FEATURE: Freeze Frame | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s hard to imagine now but, before the advent of TV, home video and on-demand-streaming gizmos, Tyneside was packed full with spectacular cinemas and pre-possessing picture houses. “I wanted to delve into the history of the city and use a common theme to trace a line through the 20th century. Cinema buildings ticked that box.” Explains pen-and-ink artist Ben Holland – aka Low Moon Over High Town – who’s launching an exhibition of his work, Freeze FRAME, at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre & Opera House on Monday 1st June.

“I moved to Newcastle in late 2000, so by then the Pilgrim Street Odeon was coming into its swansong – though it was still spectacular inside. I only actually remember seeing one film there. It was a first date and we went to see Hannibal…Suffice to say, it didn’t really work out.”

He’s quick to point out that not all of his drawings are of aesthetically beautiful buildings. “Some of them weren’t particularly grand or luxurious. The Pavilion [on Westgate Road] for instance was a beautiful music hall which became a bit of a rundown picture house by the 70s, which is when I’ve drawn it. There probably is a romantic view of cinemas, but then rightly so. The truth is that entertainment is a lot more disposable now than it was even was in the 90s. Go back far enough and either you saw a film at the cinema or you didn’t see it at all.”

The Tyne Theatre & Opera House, which is housing the exhibition, was the Stoll Cinema for more than fifty years (and even, briefly, had a reputation for showing X-rated films to counter the rise of television). “The auditorium oozes history and has barely changed since the Victorian era.” Fittingly, Ben’s pieces will be hung on the stage itself during the two day focus events. “I’m really excited about that,” he says. “It’s great to know that my pictures will be hanging on the same stage which hosted the first screening Tarzan Of The Apes back in 1919.” The pictures will then be moved into a gallery space within the theatre for the rest of June.

“It’s great to know that my pictures will be hanging on the same stage which hosted the first screening Tarzan Of The Apes back in 1919”

Using archive photographs, Ben has included real-life figures in his beautifully intricate drawings – so maybe you’ll spot your old Aunty Mabel, with a 60s beehive, queuing up outside the old Odeon. “I’d like people to read their own interpretations of what those characters are doing, who they are meeting at the cinema and why.”

And while many of the city’s cinemas have been bulldozed or, over time, fallen into rack and ruin, there are still beacons of (projection box) light coming from the Tyneside Cinema and more quirky alternative screensters: “Tyneside Cinema’s all-nighters, Heaton Park’s silent movie nights, Secret Cinema and Screenage Kicks are just some of the great events in the city. They are doing a great job in continually reinventing cinema as a unique, social experience, and long may that continue.”

Ben Holland’s Freeze FRAME will be onstage at Tyne Theatre & Opera House on Monday 1st and Tuesday 2nd June. The exhibition will then be moved to a gallery space within the theatre until the end of the month.

See a small selection of illustrations from Freeze Frame in the gallery below:

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