Movie Memories: Rick O’Shea on Dublin’s long-gone cinemas and bad book adaptations
Rick O’Shea is a familiar name to anyone regularly tuned into the Irish airwaves. A radio presenter with RTÉ 2FM since 2001, Rick also regularly introduces movie premieres in Dublin and has conducted public interviews at the Dublin International Film Festival for the last few years with the likes of Richard Dreyfus, Danny DeVito, Michael Madsen and Harry Shearer. Film In Dublin caught up with Rick to talk about the changing landscape of Dublin cinemas, the problem with book adaptations on the big screen and more.
Film In Dublin: So you were the very first person that we saw mention the Savoy splitting up Screen One, before any of the news outlets. Was the Savoy your main cinema growing up?
Rick O’Shea: Yeah, in terms of earliest memories, I think the first film I remember going to see was Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which was probably around 1976 or 77 and that was in what used to be the old Screen Cinema on D’Olier Street, which was the Metropole at the time. So that’s the first place I ever remember going. Having said that, because I grew up in an era in which multiplexes simply weren’t a thing – I mean the first one, UCI Tallaght, started when I was 15, 16, I think, by the time that opened up so we would have gone into the city centre. Therefore you went to one of two places, usually which was usually the Adelphi or the Savoy. Cos the Carlton was always a bit, you know. Slightly dodgier, slightly more downscale. And there was what used to be the Screen on O’Connell Bridge, which is now the Laughter Lounge, was also a bit downscale. And the Cameo on Abbey Street was still open at that stage, which was a bit dodge as well so you tended not to go to those things. So you went to either the Savoy or the Adelphi.
I think the reason I cared so much about the Savoy and Screen One was just because I’d seen so many things there over the years, both as a punter from the time I was 13, 14 years old right the way up to introducing movies and doing stuff in it these days where you get to introduce the big, ‘celeb’ premieres. So it would have been one of two places and of course the Adelphi is long gone, so the Savoy is the only one that’s still there.
FID: And you’ve said that you saw your first Bond movie at the Savoy in 1985, which was A View To A Kill?
ROS: I’m fairly sure it was A View To A Kill and the only reason I remember that is that it was the day of Live Aid. My parents were away down the country somewhere, so my aunt was minding us, me and my brother. And I wasn’t really into music, I was twelve in 1985, so the new James Bond movie was out was obviously a far more exciting proposition than staying in to see a bunch of lads playing guitars. Couple of years later might have been a different situation. So I remember seeing my first one in the cinema anyway. I don’t know if they were knocking around TV in those days, you know the way you retrospectively believe everything was always on television, when it wasn’t, and it certainly wasn’t for people of my age. When a Bond movie did come up on TV that was a kind of a big deal, as opposed to it seems to be on TV every ten seconds now. So it was the day of Live Aid, we saw the first band opening at home, went “right, we’ll get the bus into town”, went off to see A View To A Kill and by the time we got back, things had started to warm up so we watched the rest of that.
I must have gone to loads of movies between the ages of 4, 5, 6 and say, 15 and you remember very, very few of them, whether it’s because of the film itself or just something to do with the day you went to see them. I probably only remember seeing four or five films in the cinema during that entire period, but I must have gone to loads of them.
FID: Moments stick out more than the films themselves.
ROS: I think so. They have to be anchored by a moment or some sort of connection. Like the day my Dad tried to take us to see Superman in the Savoy. The queue was so long it was out, down around the corner and back, we couldn’t get into the screening. So instead my Dad brought us across the road to the Carlton. And Capricorn One was showing, which if you’ve never seen it is a 1970s Cold War era conspiracy thriller in which they fake the first landing on Mars and the three guys involved with the first landing on Mars have to be killed to keep the secret. OJ Simpson is in it and James Brolin plays the lead, really, really solid thriller and going to see that at the age of 7, 8 might have influenced my entire taste in cinema going forward. I don’t know if my Dad remembers that, but I do.
FID: Do you think that big films, blockbusters, last longer in your memory when you’ve seen them on a massive screen like Screen One?
ROS: I always think seeing big scale movies in big cinemas is important. You can absolutely see them at home, you can see them on your own screen, people have quite large screens these days, the experience is quite similar, but I think with certain films, big screen blockbusters, it’s not just a question of picture, it’s a question of sound as well. Obviously if you’ve got a proper cinema, most do have digital projection as well as a proper sound system as well, you know the ones that make your teeth rattle when certain things happen on screen, that’s important. You can’t really do that at home without pissing off the neighbours a lot. I think that’s important. I think the only reason that the Savoy holds on in my heart so dear is that a) they still have curtains. Big deal. Cinemas don’t come with curtains anymore and b) they’re the only cinema left in existence that I used to go to when I was a kid. Everything else is gone. All of the other golden era cinemas have all ceased to exist, the ones out in the suburbs. I went out to the Classic a lot in Harold’s Cross, because we were from Crumlin, and the closest cinema was the Classic. Gone, long since gone. Any of the other ones we went to in town don’t exist anymore. So that’s probably the reason why the Savoy is such a big deal to me.
FID: The landscape has changed a lot for going to the cinema in Dublin. Even in the last couple of years, the Screen Cinema has gone, the Stella is coming back soon in Rathmines. Do you think that Dublin is still a good place to be for movie fans?
ROS: I think it depends on where you go. I remember going to Paris for my first foreign holiday when I was 19, and I went with my then girlfriend. I remember picking up the listings magazine in Paris -I don’t think it exists in physical copies anymore but it’s still online, it’s called Pariscope– and it had all the listings of anything going on in Paris. The cinema listings took up twenty pages every week. I realise of course Paris is a much bigger city than Dublin, but you could see almost any film that had been released in the previous ten years at some point in a screen somewhere in Paris when I went in 1992. It was only then when I went there that I went “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff going on here”.
I was on holidays two weeks ago in Vienna and I went to see The Third Man. Gorgeous, wonderful, digital print of The Third Man in a little downstairs cinema, which is the sort of thing I think other cities do really well and I don’t know if we necessarily have the amount of screens to do that here. I’d love a re-run house that only shows black and white movies, but I don’t think anyone could make money out of it. I think these days it’s different than it was even 5, 10 years ago because you have a lot more screens certainly, however increasingly all those screens are showing about 4 films, whatever the major blockbuster that’s been released in the last few weeks. The diversity of films is only really helped by wonderful places like the IFI or the Light House. The Light House consistently knock the ball out of the park. The IFI doing things like Horrorthon. I love places that show things I can’t see anywhere else. Now if I have the choice of seeing a film in a place like the Light House, I go there. Also because people behave themselves there, they’re all really nice and there’s no nonsense going on. And you can’t get mobile phone signal downstairs there, so that helps. And anything that goes on at the IFI, I went to see the 70mm print of Batman there a few weeks ago. You know, it’s a crappy print, it’s an old print with scratches and cigarette burns in the top right when you switch reels, but there’s something about the scale when you’re shown something like that and the audio that comes off it that for the old school film geek in me made me feel like that was something important that I had to go to.
I think people have a lot more choice, I think certainly if you’re out in the suburbs there’s usually a cinema much closer to you than there used to be, all dotted around the M50 the way they are these days. But they only show a certain number of films. Having said that, I live in Greystones. There used to be a cinema in Greystones, it’s the one that appears in Father Ted in the ‘Passion of St Tibulus’ episode. I have stood outside it and said “down with this sort of thing”. That’s been closed for I think fifteen years, it’s long gone. The cinema that used to be in Bray is now closed and long gone. So the closest cinema to me in Greystones is either Dundrum or Dun Laoghaire. So it depends.
FID: So much of the movie-going experience is in the aesthetics. Like the curtains, the smell of the popcorn. You spoke there about the Light House: people don’t talk or use their phones. When you get to the cinema for more standard blockbusters, is it still enjoyable or do other people make it difficult?
ROS: Oh other people are always Hell. I’m more than willing to say that, when it comes to going to the movies. It is one of those things that has only really become an issue over the course of the last ten years. I think because people now have cinema screens in their own front rooms and I do it when I’m at home and I’m watching a movie and my other half is sitting with me and we’re talking, we will occasionally go “It’s that guy! It’s that guy from that thing, where have we, have we seen him in something before?” and you do that because it’s your own house. But these days, people feel the need to have running commentaries. And you’re always sat behind one, someone who goes “Who’s your man? What’s he done? Did he just say something there? I bet he’s going to be the one that does…” and for me that’s the thing that makes me say I never want to go to the cinema again. I’ve paid my ten quid to come in and see a movie, I’m not sitting in your front room. I accept that people have to eat stuff, I get that but people holding running conversations or people that think they can check their phones every ten minutes and not illuminate the whole room…I’m such an old curmudgeon, I’m such a pain in the arse when it comes to this stuff. There are certain cinemas where people still treat going to the movies like it’s something that needs to be boxed off and kept in a place by itself and for those two hours you are just alone with the film that you’re seeing. And everything else can take a back seat. As long as there are places like that, movies will survive. But I don’t know if they will if everywhere becomes like people’s front rooms, because then people will just go “popcorn’s cheaper in my house” and the cinemas won’t survive.
FID: What would you say was your worst cinema-going experience?
ROS: I could make a list for you if you want. Do you know what actually, projection is a problem these days. The vast majority of cinemas don’t operate with a projectionist in each screen anymore, everything’s done digitally. So you have one guy that goes around and goes button, button, button and reels aren’t changed anymore. So frequently I’ve been to the cinema and in the last 3 or 4 years and the film was being shown in the wrong aspect ratio, the film was being shown with no sound, the film was being shown blurred or out of focus. Which is hard to do when you’re digitally projecting it. In one cinema I went to a couple of years ago, a smaller cinema in the suburbs, there was a light left on in the projection booth in the back so there was this beam of light coming all the way down the cinema, down to the front. I actually went out and said “lads, someone’s left a light on in the projection booth, the cinema’s all lit up” and they said to me “no, that’s the way it’s supposed to be”. And I’m like, I’m done, I’m done. I’m going home. It was a kids movie, I was with my kids, it was fine and I put up with it, but it costs a few quid if it’s you and your wife and a couple of kids and you’re paying for popcorn and the movie and parking, it does cost a lot of money these days and I can see that being a problem.
People talking I just won’t hack. If people keep talking during a movie, I am that guy who goes “Listen, sorry, if you want to continue that conversation, can you do it outside?” I’m that stroppy dude who does that. I haven’t gotten a slap yet, but it may happen someday. And I’m fine with that.
FID: When you’re bringing your own children to the cinema, is that something that brings you back to your own youth and gets the memories flowing or is something that makes you go “why am I doing this?”
ROS: I think it depends on the movie, I think it’s great stuff when you get to bring your kids to stuff that you think is fantastic, stuff that turns out to be brilliant there is that wonderful experience where I hope at least in twenty years time they’ll go “do you remember that time we went to see Inside Out?” My kids do like going to the movies, one of them is old enough to go to his own movies these days, although he came to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 with me, he’s in college now so he doesn’t really need me to bring him. But my other two are of an age where I do get to see an awful lot of crap, an awful lot of terrible, terrible stuff. Sometimes it is like rolling the dice, you can go see stuff that’s incredible, you can go see stuff that’s just kind of tolerable or sometimes you have a nap. Having a nap is fine as well, as long as they’re enjoying it you can have an auld nap, as long as they poke you when the movie is over.
FID: Now you have had epilepsy since you were a teenager and you’ve been involved with Epilepsy Ireland for years. Back 25, 30 years ago was that something cinemas were conscious of at all? Were there warning before films?
ROS: No, not at all. I mean they don’t even do it these days. To be fair there are very, very few films in which there is the sort of high density flashing that could potentially affect someone that is photosensitive. Now I’m not photosensitive, not everybody who has epilepsy is, some do, some don’t, but it’s why they have the warnings on news broadcasts these days. In particular things like quickly flashing lights, strobes, the sort of things you see at press conferences, they do affect people. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a warning before a movie in the cinema.
Though weirdly there is one film that once triggered me to have a seizure. I had a seizure in a cinema once in my life and it’s the most innocuous, I don’t know what it has to do with the film, there were no flashing lights. It’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Which is mental. There’s a sequence in Glengarry Glen Ross where Jonathan Pryce is walking into a room and he’s agitated, he’s just found out that he’s been had. He walks into their big office and I had a seizure. I was maybe 20 at the time? I had a seizure in the cinema, everybody had to stop, lights came on, I had to be parted away. Afterwards when it came out on DVD, I wondered if it was just a random thing or if I’d been triggered by the movie. So I bought the movie on DVD. I was at home in a much more controlled environment and I started to feel slightly weird in exactly the same place, pause button, stop. So there is something in that movie that triggers me, even though it’s not one of those things that traditionally triggers people with epilepsy and I’m not photosensitive.
FID: You’ve got your Online Book Club which is obviously a big thing for you. Do you ever go to the cinema really excited for a book’s adaptation and come out of it going ‘what the hell was that’?
ROS: No I don’t, because I think that every adaptation of a book is going to be worse than the book itself. Everything. I struggle to find a single adaptation of a book which is better in movie form, I’m fairly sure. And it’s not just because stuff gets left out, which it obviously has to by the very nature of making a 2 hour film out of something that’s much longer. I think almost every adaptation I’ve smacked my head off the wall and thought “Ah, why did you…no! You have it wrong! What’s wrong with you?” Things like The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s one of my favourite books in recent years, the movie’s terrible. I like the leads, I like Eric Bana, I like Rachel McAdams, but no. It’s terrible. It’s weird, it’s a discussion that’s come up in the Book Club on more than one occasion and people seem to be very intolerant of people that seem to think the adaptation is better than the original. It’s hard going, I don’t know if there is one. I’d struggle to find even a single book. Usually what I do is either I just don’t bother going to see adaptations of books that I really love or I just go into it with very low expectations. I read The Girl on the Train a couple of years ago and I went to see the movie quite recently and it’s actually quite good. It kind of, sort of lives up to the book and the best thing about it is Emily Blunt and if it wasn’t her in the central role I don’t know if it would be as good of a movie. So it was pretty much okay but I hadn’t really enjoyed The Girl on the Train as a book very much anyway so it was kind of ‘meh’ level on both.
FID: What would be the biggest gap between your love of the book and hatred of the film?
ROS: I was only thinking about this the other day because he’s in the process of writing new stuff: Phillip Pullman, the one book that was made of the Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass with Daniel Craig. The original trilogy I loved, have re-read a couple of times and want to re-read again because he’s writing more books set in the same world. I think it’s an absolute beauty. I went to see that movie in the cinema and I was bored about halfway through. It just became very whizzbang whereas the books are quite in depth and serious and deal with very big topics. So there’s a lot of subtext going on in what happens there. And it explains why they didn’t make a second one because the movie was terrible and no one liked it.
FID: And they bungled the ending badly, didn’t they?
ROS: Yeah, but that happens so frequently, where you see books being made into movies and the ending has been altered in one form or another. And you go “but if you liked the book enough to make it into a movie, why did you have to screw with the ending? Why not just leave it alone?” I dunno.
FID: What is your view on the Irish films we’ve been seeing in the last five years or so? Do you think the standard is improving or do you think it’s always been there?
ROS: I think it’s always been there. I think it comes and goes slightly in waves depending on who is making films at the time. In the Irish system usually you do have to have writers and directors that are pushing projects through and are getting money from different places from around Europe and from the film board and they’re making things happen. I think we’ve had really strong films over the last four of five years. But I struggle to think of a period in the last 20 years where there haven’t been at least two or three really solid Irish films that have come out. The problem of course always is that Irish filmmakers become great and they’re given lots of money and they go off to other places and they make other films. Look at Lenny Abrahamson, he was always a brilliant filmmaker, someone was always going to give him a brilliant project that was going to get him nominated for an Oscar. Now he can make pretty much anything he wants, anywhere he wants. I think that’s always going to be the case.
One of the things I like so much about Irish films is that because of the nature of where we are and budgets, they have to be story-based. You can’t really make big spectacle Irish movies unless you’re Neil Jordan and someone’s giving you the budget to make Michael Collins, which doesn’t happen very often. So I like movies that are story heavy and I like movies that are intricate and well-directed. We tend to have an advantage when it comes to that kind of thing because no one’s going to give you 50 million to make something that’s set in Ireland. Perhaps something that’s filmed in Ireland, don’t get me wrong, we’re used frequently as locations for other parts of the world. And occasionally a Spielberg will come along and try to make Wexford look like the D-Day landings, but for actual Irish films, I think it’s one of our strong points actually.
FID: Growing up were you going to Irish films or was the draw always the Hollywood films?
ROS: No it has to be the Hollywood films. You have to remember I was born in 1973, I remember going to see Empire Strikes Back in 1980. I remember certainly there was a lot of strong Irish cinema being made in the early 80s but they weren’t being made for people my age so I can go back and look at Neil Jordan’s early films for instance and understand that brilliant films were being made at that time, but they weren’t being made for me and I probably wouldn’t have been let in the door. At the time it was always big budget movies, it was always movies that had hype around them. It was Star Wars, Tim Burton’s Batman. But I also remember going to see Dead Poet’s Society and crying and then going back to see it again. But the IFI didn’t exist in those days. The old Irish Film Theatre did over at Earlsfort Terrace which is now the Sugar Club, but I was never in that when I was a kid. The old Light House opened on Abbey Street in…1990, I think? I remember the first film I saw there was Cyrano de Bergerac and then I remember seeing almost everything there up until the point that they had to be closed and moved out when Arnott’s created a car park. Obviously far more important to have a car park than nice working cinemas like that. So there weren’t a lot of places to see small budget but really intensely good Irish movies. But you know, one of the advantages of seeing stuff again on TV and DVD is that you can look back and go “oh yeah, those things were being made”.
FID: You do movie premieres a lot now, introducing movies. A lot of those must be routine by now?
ROS: Noooo, no.
FID: Do you still get starstruck or awestruck by the occasion with those?
ROS: Yeah, totally. It happens in a number of ways. Because I do what I do these days, I’m incredibly privileged to be an anorak when I want to be an anorak. Usually the films I end up introducing are big budget, usually Marvel movies. Marvel, to be fair to Disney bless them, have asked me to do pretty much every Marvel movie which is really cool when you’re me. But you get to do two sets of cool things, one of which is sometimes, very rarely, I do press junkets in London. I don’t usually do them anymore, I used to do them more a long time ago. I did the one for the last Bond movie, Spectre. So I got to go to the actual London premiere of Spectre in Leicester Square because it was the only preview screening that was available before the junket the following day, so that was very cool. You’re surrounded by actual stars and you’re looking around going “I’ve seen that guy on TV, I know who that is…there’s Simon Mayo!” And you have all those moments of looking around and getting starstruck. You get to do stuff in Dublin and because we’re Dublin, we don’t get as many stars turning up to do stuff here, there’s more and more these days but it still doesn’t happen a lot. But I introduced Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (for the Irish premiere) and we had a brilliant group to be fair who were cosplaying the life out themselves, who looked just like the cast. They had been given proper money by Disney and their cosplay game was very strong.
The other advantage is you get to see movies before other people do. One of the coolest things that every happened to me was I was asked would I introduce The Avengers. I said I would be thrilled to, I’m an enormous Joss Whedon fan. I was told there’s only one screening we can get you into before your introduction, so you’re going to have to sit and watch it with the censor, is that okay? So it was me and the censor sitting in a room, watching the first screening for anybody outside the movie company of Avengers and I did spend the whole movie just sitting there smiling with that smug sense of superiority that you only get from seeing a movie that everybody else you know wants to see. I can’t pretend that that’s still not really cool, because it is really cool. And it’s cool when it comes to Star Wars stuff, comic book stuff and anything else that I’m involved in. I’m never going to get tired of doing that. It’s not a job, it’s a hobby that has perks.