Thursday 17 October 2019

John Daly: 'Silver screen and golden memories'


Gabriel Byrne
Gabriel Byrne

John Daly

In the middle of a springtime ramble around Dublin city last week, I turned a corner and came face to face with a ghost from the past.

At the angle of Hawkins and Townsend Streets, the sunlight of a crisp March afternoon lit the sacred site where once I practised my French kiss technique on some poor damsel whose lack of good sense saw her enduring my intimacies in the inky gloom of the darkened back row. Right from my earliest days in Dublin, the Screen Cinema gloried as a revered weekly ritual - a retro-cool haven of world cinema where many a filmic debate begun in the lobby eventually ended up in a neighbouring public house and the barman's plaintive cry: "Have ye no homes to go to?"

In that fantasy factory of cigarette smoke and racy art house movies, weird and wonderful moments often followed our two hours in the flickering dark. Like the night we cheered Gabriel Byrne's breakthrough performance in 1985's 'Defence Of The Realm', only to encounter the man himself later that very same evening quietly supping a solitary pint in Mulligans beneath the framed picture of Con Houlihan. Talk to him? God no, totally uncool.

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A friend swears to this day he once witnessed John Hurt taking an inebriated midnight piddle against the iconic Mr Screen sculpture out front - total nonsense probably, but a yarn we still grudgingly allow when he unveils it as a polished party piece in memory of the good old days.

It was the Screen, for better or worse, that helped mould the fantasy character so desperately desired by my pimple-faced teenage self - the cool of Harrison Ford, the mischief of Burt Reynolds and the charisma of badboy Jack Nicholson. Though I didn't realise it, I was subscribing to the same life wisdom as director Sergio Leone: "My life, my reading, everything about me revolves around the cinema. For me, cinema is life and life is cinema."

Yet, if the Screen represented the fantasy sanctuary of my college years, this love affair with those flickering images went back to my primary decade - all the way to 1969 and the thrill of cheering on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as they raced for the border and freedom.

While an older generation was planting the seeds of Flower Power at Woodstock, I was anchored in the front row of Killorglin's Óisín Cinema learning to fast draw like John Wayne in 'True Grit', outwit the Mexican army with 'The Wild Bunch' and cruise Route 66 on an 'Easy Rider' motorcycle.

Open seven nights with matinees on weekends, the pleasure palace where I was an A student at sneaking into Over-18s movies reigned as the entertainment kingdom around which everything revolved in our small country town. Kids like me were down the front snarling out Lee Marvin's expletives in 'The Dirty Dozen', while the elder James Deans were way up in the back rows doing a different kind of dirty stuff in the darkness of the jumbos.

Though we didn't know it at the time, all of us were part of a golden era where every Irish town revolved around its cinema and ballroom - a generational universe circling the flickering fantasy of our magical worlds - and all for the princely sum of one shilling.

Decades later, cinema continues to reign as a sacred hub to the passing seasons of life, still exciting the imagination in everything from the outrageous invention of 'Blade Runner' to those illicit kisses beneath 'The Bridges of Madison County'. In the exhilarating darkness of the back row, we are all of us reading from the same hymn sheet as Martin Scorcese: "Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, changing the way we see things. They take us to other places, opening doors and minds, making memories of our life times."

Irish Independent

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