Cinemas I’ve seen die off

Please allow me to shed a tear for all of the local neighbourhood cinemas that have disappeared – even more so for those I saw open, some amidst much fanfare.

© Juliet Pomés

From 1939 – that terrible post-war period! – most of the population was either mourning for a relative who had died in the rearguard, on the battlefield or in the sandy French camps, or else was living on pins and needles regarding the fate of those locked up in concentration camps or prisons. A good way to ward off hunger and dream a little was to take in a double feature at a shabby local cinema where, despite the uncomfortable seats, you could flee from the present and live in one of the luxurious and sophisticated homes in American comedies, sail the Caribbean on pirate ships, laugh with the Marx brothers or bear witness to the harrowing experiments of a famous monster-maker.

The only cinema I went to in those days that remains standing is the Bosque, where my father heard zarzuelas in the 1920s. Today, the spacious stalls, the boxes and a huge top gallery have been turned into a nine-hall complex. It can therefore not be said to have disappeared, but to have been transformed. The façade still has Gargallo’s bas-relief portraits featuring the artist himself and his colleagues Nonell, Reventós and Picasso.

At half past three in the afternoon on a Saturday in the early 1940s, my bum was firmly planted on a seat in the gallery where, in addition to the short, Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the monstrous Dr Frankenstein was being shown. I didn’t leave until after nine o’clock since I watched the film twice – nobody stopped you from staying through two consecutive sessions. When I stepped back onto Rambla de Prat I was met by my father, who was desperately asking the cinema porter and people leaving if they had seen a boy matching my description. That transgression earned me two months without Saturday afternoon cinema.

A group from Sant Medir walking past the Smart cinema on Gran de Gràcia, in 1915. With the arrival of Francoism it was renamed Proyecciones.

One venue that has disappeared is the Smart cinema, on Carrer Gran de Gràcia near Carrer de Ros de Olano, which opened in 1910. After the Civil War, when the dictatorship required all foreign names to be changed into Spanish ones – lest they be German or Italian – Smart became Proyecciones. As a teenager, one Saturday afternoon a friend and I decided to forego studying and go to the Smart. Once back home, I my found my parents getting ready to go to the cinema with the whole family. They hadn’t chosen a film to see; during that period, one simply went to the cinema. The route we took could have led us to the Bosque, the Select or the Proyecciones, yet the cinema they’d picked was the same one I’d already been to that afternoon. I kept my mouth shut, so as not to give myself away, and sat back watching the same films that I had just seen. Luckily for me, June Allyson appeared in one of them. Boy, did she ever! It was called Music for Millions.

Down Carrer Gran de Gràcia and to the right was the Mundial cinema. There I remember having seen Immensee with Kristina Söderbaum, a melodrama in which the Nazis soften up whilst roasting Jews. That day in the street I ran into a couple who’d just started dating. And I, still a kid, wouldn’t leave their side. Mum scolded me for my lack of tact, for not respecting their desire to be alone.

For many years these two cinemas – the Mundial and Proyecciones – offered the same programme. The Bosque and Principal cinemas did the same, as did the Capitol and the Metropol, and so on. It was common to see couriers cycling their way down the street from one cinema to the next with rucksacks full of metal cases holding the reels of these films for the operators to run together. If a traffic incident prevented a courier from arriving on time, we cinema goers could do nothing except stomp our feet to express our annoyance over the blank screen.

If on a Saturday afternoon I visited someone’s flat on Carrer de Jesús, in Gràcia, the elderly residents would be kind enough to give me the few coins I needed for a ticket into Comèdia cinema, located in an alley behind Casa Fuster. One afternoon I saw The Wizard of Oz!

One night when we went with our parents to Comèdia – not at all like today’s multiplex cinema on the corner of Gran Via and Passeig de Gràcia – they screened a film that seemed like the slowest and most boring one we’d ever seen. Many years later, after gaining a certain amount of experience as a filmgoer, curiosity pushed me to find out what it was that made us so dislike The Petrified Forest. Based on a screenplay by Robert Sherwood, directed by Archie Mayo and starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, it was a little gem. How could it be that we ended up saying such terrible things about it?

Coliseum, one of the main venues in the city showing new releases, an unattainable luxury for many in the postwar period.

On the upper end of Gran de Gràcia was the venue that opened in 1908 as Trilla, later renamed Estudi Cirera, Select (then Selecto, of course, from 1939) and finally Fontana before its closure in 1988. During my time, it put on variety shows.

On the limits of Sant Gervasi district, next to Galvany market, stood a cinema we called “the shack”, which was officially named after the market. In my near-adolescent days, I’d go there in the company of a rather tattered bunch. And if on a particular day I’d get there late after the others had already gone inside and everything was pitch dark, no one would complain if I got up and yelled, “Hey, Freixas, where are you?” in order to find my way.

This nostalgic journey has not included a single first-run cinema. We couldn’t afford them. I can only remember one night when a relative splurged a bit in taking me to the Coliseum film theatre to see Trader Horn.

Please allow me to shed a tear for all of these local neighbourhood cinemas – even more so for those I saw open, some amidst much fanfare, which have also disappeared. Amongst those that were in my part of the city, I remember the Roxy in Plaça de Lesseps, the Balmes near Carrer de Marià Cubí, the Aristos on Carrer de Muntaner (which is now Luz de Gas), the Arcàdia on Carrer de Tuset, the Arkadin on Travessera de Gràcia near Via Augusta, and the Windsor on Avinguda Diagonal.

Of course, new cinemas have opened (although not in my neighbourhood!) but these openings – not to mention the reopening of the Boliche, the Texas and more recently the Phenomena – come nowhere close to making up for the local cinemas that our city has lost.

Joaquim Carbó


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