A native North Londoner and senior manager at the University of the Arts, Paul has been a passionate cinephile all his life. To this day he never misses the London Film Festival when he averages at least fourteen films a week. His memories of the Everyman in the late 1980s and 1990s recall the richness of its programme and its influence on his film education. We met up in Café Nero close to East Finchley’s independent cinema, The Phoenix, where he is a trustee.
Paul’s love of cinema started in his childhood. He grew up in High Barnet and went regularly to the local Odeon, a 1930s art deco cinema, now part of the Everyman chain, which was converted to a triple screen in the 1970s. Paul went on his own to the matinées where he saw more or less every film that came out (subject to the certification of the time). Once, he was the only member of the audience in Screen 1 for Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, a fantasy adventure film with stop go animation by Ray Harryhausen. Apparently, two ushers took pity on him and sat down beside him to keep him company. But Paul enjoyed his lone visits to the cinema and was perplexed at the very notion of talking or kissing during a film.
Paul also went locally to university. He started at Westfield College, University of London, which was situated near Finchley Road. Although his parents lived in the area, Paul wanted to live university life to the full and worked in the holidays to pay for a room in the student hall of residence. He recalls that the Everyman’s newspaper size programme was always on the wall above his bed and that he also had a poster of Cocteau’s Orphee. He didn’t formally study film but he was always at the cinema and also a member of the Westfield College Film Society, showing films on VHS. He remembers that they showed a VHS copy of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. This was Illegal because the film, deemed to encourage violent gang behaviour, was banned at the time. But one of the students had been to France and got hold of a copy which they watched with French subtitles.
The local cinemas were Golders Green Cannon/ABC and Swiss Cottage Odeon. But lots of students also liked the walk up to the Everyman in Hampstead where Paul became a regular from 1988, often with fellow students, especially one particular mature student who became both film companion and friend.
By this time the repertory programme at the Everyman had evolved from one film a week in the Fairfax-Jones years to a daily changing programme of double or triple bills. Paul remembers seeing all the major films there, which gave audiences the advantage of comparing films from the same director or genre. He was particularly struck by a triple Scorsese bill of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, all starring Robert de Niro which explored the male immigrant experience on the streets of New York. He felt a particular affinity to Scorsese because he shared his background as the child of Italian immigrant parents in the big city.
Like generations of Hampstead audiences since the 1930s, he got to know and enjoy the Marx Brothers comedies, even though, by this time, they were shown on worn out old prints. Other Everyman seasons of classics which were regularly repeated, like Bergman and Cocteau, gave Paul and other aspiring cinephiles the opportunity to catch up with films which allowed them to see the whole body of work of a particular director. Paul recalls that he loved these retrospectives which provided him with a ‘true learning experience’. By this time Hollywood, as well as European art cinema, had become a central part of the pantheon. Admired Hollywood directors which Paul got to know on the big screen included Hal Hartley, Davd Lynch and Woody Allen. But European films remained close to his heart – as he said, ‘they make you think differently’ Two distinctive European films, emblematic of the late 1980s stick out in his memory, Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire and Betty Blue directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix. British films did not tend to be as cultish, although there was the odd exception, including Withnail and I. This film was much beloved by student audiences who imitated the drinking games, and Paul even knew someone who made a pilgrimage to the village tearoom where a sequence was filmed. Paul took a girl to the screening at the Everyman. She absolutely hated it and the relationship didn’t last.
It has always been important to Paul to see films on the big screen, particularly in those days when VHS tapes were shoddy, the machines not great and you had to watch films on a small TV screen. Although he favoured European art films Paul had broad tastes and says he ‘watched everything’ visiting different cinemas in London. He went to the Scala at Kings Cross for Kung Fu films, to the ABC Golders Green on a group trip to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and to the Screen on the Hill Belsize Park to Antono Banderas in Desperado. He also remember going with his longstanding cinema friend and his girlfriend to see the Winnie the Pooh double bill at the National Film Theatre / BFI. This was quite an experience as it was a screening full of children and the kids laughed all the way through.
Although Paul said he wasn’t that conscious of the building, his impression of the Everyman, with its iconic archway entrance to the box office, was that it had been there forever. He does remember the paper tickets some of which had the name of the film printed on them. They are probably still in his mother’s loft.
The surrounding area of Hampstead, with its cultural community, was an important part of the appeal of the Everyman. Sarah, his girlfriend happened to have a waitressing job down in Belsize Park so they were often in the area. They ate at Daphnes, the Greek restaurant next door, once or twice, sampled the pancakes at crepes stall, which is still there on the High Street, and went to the Spaniards Inn for cheap drinks.
The cheap weekday student tickets made the Everyman a magnet for students from across London. And for Paul, the cinema, with its varied choice of repertory films, was a place to try things out, a formative place which provided access to film history. As he said, ‘You found your tribe at the Everyman’.