Big screen movies are back with a Bang

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The unexplainable magic of the big screen. The full blast of the surround sound systems. Crowds bubbling with excitement. From a simpler time of the silver screen to the many wonders of 3-D, the cinema experience in Guyana has truly evolved.
In the mid 70’s, life was simpler; there was no such thing as television sets in households and entertainment definitely did not mean sitting for hours in a darken room, eyes fixed on the life-sized images flashing right before you.
In fact, in those days, entertainment meant cricket at the local club, a stroll through the market on Friday or weekends and yes, oh yes, the movies. The relatively young will insist that the golden age of the cinemas was in the 80’s and very early 90’s, but the older folks will swear that the 60’s and 70’s were the days.
For the young and old, the lovers and families, movie-going was quite an adventure back then. Who can really forget the indomitable presence of Amitabh Bachchan or ‘Jumping Jack’ Jeetendra and even the ‘Gunmaster’ Mithun Chakraborty and the angry, muscular persona of Dharmendra?
For the western sagas, big names like John Wayne, Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson were heroes that many dreamed of.
Perhaps it was the lure of being transported to a fascinating place where you caught glimpses of the lives of superstars was what kept many transfixed. But in those days, being the dramatic storyteller, who relived a movie through the words and the heroic actions of Jackie Chan, were things to be envied for those little ones who had not gone to the movies the day before.
It is not unusual when talking to the older folks about cinemas, to see the memories flash across their faces or for a faraway, wistful look to cloud their expression.
You see, in the early-mid 1900s, the cinemas took the city by storm. Records indicate the first real cinema was the Gaiety which stood opposite the Brickdam Cathedral. The theatre was known for the black-and-white, silent movies but unfortunately, it was lost to fire some years after.
Soon came, Metro (now Empire) on Middle Street and later, London (Plaza) on Camp Street. The popular Hollywood, in Kitty, and later Strand Deluxe also joined the growing industry.
Going to the cinema was an event that slipped its way into agendas of many.
The older folks would tell you that the movies provided an escape from the hardships associated with post-Independence Guyana. It wasn’t long before the songs from the Bollywood movies, the dances, the clothes and even particular hairstyles were followed with such fervor that new trends emerged practically every month.
The premieres of particular movies were events where you had to be early. The old adage of “the early bird catches the worm” always rang true as patrons would turn out in their numbers, determined to cop a seat.
It was quite usual to see jostling or a police on horse attempting to control the crowds at the various cinemas. Noone wanted to be left behind for the wonders of the movies were many and the experience was not one to miss.
Finally seated, with bathed breath they would waited for the lights to be dimmed and the projector to start rolling. The occasional “shhhh” or even a vendor hoping to sell their plantain chips or chewing gums are also fond memories of the cinemas.
A big show, or a “double” (two movies), could even see tickets being sold black market on the road leading to the movie theatre. Many would spend over six hours and come out bleary-eyed but very much satisfied.
It was these things that marked the big cinema era.
The lure of cinemas in Guyana, unfortunately, died in the 90’s with the rapid acquisition of television (TV) sets which was soon joined by the acquisition of the Video Cassette Recorders (VCRs). As they gained popularity in the 90’s, things rapidly went downhill for the theaters. It wasn’t long before enterprising persons opened up their “mini theaters,” featuring a television with the (VCR) and few wooden benches.
It certainly did not help the industry that local television stations started showing movies.
But defeat was not a position they took willingly. Two theaters – the majestic Astor on Church Street, and Strand Deluxe on Charlotte Street – struggled to maintain their footing. The writing on the wall was clear, however, persons were not interested in seeing a movie that came out a year before and was available at the video club.
Today, not much remains of these big cinemas. Strand is being rented to a Brazilian church while Astor, which was reportedly built around 1940, is up for sale. The iconic Liberty on Vlissengen and Garnett streets has been demolished after being sold by its owner to a Chinese restaurateur. Metropole, which was a stone throw away on Robb and Wellington streets, was struck by fire years ago and Globe has been torn down.
Across on Middle Street, Empire has been converted into shopping centre. At Diamond on the East Bank of Demerara, Deluxe has been torn down. The situation for the big cinemas would be the same across the country.
Now, with the advent of portable DVD players, smartphones, computers and even laptops, the way movie lovers are viewing their favorites have changed dramatically. Though Cable and Netflix are here, new developments within recent years are bringing back the magic of the movie theaters and Guyana, it seems, is catching up with the rest of the world.
First, it was the Turkish-owned Princess Hotel and Casino at Providence, East Bank Demerara where two screens were introduced. The state-of-the-art sounds and comfortable seating coupled with a closed, air-conditioned setting remains a money spinner for the hotel.
There, persons were forced to buy their tickets days in advance.
The introduction of eight screens by Giftland at its megamall at Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown have been reigniting the love of the cinemas. You see, movies are released in Guyana the same time it is shown in the US and while Berbice and Essequibo remain out of the loop, it appears that cinemas are back with a modern bang.

Article Categories:
Issue 19 · Publication · Recreation

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