World Cinema - Canada: February 2017
Michael Rowan, a member of Chiltern Film Society's committee, is finding out about how people from different countries experienced cinema in their homeland.
With one exception I have only ever visited the cinema in the UK and had always assumed that mine was a universal experience. One day a chance conversation made me wonder if perhaps I was being naïve and so I set myself the challenge to find out what people living in Chesham but born in another country recalled about cinema in their homeland. I am very grateful to everyone who gave up their time to give me such an insight often reviving memories that they had forgotten.
Today I must begin with a confession. My subject is another friend, but I had forgotten that she had spent quite some time in Canada and so it has taken me until now to ask her about her cinema experiences. Therefore I am delighted to be in conversation with Catriona Troth who lived in Chesham from 1984 to 1993 and has now moved to Amersham though she still makes regular visits to Chesham. Catriona is a writer and author of two novels, Ghost Town and Gift of the Raven. She is married with two grown up children and is a freelance writer. She is also an active member of the Chesham Writers and Scribblers. Catriona is known by her friends as Cat.
Born in Edinburgh before moving to Bristol when she was five, Cat was used to moving around and naturally was excited in 1965 to be sailing from Southampton to Montreal because her father had been offered a job to set up a University Sociology department in Toronto.
A few years later she took a year out before starting University and decided to come back to the UK during which time she made the decision to stay and complete her education here.
Cat met her husband Philip through, though not at, Warwick University as he was a post graduate there. However they did meet and as they say in the movies, the rest is history. They married and moved south when Philip got a job in London. They chose Chesham because it wasn’t very far from his parents and yet handy for the City.
1) How does the cinema here differ from that in Canada?
The cinema we used to go to most often when we first went to Canada was called the Empire, and the ice cream parlours were called Dairy Queen. One of the biggest culture shocks was having to call films 'movies' instead of 'pictures' - the term still current in England in 1965.
There were a lot of little Movie Theatres up and down Yonge Street which is Toronto’s main north south artery when we first got there in the mid 60s. These were not cinemas which was one of the main differences that we had to get used to. The big movie theatres in Malls turned up in the early 70s.
Lots of parents would buy their kids season tickets for the movies, and the kids would go off every Saturday to see whatever was on though we never really did this. The treat was tied in with a visit to the ice cream parlour.
First film I went to see was the Sound of Music - queued outside a red bricked building but not long after it was more usual to see the cinema built in part of the shopping mall.
2) What is your first memory of going to the cinema as a child?
I first went to see Sound of Music as a 8 years old birthday treat. We went with my Mother and Grandmother as Grandmother lived with us at the time. We also went with another family who were colleagues of my father as they were the first people we got to know in Canada.
Later I recall going again with my Mother and Grandmother to see a revival of Gone with the Wind. It was such a long film it had an intermission which struck me as unusual at the time. I remember that we had to drive to the cinema which was a half hour journey as the subway didn’t go as far as the cinema.
Cat would have been about 13 and she recalls discussing the film in some depth with her mother which was usual as her father’s job involved working on ethnic integration in Toronto so the conversations around race relations tended to be deep and considered.
She recalls that day that she sat next to two immaculately dressed black women in the cinema which was not full at the time. However the thing that made the biggest impact was her conversation with them in the interval. Cat thinks that they were mother and daughter and the mother told her that her grandmother had been born a slave in the US. Little wonder that it made such an impression.
3) What was the first film that you recall seeing?
I think that it was Mary Poppins in Bristol and then later it was the Jungle Book in Canada and rather later still 101 Dalmatians. I loved all these films as a child. Apparently, in the days before movie theatres in malls, we were once queuing outside in the cold to see Jungle Book for so long that dad went home to get us all hot drinks.
4) How expensive was it to visit the cinema?
I can’t really remember as I never I paid, but I think that it was relatively cheap.
5) What was the etiquette in the cinema in Canada?
People were quiet during the film mostly well behaved much the same as it was in the UK at that time but unlike the UK they always played the Canadian National Anthem. ‘Oh Canada,’ at the beginning and the audience would stand and then the film would begin. In the UK there was a mad scramble to get out after the film and before our national anthem was played.
6) When I was a child the only food eaten in the cinema was tubs of ice cream or choc ice, Orange Juice and hot dogs. What kind of food could you buy at the cinema?
Pop Corn was practically the national dish at the cinema and came as salt and sweet but sold in much smaller containers than now. Popcorn was always sold in the foyer before films in Canada.
7) What sort of films were shown in Canada? Was it the usual blockbuster? Walt Disney or something else?
All of the above but we would get them much earlier than in UK, often 6 months earlier. I recall that the first time I took my husband to meet my parents he was able to see Blade Runner a full 6 months in advance of it being shown in UK and that he was very impressed. This was quite a coup.
Cinemas were shown in all the different languages as Toronto had 57 languages operated in the law courts.
Theatres would show foreign films targeted at different immigrant communities. I’m not sure if there were movie theatres specialising in that. But if you lived, say, in an area with a big Italian community, you'd be able to see Italian films at a theatre in your area.
8) Do you go to the cinema in UK – if so what were your first impressions?
To be honest there wasn’t that much difference.
Back in the UK Mum remembers Scott of the Antarctic being interrupted by someone walking up and down the aisles calling 'ices? Anyone for ices?'
Saturday film at school was once a week and had to be U certificate in UK and we had to pick for younger kids; we saw a lot of James Bond that year.
Britain was the last to see the films because films were dubbed or subtitled for other countries but the UK wouldn’t get the films until after the US had finished with them, Once we went digital there was no need to delay.
9) We have certain films that are shown every Christmas, is that the same in your country and if so what? Perhaps for Christmas or another festival? Perhaps always shown on television?
The Wizard of Oz featured every Christmas but I didn’t know there was a colour change for may years as I had only ever seen it on the TV in black and white. It’s a Wonderful Life was the other great favourite.
10) And what film character would you like to be?
Definitely Jo from Little Women.
11) Finally what is your favourite film?
It has to be Blade Runner. Great film and great memories of my husband's first trip to Canada.
Thank you for your insight into cinema going in Canada. I have enjoyed chatting with you.