Interviewee: Guy Davidson
Date of Interview : 27 July 2010
Guy was born in September 1967 and moved to Brighton in October 1987.Cinema going has been very important to Guy, whose mother was a graphic designer and had dreams of designing credits for film. She taught Guy to observe the graphics and typefaces in the opening and closing credits.Whilst Guy first came to the Duke of York’s in 1988, he had known of the cinema from the time he began Sussex University. Guy notes that he cannot remember that first experience.
Guy remembers the late night double bills screened on Friday and Saturday nights from around 10pm to 2 or 3am in the morning. On the whole the films shown would be similar in style and content.
Guy: Back in the late eighties, it was, it’s difficult to put it politely, it was quite run down, the screen was, it was, it was elegantly shabby I think is probably the best way of describing it. The seats were functional, you could actually sit in them for four hours but you certainly did feel it when you got up again.
Vaska: What colour were they?
Guy: They were dark red? I think they were supposed to be dark red. But of course back then you could smoke and drink in the venue which was one of the main draws actually, sitting up in the balcony with a bottle of whisky and a few spliffs, it was quite a, it was the done thing! And I’m sure that probably didn’t do the fabrics any good at all!
Vaska: And what was the, when you first came into the cinema area, from outside, can you walk me through? Talk me through as you walk through.
Guy: As I walk through. So, the front of the cinema is set about twenty feet back from the road, there are pillars [coffee machine] at the front and, there are pillars at the front, then there’s double doors [coffee machine], and there’s a lovely mosaic floor, tiled floor, it’s not mosaic, and then, as you go in there’s a little, there’s a small counter at the back, where you can buy chocolate cake. Actually back then the counter was on the left as you go in, not at the back, the tickets were always on the right, and then there are two entrances, you can go downstairs into the stalls, and the rake is very shallow, there are no steps, you walk in through the doors and then you walk into the cinema and there’s no sort of climbing up or climbing down or anything like that, you’re all on one level. But if you turn upstairs, which I tended to do, you’d have the balcony, which was where you can smoke and drink, and that is on quite a good rake, and I remember the sound being okay pretty much throughout, well consistent throughout, there were no, there were no particular sweet spots you had to fight for, the sound was pretty good all over the place, and the curtain was ruffled, traditional ruffled curtains. I think there were about eight cords going down from the ceiling to the floor, the curtain was draped through those cords so that when the film started the curtain would lift. You know I could be making that bit up, I’m not entirely sure!
Vaska: Artistic licence.
Guy: Artistic licence. But it felt like a slightly old-fashioned cinema, it did feel like I was back in the thirties, there was a very deco quality about it which I found utterly charming.
Vaska: And in the balcony, was that the only place you could drink and smoke?
Guy: I think so, although I’m not convinced there was a particularly strong enforcement policy, but that was where people tended to smoke and drink. And of course, you know, the smoke would run through the, run through the projection light so you could see the billows of blue smoke filling up the cinema, and smell it aswell.
Guy describes his preference for sitting up in the balcony or sometimes right at the front of the stalls which give him more leg roomHe remembers how the Duke of York’s smelt of an old cinema with it’s own aroma! The projector was quite noisy – particularly in the balcony – and there was a low level of chatter at times.Guy preferred to frequent the Duke of York’s because it was more quirky and made him smile. He also enjoyed the varied programming throughout the weekAs a student he didn’t go regularly because of the travel and ticket expenses – going to the Duke of York’s was a treat.
In 1989 when he lived in Hove he would go to the cinema if he had nothing else to do. During a six week period he would go two or three times a week.
Guy would visit the cinema on his own, with another friend, or with a group of people – the pull of the Duke of York’s was predominantly the programming and the building, and the licence to smoke and drink. He feels that the cinema has changed gradually since the late eighties – the seats have been upgraded, Dolby sound fitted, and smoking is no longer allowed. He finds the programming is still as varied and as broad as ever.
Vaska: Did you feel that the improvements were, did the Duke’s lose its charm?
Guy: It changed it. It was like, I don’t know, when I was at university, I had very long hair and I was very scruffy and then I left university and in all honesty I had to pick things up a bit. And I was still the same person but I just wasn’t quite so scruffy. I think that’s probably the best way to look at it. It’s still a lovely building, it’s still a lovely cinema. Smells better.
Vaska: Seats more comfortable?
Guy: Yes! I do miss the, I’m going to use the word ‘flea pit’, I do miss the kind of flea pit quality of it beforehand, I mean it wasn’t infested at all but it did have that kind of ooh, ooh, is this ok, oh alright I’ll sit here… there was a, there was a, very occasionally you might get the fear of infestation.
Vaska: Wear long trousers.
Guy: Yes, indeed yes, with elasticated cuffs.
In the early nineties Guy started working in Hove and took a couple of friends to the Duke’s to watch a double bill of Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Night on Earth’ and Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’. The latter was his favourite film at the time and had originally come out in the late eighties when he first saw it at the Duke’s. He reminisces how they sat with a bottle of whisky and some spliffs, fading in and out of the films which he describes as a beautiful moment with a dream-like quality.
Watching ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ was also particularly memorable and revelatory as he felt overwhelmed at watching the images on the big screen.More recently, he watched ‘Let the Right One In’ which he found to be a sublime, pristine piece of cinema.He only walked out once when watching ‘Bagdad Café’ – he left about twenty minutes in.Guy describes the quality of experience of watching a film at a cinema compared to VHS or DVD, and the importance of the communal experience.He thinks that patrons of the Duke of York’s prefer film as opposed to films. People who like the process of cinema – directing, editing, lighting, and sound.He believes that the Duke of York’s fuelled his passion for film.Going to the cinema is still considered a treat for Guy, particularly with the increase in ticket prices. He also feels there are fewer films he wants to see nowadays.Guy remembers how when he first arrived at Sussex, the cinema programmes were first published on A5 hand bills and strategically placed at communal trigger points throughout campus.Today, Guy generally buys his tickets at the door, as he did when he first frequented the cinema in the eighties.
He describes the general atmosphere of the cinema as being a place of entertainment, and there is a sense of anticipation , and then the sense of the entertainment actually happening, and then a sense of satisfaction at the other end. He believes that this feeling is maintained by the cinema itself. He feels there is something quite womb-like about the cinema, something special and private.
When Guy talks to people about Brighton, the Duke of York’s is one of the first thing he mentions. He also mentions the Market Diner – a place where he would have a ‘gut-buster’ breakfast after watching a double bill.The Duke of York’s has been a constant in Guy’s life. He can’t think of a better cinema than the Duke of York’s.He believes it is one of the things that makes Brighton, Brighton. He describes it as an unusual building that shows unusual things to people, who are, themselves, rather unusual.
Vaska: And lastly, if you met someone who’d never heard of the Duke of York’s before, how would you describe it to them?
Guy: A palace of dreams!