Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Next stop - The Ritz! (in Belper...)

Principles. It’s good to have a few by which to live life. They help you feel like it’s possible to make a difference, if only in the smallest of ways.

Not buying bottled water unless your life depends on it.

Avoiding shopping in Tesco.

Ignoring any new novels written by Dan Brown.

Essentially, anything that allows us to assuage that terrible, inherent guilt we all possess as human beings.

(Or am I the only one feeling that? After all, anyone who knows me might recognise all those examples as being little rules of my own invention…).

A recent addition to that (very much abridged!) list is an undertaking to try and support independent cinemas when possible. It has been a long-held and ever-increasing bugbear that modern multiplexes are gradually sucking the life – the very soul, even – out of the pleasure of ‘going to the movies’.

Cynical attempts to encourage the purchase of their over-priced confectionary, an unwillingness to show pictures that won’t appeal to a mass audience, and ticket prices that long ago stopped reflecting the level of care and interest taken in showing a film – all of these (and other reasons less pertinent to the topic in hand) help explain why I went from sometimes seeing two films in a single afternoon to only watching two films in two years.

But then, in November 2010, something happened to make me realise there is an answer to these irritations. Frustrated at having let Inception, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, and Toy Story 3 all slip by without setting eyes on them, I was determined to ensure the same fate did not befall The Social Network. In making the necessary arrangements, my good friend James offered to show me his new favourite haunt – the Quad at Derby.

It might be hard to describe the place without sounding like an advert; suffice it to say that even on a quiet Wednesday evening, with a cold drizzle falling on the deserted market place outside, the Quad instantly felt like home. It had the kind of atmosphere that few public venues are able to achieve, offering with open arms an opportunity to indulge creative aspirations of any sort without being intrusive or overbearing.

That it also had a programme of films across two screens sufficient to shame a mainstream ten-screen cinema (in terms of both quality and depth, while also offering introductions to selected screenings by local film experts) was simply the icing on the cake. Leaving Derby that night, I recognised the epiphany that had taken place and went home with a contented soul.

More recently, when my better half suggested she would like to see The King’s Speech, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to try and sway her in the direction of an independent cinema. Naturally, the Quad came to mind instantly, but a quick bit of research revealed a whole world of previously unknown possibility. Sure, none of the cinemas were a truly convenient distance away, but there were some within an acceptable car journey. Reading the list as a cinema equivalent of the Michelin restaurant guide, it seemed reasonable to assume there was a good reason for their continued existence in the age of the multiplex and a ‘detour’ would therefore be worthwhile.

Hence the decision (albeit a somewhat unilateral one!) was made to try the Ritz Cinema in Belper (a town not a million miles away from Derby, as it happens). Unfortunately, they weren’t showing The King’s Speech on the day we wanted, and so it was to the Quad we went instead. Frankly, it was a wonderful feeling knowing that was our alternative, and I still intend to try the Ritz Cinema sometime if only to see what else the independent world has to offer.

The reason for recounting these recent experiences is to reflect on the situation of my hometown. Leek is the semi-rural home to 20,000 or so people, but has little in the way of entertainment facilities. For the most part, anyone wanting to enjoy leisure activities goes down the road to Stoke. There used to be a cinema in the town, and barely a week goes by in the local press without a lament for its appalling decline and eventual demolition (a block of flats, of uninspiring design, now stand on the site).

Throttled by the indecision (and, at times, incompetence) of just about every Local Authority administration that has held office in recent times, Leek has variously been promised a theatre, a cinema, both, or one facility combining the two. Half-hearted ideas tend to lack detail, and it is therefore impossible to establish exactly what the people of the town are being offered. The latest idea, which assumes a theatre will be developed separately, is a cinema and bowling complex built over a car park.

It is perhaps wrong to be pessimistic – after all, many would argue we should be grateful for anything we can get – but that sounds worryingly ‘mechanical’ and ‘by the numbers’. Would it be wrong to ask for a little ambition?

Given everything above, it will come as no surprise that I’d like nothing more than for Leek receive its own independent cinema. It wouldn’t have much in the way of history, but everyone has to start somewhere (and you only have to listen to the good doctors Kermode and Mayo broadcasting on Radio Five Live from the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley to grasp what can be achieved with time and a little passion).

Whether an equivalent of the Quad (or, maybe, a scaled down version) could ever be made to work in a town like Leek is the million-dollar question. Perhaps an independent venue needs a mainstream opposite to swallow the demand for Transformers sequels and Jennifer Aniston romantic comedies. Could one facility do both? Or shall I just let the council get on with whatever they want while I keep travelling to our well-kept secrets?

You can find James on Twitter: @Jimvincible

The Ritz Cinema in Belper: http://www.ritz-belper.co.uk/

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