The Whitley Bay Film Festival is now in its fourth year and continues to go from strength to strength. On its website, the festival claims it celebrates ‘great films in great locations, in a town without a cinema.’
I have lived close to the North Tyneside seaside town for over twenty years and it’s my ‘go to’ place for fish and chips – Pantrinis of course – bracing beach walks and a stunning sea view. Funny, I never really noticed it didn’t have a cinema until now. Classic films are being screened in unusual venues across the town – St Mary’s Lighthouse was host to ‘The Fog’ last year and the Rendezvous cafe screened ‘The Piano’ followed by a floodlit piano performance at night right beside the sea.
The Patron of the Whitley Bay Film Festival since the very beginning in 2010 is Ian La Frenais. He is a famous son of Whitley Bay and is probably best known for writing some of our most seminal British comedy including The Likely Lads, Porridge and Auf Weidersehen Pet.
Ticket to the fun fair
I went to a screening of the 40th anniversary of ‘ That’ll Be the Day’ followed by it’s 1970’s sequel ‘Stardust’ in the Spanish City Dome at the weekend. As the former Starlight Ballroom it makes for a very cool space indeed and it was a great experience. As far away from the soulless multiplex as you could wish to get, we sat inside the iconic concrete Dome with stars projected onto the ceiling and watched the big screen from rows of deckchairs, still in keeping with our coastal venue. We had to sit on cushions for extra comfort and it did get rather chilly – but that’s the English seaside for you!
Super Starlight screen
The foyer had other film related paraphernalia to peruse and purchase, art house films from students running on small screens and fresh popcorn for just one English pound.
The David Essex films have a documentary quality to them and are a slice of social commentary on English culture at the time. ‘ That’ll Be the Day’ is a real coming of age film set at the time just before the birth of rock and roll. Stardust shows Essex after he becomes a star as the lead singer of the Stray Cats, and is a dark moral tale about the dangers of fame and drug abuse. They both really stand the test of time and of course David Essex was just pretty to look at anyway. The writer of both films, Ray Connolly, was a special guest at the festival and his tales of how the film was made were absolutely fascinating. Ray hadn’t seen his films on the big screen for many years and he explained that looking back it was easy to see his mistakes but also to see what he had got dead right as well. It was Ray’s first ever screen play and he had previously been a reporter on £45 per week at the Evening Standard when the producer David Puttnam asked him if he wanted to have a go at writing a film. In fact, Connolly had written obituaries for Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and that was one of the reasons he was so keen to dispel the myths of the glamorous drug taking lifestyle in Stardust. It portrays the road to fame as really quite a dark journey with relationships and lives damaged by money and success.
Writer Ray – a cool dude
The casting of Essex, he explained, was crucial to the success of the film. The character of Jim Maclaine has few redeeming features and is pretty much totally amoral, so in order to pull it off he needed to be really good looking! Puttnam had seen David Essex in Godspell and the rest is history.
The film’s budget was £10,000 and everyone involved with the film got £5,000 plus a percentage – not a lot by today’s standards. The first film was partly financed by Ronco records whose criteria was that they featured every track on a double album in the film which they squeezed into the fun fair scenes and Ringo Starr was asked to take part as he was the only person they knew who’d been to Butlins! The band in the film also featured Keith Moon who apparently used to land in a helicopter, walk around the hotel naked and got on everybody’s nerves. Asked if he was friends with any of the stars he knew from that era Connolly replied ‘You’re never really friends with stars. They’re different to the rest of us.’
The Whitley Bay Film Festival is definitely a little bit of North East Stardust itself in my opinion.