Cinema fun yesterday and today

There is a very big thrill in watching a Film on a giant screen that fills your entire vision with crystal clear images in high digital colour while being simultaneously blasted by surround sound with excruciatingly clear audio - the entire effect putting you smack in the middle of the movie! It is an experience of extreme exhilaration that can hardly be duplicated in any other way. This “rush” is being sought daily by elders and youth alike in Cinema Houses across the nation. Lagos of course, being the Cosmopolis that it is, leads in the articulation of this experience.

There is a new generation of filmgoers who are going crazy for the films being shown mainly by the Silverbird Galleria Cinema chain in Lagos, Abuja and Portharcourt. There are the City Mall Cinemas on Lagos Island and the Genesis Deluxe Cinemas at The Palms Mall in Lekki also catering to a mixed crowd of Cinema goers in the third coming of Cinema to the Nigerian Entertainment Scene. Many are not aware that there used to be a cinema going Culture in the past.

Yes, it is the third coming. In the late 60s and early 70s there were the Danjuma Cinema group et al which eventually gave way to churches when security fears kept people at home as Lagos came under siege post-Civil War. In the Early 80s there was a resurgence of Cinema-going mainly to watch Yoruba films by late Chief Hubert Ogunde, Ade Afolayan (Ade Love), Eddie Ugbomah, Baba Sala and Ola Balogun etc at the National Theatre. That also faded out when the Theatre could no longer assure filmgoers of an exclusive, luxurious, cooled and safe environment.

The boycott of Cinemas was exacerbated by the availability of the first portable Reel-to-Reel home movie players. We watched many movies with glee on our sitting room wall never forgetting that memorable evening when dad had to jump up and quickly stop the projector from further showing the pudenda of a woman in full throes of childbirth! He’d thought the film was about animals in nature! Talk about censorship! We talked in whispers about what we saw for weeks!

The mini-projectors quickly gave way to the more convenient Betamax Players, which despite their higher quality became extinct and gave way to the VHS. You know the rest of the story, VHS to CD (Large Size) and the CD (Small Size) DVD and now MP3, MP4 and Blue whatever, I can’t keep up with developments now.

What is most interesting about the Ben-Bruce-led Cinema-going resurgence is that movies are easily available on the Internet, on pirated CDs, sold cheaply and even on dedicated channels on the Digital Satellite Television Stations as well as the ‘terrestrial’ ones. Yet, the culture of Cinema going has come to stay. Some say it is because life is so much of a pressure cooker that people see Cinema-going as a way of letting off some of the steam.

My earliest recollection as a child, of watching movies at Cinemas was being taken to one cinema or the other in the three middle class areas of Lagos to watch a movie. In Apapa it was Roxy Cinema, on Lagos Island it was Plaza Cinema. On the Mainland it was Metro Cinema. Each of these Cinemas was luxurious, well appointed and exclusive to the well-off.

But the “Have-Nots” had their own cinemas too. One had only to open the “Daily Times” to the “Announcements” pages to see the list of open-air mostly Danjuma Cinema group that were spread around Lagos. There was RAINBOW in Idi Oro, NEW JEBAKO and STUDIO in Mushin, RIVOLI, beside METRO at Onipanu, DANJUMA and PEN Cinema at Agege, CASINO at Yaba, GOD DEY Cinema at Ajegunle, and SUPER Cinema on Akerele Extension in Surulere. There were KINGS Cinema, GLOVER HALL, SHEILA, ODEON and CORONA Cinemas all on Lagos Island. A few of these are operating again but not on the scale of yesteryears.

The Films of course in those days were either 16mm or 35mm Celluloid, which meant that the average Film came on at least two Reels which had to be taken down and replaced once they were played out. This also meant there were intermissions which were indicated with a filler tape which was projected large on the screen as; I N T E R L U D E. In the meantime, the operator quickly threaded a new film through the projector track unto the empty spool and the film would resume after a short break.

The Classy Cinemas showed films like “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins”, Starring Julie Andrews, “My Fair Lady”, “The Ten Commandments”, “The Wizard of OZ”, “Oliver”, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, “Spartacus”, ”Quo Vadis”, “Gone With The Wind”, “The Bible” and other such epics. They also showed the cowboy classics like “El Dorado”, ”The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” starring John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and all those cowboys we collected on the chewing Gum cards.

The Downtown Cinemas showed their own classic Chinese, Indian and Cowboy Films like, “Django” which came in both cowboy and Indian forms; Chinese films included “One Armed Boxer”, “One armed Swordsman” starring Wang – Yu King of Boxers. There were other films starring Chen Sing like,”Fists of Fury” and “New Fists of Fury”. Then there were, “The Big Boss”,” Enter the Dragon”, starring the famous Bruce Lee.

Indian Films included those starring Dharmendra and Hema Malini who later became his wife. They included “Sholay”, “Sharafat” with Rajesh Kanar, ‘Rakhwala”, “Seeta Aur Geeta”, “Samadhi” and Jantar Matar. Shashi Kapoor in “Sharmilee” was another film I remember and one of the most famous films whose name has slipped into our Pigeon English Lexicon is “Jugnu” starring Dharmendra. Jugnu in Nigeria today means “powerful thug!” - As in, “Old Boy, do small o! The Bobo na Jugnu, no find him wahala O!” Dharmendra often acted the part of the baddie or “Badman” (pronounced with a rising double accent) as cinemagoers called them then, hence the application.

One major difference in the Cinemas apart from the fact that the lower class ones were in open air environments showed in the class of the people. Whereas in the “classy” Cinema, anybody who attempted to comment on the film would be shushed by all around him, in the “Jebakos” it was different. You could have someone just behind you regale everyone with the entire plot of the film in the first five minutes. Speaking to no one in particular, he would then proceed to narrate in every scene what the “Actor” was about to do, down to even the dialogue which no one understood!

The Taxi and “Bolekaja” Drivers, ‘Elerans’ – Butchers, ‘Elemus’- Palm Wine Tappers, ‘Agberos’ – Passenger Loaders, Drivers, Conductors, ‘Brikila’ – Brick Layers, ‘Agbepos’ – Night Soil Carriers and their ilk did not mind. They did not have the same reserve as the Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Architects, Permanent Secretaries and their families on the other end of the spectrum. For us “Ajebotas” (elite) slumming in the rough enclaves it was a pain but we could do nothing about it.

Even the word, ”Actor” has a special usage among these plebeian cinema goers. It became synonymous with “hero”. Once they identified the Protagonist of the Film they shouted “AaaccctooooR!” every time he did something extraordinary, or merely for appearing during a tense moment of the film. And each time there was an Interlude and the sign came up the audience would shout, “IN - TA – LU- DAY” applying Yoruba phonology to the English word. If the film snapped halfway through or the celluloid melted through from the heat of the projector bulb and the operator was not quick to notice the stoppage, they would shout, “O – PE – RA - TORRRR!” until he woke up from his slumber or returned from his cigarette break and did something to solve the problem. People in both Cinema genres seized this Interlude to go and relieve themselves or buy snacks and sweets.
The Open Air Cinemas were far cheaper and more fun to go to than the elite, more expensive Cinemas when you were breaking bounds from school. Besides, you were less likely to bump into someone who knew you were supposed to be in the Boarding House. There was little roughness in those days and hemp smokers either smoked it at Felas Shrine at Empire Hotel or around the “Quayside” Clothes Market on Lagos Island where only the tough could venture except you were going to get your “nomba” (inoculation) at the Vaccination office nearby.

Lagos was fun!