Things We’ve Missed, ‘Saturday Night At The Movies’ and The Drifters

I don’t know about you but I’ve really missed cinema over the last 12 months. We have a great theatre/arts centre only minutes away from our house and most of my socialising used to take place there. As well as the large 800-seater auditorium, it has two cinemas, a smaller theatre, a restaurant/bar & coffee shop, as well as two performance/dance studios and rooms for classes and exhibitions. It has been closed for over a year now.

Our local theatre/arts centre

I am really looking forward to getting back to the cinema, but not sure at the moment how easy it’s going to be, what with many of the restrictions likely to carry on even after the vaccine rollout to all adults. Tough times lie ahead for our arts sector.

The song on the radio that reminded me how much I’m missing cinema, is this one, Saturday Night At The Movies by The Drifters. I can’t say the lyrics are that appropriate to my current situation, as it’s a long time since I’ve been ‘hugging with my baby last row in the balcony’. Also, I nowadays very much care about what ‘picture I see’, but it’s still a great song that harks back to the America of 1964, all about what they called ‘Going to the Movies’. For the record I still call it ‘Going to the Cinema’ (always have done) and my dad, who was a great fan back in the 40s & 50s, always called it ‘Going to the Pictures’. All depends on where, and when, you were born it seems.

Saturday Night At The Movies by The Drifters:

All this thinking about my favourite pastime led me down a rabbit hole, as I tried to remember the names of the many cinemas that used to exist in Aberdeen, where I spent much of the first half of my life. It’s been a trip down memory lane, and as I know a few Aberdonians visit this place, what is to follow might jog a few memories.

I’m pretty sure the first cinema I ever visited was with my primary school in the late 1960s and it was called Cosmo 2, situated on Diamond Street. Looking at these old pictures, it now makes sense that it had been converted from a stable building in 1936. After many changes in name/ownership over the years, it became Cosmo 2 in 1964 (Cosmo 1 was located in Glasgow) but closed for the final time in 1977. The film we went to see with the school was Disney’s Fantasia (link to the memorable scene with Mickey and the buckets), but the thing I still remember most was that we all got one of those purple lollipops that came in a little foil tray – Something you didn’t get in our village.

The Cosmo 2 on Diamond Street

Another cinema I went to whilst still in primary school was a much grander place altogether. It was the Majestic situated on Union Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, and this time it was to see Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I had been staying with my aunt and uncle in Aberdeen for some of the school holidays and my uncle had found some old complimentary tickets for the Majestic. My aunt and I headed into town and miraculously they accepted them, despite them being about 10 years old at the time (to be clear, we would still have paid to go in had they not). The Majestic was built on the site of an even older cinema and also opened in 1936, but it was eventually demolished in 1973, despite protests to save it.

The Majestic on Union Street

Names of some of the other cinemas that were still around when I was growing up in the Aberdeen area are as follows: Gaumont, Astoria, Odeon, ABC, Capitol, Cinema House, Grand Central, Playhouse and the Queens. The Capitol was also a theatre where we went to watch bands perform, but as a cinema it was where I went as a teenager to watch David Essex in the film Stardust (tagline: Show me a boy who never wanted to be a rock star and I’ll show you a liar). The Grand Central became the home of those naughty X-rated movies.

After moving into the city to live, the two most visited cinemas were the ABC and the Odeon, as both had three screens. The ABC was at the bottom of Union Street so just a short bus ride down King Street from Old Aberdeen where I lived as a student. Once I decanted into town, it was just a short walk up Justice Mill Lane to the Odeon, from my flat on Hardgate. On a summer’s evening we thought nothing of heading out for an ice-cream at the Baskins-Robbins shop on Rose Street before heading home via the cinema to watch a film. Happy days. In July 2000 the projectors stopped purring and the screens went black as the Odeon finally closed its doors – It was the last cinema left standing in the city centre. Some of the cinemas became nightspots, but most have now been replaced by health clubs, office blocks or flats.

The heyday of most of the cinemas mentioned above was probably the ’40s and ’50s when my dad was a big fan. In terms of competition, they really didn’t have much, and it would be a while before television took over so completely. By the 1970s, when I became a film fan, they were closing at an alarming rate but by that time the cinemas had seen better days and although some great films were made in that decade, the industry was somewhat in the doldrums for a time.

Once the large multiplexes began to be built on the edge of our towns there seemed to be a resurgence, and ‘Hollywood Blockbusters’ were being churned out to a bit of a formula, the budgets getting bigger and bigger every year. Of late however, even before the pandemic, I’ve noticed that our multiplex is just not getting the trade it used to, and there are now many special offers on ticket price (the Netflix effect?). It almost feels as if our cinemas are now food outlets that also happen to screen films. Why I like our local arts centre best, but popular mainly with the older generation, so not sure how confident its usual patrons will be in returning to the screens post-pandemic.

But I have become well and truly side-tracked by the history of local cinema. Getting back to The Drifters, I get really confused when I look at their various line-ups, as there were so many changes over the years. I am fairly confident however that lead vocalist on both Saturday Night At The Movies and this song from 1974, Kissin’ in the Back Row of the Movies (when they had a bit of a resurgence in the UK), was Johnny Moore. Yes, they did like to sing about the ‘Movies’, although more as a place to canoodle, rather than get absorbed by what’s taking place on the big screen!

Is your childhood cinema still standing or has it long gone? Are you, like me, missing being able to watch films on the big screen? Cross fingers things can open up again later in the year. I am really looking forward to it.

Until next time…

Saturday Night At The Movies Lyrics
(Song by Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman)

Well, Saturday night at eight o’clock
I know where I’m gonna go
I’m a-gonna pick my baby up
And take her to the picture show
Everybody in the neighborhood
Is dressing up to be there, too
And we’re gonna have a ball
Just like we always do

Saturday night at the movies
Who cares what picture you see
When you’re hugging with your baby
Last row in the balcony?

Well, there’s Technicolor and Cinemascope
A cast out of Hollywood
And the popcorn from the candy stand
Makes it all seem twice as good
There’s always lots of pretty girls
With figures they don’t try to hide
But they never can compare
To the girl sitting by my side

Saturday night at the movies
Who cares what picture you see
When you’re hugging with your baby
Last row in the balcony?

Oh, Saturday night at the movies
Who cares what picture you see
When you’re hugging with your baby
Last row in the balcony?

Whoa, Saturday night at the movies
Who cares what picture you see
When you’re hugging with your baby
Last row in the balcony?

Yeah, Saturday night at the movies