Escape to the Pantry Goes to the Movies: Host Your Own Film Night

How to turn the living room or person cave into your local ODEON, ABC, or Bug Hut

In the last two decades, I have pontificated over the vapidity of our multiplex cinemas. So much so that I wrote a lengthy poem about it in 2003, that was published in the Tameside Reporter. Sadly, the cinema where I saw my first film in Greater Manchester closed that year with American Pie III: The Wedding.

I could have bitten the bullet and embraced the multiplex in spite of all its architectural shortcomings. Instead I chose The Print Works and the Cornerhouse as my usual haunts. In cinematic terms, the year 2016 changed things for me.

Apart from the stormy political weather and the loss of a few iconic musicians, that year saw the opening of Oldham’s second ODEON cinema. In the former Town Hall, a few hundred yards near the one that closed in October 1983. With The Ashton Arms (great pub and even better real ale) nearby and superior public transport links to my local Cineworld, it became my first choice.

Right now, we are in the midst of a pandemic, which means no pub nor cinema will be open till late Summer/early Autumn. Today, Screen One has five seats; Screen Two might have two or three seats at high level – or six if you are lucky. Screen Three has one seat, an oval shaped retractable one with a hole. As for Screens Four and Five, more likely to have an ottoman or two, or an adjustable chair with access to headphones. As for the pub, it’s the local supermarket or your favourite craft brewery’s home delivery service.

Being as filmgoers are unable to see their movies in the way best intended, we might have an answer. Courtesy of Escape To The Pantry, here’s how you could bring the cinema going experience to your home.

Take One: The Basics

  1. Get some popcorn;
  2. Find a suitable film;
  3. Close the curtains and dim the lights;
  4. Enjoy the film.

We could have just left our little guide here and left to your own devices, but East of the M60 – especially with Escape To The Pantry – isn’t happy with this slapdash approach. We can do better.

Firstly, popcorn isn’t the most imaginative of cinema foods to think of, when you could consider other options. What about hot dogs, nachos or choc ices – also available at your nearest Iceland, B&M or Home Bargains? Secondly, if my local cinema’s experience was whittled down to the four points, I would happily choose to stay at home.

As well as the communal aspect, technology sets the whole cinema going experience apart. Before the multiplex revolution, having a shorter supporting feature film and a newsreel before the main feature used to be the norm. With the wonders of modern technology, recreating that experience is possible.

Take Two: The Details

How you would like to programme your film night is down to you. Would you like to show blockbuster movies or specialise in a certain genre? Are you a grandparent that would like to recreate the feel of Saturday Morning Pictures?

Scene One: Get Some Food

Personally, I don’t bother with cinema munchies. I prefer to have a meal before the film, as that way you don’t need to pay cinema prices for popcorn or sweets. As I said earlier, you can buy popcorn at B&M, Home Bargains and Iceland for a lot less. (I prefer buttered popcorn if anyone’s paying). For much less than the price of a giant Pepsi in your multiplex, you can get a 3 litre bottle of Pepsi Max at any of the freezer centre giant’s stores.

As for hot dogs and nachos, don’t skimp on the quality. Herta’s frankfurters are a safe bet over the inferior tinned ones. If you need tinned hot dogs, go for Ye Olde Oak’s brand. As for condiments, I would go for French’s mustard in a squeezable plastic bottle as Colman’s English Mustard doesn’t quite cut it in that context. If you bought your popcorn and hot dogs from Iceland, a bag of frozen onions and eight choc ices wouldn’t go amiss.

If the thought of scoffing too much junk food or drinking fizzy drinks is a no-no, feel free to suggest healthier alternatives.

Scene Two: Find Suitable Films

As always, the kind of films and themes you choose depend upon your mutual cinematic tastes. If you are viewing the film from an online streaming portal (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc), make sure the film is still available that very day or night you have your mini film festival. If you have already saved the film into your account, or prefer physical media (DVD, Bluray, Uncle John’s Betamax video recorder), you should be fine.

At this point, you have the easy option of watching one film, then another one. Which anybody could do on a school night. Or on the way back from your local video library in the 1980s.

Scene Three: Setting The Scene

In terms of atmosphere and the feeling of ‘having seen the film’, nothing beats the cinema. Not least in terms of the whole experience of being fleeced for popcorn, or sitting through 30 minutes of adverts and trailers before the film.

Ultimately, it is escapism that sets cinema apart from television. Today, this escapism comes with the technology with IMAX and ISense 3D being today’s equivalent to Cinemascope and Cinerama. With the electric palaces and palatial super cinemas, this was reflected in its sumptuous interiors.

In a matter of minutes, hours, or days, it is unrealistic of us to turn our house into Blackpool ODEON for two or three hours of films. Your neighbours might tut at having a red illuminated sign above your front door. If you wish to turn your home into the HOMEON Cinema, you could do the following to get your ‘customers’ in the mood:

  1. Use one of these cinema style light boxes (available from B&M, Wilko, etc) to ‘promote’ your latest film.
  2. Play thematic music in the background which is linked to your mini film festival. If your theme is James Bond, the signature tunes from Dr. No and A View to a Kill are a no brainer.
  3. If you have a dining room or spare bedroom, set the chairs out to resemble the front row of a cinema auditorium.
  4. If you have two sets of benches as part of your dining room table set, consider placing them near the front of your TV screen for that ‘Bug Hut’ vibe. Great for reenacting the glory days of Saturday morning pictures.
  5. Should you choose to go into character mode, one member of the family or your fellow housemate could dress up as a famous film star or superhero. Instead of Humphrey Bogart or Spiderman, you could dress up as a cinema usher with a tray of choc ices during the interval.

Scene Four: Presentation

Now for the fun bit: that very point where we show the film (or films). Here’s how I would like to have my running order for a full-on movie night:

  • Open with the Pearl and Dean theme (Pete Moore’s Asteroid, 1968): you should be able to find the Pearl and Dean theme on YouTube quite easily. If you have one of these new-fangled TVs with apps, you can cast it from your smartphone or tablet.
  • Open with a Newsreel: if you have elderly housemates or family members, an archive newsreel should be enough to trigger some memories.
  • Add a few 1960s – 80s cinema adverts: again, good old YouTube is your friend.
  • Have a short supporting feature film: up until the 1980s, a shorter supporting film was the norm before the main feature. A modern-day equivalent could be the presentation of a short YouTube film some 20 to 50 minutes long. Before Ready Player One, you could play one of Kim Justice‘s or Nostalgia Nerd‘s films.
  • Have an interval halfway through: today, intervals are a rare feature of the cinema going experience. You could use the interval to break for suppertime or a brew, depending on what time of the day it is.
  • Close with the National Anthem (and stand up!): if you have elderly relatives of royalist leanings, they might appreciate this finishing touch. (One more thing: cinemas across the UK used to close their programme with God Save The Queen/King).
I don’t remember seeing that caption in the Metro Cinema.

Here’s a plug, folks…

I have had a fairly long term interest in Tameside’s cinemas and theatres, much of which was inspired by David Owen’s 1985 book. Ten years later, David L. Williams and Philip Martin Williams released Flickering Memories. With a foreword by the late Bob Monkhouse, it is in my view the definitive reference on Ashton-under-Lyne’s cinemas.

Late last year, David and Philip Williams rereleased Flickering Memories. This time with their Directors’ Cut being Flickering Memories: From Flea Pit to Multiplex a History of Ashton-under-Lyne’s Cinemas. Their much enlarged version brings the story up to date, covering the arrival of Cineworld to Ashton Moss.

The book is priced £12.00 in paperback form and published by Hoyd Publishing. Hoyd, in case you ask, stands for History On Your Doorstep, as in the local History On Your Doorstep community group. At this time of writing, they have sold out of books from their initial print run. (Well, as soon as we get hold of a copy, expect to see a review on East of the M60).

Thhhaaaatttttt’s All, Folks…

Before you head towards the taxi rank, bus stop or to your cars, feel free to share your ideas for a movie night. You might want to buy some tip-up seats from eBay or scour the whole of Sheffield for Kia Ora (other parts of the UK are available). You might want to go all 1980s and dust down your VHS collection, presently gathering dust in an attic or cupboard with the Ferguson Videostar.

Whatever way you choose to host your home-based movie night or day, enjoy yourselves.

S.V., 15 May 2020.

Auditorium view of the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley, London by Basil Jradeh, 2010 (Creative Commons License: Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0).

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