Friday, May 02, 2008

Here's Looking At You, Ray

Yesterday I attended the inaugural meeting of the Rock Tavern Cinema Club. I was moved to establish this new beacon of the arts in Upper Edge by the runaway success of the Rock Tavern Reading Group (books read : one, meetings held : nil). As with the Reading Group, I felt confident that my choice of programme would be sufficient to energise a substantial following so I waited outside the Rex Cinema in Elland a few minutes before the start of the matinee performance of Casablanca with a high level of expectation.

It is, of course, the fate of cultural prophets to be ignored. I know this, I am used to it. So I took my lonely place on the tenth row, sat back, and listened to the introductory recital on the mighty-ish Conn Cinema organ with equanimity.

The Rex is a truly wonderful venue. One of the oldest cinema's in the country, it is the kind of place you would marvel at if it was reconstructed in the heart of a theme park. For just £3 I gained entry and as much tea or coffee as I could drink. The average age of the audience was well into its' seventies, and many of the ladies (it is the kind of place where the audience is mainly female and they can only be described as "ladies") had dressed up for their weekly trip to the cinema. Before the programme started a highly competent lady played the organ whilst the lady who served the tea sang along and occasionally incorporated a discreet dance step as she nursed the tea urn. The audience was respectful : nobody talked during the performance and the ladies with the more flamboyant hats, took them off. There was only muted hissing at the entry of Colonel Strasser of the Gestapo, and when the patrons of Rick's Cafe Americain sang La Marseillaise, most of the audience managed to stay in tune.

If the truth be told, I knew that nobody else would want to join the Rock Tavern Cinema Club. I went for two reasons : first, I have never seen Casablanca on the big (big-ish) screen. And second, it was a nice way to remember my good friend Ray Atkin who died last year. Both Ray and I felt that Casablanca was by far the best film ever made. We spoke about it often, including the last time I saw him, when he was in hospital shortly before he died. He was a kind man, a good man and a brave man. Had he still been alive, I know Ray would have made the trip up from Sheffield to go and see Casablanca with me. He was with me in my thoughts yesterday. Here's looking at you, Ray.

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