A short time ago whilst visiting my hometown museum, I spied this photograph in a glass display box in an unassuming location. The image stopped me in my tracks. The black and white shot was of a long since departed cinema at the end of an alley called The Plaza. I was intrinsically drawn to the photograph, which was so noirish with its sleazy neon light. I imagined a sleuth in a sharp suit with a briefcase lurking in the shadows, following a dame for a murky suitor. Then I remembered that these people don’t exist in Scotland, at least not in a sharp suit.

plaza

I decided to conduct some research into this long-forgotten cinema, which brought up some fond and nostalgic memories of cinema-going as a youngster.

The Plaza was situated in the centre of the Ayrshire town Kilmarnock. It was built in 1939 and sadly demolished in 1971, making way for the shop Marks and Spencer. The film advertised on the sign, The Art of Love, is a 1965 picture directed by Norman Jewison, starring Dick Van Dyke and James Garner.

My own love affair with the cinema, or ‘the pictures’ as we call it in Scotland, started young. Our local film theatre – latterly named ABC – was a fairly grotty, poorly-lit place decked out in gold and crimson paint, like some sort of cheap bordello. There was only one ticket desk inside and so a huge line would snake down the street, despite the mere three screens.

It was a place where bubblegum and broken popcorn were hermetically sealed to your shoes whilst giant cartoon characters became your heroes. I loved it.

It had these enormous red velvet drapes, and when they parted and the lights fell low, I’d haul out my secret stash of sweets and wait for the magic to begin. Back in the day there was an intermission, when the curtain would close and a little old lady came out with a tray full of ice creams to peddle.

abccinema

Because we weren’t well-off, I didn’t get to the visit the cinema as much as I would have liked, which I suppose made the experience all the richer. During childhood my brother and I existed on a video diet of Disney classics, early Tim Burton (Beetlejuice was our absolute favourite) and Arnold Schwarzenegger films (The Running Man is still a guilty pleasure). We watched these at my grandmother’s house as we didn’t have a video recorder. We did acquire a second-hand model at one point but it didn’t seem to like my brother’s cash gift. Anyway, I digress…

I was in my early teens when a new multiplex opened. This hit the ABC hard and they reduced their prices to just £1 per film. Even though the new cinema was charging triple the price, the allure of the shiny silver soulless facade and the nine screens (you can only watch one at once you know) was too much of a pull and the ABC closed forever. That was over a decade ago and it still stands empty.

There have been numerous stories about what’s to become of the ABC – which is B-listed – including a hotel (crazy considering it’s hardly a tourist trap), a bingo hall (isn’t there enough already?) and a kids’ theatre company, which is definitely the best bet if they can find the funding.

The floor of the multiplex is still littered with popcorn, but the theatre of cinema in the town evaporated the day those big red velvet drapes came down for the last time, all those years ago.

All pictures from scottishcinemas.org.uk

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