View from the Bridge: 29

by John Morrison


29: Celluloid Heroes

Milltown's municipal cinema dates back to 1928. The casual visitor might wonder why it was built in the incongruous shape of an Egyptian mausoleum. Was it inspired by the first, silent version of Cleopatra? Or was it just the result of a mix-up between a junior architect and an overworked member of the town planning department, due to a crackly phone line?

We're always a little late in getting the blockbuster films: those big, dumb, action movies aimed at folk with the attention span of a particularly inattentive goldfish. This week, for example, it's classic high-octane hokum - True Hard Double Mortal Instinct Target - featuring a bunch of American actors trying to outrun fireballs. You'll find more violence in ninety minutes of overwraught drama than you'd see in the Grievous Bodily Arms over an entire bank holiday weekend.

Mostly we like more stimulating cinematic fare. We can cope with foreign films, sub-titles, cult classics... even some old-fashioned wartime tosh featuring a troupe of crack English character actors being dropped behind enemy lines. And Milltown is the one place where a trailer for The First Film by a young Canadian Director about the Love Between Two Women makes us check our diaries in the hope of finding a free evening.

A Boy, a Girl and a Donkey is a perennial favourite. Filmed around Milltown - in grainy black & white with a budget of 49/6d - it's a stark tale of unrequited love and social upheaval set in a smoke-blackened Northern town.

A controversial hint of bestiality ensured that the vital third reel of the only surviving copy disappeared into the archives of a specialist collector. However, the undemanding viewers don't seem to notice the slight lack of continuity. One minute the heroine is spurning the gauche advances of the leading man, and his offer to set her up in a back-to-back hovel sandwiched between the abbatoir and the glue factory. Then, without warning or explanation, she is ensconced in the Big House on the Hill with a donkey called Gerald.

Though the use of Northern stereotypes has seldom been bettered, these days the film's appeal is nine-tenths nostalgia. When the foreman calls at the Big House, tugging his forelock and wringing his cloth-clap, to announce that there's "trouble at 't mill", Milltown audiences cheer and throw popcorn. When the hero disconsolately finds that the whippets have eaten all his pigeons, there's hardly a dry seat in the house.

We enjoy watching the discomfiture of plummy southern actors trying to come to terms with the 'Learn Yorkshire Dialect in a Week' school of film-making. And Milltown folk have enthusiastically taken up some of the more ludicrous dialogue, dreamed up by a writer who obviously didn't have enough irony in his diet. "Ay lad", you'll hear the locals insist, "we may 'ave been poor, but by God we were picturesque".

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