Michael Roycroft and the Oscar Cinema

Michael Roycroft in the Oscar Cinema, Newbridge:


Boxes of sweets are stacked in small towers along the floor. Adorned upon the red stripy wall are framed movie posters from by-gone eras. ‘The Outlaw’, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and Orson Welles’ ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ to name but a few. Sitting at a cluttered desk is the cinema owner, Michael Roycroft. But how exactly did he become the owner of the cinema that was once known as the Palace?

 “I was always interested in films. I suppose that is the first thing. Anyone going into the movie business must be interested in films and unsocial hours. When I was in school we had a film club. That’s how the whole thing started for me. Then of course when I went into secondary, they would have been stuck the odd night for somebody to show films so I took an interest in projection and sound and all that type of thing,” he explains. “In the early seventies, I got more and more involved when you had, what we would have called a revival of cinema at that time. Old cinemas that had closed down were now re-opening, if you like and this was in pre-video days and DVD days. So I got involved in the opening of refurbished cinemas.”

The wall to the right of Michael is covered in a menagerie of old photos. I spot an old black and white photo of Michael, Paddy Melia and none other than Tom Hanks! What was that all about? “That was about Tom Hanks' first film called ‘Splash’ which was released in 1984 and he came toIrelandto promote the film. A few of us got to meet him. We had lunch with him and I found him to be one of the nicest people I had ever met. Very genuine. I’m not sure if he’d even remember me at this stage of his career. He’s done so much and he’s gone into so many greater things, winning Academy-Awards left right and centre. But ‘Splash’ was his first. That’s almost twenty years ago. It is. It’s twenty years next year. But that explains the photograph of Tom Hanks.”

 I’ve always wanted to go up into one of the projection rooms so I put my wish to Michael who’s only delighted to oblige. We arrive at a little door. Michael opens it up to reveal a small wooden stairs leading up into the projector room. I follow him up there to see a large tower projector facing a small window looking out into cinema one, the largest of the three screens in theOscarCinemas. One or two small movie posters are stuck to the wall and various movie memorabilia are scattered around the room. “A great deal of films must have passed through this room over the years,” I say haphazardly. “Oh, very much so. God yes,” replies Michael as if every film he’d ever seen had suddenly flashed across his eyes in some sort of horrifying vision. “Thirty years of it. Don’t even ask me to tell you how many films! You’re probably familiar with all this yourself, are you Liam?” says Michael referring to the projector. I point out that I haven’t the foggiest so Michael proceeds in showing me how a projector is set up. “I’ll make a little bit of noise while I turn this on,” he says. Noise is an understatement, I’m thinking. He switches a few dials and a sound, not unlike a car engine, begins humming. “I’ll just turn on what we call the tower. This is our feature film,” says Michael pointing to the immensely large film reel. “That is approximately 115minutes long. I’m now just going to strike up the bulb.” I hear a strange noise. “I’ll just let that go for a second and then we’ll run the machine and we’ll let you see the system in operation.” I ponder out loud what film he’s going to put on. “This is the ads actually,” Michael replies. “So I won’t actually get into the film. We’ll just run some of the ads to let you know how the system works.” The reel begins to start spinning. Slow at first but then faster and faster. It sounds like a small airplane is about to take off. I wonder out loud about really long films? Do they have two reels? “Yes, if you had a picture like ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’, yes. You’d never be able to fit it all onto the one spool. You’d have to take an intermission. Again, the multiplexes would have a different projection system than we have so they wouldn’t be using what we call a tower. They would use what is called a ‘cake-stand’. Michael begins to turn off the projector so we can hear again. “So what we’ve done here now is cooled everything down and we can now pitch off,” says Michael as he begins to feed the film back into the spool. “Just bare with me now for a moment because as I say it’s not like video or DVD. You have to rewind by hand.” It’s at the end of my tour of theOscarCinemasand I can see the job is certainly something Michael enjoys very much, but what is the main attraction? “Well I suppose the fact that I get to see the films first. It’s a nice little perk,” he says smiling. Michael Roycroft is one lucky man. 


By Liam Geraghty - originally published in the Kildare Nationalist c. 2005.