Screen 2
The tiny Screen 2 at the Classic.
photos by Kieran Murray

Cinema Paradiso,
 Harold's Cross

The Westex projector, the very same
 on which Martin got his start.

(by 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 and writer.
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 other projector.
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.


The Boy from Mercury showing at the classic
Albert Kelley opens the Classic as the Boy from Mercury plays.

Note:  The Classic Cinema closed its doors for the last time on the 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...