Monday, 24 March 2014

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: THE RITZ CINEMA, GOSPORT

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

22. THE RITZ CINEMA, WALPOLE ROAD, GOSPORT (1935-2001)

24/03/2014


This really is where it all started. The first film I remember seeing was "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" upon its release in 1988, and I saw it at my local cinema.

The Ritz opened on 4th March 1935, and was hailed as one of the most luxurious cinemas in the country, with 1,000 comfortable seats, and a restaurant where patrons could buy a three-course dinner for one shilling and sixpence - it seems that the bomb damage from the Second World War, in 1941, put paid to the restaurant when the cinema reopened in 1958 - no-one was in a hurry there, but there was more than one cinema in Gosport at the time. 

After queuing from outside, and it usually was a line into the rain outside, you would then pass the central box office into the main auditorium, or up either one of the two curved flights of stairs to the brass double doors that led to the balcony. As you came in, overtures of music from Hollywood films would play, leading into the most amazingly scratched film announcing that usherettes had trays of ice cream available to buy, and always the same "I'm So Excited", animated rollercoaster advertisement for Cadbury's Crunchie bar that has been in use since 1986.

Once the film started, the unique selling point of the non-multiplex Ritz was very clear - the largest single cinema screen on the south coast, on which I also saw "Jurassic Park" and its sequel, both of Joel Schumacher's bloody awful "Batman" films, "Titanic" (with an intermission, rejoining the action about five seconds before the iceberg hit) and "Starship Troopers", which turned out to be the last film I saw there...

...for the Ritz had become run down, farmed out by Gosport Borough Council, who closed it in 1984, to a private company that reopened it in 1986 without making any improvements - the foam in the seats were cardboard towards the end, broken seats were taken out and not replaced, the balcony closed, and the toilets were one step down from the grotty ones in your local park. In 1999, it closed altogether, ahead of a Warner Village (now Vue) fourteen-screen multiplex hangar opening in Portsmouth Harbour, only fifteen minutes away from the Ritz.

In August 2001, one month before I began my film studies degree, Gosport's art-deco shed was bulldozed, making way for a branch of Iceland and a job centre, for fuck's sake. Gosport has no cinema at all. Around the time, a plan to build a small multiplex elsewhere in the town was scrapped as planning regulations were not reduced sufficiently to allow it to be built...

I've made myself angry writing this. Sure, I can buy Bailey's-flavoured Haagen-Dazs ice cream to watch the latest blockbuster at my local multiplex, but it is up to me to make going to the cinema an event - the Ritz used to do it for me. Good luck watching Netflix, everyone!



2 comments:

  1. I was heartbroken when the Ritz closed. Like you, my earliest cinema viewing experiences were here and at the Cannon in Cosham. I didn't know the Ritz had closed between 84 and 86, which explains my parent's shift to taking to the Cannon during that period.

    I ached for the Ritz to be given the renovation it so deserved. I was adamant about supporting it in its ailing years, even going multiple times to the same £1 screenings they were doing to get somebody, anybody through the door. At the time it was amazing having a theatre to yourself but even then, an atmosphere of finality permeated the ghostly old place.

    The Ritz was a lovely time capsule from the days when people got excited about going to the cinema. They respected it. When people would 'shush' you out of the building if you made a sound - in today's multiplexes, *you* are the one getting hassled for asking people to keep quiet or put their phones away.

    I dearly miss it. Working on the high street, it was wretched to see it torn apart and replaced with a bloody Iceland of all things. Well done Gosport Council, a solid contribution to the deforestation of the arts in the area.

    I don't want multiplexes. I want itchy seats. I want Smarties in cardboard boxes with waxy paper inside. I want the building to whisper with echoes and ghosts of good times past, not with the rancid miasma of nacho burps and smelly feet up on seats.

    I often wonder if there's a market again for reborn fleapits. In our commoditised culture in which people not only disrespect film but actively steal it, I just don't know anymore - however I'll always cherish my memories of the Ritz.

    Nice post.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Anonymous. Nice to see we're not the only one's still nostalgic for the Ritz.

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