I’m some what groggy most weekends these days; this is the direct responsibility of the Duke’s After Dark. The Duke’s After Dark is Brighton’s only regular late night cinematic event, screening cult hits and classic masterpieces (and The Note Book). I have a pathetic pride in my ability to stay awake during the actual films; my head didn’t so much nod once during a double feature of Kill Bill Volume 1 followed directly by Kill Bill Volume 2. Considering the celluloid didn’t start rolling until 11pm (the time I’d normally be climbing into bed) staying awake was an impressive life achievement. I’ve adjusted to the late night films at the Duke’s again, I first started attending their late night shows when I was about 19 and had no problem staying awake. As I started to reach my late twenties however I would find myself suddenly awaking with a startled gasp and a slug trail of drool from the corner of my mouth leading to a saliva pool neatly contained within my beard. I would then spend the next ten minutes trying to figure out how much of Shaft I had missed. So for a period of time I stopped attending and favoured sleep instead. However some years on and I have been brought out of retirement. For about the last year the Duke’s After Dark showings have become unmissable. A constant string of perfect films choices (Old Boy, Dirty Harry, Die Hard, Anchorman, Host, Goodfellas, Kill Bill, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) has been flickering out of the Duke’s projectors of late.
As far as I can make out this current string of late night cinematic gold is largely the responsibility of one member of staff, Toby. He often appears before a film and makes a short but enthusiastic sweary announcement “I watched the first five minutes of Volume 1 earlier in here and it looks fucking amazing!” Toby is essentially a considerable taller version of me, so much so that when he is making these announcements I often feel like I am watching my own reflection elongated in a fun house mirror. Toby keeps a blog himself actually, all about film some what unsurprisingly.
People often demand of me with bemusement why I fight of sleep and go see showings of films I own at home. There are two reasons. Don’t worry I’m going to tell you both. Firstly it is a completely different experience seeing a film on the big screen. I don’t care how good your home cinema system is, it just won’t ever compare to the child like thrill I experience in the cinema. It does not matter if it is a film I’ve seen a hundred times or one I’ve never seen before I still get a swirling flutter of excitement rise in my chest as the house lights dim and discussion ebbs away. Then you just get to sit in the warm, dark womb substitute and escape into another world for a couple of hours. You just can’t achieve the same level of escapism watching a film at home. Home, where you are struggling to pay the mortgage and can see the washing you haven’t done and can be rung by cold callers. In the cinema you genuinely forget that you are not doing the job you want and that you struggle to talk to pretty girls and you get to do all this while eating treats! This experienced is only enhanced at these late night showings of classics and cults because you are in a room full of people who mostly know and love the film as much as you. I can’t tell you how heart-warming it is to be suddenly find a whole room of people yelling in unison “Get away from her, you bitch!” as the climax of Aliens unfolds.
The other reason I try to attend as many of the showings as possible is because I want to support the late night showing. Logically if you support something, the more chance there is it will keep going. The Duke of York’s was the first cinema I ever went to and my second earliest memory. My Dad took me to see Walt Disney’s Snow White when I was two or three, we sat in the balcony and ate wagon wheels (I know I was much smaller but I swear they were much bigger in the old days). I can still see Snow White’s giant face on the screen even now, my addiction was started early. It was a really big face.
The Duke of York’s is now one of the few places left that seems to be genuinely part of the ‘Brighton’ spirit. I am not confident I will express this well but these days Brighton has lost a lot of what makes it special. There seems to be a lot less organically unique and individual places and a lot more places spending vast amounts of money to try be very ‘Brighton’ (but they just seem more ‘twaty’). This is always brought home to me when I go to Austin, Texas to visit my beloved friends Lisa and Ian (check out their awesome metal band The Well why don’t you?) and they take me to Waterloo Records, I Love Video, Spider House, Draft House etc. It all just reminds me of the old Brighton, every business has a very genuine and real personality of its own…and of its staff. The Duke’s still has this spirit (and the Cineworld taking ownership of Picture House doesn’t seem to have changed this thankfully).
The Duke of York’s has changed; it is not quite the same cinema it used to be. It’s less scrappy (a trait I always loved) but with good reason. With the development of the business and the opening of the sister cinema Duke’s at the Komedia the operation has got slicker, the cinemas are more polished. The new cinema at the Komedia is particularly lavish; the screens and sound systems are cutting edge, there are a large number of sofa seats (or what the French referred to as ‘love seats’) and the addition of a fantastic kitchen apparently on a mission to caterer to all of Brighton’s many dietary requirements (making all of Brighton’s vegans cream their pants at once). The old Duke’s has also had a make over….this largely seems to have consisted of replacing all the seating with Elmo skin covered luxury chairs. Essential the Duke’s has grown up with me, in my teens and twenties it was a scruffy little place where people smoked cannabis undisturbed during screenings of Mars Attacks, now we are both proper adults.
However the spirit remains, shall I do some examples? Yes? Okay. While the cinema was being refurbished they showed free films in Preston Park (with free popcorn). They organised showings of films with Q & A’s with cast, crew and experts (highlights for me have been The Raiders of the Lost Ark anniversary, Video Nasty discussion with a showing of Evil Dead, American Mary with the hilariously excitable Soska sisters.) They go to town on special screenings (the kids club showing of Ghostbusters saw the whole cinema coated in thick spider webbing, free foot massages before a screening of Pulp Fiction). The incredibly relaxed, informal and often funny posts on each of the cinemas facebook feeds. It all acts to give the business a personality, the personality of its staff (staff who seem to enjoy their jobs and love good cinema). It acts to make the business feel like part of the community….admittedly mostly the part of the community that buys artisan bread and reads the Guardian.
Don’t worry; I’m desperately aware this reads like an embarrassing sycophantic burst of art house gushery. Don’t worry, I AM embarrassed but you see I really do love The Duke’s and it is quite hopeless to pretend otherwise. It was either write this or declare my love by bellowing from the top of the icon stripy legs jutting out of Preston Circus. I’m embarrassed that I sometimes go there three times in one week and become self conscious when the same staff are working and I have to greet them with a sheepish grin. So I think if I just get it out in the open it will be better. Last week I went two nights in a row doing a sort of seedy Nicole Kidman double bill with Stoker followed by The Paperboy (both well worth a watch thought you might feel like you need a bath after The Paperboy) and still find myself toying with the idea of catching a third film.
Right I’ve got a little of track here, this was suppose to be about the Duke’s After Dark. If you haven’t been to a Duke’s After Dark give it a try. I’m sure you’ll stay awake, plus if you message The Duke’s After Dark facebook page you can make suggestions for late night movie showings…. We’ll see if my wish for some Lynch will come true. I am unconvinced my drawing of me watching Die Hard fully captures the experience; you’ll just have to live it for yourself. You can’t live vicariously through me forever, beside that drawing contains a number of inaccuracies:
- I did not dress up as John McClane.
- The cinema was busier than that.
- I was with my friends Jon and Leanne.
- I rarely eat popcorn, I just drew it because it is an iconic cinema snack, I normally have homemade cake and a cup of Earl Grey tea.
If you haven’t been to the Duke of York’s at all then I think we are done here.