Wars, Space = Good viewing jag. A cat from outer space is stranded on Earth where he is relentlessly pursued by shadowy government agencies and the US Army. Being a denizen of outer space, naturally he's telekinetic, and at one point helps his sole human ally evade capture by making his bicycle fly. I'd accuse Steven Spielberg of stealing the idea for ET: The Extraterrestrial a few years later, but I'm fairly sure that me and my dad were the only people to ever see this film.
Battlestar Galactica / Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1978/1979)
Somebody had the bright idea of re-editing the first couple of episodes of these respective television series - which were both brazen attempts to tap into the Star Wars craze - and giving them a cinema release. Even better, they were bundled together in a double bill. My dad must have been absolutely over the moon: ninety minutes of rehashed US television, followed with another ninety minutes of rehashed US television, with a ten-minute Wurlitzer break in between. The next year, I dragged him out to see Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack just so he could relive the memories.
Sean Connery and Natalie Wood paid the bills with starring roles in this science fiction / disaster movie hybrid, in which - surprise, surprise – a meteor is headed on a crash course with planet Earth. A quick perusal of IMdb shows that this film clocks in at a little over 100 minutes, which is news to me: even as a child, it seemed to drag on for two, maybe three days. The meteor approaches Earth very slowly, the US and Soviet Governments very slowly overcome their mistrust of each other to devise a plan, which involves firing a mutual salvo of very slow nuclear missiles at the aforementioned meteor. Looking back, this was probably the film that made me realise that Space Film did not necessarily mean Good Film, no doubt to Dad's eternal relief.
Do stick around for the whole three-and-a-half minutes of the film's trailer, though. Say what you will about the ADD way modern blockbusters are marketed, but back in the day, they didn't just show the good bits - they showed the shit bits, the cheap bits, the actors-looking-bored bits, and then all the other shit bits:
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