DEAR BROADWAY, I MISS YOU
by Kate Wood
For as long as I can remember, my experiences of movies and the cinema have been tied up with Broadway. For as long as I can remember, I have been tied up with Broadway.
My Broadway is a small independent cinema in the middle of the East Midlands in England. It is where I was taken on my first cinema trip (with a friend, when we were about five years old): The Wizard of Oz, shown on the big screen. I had no issues with them, but my friend had to leave early because of the flying monkeys. I can’t judge him—those monkeys are tough.
I remember being eight and going to Broadway to see The Railway Children. I remember being nine and going with my Granny for lunch in the café, and eating grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. I remember thinking they were just about the best.
Then I remember leaving it for a few years, when I thought the red velvet sofas in the bar—bald in patches, and covered with incriminating cigarette burns—were shabby and that the multiplex was much cooler. The multiplex was where everyone else went. (That small betrayal sums up those years where being different surely means the end of the world.) But after wrestling my teen identity into submission and making some friends who shared my (in hindsight, horribly saccharine) 15-year-old romantic and sentimental nature, I returned. We spent every day after school there; once we left school for college, we spent our lunch breaks there. We were dedicated, we were committed. While others idly smoked, we drank hot chocolates covered in cream and marshmallows—pretty much the height of cool, I assure you.
The Christmas I was sixteen, my best friend and I got memberships. We endeavoured to educate ourselves in independent cinema, sighing over Sofia Coppola, musing over Wes Anderson. Surely the opening night of Marie Antoinette was one of the most exciting moments of my cinema-going life up to that point. Then, only one week after my eighteenth birthday, Broadway gave me a job. The most perfect first job for a some what lazy, film-obsessed teen: open the doors, rip the tickets, wait for the film to finish. From that point on, my memory of film would be intrinsically linked with screens and shifts, with projectionists. With the hours spent in the projection box while films play out below, the audiences unaware of your presence just behind the whirring projectors. It is connected with timing, ‘usher maths,’ as we named it: working out at what time to time to open the doors at the end. My memories are angry with henry hoovers and popcorn explosions.
For the three years I have worked there I can date films based on who I saw them with, and when and what was going on in my life at the time. I remember which films were flops and which were surprise runaway hits. I remember useless information about run times. I remember the week of 127 Hours with seven fainters in six days. (The same week, incidentally, as The King’s Speech, for which we sold every seat in every screen: the entire house.)
I sometimes feel that ushering is one of those jobs people see as a novelty. A toy job. Friends who come to visit at work ask to put on the staff badge, beg to be allowed to rip a ticket. Sitting alone outside the screen in chairs from IKEA, reading during the film, customers will tell you what a cushy job it is. Don’t worry, I know.
There is still a thrill of excitement that runs through me when I sit in a sold-out cinema screen. Going to the cinema continues to be my favourite thing to do. Still waiting for the novelty to wear off, I revel in smell of popcorn, the enjoyment of a printed programme. I weigh the pros and cons of a new cinema seat, the trailers. Oh, the trailers. I would pay £6.50 to watch 90 minutes of trailers.
The cinema is where I feel at home, waiting for the audience to arrive, listening to the pre-show chatter of 300 people filing into a packed auditorium as Frank Sinatra plays. (There was a long-lasting six month period in 2008 where the only CD in one screen was Frank Sinatra. I still can’t think of “Luck Be A Lady” without associating it with ripping tickets.) Then left alone in the theater at the end of the show; an empty cinema screen can suddenly become a very spooky place.
There have been late-night screenings, Dario Argento double bills, Breakfast at Tiffany’s every Valentine’s Day and It’s A Wonderful Life every Christmas. There have been previews, directors, a Paul Schrader appearance, Metropolis, satellite, 3D, Vertigo at least twice, midnight Harry Potter screenings, festivals. Japanese films, Jewish films, Truffaut seasons. There was the time I got tickets for my date to see An Education, and he turned to me at the end and said, “Well, thanks anyway.” There was True Grit on Valentine’s day with my best friend, a box of popcorn each. There was Inglourious Basterds two days in a row. There was that fateful nineteenth birthday spent watching Antichrist. And there was having the screen almost entirely to myself, watching Grease on a Saturday afternoon with a pint of Coke while working and thinking about how bloody good my job was. There have been two to three cinema visits a week for three years.
And now they’ve come to an end. I have spent a long time at Broadway trying to figure out what I like. My friends like to tell me that I never enjoy films but that’s not true. It is simply that I know what I want. I want Election, Swingers, Withnail and I, Cry-Baby, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I left Broadway last Autumn to study film in Brighton. To try and educate myself properly this time. And while I went back at Christmas for a couple of shifts, and will probably always be at least honorary Broadway staff, it’s not the same. For the most part I am the customer now and I am having to get used the concept that people expect you to pay for movies. Pay for movies. To take a gamble on what you think you may enjoy and go with that hunch. Also, what do people do on a Sunday afternoon? I have worked every Sunday afternoon for what feels like forever.
At a loss, I go to the cinema and mourn ripping tickets.
Kate Wood studies film in Brighton, England. She tumbls here.
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