Jul 31, 2017 News
When I read last week that Astor cinema will follow its sister theatre and neighbour on Waterloo Street, the Globe and be demolished, a tsunami of memories flooded the floors of my mind. There were five popular cinemas in the heart of downtown Georgetown at the time I was growing up in Wortmanville, South Georgetown – Strand Deluxe at Wellington and Charlotte Streets (the building is still there but is now occupied by a Brazilian church); Metropole at Robb and Wellington Streets; Plaza on Camp Street and Astor and Globe. I wouldn’t say Empire was in the heart of the city though it was on Middle Street closer to East Street rather than Camp Street. All are now gone. Long gone.
For some inscrutable reason, Astor and Globe were the favoured ones for the ordinary folks in South Georgetown. The section where the poorer classes went was referred to as ‘pit.’ On any day, no matter what movie was playing, the ‘pit’ of Astor and Globe would be filled. Strand Deluxe and Plaza were more often patronized by the folks from outside of Georgetown. Metropole always had a more diverse set of patrons.
It was Globe that had a contract with Vivian Lee (the major recorder producer of Robb and King Streets) to host Johnny Braff, Guyana’s singing sensation of the late sixties and early seventies. I rather suspect that the owners of Plaza and Strand would not have wanted to accommodate the type of patrons that would have flocked to Braff’s shows, for fear of damage to property because of crowd behaviour. And it did happen. At one of Braff’s performances, the door to the entrance to ‘pit’ was torn off in the mad rush. I saw Johnny Braff twice at the Globe and it breaks my heart to see the bad hand fate has dealt him in the 21st century. We name streets after cricketers but nothing after Braff who swept this country off its feet fifty years ago. This country has an ugly conscience. I hope we pay due recognition to Dave Martins, who is very much alive, swinging and singing.
Ask any South Georgetown unemployed about how he spent his nights and he would tell you; the cinemas were his life line. There are just too many memories of the cinemas to even fill one book length manuscript. My memories of Astor will live forever. It was at that cinema my daughter had her last movie outing with both parents together. The movie was DEEP RISING about monsters at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that eat up all the passengers of a luxury cruise ship. I would not keep such an item in my DVD collection but I do have it to remind me of the last time I visited the cinema with my kid. She has grown up and never went back to the cinema with me.
It was at the Plaza that I proposed to my wife. The time was Old Year’s Night in 1978. We went to see THE MASTER GUNFIGHTER about the massacre of Indians after the Americans took California from Mexico. We got married one month, one week after. Ask my wife what is her favourite movie and she would tell you number one is the MASTER GUNFIGHTER because of that night at the Plaza and KING OF THE GYPSIES, the first movie we saw after we began dating. It was shown at the Astor. Astor Cinemas reminds me of Boyo Ramsaroop, who saved me from a wasted life in Wortmanville. He insisted I come with him to Astor to see ROMEO AND JULIET.
One of the things I will always remember as a Wortmanville boy on D’Urban Street going to the cinemas in the night was the channa shop at D’Urban and Camp Streets directly opposite the now infamous Camp Street prison. My friends and I always take the same route – west on D’Urban, north into Camp. There was where “channa man” was. Huge basins of steaming channa. You look, you want, but you can’t buy because all you had was the ticket money for PIT. The tearing down of Astor marks the final chapter of a certain lovely period in the life of Georgetown.
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