Monday, October 08, 2012

Safety Last - on an organ

The Royalty cinema in Bowness isn't one of the biggest or the grandest, but it does have a surprising amount of history.  Built in 1926 and opened as a cinema the following year, it's the proud possessor of the only working Wurlitzer organ in a cinema anywhere in Europe.  After a major restoration project, the cinema celebrated both the organ's new working status and its own 85th birthday with a couple of fun events.

The first of these was an organ recital concert, which we didn't go to.  The second was a showing of several genuine old black-and-white silent movies with organ accompaniment, which we did.  And boy, was it fun!

The programme started with an early Charlie Chaplin film about a boxer or prize fighter.  The bits we could see were very amusing, but sadly the film stock was in such poor condition that a lot of it was too dark to see what was going on.  Next came Buster Keaton's 'The Paleface', which was thoroughly non-pc but laugh-out-loud funny - and a must-see for anyone who loves Johnny Depp's performance in 'Pirates of the Caribbean 2'.  Then just before the interval we saw an old Laurel & Hardy title.  I've never been a big fan of theirs - too often their humour involves smashing things up and the jokes tend to be repeated ad nauseam - and it was interesting that this probably got the fewest laughs of the evening, but it was still pleasantly silly.

After an interval with a real usherette selling real ice-creams off a real, round-the-neck tray, we settled down for the main event - a showing of Harold Lloyd's 'Safety Last', complete with organ music and special effects.  It was an absolute scream.  Comedy filming had clearly moved on considerably since the Chaplin-Keaton era; there were more close-ups, more stunts, and a much more sophisticated approach.  Watching Lloyd climbing the tower-block and dangle dangerously off the hands of the clock at the top still gave us a real thrill even after 80-odd years, and the whole audience laughed their socks off pretty much the whole way through.  And the succession of bells, clanks, whistles and bird calls mixed in with the delightful organ music (reminiscent of old Tom & Jerry cartoons) really added to the atmosphere.

The cinema will apparently show other silent movies, also with organ accompaniment, in future and we're watching the listings to see when they will be, because this is something we'd definitely want to do again.

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