In Conversation: Jonathan Watson 1980’s-1990’s

Interviewee: Jonathan Watson

Date : 6 September 2010

Jonathan is 36 years old and was born in Brighton.His first encounter with the Duke of York’s was when he was taken there by his mum at 6 years old to see ‘Battlestar Galactica’. He remembers very little about the event except that he loved the film.He then began to go to the Duke of York’s from the age of 16 when it was ‘gorgeously scruffy’.Jonathan reminisces about other cinemas he used to go to as a young child and the films he saw. He remembers that between the ages of 6 – 12 these were predominantly for birthday parties and special events. From 14 + it was about going to the ‘pictures’ with his mates and trying to get into 15 certificate films. From the age of 16 (whilst at Sixth Form) cinema-going was about trying to be pretentious and that is when he began to frequent the Duke of York’s!

Jonathan remembers how he would not only remember the false date of birth, but also the star signs so as not to get caught out!He remembers that he would go to the pictures more frequently than watching videos because they didn’t have a video player.As a sixth former, he went to the Duke of York’s as a way of expressing his maturity and because the films were rather different. He thinks he and his friends took themselves very seriously!He remembers that the Duke of York’s would be membership-only and members would have a piece of paper to show membership.

Jonathan remembers seeing ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’.He remembers that audience members would be able to pick up a poster of the monthly programme for the cinema and that these would be pinned up in people’s homes.Jonathan discusses the late night showings.

Jonathan: The first one we can remember going to when we were both about sixteen was ‘The Life of Brian’ at midnight, full of students who were obviously older than us who were just saying the entire… you know, which I would now think of as quite annoying but then it was like ‘wow, oh my god’. Upstairs, where there used to be a mattress, the back of the balcony, yeah, and my friend reminded me of the mattress. We went to see Jimi Hendrix ‘Live at the Isle of Wight’ at midnight and it’s bloody dull, and he’s stoned out of his head, it’s not brilliant, but, we both remembered something going on at the mattress, which, you know. So this was before they put all the sofas in. Before it was just whatever, it was quite, you could smoke up there as well, so people used to smoke cigarettes and other things up there, I can remember that quite distinctly. That was quite thrilling, being sort of fifteen, sixteen, thinking ‘yeah, great’, so yeah that was the reason for going to those ones, but we also went, we had quite a large circle of friends, sort of even split of, of, boys and girls. Boys and girls, but, men and women, teenage, whatever

Vaska: Youths.

Jonathan: Youths, yeah. And I can remember going to, say, and watching, ‘Cinema Paradiso’, with all our sort of boy and girl friends, and it was all, it was a nice evening out, then we’d go back to someone’s house and have a cup of tea and talk about it, and stay up until the early hours.

Jonathan describes the membership card being the size of a floppy disc and that it would cost £1 per annum.He remembers going to Preston Park after ‘The Life of Brian’ and sitting and drinking with his friends and thinking that this was what Sixth Form was going to be like.In the early nineties, the layout of the cinema was similar to how it is today. He doesn’t think there was a bar upstairs. He remembers a stage at the front of the auditorium, and a piano at the side. He thinks some of the seats were broken but quite deep.Whilst the smell of the place is vague and difficult to place, he thinks that it would have been quite smoky.

He remembers that his mum used to call the Duke of York’s the ‘flea pit’. When discussing it with his mum and brother, they would allude to it being a possible tax dodge, that it wasn’t quite what it appeared to be. He doesn’t think it was owned by Picturehouse at the time – that a family had owned it.Jonathan used to like sitting on the right, about eight or nine rows from the front. He notes that the balcony didn’t have much leg room at the time.Jonathan describes the balcony mattress was placed in a space without seating. He remains bemused by the mattress’ appearance there!.He doesn’t remember being able to pre-book tickets – the ticket system wasn’t computerized and the tickets didn’t have the name of the film on them.

Jonathan describes the type of audience member that goes to the Duke of York’s as someone, who, stereotypically, might vote Labour or Green, live in Hanover, college educated, or at college. A Guardian reader! He feels they would not want the cinema to become a mass-appeal cinema.He thinks that the films shown are perpetuated by the type of people that go there and are attracted to the cinema, and the films they demand. He feels that the Duke of York’s has an important place in the city with regards to the films it shows when compared to the other cinemas in Brighton.

Jonathan believes that people will wait to see a film at the Duke of York’s because they prefer to see it there.After Sixth Form, Jonathan went to university and would go to the Duke of York’s during the holidays.He believes that going to the Duke of York’s was affordable, possibly a little cheaper than other cinemas when the membership-only policy was in place.Jonathan would read the Argus to find the cinema timings.

Vaska: Were there any major changes that you noticed over the, kind of, two decades?

Jonathan: Well, when it became what it now is, there was a clear ‘ooh’.

Vaska: And when would that have been?

Jonathan: I, well it, I think it’s, I can remember, what can I remember going to see? I can remember going to see ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’.

Vaska: So that would be 2001?

Jonathan: Yeah, it had clearly changed by then because they’d got it a week before it was on national release, and we went to a preview, and ‘Blair Witch Project’ the same was on their preview screening. Now that must have been about ‘99, 2000, so it definitely by then become, become what it is today.

Vaska: And what were your impressions?

Jonathan: Well, I love it. You know, I wasn’t sort of thinking ‘oh, they’ve destroyed this beautiful old, you know, dump and turned it into, you know, they’ve ruined, they’ve taken away the magic’. It wasn’t, I was ‘oh great, it’s got a bar! Magic! You can take your drink in, oh my god!’

Vaska: So you couldn’t take drinks in before?

Jonathan: People used to take drinks in but

Vaska: It wasn’t encouraged?

Jonathan: there wasn’t a bar. So you take a bottle or a couple of cans in, but you just take them in! You wouldn’t actually buy them. But once its actually got a licenced bar, well it’s all quite grown up, all quite, you know, it’s changed again in that sense. It always used to have cake aswell, and it still has cake. The cake thing used to be quite important thing about going was ,with coffee and cake, that was, coffee and walnut there used to be very good.

Jonathan really can’t remember if the bar existed there or not. He would go to the Rose Hill Tavern before and after the films.He remembers going to the bar that is now Circus Circus after watching ‘Memento’ and being utterly confused by the film.

Jonathan: And I can remember going to the Rose Hill after ‘The Blair Witch Project’, which, at that point, I was supply teaching at Hove Park School, and some of the kids were there, and I don’t like horror films, so part of me was thinking ‘God, I can’t leave this because I can see about three or four people here who I know and will go ‘oh, yeah, so you leaving’ ’, so I stayed, watched it, went to play pool afterwards in the Rose Hill and I couldn’t hit a ball, yeah, and I’m normally pretty rubbish at pool but I’m not that bad, so I was slightly traumatized by that experience.

For Jonathan, it is very important to be able to talk about the film afterwards. A slightly earlier viewing e.g. 7pm allows one to go for a drink and discuss what one has just seen.Jonathan believes that whilst dvds are cheaper and give the viewer real choice in what they want to watch there is the problem with watching a dvd at home in not having a laptop on at the same time because there is a tendency to do other things whilst watching the film.

Jonathan: I don’t go to late-nighters any more. I think the last late-nighter I tried to go to I was sitting in the Great Eastern with some mates and had quite a bit to drink, three or four pints, I must have been in my mid-twenties, and I think I went by myself to go and see ‘Pink Flamingos’ and because I knew I was a bit pickled, I got a coffee, I sat down, it must have started about midnight, I sat down and I woke up at two o’clock in the morning with the credits rolling and with coffee all over my crotch, thinking ‘oh that was great’. I still haven’t seen ‘Pink Flamingos’.

It is the place, the films, going with friends, and the train journey to the area that attracts Jonathan to the Duke of York’s today.He feels that the Duke of York’s is important to his view of the town, and is part of his cultural experience of growing up.

Vaska: And finally, if you met someone who didn’t know anything about the Duke of York’s, how would you describe it to them?

Jonathan: I’d take them there. I’ve done that before, taken them to it. I’ve had people down, said ‘well look, let’s just go and see something’. I can remember an old university mate who was visiting another friend and we ended up going to see, I don’t know why this has just come to me, ‘Living in Oblivion’ which stars Steve Buscemi. It’s a movie about making movies and I can remember just going there and the person going ‘God, this place is brilliant, isn’t it?, so that’s what I’d do, I’d just take them there cos what’s the point of talking about it, you can actually go and do it.

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