Saturday, 25 April 2015

Beauty and the Beast

This is a piece that I wrote for the Jersey Evening Post series entitled "Beauty and the Beast". We were asked to describe two buildings in Jersey - one beauty, one beast. I gave this a lot of thought. I can think of many beasts and many beauties too, but in the end I settled upon a building I've had a relationship to for my entire life, a building that I still have ambivalent feelings about - The Odeon Cinema. 

As this blog is about musical memories then the soundtrack to this blogpost has to be the Pearl and Dean theme tune "Asteroid".

Looking up at the monolithic slab wall of the Odeon cinema in Bath Street from the comfort of my pushchair, in 1971, as my mother pushed me daily to the central market for fresh food (fish on Fridays), I would draw myself in and prepare for the wind to whip around the corner of the Odeon on our way into town. This behemoth-like windowless building, out of scale with its neighbours, frightened me almost as much as the nearby Masonic Temple, a fenestrated but ominously internally shuttered building.

One day in 1977 my mother took me to the hairdressers next to the Royal Hotel for a Purdie cut à la Joanna Lumley in the Avengers. Later that day she heated her curling irons on the gas stove and gave my hair its finishing touch. I was so excited to discover that my Father was going to take me to the Odeon to watch Star Wars. My excitement was not diminished by my public health inspector Father’s warning to “wear some long socks, cinemas are breeding grounds for fleas”. The carapace of the behemoth opened its doors and my eyes were opened to the delights of the huge screen within. Function had trumped form.

Henceforth, every walk into town involved a desirous stare at the film posters advertising the current films. One Monday in the early 1980s I turned up to school to find that everyone was talking about the "The Blue Lagoon". That evening, my parents told me that I would not be seeing the film as it was “unsuitable”. Life seemed so unfair. All I could do was stare at the alluring poster as I paused en route to and from town. The film subsequently became mired in controversy as it transpired that Brooke Shields was only 14 when she acted in it.

In 1982 we read the George Orwell novel “1984” at school and the Odeon’s repelling height and mass took shape in my mind as the “Ministry of Truth”. I have continued since then to be challenged by this building as form and function battle for supremacy in my mind. Beauty or Beast?

Is it a bold example of triumph over adversity, being the first Odeon anywhere in the UK to be constructed after the Second World War? Or is it lacking in architectural, historical and cultural merit, according to the UK advisors of Le Masuriers who wished to knock it down and make way for a £40 million development not so long ago.

A cursory Google search provides a wealth of superior examples, if examining the building on purely architectural merits. It was built in 1952 to a  1930’s Art Deco  design. It has a cement render compared to the better examples which are finished with stone or faced brickwork. The Odeon sign, part of the canopy and the original doors were removed many years ago.

As much as I dislike the forbidding monolithic form of this building, its function, “serving the local community” as stated by its new owners, The Freedom Church and the context of its proximity to the Town Park gives purpose to its continued existence. Once again function trumps form and that’s why this beast is also a beauty.

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