Late Shows and Slow Dances

This is about two things that we did as ‘teens in a small town’ that ‘teens in a small town’ don’t seem to do anymore.

Movie late shows. Gosh and golly, I saw so many movies at the late shows when I was, like, sixteen and seventeen. I think it was an innovative thing then, at least in our town. Previously, the eight o’clock show would finish at about half ten or eleven and then the cinema would close up and everyone would go home. 

Then some bright spark had this novel idea. Why not do another show at eleven o’clock, running until half one or two? I bet somebody laughed and said it was a bloody ridiculous idea. Who would want to go to that?

But we did want to go and we did go. In some numbers.

It wasn’t for everyone, of course, this 'late show' lark, but it worked for my friends and me. We would go to the pub, you see, on a Friday evening. I didn’t drink and none of my mates did to excess. We’d just enjoy being out and chatting and having a bit of social time together. Come elevenish, the pub would be calling last orders and it still felt like way too early to go home. It was Friday Night, after all. 

The Late Show was our redemption. It was a place to go. It made you feel like it was the weekend because you were out late but it also felt pretty safe too because… well, because it was The Movies.

I saw lots of the movies of the day at those late shows. Rocky 3, For Your Eyes Only, Welcome To LA (left early) but the most memorable one, for reasons I can’t begin to understand, was ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’. I think it was because it was more ‘actiony’ than we thought it would be. We feared a unadulterated love story but there was an assault course too. As Kung Fu fans of old, we all thought that Louis Gossett Jnr looked a bit 'pants' doing his moves and I know that I still do.

The Late Show was a great addition to our extraordinarily limited social calendar. It allowed us to prolong our evenings for little expense and it also allowed us to stroll home in the almost-dawn of high summer without having really gotten into any trouble at all. 

Slow dances seem to be gone too. This is more serious. When we were teens, at the dances, the slow sets were your only chance for a fleeting moment of female proximity. The fast songs would stop, the DJ would exhort the gyrators to ‘take a break’ and the floor would empty. But gradually people would ease back out to repopulate it. Like with Russell’s Ark, they came in two by two. People who knew each other well and, much more importantly, people who hardly knew each other at all. 

It’s hard to talk about the value of the slow dance without sounding faintly pervy but there was really nothing dodgy about it at all. You got to hold on to a girl. Not too tight, not too intimately or, for sure, not too ‘gropily’. In a world where proximity to a girl was largely unattainable for a spotty teen with an unthinking haircut, the slow dance became a warm, innocently-sensual experience.

I say ‘became’ because, initially, I was terrified of the prospect of the slow dance and I would run and hide in the toilets as soon as one was heralded. I didn’t feel equipped to steer a soft girl around the floor without some international incident breaking out.

I remember my first slow dance was with a girl who had been a friend for some years. Perhaps she felt sorry for me. I remember it well. The sensual aspect I referred to earlier came largely through the nose. She smelled so amazingly clean. There was shampoo and soap and God knows what else. I don’t remember the song. I closed my eyes and breathed in the ‘Head and Shoulders’ and allowed myself to be transported to a nicer place than that damp and beer-sticky hall. 

After that, slow dances were easier. It’s a difficult thing to pin down exactly. It was rather like a compliment. A girl might not want to let you walk her home or go out with you or she might not even want to bear your children but she would have a slow dance with you. It was a compliment, you weren’t the best but you weren’t the worst either. You were okay for a dance. There was a little self-esteem to be harvested there.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are Late Shows and Slow Dances still going on out there in the world for the hard-pressed teens of today. I rather hope so.

If there’s not, I think it’s a bit of a shame.

But, hey, what do I know?


Jim Murdoch said...

We didn’t have any late shows during my youth or if we did they didn’t register. I’ve never been one for going out late anyway. Why are things better in the early hours of the morning? Once the sun sets it’s as dark as it’s going to get. And as far as the pictures go once you’re inside it doesn’t matter what the conditions are like outside in fact there’s something nice about walking out of a darkened cinema into the blazing summer sun. I don’t have any particularly memorable memories concerning the pictures when I was a kid but I think what’s most important is that I have absolutely no negative memories. Nothing bad or horrible ever happened there. I used to hear stories but that’s all they ever were. I don’t go the pictures much these days. I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness and there were two of us in the whole place. Okay it was a weekday morning but still. The film was fine and if you’re willing to suspend disbelief great entertainment but as soon as it was over a feeling of emptiness washed over me. I think it was the staff that did it. They all looked so unhappy, drained of life, plastic. I don’t think it was because I was alone—I’ve seen plenty of films on my own over the years—I just think the world’s not the same place I grew up in.

I’ve been to a few discos in my time but only a few. I didn’t hang around with the kind of kids who wanted to go dancing but I have a few memories and mostly unhappy ones; dances, for me, are the antithesis of the pictures. One that sticks in my mind was, if memory serves right, The Tiger Tim Roadshow in the mid-seventies in some church hall in Saltcoats. We got to the last dance of the evening—a slow one—and my mate told me—yes, told me—to go and pull a girl but I hadn’t a clue what to do and ended up going home alone. I waited outside his house for him to get home and I remember the surprise—the sheer dumbfoundedness—on his face when he saw me there. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more pathetic. I’ve never met any girl at a dance or in a pub. I’m not a casual person. There’s an order to things. And for me that means getting to know someone first before you’d think about touching let alone kissing them. I don’t think I’m old-fashioned as such but I do believe in decorum. If there’s one thing about me that I wish I could’ve changed, certainly in my youth, it would’ve been to be a more casual person. I always treated things too seriously and I still do. Which make me me but it also means I’ve missed out on a lot over the years because I couldn’t let my hair down. Not until I got acquainted with a person and by that time it was too late for casual anything.

I think your assessment of the slow dance is spot on though: “you weren’t the best but you weren’t the worst either. You were okay for a dance.” Well put. I know that’s how I felt whenever anyone was willing to dance with me. It was evidence that I wasn’t a horrible person and when you’re a teenager filled with self-loathing you grasp at every straw. You’d know if they were dancing with you out of politeness, wouldn’t you? I won’t say I treasure those few slow dances but I do remember them with more fondness than I expect most do. I don’t shrug them off. They meant something.

We’re getting nostalgic again, our Ken. For a guy who’s made a habit of not looking back after he’s tossed the match at the bridge he’s just skipped across it surprises me I’m as drawn to wallowing as I find myself these days especially since even the happiest of memories make me sad now.

Ken Armstrong said...

We can't rule over where our minds bring us Jim. I don't think so anyway. Another few weeks and we'll be giving out out something more current.

Here's hoping anyway. :)

seoirse mac enri said...

Hi Ken, the 'For Your Eyes Only' late show at The Gaiety, was heldon same night as Irish Premiere, out side that weew among the 1st in Ireland to see it. Home entertainment dvd, online downloads,
prevents me from saying if the local cinems still hosts 'late shows' I drifted qaway from cinema. Sadly the 'erection section' is a thing of the past in most clubs, maybe not the retro ones, age prevents me from giving a certain answer. Though a frien told me just last week, she collected her older & younger daughters from 2 different clubs
she mentioned to them about slow sets, ' What are they Mum' suppose that answers that. Sometimes we root in the past, evident for me with all the retro sites I follow
on twitter, but memories are no harm , long may they last, hope you'rekeeping good

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi G.

I remember that For Your Eyes Only showing well. I think it was one of my last Late Nights cos I was in Dublin by then and had only come down on the bus that evening. There was a huge queue to get in and a trailer for 'Clash of the Titans'. Sure, you and me went to see Man With Golden Gun together in the Savoy, as I recall.

For Your Eyes Only is on UTV at four today, I see.

All good this end. Hope same with you. :)