Do you remember when going to the cinema used to be an occasion? When it really meant something?
I grew up in the generation of the mutliplex. But, the cinema was still the site of first dates or the only place you could go when you looked too spotty to get a fake ID.
My dad was in his 20s in the 1970s. However, this was the 1970s in Northern Ireland, not a period our country’s history will remember fondly. I asked him what the cinema scene was like back then.
There were no multiplex cinemas. They were all independent single screens. He described the velvet chairs, balconies above and curtains hanging in front of the screen. He remembers the lady standing at the front with an ice cream tray as your only chance for concessions. He recalled how Kelly’s Heroes (his favourite film) had stayed at his local screen for 6 straight weeks. Can you imagine only having one option for a month and a half?
The good ole days
To me there is a romance in the image this description conjures up. I love the idea of a stylish retro-themed cinema, but my Dad corrected me that the reality was a bit different. He said there was no such thing as Mini Mornings for kids movies or Mum and Tot screenings. In fact, if there wasn’t a big movie to be shown then the cinemas would screen X-rated films.
In Northern Ireland there was a curfew that meant the screenings had to be on early. My mum remembers little motivation to go to the cinema as a bomb scare would mean evacuation before the end of the film. To this day, she makes a point of checking where the exits are before she sits down.
I guess I grew up in a transition period for cinema. The 1990s were the beginning of multi screen cinemas but before online booking. I still remember queuing around the block for the ‘Blair Witch Project’, but being turned away once the screens were full.
The sense of excitement and anticipation of queuing for a movie was a lot like queuing for a concert.
Warner Brothers Father’s Day Screening
This is why I was delighted to be asked to attend Warner Brothers Father’s Day screening of ‘Unforgiven’ at the London Warner Brothers Preview Screen. THIS was going to be an occasion.
A revolving door on the way in, vaulted lobby area with special security passes, a sleek reception room with the new release posters all over the walls, complimentary beer, and plenty of Clint Eastwood paraphernalia. (That man has made A LOT of films).
The screening room itself was cosy, only about 5 rows of comfortable seats and a large, low set screen, just the right height to take in the beauty of the scenery in ‘Unforgiven’.
So what did I learn from 2 hours of watching the 1992 Best Picture ‘Unforgiven’ in London on a Monday night?
Firstly, at no age is it comfortable watching a sex scene with your dad.
I’m 33, I have two kids. HE has two kids. The opening scene involves some ladies of the night in an old western brothel and we both immediately shifted uncomfortably in our seats. Sorry Dad!
Secondly, being a single dad in 1878 looks hard.
Clint Eastwood’s wife has died of smallpox and he is living the pig farmer life with his two kids. Between trying to corral some swine, answering his kids questions patiently, and responding to accusations that he might be a sadistic killer from years ago it looks like Dad Life hasn’t gotten much less complicated in 140 years.
Thirdly, apparently babysitting wasn’t a thing back then.
I can’t leave my kids in the car while I pay for petrol. Clint rides off into the sunset to kill some cowboys and tells his kids (8 and 10) that he’ll be back in two weeks. I suppose times have changed.
Fourthly, this whole film is about not underestimating the elderly.
I confess I wondered why they had picked ‘Unforgiven’ as the movie to screen. I concluded they were looking for something stereotypically “DAD”. Something that would split the generation gap and provide a good balance of Clint Eastwood nostalgia with a badass shoot out ending. It was only halfway through, with my Dad Blogger hat on, that I realised why the underlying theme of the film is important to sons and fathers.
I’ve previously written about how I no longer identify with the young characters in films and TV shows and, in fact, it’s the parents I feel a kinship with. That was not the case with ‘Unforgiven’. In 1992, Clint Eastwood was only slightly younger than my Dad is now. I suspect my Dad would have struggled saddling a horse or rustling some pigs just like Clint did at the beginning.
I, like the Schofield Kid, could, from time to time, be guilty of thinking I know best. That I am full of the exuberance and short term arrogance of youth. The Scholfield Kid, in the movie, is short sighted both physically and about his life and abilities. Clint, in contrast, has the slow, deliberate pace of a man with experience. A man who has seen plenty in his time and knows no good comes of rushing.
I’m 33, a full time military helicopter pilot, a dad blogger, a husband and father of two under 5, I rush around ALL the time. I only arrived at the train station to go to this screening with 3 mins to spare!
My dad is from a family of seven, who lived in a terrace house in Belfast with an outdoor toilet. He left school before finishing and ended up running three of his own companies and putting two children through grammar school.
Yes there are times when I’m frustrated that not everyone is operating at the pace I’m operating at and isn’t as fragged and tired as I am. But the truth is, if I ever find myself in a climactic standoff in a western saloon with Gene Hackman, metaphorically speaking, it is my Dad’s steady and experienced hand that I’d want backing me up.
So, thank you, Warner Brothers, for the chance to share this experience with my Dad. Thank you, Clint Eastwood, for reminding me to appreciate my Dad a little more and thank you London for turning cinema back into a proper occasion for us both.