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I'M LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE personally involved in local film-making, acting as stills photographer. Here I showcase the work of two film directors who I know personally, followed by more of Manchester's cinema-related locations and to conclude, an excellent publication for those interested in the history of local cinemas...

FEATURED FILM: DRUG ABUSE

OLDHAM is the unlikely home of a film maker with excellent Hollywood connections. I'm talking about Stephen Gibbons and 'Drug Abuse' is his first major film drama.

At 45 minutes, it's only half the length of a standard feature, but it packs in a lot more excitement, tension, drama, passion - and violence - than your average 'made-for-tv' film on the UK's 'sin bin' Channel 5.

'Drug Abuse' was made to promote the career of Stephen Gibbons and in mid-2000 it is being looked at by movie bosses in the UK and the United States.

'Drug Abuse' was shot in and around Oldham, though the location is actually incidental to the story - A very very bad drug dealer - Stuart Wade (ex lead in Emmerdale, left) gets his comeuppance when the girlfriend he abuses, Kirsten Doyle ( ex Heartbeat, Coronation St, right), gives him a taste of his own medicine by spiking his carton of orange juice with a mind-blowing cocktail of narcotics. In his fevered imagination, he is pursued by the ghost of his uncorrupted youth and goes through a series of frightening experiences, leading to a horrific dénouement.

It's great, though unfortunately you won't be able to see it in the cinema or on tv, as it's not on current release. However you can buy a preview copy of the video for £10 - Good value, and you never know, it might be worth a lot of money in the future. Find out more on Stephen Gibbon's website www.chicmoon.com. See also the Eyewitness in Manchester People feature on Stephen Gibbons.

Cast and location photographs were taken by me and made into this superb promotional poster by the director. The tunnel, by the way, is the one under Hyde North Station, where some of the action takes place. Over a pint recently at the Highfield, on Ripponden Road, Oldham, Steve told me he now has a new feature film in planning. Watch this space and remember you saw it first here on Eyewitness in Manchester.

See my home page for more of my film-related photos.

 

FEATURED FILM: THE VAN BOYS

THE VAN BOYS is the first full-length feature by Didsbury-based film director John McCormack. I first got to hear about it in my 1998 interview with Yvette Livesey, who had a major acting role in the film.

It was released on video in June 2000 - the photo shows VHS copies for rent at Blockbuster Video, Fallowfield, Manchester.

The story centres on a group of lads who make a living stealing paving stones for a crooked businessman. A shady smuggling deal leads to the murder of one of the Van Boys (Paul Usher, ex Brookside) by a criminal gang. His brother (played by Scot Williams) plans revenge and a web of intrigue is uncovered. In the end, the businessman is stitched up in a highly original way, illustrating the old saying 'What goes around comes around'.

The Van Boys runs through a range of moods - comic, tragic, fast moving, thoughtful, light-hearted, melancholy - and never lets up in its pace. There's a great soundtrack including a live performance by singing Van Boy Malcolm Pitt, in real life, talented half-Irish half-African vocalist and entertainer, who acted in 'The Full Monty'.

There are some great Manchester location scenes, but the main reason to watch it is that it's a very entertaining and watchable film and if you're in the UK, why not rent it now?

At a June 2000 outing to the Hogshead pub in Didsbury, John told me that planning for his next film, Daddy Fox, is well advanced. I've been commissioned to do the cast and location photos for the film in Manchester and Corfu.

Keep visiting Eyewitness in Manchester and remember you saw it here first!

THE CAPITOL THEATRE DIDSBURY met its demise in 1999, after a life span of more than half a century. It was originally a cinema and in the sixties was turned into a TV theatre. The talent show "Opportunity Knocks" presented by Hughie Green, was broadcast from here.

In the 1980's it was used by Manchester Polytechnic, later Manchester Metropolitan University, for their drama degree course. Successful ex-students include actresses Julie Walters and Susan Cleaver.

Now the only record of the Capitol's previous existence is in the development that stands on the site, 'Capitol Court', and in photographs taken by me and other photographers.

Wanton destruction of a key piece of Manchester's architectural and entertainment heritage to make way for a characterless block of over-priced flats, or a necessary replacement of a delapidated and worn-out building by a landmark development of attractive and affordable new homes - the decision is yours!

 

THE PLAYHOUSE CINEMA on Oldham Road is another of Manchester's lost picture houses.

The building was demolished in 1998 to make way for what in mid-2000 is nothing more than a patch of grass.

The theatre had been little more than a decaying shell for many years, of little use other than a structure on which to place advertisement hoardings.

But many people remember it in its heyday, when Miles Platting was a bustling suburb of Manchester, and not the depopulated and recession-scarred place it is today.

Studying the overgrown and delapidated facade pictured in my photograph, with a little imagination we can reconstruct how this corner might have looked seventy years ago. Buildings all around fill the empty spaces of today - a tram trundles its way up Oldham Road, the air is laden with the smoke from the factories and steam engines close by. Some people are entering the lobby of the theatre, welcomingly illuminated by electric lamps glowing warm in the murky Manchester light. They pay sixpence each to see the latest Hollywood talkie...

THE PALACE CINEMA is alive and well and still open in Stalybridge - a town that has managed to save more of its heritage than many others.

This is a classic smaller-size cinema of the type that mostly couldn't survive in the television age.

Somehow, this one is going strong. Let's hope it stays open for many years to come.

THE FORMER ODEON CINEMA on Washway Road, Sale is a classic cinema from the golden age of the movies, built in an Egyptian/Byzantine style.

It was threatened with demolition but has found a new lease of life as a cafe bar.

THE CORNERHOUSE is Manchester's premier arts and cinema centre, located on the corner of Whitworth St West and Oxford Road.

This site on Whitworth Street West, next to Oxford Road Station has been occupied by a cinema since 1911. The present building was constructed in 1935 and opened as the Tatler News Cinema.

In the era of the newsreel, people went to news theatres to see moving pictures depicting the events of the day. When TV news came along, the newsreels went into decline - I just about remember them from my earliest childhood.

The Tatler spent its final years in the 1970's as a film club showing sex films. Even now, the name "Tatler" has overtones of tackiness - as schoolboys we used to joke about it (Peter Scullion, where are you now?).

And then in 1985, the triangular building housing Shaw's Furniture Stores was turned into the Cornerhouse, and the cinema became Cornerhouse Cinema One. The entrance was remodelled in 1997 with an eyecatching 'wrap-around' light feature and new seats installed inside.

The Cornerhouse is the place to see art house and less commercial films, as well as some mainstream ones too. There are also courses in film - I attended 'Film Noir' and 'Novels into Film' - they were excellent. Regular exhibitions are held in the upper floors, and an activity programme for kids is held on a Saturday morning. There's a restaurant, bar and bookshop, and though some people say the clientele is too 'arty/trendy' Manchester would be very much worse off without the wonderful Cornerhouse.

THE WARNER VILLAGE cinema at Cheshire Oaks, near Ellesmere Port represents the cutting edge of present-day (turn of the millennium) cinema design. I'd call it 'contemporary high tech art deco'.

The architects have allowed themselves to be inspired by the designs of the golden age of cinemas - the 20's and 30's. The symmetrical shape, fluted exterior embellishments, gentle curves and pale pastel colours recall the art deco hotels of South Miami Beach.

The cinema has a number of screens, including a giant i-Werks screen, similar in size and impact to Imax, one of which is in the Printworks complex, Manchester (open Autumn 2000)

THE ODEON CINEMA is one of Manchester's original picture palaces and in mid 2000 is the only mainstream cinema in the heart of the city centre.

It was opened in October 1930 as the Paramount, with seats for nearly 3000 cinema-goers. In April 1940 it became the Odeon and so it remains to this day.

In 1974 it was 'twinned', and in 1992 it was further subdivided into 7 screens.

I often go to the Odeon - it has a charm and grandeur that out-of-town multiplexes lack. The top-floor foyer still has an air of art-deco magic about it, though I'm not keen on the exterior red and white tiles at pavement level.

Long live the Odeon, and in mid-2000, let's hope the imminent arrival of new cinema multiplexes in the Great Northern and the Printworks won't dent its audience figures.

THE ABC FORUM CINEMA, Wythenshawe Road Northenden, opened in 1934. It had a Wurlitzer organ and could also put on stage shows.

The sober art-deco- exterior, with its hexagonal ornamentation and stepped back roof, has turned out to be strangely well-suited to its use since 1976 as a meeting place for the Jehovah's Witnesses religious group.

They restored the exterior and interior, with its 1930's period interior, and on the day I took the photograph (Sunday 23 July 2000) two girls were carrying out repairs to the doors. The cinema is illustrated in the book 'Looking Back at Northenden' by Derek Deakin (Willow Publishing, 1983).

THIS CINEMA on Kingsway, Burnage, was built in 1928, when this area was developed by Manchester Corporation as a modern residential district.

It was a cinema up till the 1980's (a friend saw the first Star Wars film here with his wife-to-be), then it became a Kwik Save supermarket. A fire gutted the building and the rear part was demolished, leaving the old interior visible from behind.

As can be seen by the battered condition of these roadside barriers, this area is in need of regeneration. Barriers like these used to be in Piccadilly and are painted in light grey, once the council's signature colour for lamp posts and other street furniture.

Please contact if you have further info about this cinema.

THIS BUILDING on Cheetham Hill Road, Cheetham Hill, is a billards hall, but it looks to me as if it might have been a cinema in the past. Like many cinemas, both old and new it has a pair of corner towers, these ones with pyramid shaped roofs, an arched roof in between.

The former Greenhill Cinema, now used by Asian market traders, is just next door.

Please contact me, Cheetham Hill residents and expats, with further info about this building!

FEATURED BOOK: MAGIC IN THE DARK - The Cinemas of Central Manchester and Ardwick Green

MAGIC IN THE DARK written by Derek J Southall is an extremely entertaining, informative, well-written and well-researched history of the cinemas of central Manchester and Ardwick Green.

The author has also included newspaper adverts, archive photographs and maps, as well as first-hand accounts of former cinema usherettes, projectionists and cinema-goers.

It's a pity the book doesn't extend to out-of-town cinemas. It also deserves a better standard of printing than the stapled A3 photocopy-style.

This is incidental however, as the content is excellent.

Anyone who has ever been to a cinema in Manchester ought to buy this book and read it from cover to cover!

For more information e-mail info (at) aidan.co.uk

THIS IS JUST A SMALL SELECTION of the cinemas, old and new, that exist, or have existed, in the Manchester region, and of the many locally-based film-related activities and publications. More pictures and features will be added in due course. If you have any suggestions, please e-mail info (at) aidan.co.uk

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