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New Left Review I/1, January-February 1960


John Braine

The Bug House: Elegy for a provincial cinema

no-one ever uses the little cinema’s official name, a Greek-French hybrid suggesting racecourses and leopardskin seats. It was opened some forty years ago as the Bug House, and the Bug House it will remain to the natives.

It has none of the trimmings of the big-circuit cinemas—no neon signs, no glossy stills from the current film, no huge foyer with ankle-deep carpeting, no coloured photographs of the stars. Its size and prices of admission (sevenpence and tenpence, half-price for children) permit only the irreducible minimum: a poster in dropsical display faces a century out of date, a timetable of features over the paybox, and a tiny lobby opening directly on to the street. Through the door of the auditorium float out scraps of dialogue: You can’t do this to me, Watch out Tex, that gun is loaded, I am the Hooded Terror, and, gaspingly, through blood in the throat, The treasure’s- in- the- And then there’s the whine of bullets again or the dull matter-of-fact thud of bombs or the hysterical scream of sirens or the high-pitched violin which means that Something Is Coming Out of Space. There are softer sounds too—the quivering sweetness of Tin Pan Alley music with its suggestion of an enormous emptiness in the background, like blancmange eaten in the Gobi Desert, and the husky voices that say I love you, Baby and I shouldn’t have done that, and, sooner or later, This thing is bigger than both of us. One feels an eavesdropper, there’s something sad and Noah-naked about these sounds from the darkness.

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