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A nostalgic look at Guyana’s cinemas

A nostalgic look at Guyana’s cinemas

– By Bernard Heydorn  (2004)

I must confess that my first love affair was with the cinema, when I was growing up in Guyana, after World War II. The silent movies of 1920s had given way to the talkie movies of the 1930s. My parents spoke fondly of seeing Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald star in classic movies of that era, like Rose Marie and Sweethearts. This was reinforced, no doubt, by the fact that my parents were recently married and were themselves sweethearts.

But the story of the cinema in Guyana goes back to the 1920s when the Gaiety, which was probably Guyana’s first cinema, stood by the Brickdam Roman Catholic Presbytery in Georgetown, and showed Charlie-Chaplin-type, silent movies.

The Gaiety burnt down around 1926, but was followed by other cinemas such as the Metro on Middle Street, in Georgetown, which became the Empire; the London on Camp Street, which became the Plaza; and the Astor on Church and Waterloo Streets, which opened around 1940.

There was the Metropole on Robb and Wellington Streets; the Rialto, which became the Rio, on Vlissengen Road; the Hollywood, one of my favourites in Kitty; and the Strand de Luxe on Wellington Street, which was considered the luxury show place.

But in fact, each of the cinemas had their heyday and special clientele, and some like the Astor, Plaza, Metropole, and the Strand de Luxe still stand today.

Take for example, the Olympic on Lombard Street in Georgetown. During the 1940s, one could buy a little cheaper ticket there, but had to be contented with just four walls and benches!

The luxury of a roof was not there, and so this cinema was considered the first “fowl house.”

Then there was the Capitol on La Penitence Street in Albouystown, which had a rough reputation. A friend of mine once saw a movie there called Death Takes A Holiday, but did not take a holiday when a bomb was thrown into the Pit thee during the civil disturbances in Guyana in the 1960s, killing two women inside.

The first movie I saw was Tarzan: The Ape Man, starring Johnny Weissmuller, at the Globe cinema in New Amsterdam, around 1952. I was dazzled and transported to a never-never-land of larger than life gods, goddesses and villains.

On the screen, I escaped to exotic places where people lived in splendour and performed feats I had never dreamt possible, take for example, King Kong!

Heroes and heroines sang and danced, lived, loved and died, and spoke immortal words that were burned forever in my memory. The movie shows provided a release from the drudgery and struggle of everyday life, even if it was for just a few hours, and cinema proprietors, like Ho A Yun of the Globe in New Amsterdam, were household names and stand-outs in the community. Continue reading