In appreciation of The Rex

rex insideCinema, for me, has always been a special experience, as a child it was a treat to go and sit in the darkness of the theatre and see the pictures come to life before your eyes. I loved everything about the cinema, the smell of the popcorn in the foyer, the red curtains that hid the screen before showtime, the interval where you could discuss the progress of the narrative with your companion(s) or grab an ice cream from the tray clad staff and most of all, the feeling of being transported into another world or to share someone else’s journey. My formative cinema going years were so profound that they would cement a consuming love of film that would continue throughout my life and my studies.

But it is hard these-days to still feel the same wonder that the cinema held as a child, obviously part of this is down to the sheer fact of growing older but modern cinemas have become a soulless place where profit overrides passion. Gone are the velvet curtains and projectors and in their place are uniform seats and giant digital screens, though they often herald state of the art technology, it has erased the individual charm that a theatre held. Going to my local Odeon is often a miserable occasion, from the inflated prices and extra charges whacked on to a ‘blockbuster’ to the disrespect that the audience shows for the film and for one another, feet adorn the back of the chairs with casual ignorance and the glow of a mobile phone often disrupts your viewing.  It is hard to feel the magic of cinema when someone’s Facebook page is in your eye line.

So thank heaven for the Independents that keep the spirit alive, cinemas near where I live such as Hyde Park Picture House which offers an eclectic programme of films and the passion for the medium is evoked not just on-screen but by the staff too. Or the Hebden Bridge Picture House which is situated in the pretty village, known for its creativity and which has loyal patrons who are open to diverse pictures.

A few months ago I visited an Independent cinema which transported me back to my childhood and gave me a huge batch of nostalgic fuzzies. The Rex in Elland is a small white building that stands proudly on a side street of the small town. Built in 1912 the cinema has weathered a turbulent history, endured different carnations and suffered closure due to diminishing numbers brought othe rexn by the domination of television but in 1988 The Rex was taken over and refurbished and has since built up a reputation as a traditional, engaging cinema with affectionate patrons. As I walked into the quant building, the first thing I was struck by was a feeling of warmth, of a place that felt welcoming and had bags of charm. I purchased a ticket (at a delightful £5)
from the friendly staff and some lovely popcorn that didn’t carry an inflated price and headed into the screen where I was hit by a wave of nostalgia as I took in my surroundings, the red velvet curtains that I remembered as a child adorned the screen and retro but cosy seats filled the room. They have an organist who plays before the film which adds an extra dimension of old-fashioned appeal and, set against the red velvet backdrop, gives an air that you have walked into an episode of Twin Peaks in the nicest possible way.

The cinema began to fill with families that brought a sense of community to the cinema, a small town with a central connection to each other and as the screen displayed the Pearl and Dean logo I suddenly went into a daze. Like the scene in Ratatouille where restaurant critic Anton Ego tastes the meal that transports him back to his childhood, I too felt like I had taken a ride in a time machine, my senses were consumed with smells and sounds of my youth. The film choice of Jurassic World was almost inconsequential but it heightened the experience as the first groundbreaking Jurassic Park was something I watched as a kid in my local cinema in Great Yarmouth. When there was in intermission and ice creams were served during the break, the biggest grin erupted on my face, reliving the giddy delight of grabbing a treat whilst waiting for the second half of the story. I felt overwhelmed by the memories that were evoked from this trip to the humble Rex and if anyone thinks that this all sounds a bit rose tinted twee then they don’t know how important cinema is to me and how powerful cinemarex twin peaks can be.

Film has the ability to bring people together from different ages and backgrounds and Independent cinemas can provide a lifeline for those who may live in rural areas, for those who may be vulnerable, for those who cannot afford the prices of the multiplex or those who simply prefer the intimacy that they can offer. Film has the power to bewitch us, to excite us and to move us; it can transport us to other worlds and conjure unexpected emotions.

My experience of The Rex sparked a strong emotional response; it recalled the purest form of cinema that I felt as a child, re-imagining the wonder and awe that the silver screen held, something that is often forgotten in these modern times, it is a place that felt wonderfully familiar but at the same time like a long-lost gem, a place to recapture the sincerity of cinema, unspoilt by progress.

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The Tribe at Square Chapel, Halifax

tribe poster

Beyond the banality that Hollywood often produces, there are films that innovate, push the boundaries and find new ways to address and present the medium. The Tribe is such a film, one that is bold, original and presents a new language of cinema in the way we see and hear. Many films claim to present something you have never witnessed before but in the case of The Tribe, this is entirely valid and justified.

Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s debut is set within a Ukrainian boarding school for deaf children where tentative new arrival Serhiy (Grygoriy Fesenko) is plunged head-first into a gang mentality; the teenage bullies rule the school, running an organisation of crime involving prostitution (of their fellow female classmates) and robberies. Serhiy has no option in becoming implicated into the system and goes along with their actions, however when he falls for Anya (Yana Novikova), one of the girls he is assigned to pimp, he creates a dangerous situation, which has destructive consequences. What sets apart The Tribe from others that share a similar lineage is the execution in terms of the way we perceive sound- the film is entirely in sign language with no dialogue, no subtitles and no score, there is only diegetic sound such as traffic and footsteps but this is not done just for gimmickry. The lack of sound creates a form oThe Tribe by the Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiyf alienation for the viewer, we are not part of their world, we are observers from afar trying to understand the microcosm they have created, and we see how a group’s feelings of isolation can be transformed into a powerful clan, creating their own law. At the beginning of the film we see the teachers of the school and one classroom based scene of education yet any figures of authority are significantly absent from the rest of the duration, aside from two teachers who are, disturbingly, part of the prostitution racket. The pupils appear to have been left to their own devices, adding to the idea that they have formed their own coda, like a silent movie version of Lord of the Flies, some the tribe’s actions are animalistic, primal and their physicality makes it accessible to understand the narrative in the absence of conventional dialogue.

The sound design of the film is used to acute effect, everything feels heightened, from the violent blows the gang deal to their victims to the sound of scuffing shoes stalking the corridors. In one the of the film’s most harrowing scenes, the spirited but abused Anya has to etribe threendure a back street abortion, her howls of pain echo through the screen and into the conscious. Slaboshpytskiy’s direction is fluid and austere, often positioning the audience behind the gang, following their actions as helpless bystanders and the final scene is a master class in the use of a long take, a devastating conclusion to a brutal journey.

The film was screened at the Square Chapel Centre for Arts where a significant portion of the audience were deaf, whose experience of the film would no doubt differ from those who could not read the sign language. It felt like a refreshing reversal that they were inclusive to a medium that often would leave them alienated. Our experience of The Tribe will have been individual but as an audience we all witnessed an unflinching, compelling and deeply dark allegory that will be hard to forget.