“THE SMELL OF MILDEW IN MOVIE THEATERS”(EUGENIDES, “MIDDLESEX”,2002).AN ODE/ELEGY TO THE ABC CINEMA, LIME STREET. BY STEVEN BENSON.

Platitudes about

Time

Decay

Erosion;

Ineffable in

Words

{attempt to express in words what is BEYOND  words}:



 

I am going to try and place it into the the slippery paucity of words, anyway.


Well, in about 1996/7, I went to see the poignant film(the fulcrum of gay male experience), which is “Beautiful Thing”, at the ABC, Lime Street, which closed in January 1998. There I was-then-with a mere handful of other(probably gay) avid film-goers in the vast, red-and-orange Art Deco auditorium, which, since “improvements” in the early 1980s, brought about by a crisis in (low) film attendance, (and the concomitant need  to offer more choices of film):- had  led to the monstrous outrage of constructing two additional (smaller) cinemas and screens BENEATH the ornate canopy between the balcony and stalls, resulting in the brokenness and SPLITTING APART of the vast, gorgeous space, a violation which defied explanation but for reasons of  rampant capitalist forces and consequent “downsizing” and”space maximisation” .

So-still then, in 1997(19 short/long years ago)-it still stood in slightly faded splendour; the balcony was yet intact and untouched and largely unmolested by time. “Beautiful Thing” was never, because of heterosexist/heteronormative indifference, and erasing forces, NEVER going to be a “blockbuster”(outside the marginalised lgbt “market”) but it perhaps explained the poor numbers; that even by then, particularly in its big screen, the ailing ABC(of yore, it had seen, I remember as a teenager, long snaking crowds as far as  the adjacent, still-just-extant Blacklers fairy grotto of a behomothic department store) was struggling to get the crowds. Anyway, I was there; and knew not of its imminent demise and gradual slipping away, like someone we love who lingers, rallies, then declines, then one more brief recovery, then extinction.


NOW,(July 2016), I revisit the carapace. We are in Birmingham Snow Hill residuary body of a station territory here; the carpark re-use has become the Biennial re-visit. Now the hideous breezeblock wall dividing up the erstwhile(yet temporary) three cinemas, had been, thankfully, demolished; so that the whole ground floor had been opened up, but there was an uncanny atemporality now, as one was not quite sure what dated from pre screen-splitting in the early 80s and from the period of the three screens upto 1998 closure, and what had been done since the previous Biennial useage(2008, I think). The makeshift, the excrescences-the plyboard and breezeblock walls/partitions, to make temporary offices, and save the building from total death-all typified these otiose, redundant buildings, subsiding(sometimes literally) into their own desuetude then total demise or renovation{if you were fortunate}: Lewis’s, Watson Building, NorthWestern Hotel, Merseyside Trade Union Centre; the rollcall goes on). These were ultimately futile attempts to whittle down, and therby save, the vast now unused, unusable, unsustainable spaces of another era. This process was ALWAYS a sign of impending demise.

It is a sort of forbidden space and time now, the ABC; in fact, on the first day I visited, the film installations were not working and I suspected a ghost in the (modern, digital) machine. It was a sort of no-mans land, exclusion zone; there was even a makeshift curtain placed where the breezeblock division used to be, a curtain through time, eerily so as you passed through/by it; the digital screens were spectral yet glossy simulcra of the past great screen, with its rucked red curtains, which you could, very dimly, see in the background.

 


The ABC was, indeed, an unheimliche heimat, in that I had last(apart from the 2008 Biennial revisitation)been there in about 1997. There NOW(sort of): it was, therefore, known yet UNknown; homely but Unhomely; a disturbing admixture of the consoling and the frightening. Somatising/psychgeographisizing this feeling, the literal damp and mould induced a feeling of physical sickness and psychological malaise, similar to that I had experienced, once, as a teenager in, I think it was, Ingleton Caves: clammy and dark and claustrophobic. I felt I had, on both occasions, to escape;but in the ABC I steadfastly remained. as the temporary lights came back on and the films went back on their loop; but a loop which will end in October as the ABC awaits its next fate/incarnation, like some unresolved spectral issue from my past, haunting the present.

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