Opinion

The swish of red velvet, the swell of music... I’m a picture girl at heart – Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Young people eating popcorn at the cinema
Maybe the excitement of going to the cinema is a generational thing (demaerre/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Our boy has no time for going out to the cinema.

He is a huge film buff and has introduced us to many little known, wonderful films. (Watching sex scenes with your adult children is even more cringeworthy than watching them with your parents.)

But he’d rather watch films at home.

“Why would you go sit in a dark room with a bunch of strangers where you can’t even hit the pause button to go get a drink or head to the toilet?” he asks.

Having sat through Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon, I might agree. Either bring back the old intermission or give out Shewees with the popcorn – yes, they are a thing.

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer
Oppenheimer, starring Cillian Murphy, runs to three hours (Melinda Sue Gordon/AP)

Perhaps the love of going out to the cinema is a generational thing.

It’s like large shopping centres that used to buzz with people – some feel like mausoleums these days. young people order their clothes online and send back what they don’t like.

And indeed, the cinematic experience is available for free in the McCann living room. You couldn’t miss the large screen in the corner.

I still struggle when strangers visit. There is such a thing as screen snobbery. It seems to affect mainly women.

Our big boy of a TV arrived courtesy of a Boxing Day sale. I had been worn down with being Mother Christmas and there was a sale and they sneaked a 43″ job past me.

Young woman enjoying leisure time at home at night, watching a movie on TV and eating popcorn
Woman watching a movie on TV at home The cinematic experience is available for free in the McCann living room (vladans/Getty Images)

I was lost for words when I saw it.

“It’s so… big,” I said.

“Yes,” they cried joyously. They could have stuck on their kit and played alongside the Gunners.

Then when our boy moved to pastures new, he went for an even bigger screen.



“I didn’t know they did them like that,” I said. It is the cinema experience minus the strangers and plus the pause button that allows you a custard cream and a pee without missing a second.

But I still love going out to the cinema.

My father used to reminisce about Saturday mornings when he and his friends went to the picture house and paid with empty jam jars. They wore their cowboy hats, waved their cap guns and generally shot the baddies alongside the goodies, whirling their arms and their guns wildly as if they too were galloping on horseback.

TOM MIX, CINEMA ACTOR, FAMOUS FOR HIS
COWBOY ROLES. 1920.
Cowboy films were a favourite for young boys (PA/PA)

In Ballymena where I grew up, there were two cinemas – The Tower and The State – and a visit was the biggest treat ever.

The seats were red velvet and were the worse for wear. I never saw them in daylight – the magic began when you were guided through the dark by an usher with a torch.

Once, my mother promised that we could go if I could get my four-year-old brother to write his name – it nearly killed me – but I’d have climbed every mountain to get to The Sound of Music.

I remember my mother getting dressed for an evening out to watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – she even brought a box of fancy chocolates to share with her friends.

“What glamour… strawberry creams and Robert Redford,” I thought.

Alastair Sim and Margaret Rutherford, stars of the film 'The Happiest Days of Your Life', in the Carlton Cinema, where the film was shown especially for nine coach loads of children - many of whom were 'extras' in the film.
Film - 'The Happiest Days of Your Life' - Carlton Cinema, London Younger generations don't know the magic of the picture house (PA/PA)

Yes, Darby O’Gill and his little people were traumatising – that banshee scared the bejaysus out of us – but the joy of the picture house remains.

Those were the days of matinees – two pictures with an intermission – and sometimes the first film was a little known gem. In the break, women walked about selling fancy ice creams and cigarettes.

Give me the swish of a red velvet cushion, the swell of music, the hushed silence.

Yes, Darby O’Gill and his little people were traumatising – that banshee scared the bejaysus out of us – but the joy of the picture house remains

Give me the soft crunch of popcorn and the final mad dash for the exit as God Save The Queen struck up.

Give me the old QFT where you queued up the back alley and foreign films seemed so exotic.

Maybe times are changin’ but I’m a picture house girl at heart.