7. I miss the smell of Popcorn!! If you saw the fantastic BBC series, His Dark Materials you will surely have appreciated the scene where Lyra and Will go to the cinema to see Paddington. Lyra is immediately transfixed by the popcorn, having one bite and then reaching over for another massive handful “it tastes like cardboard and I can’t stop eating it!” she cries in baffled delirium. Well, our popcorn not only tastes delicious, but it smells divine! Every time I open the door to scoop some out I inhale that sickly sweet scent like I am taking my last breath! At the moment I am using the significant amount of out of date popcorn as firelighters and kindling for my log fire (it’s rather thrillingly combustible), and so for a brief period every night I get a lovely whiff of that old familiar scent before it erupts into flames…that imagery is a little disturbing!
6. I miss the cat!! As you know – the piano playing cat now accompanies our code of conduct but before that we used to play the full advert just before the film. People either love it or hate it and we frequently we asked – when are you going to get rid of that cat advert?? Well, the answer was usually never, a) because projectionist Scott absolutely loved it and it never failed to make him laugh but more importantly it acted as a cue for the staff. As a “Lanterneer” you have to be multi talented so the projectionist will always have another job to do in addition to starting the film, bringing down the lights etc and usually doubles up as the Box Office person. This means just before the film starts whoever is projectionist for the night must leap up from the box office, run up the stairs and climb the ladder into the projection booth. If you get distracted or busy it’s very easy to forget how long you have until the film starts and so when the piano cat music kicks in you know you have the length of that advert to go and get ready to bring down the lights.
5. I miss standing on the top step of the balcony during a film and watching my favourite scenes over and over. Sometimes the magic of a particular scene never fails to bring me joy, no matter how many times I see it. Every screening of Lion King, I had to watch The Circle of Life in its entirety and I got a lump in my throat every single time. I never failed to wander in during Aladdin and Jasmine’s magic carpet ride…yes, sniffles, every single time. Mamma Mia 2 – My Love My Life? I think I lost a stone that summer because that scene made me weep buckets EVERY SINGLE TIME!
4. I miss opening the curtains at the beginning of the trailers and bringing down the lights just before the film starts. There is something majestic about theatre curtains smoothly gliding open, it’s a moment of anticipation and wonder and after 4 years I still get a buzz of excitement when I peep through the projection booth window, wait for the BBFC Certification screen, press the button to move the boards out to increase the screen size and then in that moment of black screen before the opening moment of the film, slowly dim the lights and plunge the audience into darkness.
3. I miss the punters! Some of my favourite memories of the Lantern involve our lovely customers – I remember a couple of ladies who arrived after the film had started, they were running so late one of them had put on the wrong shoes, they were too uncomfortable and so she decided to remove them before going through the doors into the auditorium. The lady who required the shoe removal had to be propped up by her friend to combat the inevitable one legged wobble and they laughed so much they almost both went down while Scott and I shot each other bemused glances and desperately hoped our first aid skills would not be called into action.
2. I miss seeing and hearing audience reactions The future of cinema is being constantly debated at the moment – with more and more people subscribing to streaming services, with more and more distributors realising they can still make money without a theatrical release. It’s a scary time for cinema owners and staff. But I think there will always be a place for watching a film on a huge screen, in the pitch dark surrounded by strangers. Some people don’t get it, they don’t understand why you would put up with people talking and eating noisily (by the way – you people who do that…what is the matter with you? SHUSH! I mean, we love you, thank you for spending your money with us but..SHUSH!), sitting in a sometimes uncomfortable seat (sorry) when they could be sprawled on their own sofa in the comfort of their own home. I can only assume that these people have lost their sense of wonder! I mean, come on! When the stranger next you grabs your arm in fright. Or when 280 people laugh out loud at exactly the same moment, when an entire room of people collectively hold their breath in suspense, when a group of strangers spontaneously cheer, or clap or weep. One of my all time favourite moments was during a screening of Avengers: Endgame (Warning SPOILERS AHEAD) When the magic orange whirly things (technical term) start to open before the final battle and all the ‘vanished’ superheroes start to come back….a little boy of about 8 was sat, literally on the edge of his seat and I heard him whisper to his mum “Black Panther’s back!” Then with mounting excitement “ and Falcon! And Star Lord!! And Doctor Strange!!! And Wanda!!” Until at fever pitch he cried “ Oh, they’ve all come back!!” at which point I burst into tears and had to stop myself going and giving him a hug and a high five! You can watch films anywhere, but you can’t truly experience ‘the magic of cinema’ at home.
1. I miss our team! What I wouldn’t give right now to be hearing Scott tell me why the films I like are rubbish, or listening to Ella sing while she sets up the bar; or chatting with Chris about his latest cinema history discoveries; or explaining to Geoff why we can’t have fire canons inside the building, or pleading with Rowan to leave some coffee in the pot for the actual paying customers; or saying to Mat… “erm, I had an idea – is this technically doable?” or watching Sam try and fail to work out how to politely say no when I ask him to make something insane; or getting George to show me again how to make something on the computer work; or excitedly talking to Liz about how we are going to transform the cinema into an oasis of environmental friendliness; or watching trailers with Annie as we decide what to programme. I miss their smiles, their endless patience, their fantastic attitudes and I miss all the time we spend laughing together. It’s important to try and make the most of Lockdown. Catching up on all those pesky jobs that we never seem to have time for when we are open. Working on the cinema so when the lights go back on the place looks more wonderful than ever and we are enjoying being able to spend time on other things that we might otherwise be too busy for. But The Magic Lantern is well named – it’s a magical beacon of light and everything is a little bit darker without it. We can’t wait to throw open the doors, welcome you back and get back to work.