In Conversation: Toby Blackman 2010

Interview 7- July 2nd, 2010
Interviewee- Toby Blackman
Interviewer- Lucy Westcott

Toby Audio

Toby Blackman has spent a large portion of his life at the Duke of York’s.  There is photographic evidence of Toby as a child at Kid’s Club turning on the projector on his birthday and he completed work experience at the Duke’s.  He finally got the job at the age of 18.  I spoke to Toby about his own experiences of attending late-night screenings at the Duke of York’s, his role as a member of staff and the first film he remembers seeing there.

On his childhood memories of the Duke’s

“The first film I came to see here was ‘The Thief of Baghdad’ when I was five.  I can’t remember much about it apart from the cinema being a lot gloomier and a much more sinister experience than going to a multiplex.  I think that is because I remember a lot of very dark red colours as if the cinema was cloaked.  I don’t know what it was, but it had a very big effect on me, which I recognize more and more as the years go by and I recognize how few things have had that effect on my life.  I used to come to Kid’s Club as well, which I was never that keen on, although when it was your birthday you could go to the projection room and pretend to start the film.  They used to take a Polaroid of it and there is one of me.’

On his relationship with the cinema

“I’ve been working here for five years, give or take a few months, and I did my work experience here.  I started a couple of weeks after my 18th birthday because they wouldn’t let me work here before then because of alcohol licensing.  I really wanted to work here because it’s near where I lived and it was quite a constant part of my childhood.  I find it quite reassuring being here.

‘Because the Duke’s is such as formidable building, and because there is so much history here, I think it’s quite easy to build a relationship with the cinema.  Loads of people have a really intense bond with the cinema.  I can’t really imagine not coming here although I was away for six months in the winter and I didn’t really miss it, purely because I know it will always be here.’

On his multiple roles as a member of staff

“Today, for example, I have been on bar and it’s been quiet so I have cleaned.  You do get to watch some films although the novelty of that wears off after a while.  If it’s a film I really want to see I will make the effort to come in and see it, but that doesn’t happen a lot.  I’ve gone off films since I’ve worked here and it’s why I don’t want to work in a record shop, because I think it would eat into my love of music. ‘

On the working at the Lord of the Rings all-night screening

“I’m not sure whose idea it was, but it was probably John’s [Barrenechea, Duke of York’s manager].  Those all-nighters, from a projecting point of view, are the only times I’ve ever worked like an old-school projectionist, when you’re working the whole time and you’re constantly moving film around because you can only fit two hours of film on the tower.  That was really hard; I think I did a twenty-hour shift that day.  I wouldn’t do it again.  The first time we did the ‘Lord of the Rings’ all-nighter there were lots of people there and they bought picnics.  There were a lot of boys and actually quite few women, but I think the ‘Lord of the Rings’ thing is a good idea.”

On his former role as a projectionist and the future of projecting

“I think shift work affects people a lot more than they realize, doing those really long shifts.  I think projection itself asks that of you and it did make me quite ill from working really long hours and working very odd shifts.  I think that people who do want to become projectionists are reclusive and do like the idea of being locked away for forty hours a week and not have to really account for what they’re doing.  There is a lot of mystique involved in it.  It does attract men, especially, who are quite delicate.  That’s one thing that is good about not using 35mm any more and that there isn’t really a role for projectionists; you do end up drinking coffee all day and smoking all day, which is bad for your health anyway.  A lot of people see being a projectionist as romantic and I did as well.  Most people have been really into that idea of a hidden trade.  I can see why it is, people often want to go upstairs into the booth, but I think it’s one of those things that will die out.  Projection nowadays is queuing up digital files. The managers do it now; they go up to the booth as and when they’re required.  If something goes wrong they have to ring up a central help line.  It’s no longer a malleable trade.  Before, if something went wrong you’d use your expertise to fix it.  It started changing in about 2007 and now it’s pretty much entirely digital.  ”

On the late-night screenings

“I started coming to the late-night screenings when I was about 13. I remember seeing ‘Ghostworld’ loads of times and ‘Blue Velvet’.  I’ve always really loved coming to the late shows.  Nothing that exciting happens really, except everyone falls asleep.  ‘Withnail and I’ is the most successful late-night screening we’ve shown and for a while it was in every programme.  That attracts people in a cult way because that is the purest example of why people go to the cinema, being part of a group, going to see the same thing.”

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