The 051 Cinema took its name from the phone prefix for Liverpool, though it failed to change its name to the 0151 when the prefixes all changed. A small three screen cinema, none of the screens were particularly big, with each room sitting a hundred or so. They ran film seasons and screened independent movies as well as foreign language, Art House fare. It stood at the bottom of Mount Pleasant and Brownlow Hill in Liverpool town centre, up two flights of stairs that looked like they were leading to the multi-storey car park it neighboured. The railway tunnels running to Lime Street passed close by and occasionally the whole structure would shudder. A nightclub on the ground floor added to the noise and vibrations. On Wednesday afternoons tickets were cheap with a student card.
It was here I saw Peter Greenaway, Hal Hartley, Derek Jarman, Jim Jarmusch, Jane Campion, and Quentin Tarantino. A special midnight preview of Reservoir Dogs showed months before the film was officially released. Old prints of Apocalypse Now, 2001, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I saw French and Italian films, Delicatessen and Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, Wings of Desire, Ken Loach, John Sayles, Spike Lee, Mike Leigh, the Coen brothers. I remember seeing Husbands and Wives with a friend when we were both going through a hard time and we walked home in silence. I saw lots of Woody Allen there. I saw Lost Highway and Hardware and Dust Devil. An Edward II and Prospero’s Books double bill. Most films would be followed by a pint. The Pillow Book was the only film I remember walking out of, confounded by Greenaway’s oddity and Ewan MacGregor’s blandness.
When it first opened the cinema was called the Ritz and showed X certificate films. The first film shown was Confessions of a Window Cleaner. Some of that same dirty raincoat brigade would occasionally shuffle in and sit perplexed before Battle Royale or the like. A couple of friends ended up working in the box office and if the boss wasn’t watching they gave me discounts, if not just got me in for free.
I think back to the 051 with great affection but if I’m honest I didn’t go there as often as I wish I had. The programme would come out every month, or maybe twice a month and I would note all the films I wanted to see but some months went by and I hadn’t seen anything. I collected the programmes. They often felt like rebukes. I went to other cinemas. The Odeon on London Road, the Canon opposite Lime Street until it closed. I went to the last show there. It was Casablanca and they brought out the projectionist who had worked there since the fifties. I went to the Philharmonic to see the old films projected on a screen that came out of the stage while the organist played. I saw Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane, Casablanca (again), His Girl Friday and Dr. Strangelove there. God help me, I even went to the multiplexes on Edge Lane. I saw 1492 there twice. To be honest if a film was showing somewhere else the chances were that the screen would be better, the sound, the seats more comfortable and the clientèle a little less porny.
Going to see Mission Impossible with one of my friends who worked at 051 we went out to the Odeon on Smithdown Road. Here the projectionist was also a colleague from the 051 and we went into the booth. I’d never seen the huge machines, the noise, the workshop atmosphere of clipboards and pencil stubs, scissors and glue. We looked at the back of everyone’s heads. I never realized how visible we were in the auditorium.
We went onto the roof while the trailers played. It was early evening, the Summer of 1996. As with every Summer in Liverpool people were moving on and things were coming to an end. I should have left Liverpool long before I did, but I hung on wanting my university years to go on and on. I smoked a cigarette and looked down on Smithdown Road as it headed off to the centre of the city. In 1997 the 051 Cinema closed for good and in 1999 I left the city.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.