The tiny Screen 2 at the
photos by Kieran Murray
The Westex projector,
the very same
on which Martin got his
Martin Duffy - apprentice projectionist turned film maker)
In 1967, at the age of fifteen, I saw a 'situations vacant' advert for
apprentice projectionist at what was then called the Kenilworth Cinema
in Harold's Cross. I went for an interview and beat competition from
thirty other boys to get the job. The two years I spent in the cinema -
later known as the Classic Cinema - led me on my path as a film maker
I worked with chief projectionist Leo Pierce and second projectionist
Harry Colgan. Leo was the one who would discipline me for my many
mistakes, Harry became my friend and mentor. The boss, Albert Kelly,
was another matter altogether. 'Mister Kelly' as he was addressed by
one and all, he really only spoke to Leo and to the chief usher
Jeffrey. Whenever I saw him around the cinema I would blush and become
more awkward than usual.
During screenings Mister Kelly would stand at the back of the cinema
and if there was a problem he would press a buzzer linked to the
projection room. There was a code for the buzzes - one to raise the
volume, two to lower it, three if something was wrong with the image on
screen, and a long sustained buzz if something was going on that meant
he wanted Leo to come down to him immediately.
I began on a wage of four pounds ten shillings a week. It was a five
day week that included mornings when I either worked in the cinema
cleaning the projection room, or went to classes at the technical
school as part of my apprenticeship.
On Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday the doors opened to the public at two
thirty, on other days the start time was five thirty. There was a
constant turnover of films - a double feature running Monday to
Wednesday; another double feature running Thursday to Saturday; a
different double feature for Sunday afternoon for the kids; and one for
the grown-ups and dating couples that evening. I remember the cinema
was packed full most Sunday nights.
In the brave new world of cinemas today, it takes just one person to
run the master projection booth for a cineplex of a dozen screens. Back
then, we operated two projectors and each film had five or six
twenty-minute reels. The quest for the perfect changeover from one
projector to another, watching the cue dots in the top right hand
corner of the screen, was a constant preoccupation. There was also the
more basic matter of remembering how much time was left on a reel. It
often happened that we, engrossed in the film or in chat, would realise
we had only moments of film left on one reel in which to start up the
The carbon arc projectors required constant tending, while the reels
had to be rewound and projectors laced with the next reel. I remember
the deep black lines along the sides of the thumb and index finger of
my left hand made by my holding the film as I rewound it. The oil and
dirt played havoc with my pimples.
The section between the two feature films was for me a heart-stopping
juggling act that I often fumbled. Trailers might require different
lenses on the projectors - CinemaScope or normal format - while glass
plate slides for upcoming films would be projected and changed to the
rhythm of a piece of music played from our record player. Harry often
painted the slides.
Despite the occasional panic, the projection room was a wonderful
cocoon. I can still feel the glow of comfort from standing at the
blue-tinted window, sipping hot Bovril and looking at the people
walking by on the street below. And while Harry Colgan became my friend
and the projection room became a kind of sanctuary, I began falling in
love with film.
Eventually, I got a job in Ardmore Film Studios and left the
Kenilworth. I lost my job at Ardmore Studios within a year as it shrank
to a skeleton staff. I continued my friendship with Harry Colgan,
however, and revisited my old second home many times.
In my late twenties, I found my way back into the film business and
became a film editor in RTE. One of the most pleasant jobs that came my
way was to edit an item about the `Rocky Horror Picture Show' at the
Classic. Albert Kelly ran the special shows for years, and the event
became part of Dublin lore.
The Classic stayed with me, and I later wrote a play produced by RTE
Radio - `The Apollo - a film for radio' in which I used just such a
local cinema as the setting for a ghost story.
When my first film, `The Boy from Mercury`, was released, Albert Kelly
ran it. It was the completion of a cycle for me to have a film I had
directed pass through the projectors where I had been an apprentice.
I am one of the very many people who owe a debt of gratitude to Albert
and the cinema he kept alive for so long.
Albert Kelley opens the
Classic as the Boy from Mercury plays.
Note: The Classic Cinema closed its doors for the last time on
21st of August, 2003. "My doctor told me I had to stop doing a
seven-days-a-week job," Albert Kelley told The Irish Times. "I like the
film business too much to give it up for any other reason. The business
is thriving." (So why isn't anyone else investing in
neighbourhood cinemas???). Mr Kelley received a ten minute
standing ovation after the last showing of the Rocky Horror, he had
been over half a century in bringing film to Dubliners...
One endearing anecdote the Irish Times tells is of his apprenticeship
at the Grand Central cinema on O'Connell Street during World War
Two. To attract audiences to a nature documentary, "Bring Em Back
Alive," the management exhibited a live caged monkey in the
lobby. Intrigued by the gimmick, the public flocked to see the
movie- until one evening the monkey was accidentally electrocuted and
went out of control, scaring the queue away...