Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Cinema Stories - James Nash and Matthew Hedley Stoppard

Sophie White writes:
                        Photo by Richard Wilcocks
Matthew Hedley Stoppard, now the Otley Town Poet, performed a selection of the poems he wrote for ‘Cinema Stories’, recalling the rich cinematic history of Leeds and the pleasure of cinema-going.

Stoppard’s poems were filled with memories and reflections of growing up under the glow of the big screen, with a particularly touching poem recounting a young boy’s experience of going to the cinema with his mother. From the excitement of a first date to the tyrannical regime of the usher and his torch, everything we love about the cinema was covered with humour and clarity.

One particular highlight was the use of two ‘skinny sonnets’, which individually formed accounts of two abandoned cinemas, The Star and The Regent, but came together to form a tribute to the lost glory of the picture house. Another was the creative use of the haikus which used some favourite, classic film quotes to form a fresh narrative.

The performance was interspersed with tales of their adventures discovering the sites of old and abandoned cinemas around Leeds, and their personal stories about the role of the cinema in their own lives, both as children and now.

All that was missing was the velvet seats and popcorn!

Alex Paddock writes:
Before the Second World War, there were around seventy cinemas operating in the Leeds area catering to a relatively new art form of spectacle and moving pictures. Unfortunately, the majority of these cinemas now lie dormant and empty, or transformed for another use entirely with just a few of these cultural gems remaining in Leeds today. These include the Cottage Road cinema in Headingley and the Hyde Park Picture House which celebrated its one-hundredth birthday last year.

Cinemas like this might be dying out, but their near extinction has conjured a lyrical reminiscence and nostalgia manifested through the poetic voices of James Nash and Matthew Hedley Stoppard. Their joint collection ‘Cinema Stories’ encapsulates these sentiments and ties them together in an entertaining and often amusing tone.

Nash’s work is unpretentious and unequivocally matter-of-fact, highlighting the beauty and romance of cinema that goes unnoticed by the everyday eye. Gooseberry relates the natural, comic awkwardness of seeing a film with a couple who become increasingly more intimate throughout the duration, and the loneliness that comes with being surrounded by lovers after a recent break-up. In this instance, Nash paints a picture of cinema as a Mecca for those who are young and in love, yet also as a place of solitude and contemplation.

A sense of escapism begins to emerge from Nash’s poems as he continues from a quiet corner of Headingley library. The anecdotal nature of his work incites voyages into the memory and forces old emotions to resurface as he tells the story of seeing the historical comedy drama Pride with his father who participated in the mining strikes of the 1980s, some of which are depicted in the film. The poem is a journey back in time that remembers the period not for its struggle, but for the proud feelings that had been temporarily forgotten.

Likewise, The Star recalls the Leeds cinema of the same name which has since evolved, or arguably degenerated through a number of functions. What was once a source of art-deco cultural intrigue and escape from working lives is unfortunately commodified into use for a bingo hall and eventually a gymnasium.

Although some of Nash’s poems feel sympathetic for the deterioration of a much loved pastime, they look back at youth and memorable experiences from the cinemas of Leeds through a most relatable and endearing lens.

Audience Comments
I'm a sucker for local history and poetry so targeted this event from the off. 

Joyful reminiscence with just the right amount of context added for non-natives like me. 

Poetry is so subjective but I enjoyed the work of both authors. I passed a disused cinema on intrepid bus ride to Middleton. This event has inspired me to track down some more

The event was of a good hearted nature and shared voices of poems of 2 people of different ages but reading the main love of what cinema represented and where a number of cinemas have closed and taken a different disguise. The cinemas that have survived continue to survive.

Enjoyed the poems (and the wine). Sorry no time for questions and comments.

Interesting. Enjoyable and, at times, amusing - what more can you ask for?

Delightful - great memories and some high class writing

Nostalgic poems on old cinemas I know so well

Excellent - lovely verse very well read. So many memories.

James and Matthew. Combined well together ...?... excellent poems and stories from Leeds past. Brings back memories (happy and sad)

Great! Really fascinating subject wittily delivered.

Thought it would be longer and a little louder for the heard of hearing. Lady behind wanted a question session. I liked the poetry about films - slow delivery better.

Most enjoyable. Lovely evocations of cinema's past

Lovely, a well-paired duo. Good length


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