« Fire Memories | Main | Hokey Pokey »

A Shout From The Attic: Youth And Confusion - 1

...one of my delights was to go to the Lounge up Newsome Road to see a short ‘B’ western which could be Johnny Mack Brown or Hopalong Cassidy or Eddy Dean or Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, or any other well-dressed, square-jawed, upright, no-nonsense, and no romance heroes of the Old West. I knew their horses as well as I knew them, could describe their guns, hats, boots, and spurs. These were real heroes....

Ronnie Bray recalls his early cinema-going days.

The University of the Silver Screen

What’s Hollywood to him, or he to Hollywood? Well might this question be asked. My love affair with Hollywood has no beginning in my memory. Hollywood and the cinema were facts of life, as timeless as the earth, as mysterious as the dark realms of Pluto, and as seductive as a warm bed on a cold night.

The Huddersfield of my childhood was well served with cinemas, many of them having changes of programme midweek and some with Saturday morning programmes for the young.

I was young and one of my delights was to go to the Lounge up Newsome Road to see a short ‘B’ western which could be Johnny Mack Brown or Hopalong Cassidy or Eddy Dean or Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, or any other well-dressed, square-jawed, upright, no-nonsense, and no romance heroes of the Old West. I knew their horses as well as I knew them, could describe their guns, hats, boots, and spurs. These were real heroes. Everyone knows that the camera cannot lie.

The programme would include a variety of comic shorts and a serial. My favourite was Flash Gordon. I can visualise the tin can space ships, spitting fewer sparks than a dud Standard Fireworks "Little Demon.” Up and away, they went, into the clutches of Ming the Merciless, the evil one whose aim was universal and galactic domination.

He was aided and abetted by a woman who was too beautiful for her own good, who peered through half-closed eyes, mjust as I did, but glasses cured me of it. Maybe there were no opticians on Mars.

I especially liked the Clay Men, who slithered out of the walls to help Flash Gordon and his outnumbered party just when it seemed as if Ming and his base minions would triumph. Oh, the agony of the closing weekly episode which showed Flash at the mercy of the merciless one. Why was that woman always smiling at Flash? He had a younger, more human, girl permanently attached to him.

Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe, who played the eponymous hero of the serial, wore his underpants outside his tights and no one thought it strange. At least, I did not. That may have been because I did not wear them, so did not realise the incongruity of the hero’s sartorial error.

The biggest and plushest cinema in town was the Ritz. This was later renamed the ABC which told you nothing about this super theatre. It housed a Wurlitzer cinema organ and we sang along to songs projected on screen. Even self-conscious cinemagoers sang a bit. The Ritz occupied the site of the former cloth hall where my great grandfather sold the cloth he manufactured at his premises in Deighton. I did not know that when I was a devotee of the nearest thing to a palace that most Huddersfieldonians ever entered. The management team was uniformed, authoritative, visibly in charge, and not to be trifled with.

The cinemas were full of films intended either to remind us of the war, the part played by our brave lads, their loyal allies, and the evil nature of our brutal enemies. Or they were meant to transport us from the terrors and anxieties of war, into a world of plenty, phantasy and spectacle.

Westerns let us ride full gallop to wild places with wild people, and the man in the white hat always got the girl, unless he was black-hatted Hopalong Cassidy. Comedies eased my alienation, making me feel good until it wore off somewhere on the way home. For the most part, the films they did their jobs well.

It was from the movies that I learned about America, its inhabitants, and its institutions. While I have learned that exaggeration is an essential part of the movie maker’s art, I believe that at least they represented the aspirations of most Americans. I like America in spite of its mistakes and the ignorant foolishness of some of its people.

I have never understood what we used to call the colour bar, or racism. All arguments against outsider groups are monotonous, repetitive, and lacking scientific or common sense foundations. Ignorance and fear lie at the heart of prejudice and sinister manipulators overplay their accompanying anxieties. I find all forms of prejudice nauseating.

American films portrayed Native-Americans, Mexicans, Africans, sub-continentals, and Afro-Americans as simple-minded buffoons. Native Americans or ‘Indians’ were untrustworthy, bloodthirsty, and cruel. Irish-Americans came out a little better, usually portrayed as Catholic priests, policemen, corrupt politicians, or simple-minded buffoons. Chinese, except for Charlie Chan, were half shadows, scurrying, pusillanimous simple minded buffoons.

Only the ‘All-American’ hero had thunder in his guts and fire in his belly. The American hero was a mixture of devout, invariably Protestant Christian, ethically driven mountain-man, world-class athlete, and all round good guy who smoked like a mill chimney.

Women according to Hollywood were of two types: angels and devils. Angels waited patiently while their menfolk did whatever needed doing without worrying their “pretty little heads about it”, and the devils got involved with the wrong man, fell in love with the hero and died altruistic deaths to save her love rival and prevent any sort of mess being left after the dénouement.

This kind of imaging distorted perception in a young lad whose contact with women was generally unsatisfactory, since they were always in positions of authority, but never in sympathy.

There was a greyness about the war that overlaid many aspects of life. Its symbols were everywhere: constant reminders that the nation was in danger. Toy aeroplanes, ships, and military vehicles were normal playthings. The language of war - as we understood it from film and fiction - was the common language of childhood, and yet it all seemed so far away, as if it was happening to another people in another place and in another time. It was at once close and distant.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.