Every Wednesday, the Regent Street Cinema presents an afternoon of celluloid classics, live music and dance, designed to give older patrons a chance to meet old friends, make new ones, and reminisce about how much better films used to be before they all got so loud and sweary. The Journal heads along to meet the staff and regulars
Interviews: Jean-Paul Aubin-Parvu
Images: Orlando Gili
Lindsey Bowden, assistant programmer
Matinee Classics at the Regent Street Cinema, part of the University of Westminster’s community engagement programme, is a weekly event aimed at the over-55s. We work with groups such as Age UK and Open Age to get the word out there about what we do. Social inclusion is so important for the older generation, particularly those living on their own, because it has a real effect on the quality of life. For some, this is their only social activity of the week. They come here and make friends—two of the regulars have actually become a couple, which is lovely.
We used to have just one screening on a Wednesday, but it became so popular that we added a second. An organist performs a live prelude before the 12pm screening, then before the 3:30pm screening we have a dance and movement workshop—a mix of ballroom, high energy salsa and whatever else Diana the dance teacher cooks up for them. It really is great fun. Matinee Classics costs just £1.75, and for that they get the film, the dancing, plus a free tea or coffee.
I go onstage and introduce each screening, giving the audience both information on the film and gossipy bits from the set. I always do lots of research to find out fun facts that they might not know. I’m a great lover of these classic films. Gene Kelly is one of my absolute biggest heroes and Ann Miller was another. And the chance to listen to our regulars’ stories about when they were younger is a real bonus for me. Some of them used to be actors and dancers, all sorts of things, and they have wonderful tales to tell.
Mark Laflin, organist
You don’t often find these instruments in cinemas anymore, so it’s wonderful to have the chance to perform here at Matinee Classics. The original intention behind these instruments was to accompany silent films and to provide intermission music. It’s always a pleasure coming to this lovely venue because the building has been restored so beautifully. It has a special kind of atmosphere and they always get a good crowd in for these events.
If I was playing the organ in church, for example, performing a piece of music by Bach or someone like that, then I’d play the music exactly as it’s written on the dots. But with something like Matinee Classics you decide what tunes you’re going to play and then make your own arrangements. So, it’s quite individual. I love performing music from the thirties and forties. Gershwin always goes down well and seems to get a good response from this audience.
David Winstanley, technical manager
Part of my role here involves being the projectionist. Unfortunately, 35mm film kind of died off when digital came in. Digital is a much cheaper way of sending films to cinemas, because 35mm is both bulky and very heavy. It’s a dying art in the sense that they’ve literally stripped 35mm projectors out of most cinemas.
When you’re projecting a lamp through a piece of celluloid, you are working with something that’s physically there. Yes, it gets dirty, yes, it gets scratched, but you are essentially projecting a photograph through a lamp powerful enough to blast it onto a big screen. In that sense it’s as high definition as you can really go.
Today we’re showing a 4K digital restoration of a film. Next week it’s a 35mm that’s come from a bonded warehouse in Middlesex, so we’ve had to arrange for it to be collected and delivered to us. I then have to assemble it, check it on the bench, make sure it runs through and that the sound and picture quality are as good as possible. We are very lucky because our projectors are in really good condition. They are about circa-1990, German made, very high end, and their mechanisms are really good.
Cindy Dawkins-Lloyd, regular
I live in Dagenham but began life in Jamaica and have been coming to Matinee Classics every week for the last two years. I love the films, the music and the dancing. I love this beautiful cinema, the ambience and the people. I get a joy from everyone. The socialising is a very important part of it, and I’ve made lots of friends through coming here.
I have always loved dancing, but my late husband had bad knees and so couldn’t dance. When he passed away, I started going to a contemporary dance class in Newham. I now have a dance partner and we do ballroom and Latin. Dancing makes me feel happy and it helps me health wise because of all the exercise and movement. I go into a trance when I dance because I feel so happy. I love the films, too. My favourite film star would have to be Greta Garbo. She had the wow factor.
Georgina Dugdale, bartender
Matinee Classics is my favourite day to work and I think it’s the most important thing we do. It’s just really lovely and very social—at Christmas we even had a party. There are always new faces, but we have a core of regulars who we’ve really got to know and become friends with. One of them lives near me and we often go to galleries together. There is a lot of social isolation among the elderly and a few of the people who come to Matinee Classics say that we’re the first people they’ve spoken to that day.
I am an actor too, and a costume designer in my spare time. I was in a film called House of the Gorgon that was recently shown at Regent Street Cinema. It’s a homage to the Hammer horror films and featured lots of the actors from those movies including Christopher Neame, Veronica Carlson, Martine Beswick and Caroline Munro, who’s actually my mum. She played Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me and I believe was the first woman in history to have been killed by James Bond.
Marianne Wells, front of house manager
I used to be a lecturer until my university closed the humanities programmes. I needed to find something else, had quite a good academic background in film and had worked at an independent art house cinema when I was in grad school back in the States, so when I saw this job advertised, I just had to get it. You could not imagine a nicer place to work or a nicer group of people to work with.
Matinee Classics is everyone’s favourite day to work. The community that has grown out of this, the friendships that have been formed, it’s just absolutely heart-warming. I’m going to be 60 this year and have learnt a lot from these people about getting older. And it makes me smile and it gives me hope. Your life doesn’t have to just shut down. There are things out there and communities out there that are waiting for people to join and be a part of that are friendly and welcoming—and fun.
I am a big fan of classic films, that’s where my heart lies—classic Hollywood and British Golden Age. I like Hollywood in the thirties. Margaret Lockwood is horribly underrated—she was just a genius. I absolutely love that whole era, right up until about 1970. In fact, I just love film. It’s a real joy and a pleasure to be part of it.
Paul Welden, regular
I’ve been coming to the Regent Street Cinema since it reopened—this is one of my cinemas. I mainly like the old British films; I guess my favourite would be A Matter of Life and Death, written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
I also love to come here for the Heavenly Films night—I know lots of people from the music scene. I love the sixties and seventies, but my favourite act these days is Saint Etienne. I have seen them loads of times.
This is a great way to spend a Wednesday. It’s almost like secret cinema. It’s not like your local Odeon with a big front. People walk past the entrance and have no idea it’s even here.
Victoria Mackie, regular
I am Spanish but have been here in England for many years and now live in Morden. I live on my own—nobody loves me, darling! I have been coming to Matinee Classics for a few months. I have about 600 films at home, but still I come here for the atmosphere, the big screen and just to get out into the city.
Life is magnificent and I have many, many interests, including painting and embroidery. I really enjoy the social side of Matinee Classics, but I don’t do the dancing. I don’t see myself as adequate for dancing. I like a wide variety of old films and adore Sophia Loren, her character, her style and her beauty—she is a lady.
Sue Cochrane, regular
I am from Canada originally but have spent the past 48 years living in London. I used to be an opera singer and performed pretty much all over the world. I worked for Glyndebourne Opera, Handel Opera and was also in the old D’Oyly Carte Opera Company until it shut down in 1982. After being made redundant many of us landed up in mainstream musicals, your Rodgers and Hammerstein, Ivor Novello, that kind of thing. We did panto, old time music hall, cruises, just anything and everything. It’s a very strange life.
I come to Matinee Classics almost every week for the films, the dancing, the socialising and the wonderful staff who make us feel very welcome. There is a nucleus of regulars, the usual suspects if you like, and we form a sort of social group. You turn up on a Wednesday and within five minutes you’ll find somebody you know. The pair of you will then strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know and the social network expands. I now see some of the regulars in other contexts, for example, going on outings. These events are great, because big cities can be the loneliest places in the world.
I love the dancing here. I have a lot of stage experience in my background, which has included various forms of dance, but I have never touched ballroom and Latin. This is completely new to me, but in my retirement I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already done, I want to try new things.
Dorothy Zdanowicz & Rose Beasley, regulars
Dorothy: Rose and I are sisters and started coming to Matinee Classics about a year ago. Rose lives in Palmers Green and I’m up in Kentish Town, so we meet at McDonald’s in Camden Town and then come here.
Rose: I am nearly 83 and saw the films the first time around, and it’s the memories. There’s no violence or swearing in these films and it’s just nice to sit and remember.
Dorothy: We get to meet people and it’s very sociable. There aren’t many places where pensioners can go. Some of them are indoors all day and don’t see anybody.
Rose: I can’t dance anymore, but I used to before my partner died. We used to dance, jig about. We couldn’t do anything fancy. If it was fast, we’d go fast; if it was slow, we’d go slow.
Dorothy: We love all the old classic films. Last week we saw The Wizard of Oz. We like the love stories and the musicals. I have seen The Sound of Music 13 times.
Rose: I hadn’t been to the cinema for a long time until I started coming here. I’m a big fan of Gone With The Wind and Calamity Jane. I like Robert Mitchum and Richard Todd.
Dorothy: I like Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Clark Gable and Laurence Harvey.
Rose: My husband was a chauffeur for Laurence Harvey.
Dorothy: And I like all the horrors with Vincent Price and Christopher Lee.
Gary Foster, first timer
I live on my own in Manor Park, east London. This is my first time here and it’s been fantastic. I love films, but you need to be very selective. A lot of the films these days are full of violence and I can’t hear the dialogue properly because the actors don’t speak clearly enough. The camera only stays on the actor for a few seconds and is constantly jumping around. Are the cameramen on acid?
I’m a big fan of classic films and love watching the Talking Pictures TV channel. The older movies not only have that lovely message, but the camera stays on the actor long enough for them to actually act. I’m not really into war films, but my one for the music and the outstanding photography would have to be Zulu. I also love the films of David Lean and another favourite is the musical Oliver! with Ron Moody—I actually met Lionel Bart very briefly years ago at the London Palladium.
John McIntyre, regular
I am here every Wednesday afternoon for Matinee Classics, but I also enjoy coming to other special screenings. Officially I’m an old age pensioner, but really I’m a jack of all trades—a bit of writing, producing and acting.
I absolutely love coming here and love the range of films they show. Maybe it’s because I had a misspent middle age—I was busy managing reggae and rock ‘n’ roll bands, so didn’t have much of a chance to watch films or television. Now I’m really enjoying seeing all the really great films I missed.