Finding Dreamland

Stepping off the train into the Margate sunshine, I could see the skeletal bends of a ferris wheel amidst the skyline, its colourful carts like dangly limbs, waving in the distance.

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It took us an hour and 40 minutes to get here from London Victoria. Here being: Dreamland.

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The park had only been open for two weekends at the time so I was anticipating queues, but surprisingly, it was quite quiet. The longest queue was for the Dodgems (solo riders – what ya gonna do?) and after a quick glance, you could easily steal a siesta on the huge, pastel stripy deck chair in the entrance.

Dreamland first became Dreamland in 1920, when its scenic railway opened (which also just so happens to be the oldest roller coaster in the UK). The walk towards the entrance is decorated with walls lined in old black and white photos, taken throughout the park’s history. It’s easy to romanticise a place when you can picture men and women catching the train from London to spend a night at the ballroom, meeting lovers and then letting their cares drift away in the blinkering bulbs and stir of the sea air, mid-spin on The Twister.

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In the early 2000’s Dreamland began to decline in popularity, and by 2005 was handed over to Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company. Luckily, residents weren’t going to give up on such a special attraction that easily, and so petitioned to have it brought back to its former glory. And it worked, re-opening in June.

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The care and thought that has gone into this project is truly amazing. Every little detail of the park is magical, from the vintage arcade machines and low-lit roller disco, to the live band playing retro jams in the food court and doughnut cushion prizes (which I am still sore about not winning).

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While the exterior may seem pastel perfect, what I really loved about Dreamland was how the history of it has been kept alive. Many of the rides, if not all of them are originals to the park or date back to previous eras, having been restored to fulfil their destinies once again.

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You can read about the origins of each ride while waiting, which got me thinking about how truly amazing theme park rides are. Not only is the engineering just incredible, but also the designs. Whether the crazed charisma of an enlarged caterpillar coaster face, or the classic glittering gold of a carousel horse’s handle, it all goes towards creating this fantasy world, where for a few minutes you can just focus on the breeze against your cheeks and butterflies in your stomach.

Yet as you step outside onto the Margate promenade, you realise what a strange little place Dreamland is. This obnoxiously colourful paradise of fun and ice cream and nostalgia, sat awkwardly amidst the broken skyline of Margate.

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Dreamland has so wonderfully captured the atmosphere of escape, where you can disappear for a while into fun, into love, and into the past. Though the sky is the one reminder that nostalgia is just a feeling, and we’ll never quite capture the way Dreamland was before, and that’s ok. That was their Dreamland, this is ours.

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It Follows

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I love horror films, yet bizarrely, rarely watch any modern releases of the genre. I’ve become completely switched off from them, expecting another lazy plot that relies on cheap cliches with no originality behind them. Horror, in my experience, has become a genre that requires you to dig a little deeper to find the good, or at least intriguing stuff.

When I heard about It Follows though, I was excited. The plot sounded curious, recommendations were enthusiastically spooked, while the retro-style of the posters just made it look very cool. So last night, at last, I settled down with a mug of hot peppermint tea as the weather perfectly timed the rain, and pressed play.

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Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, It Follows is a hark back to 70’s and 80’s horror, with a synth-tastic score reminiscent of John Carpenter and a lazy, suburban setting where the only distractions are a large, leafy pool and old black and white movies playing in a dimly lit living room.

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David’s idea for the movie apparently originated from recurring dreams as a kid, in which he was being followed. That unanswerable, uncanny, ghoulish nausea in the pitt of your stomach after waking up from a really bad nightmare is the best way to describe the follower. We don’t know what it is, or where it’s come from. We only know that it can take various zombie-like forms, that it walks slowly to its prey, and the only way to get rid of it is to pass it on by sleeping with someone.

Oh, and there’s one other catch — that person you sleep with? They have to pass it on too, because if it kills them you’ll start being followed again. So you see, you’re never completely in the clear from this haunting presence. Once you’re part of the chain, it could be walking towards you at any moment.

Jay Height, played by Maika Monroe, is unluckily made the next link. After sleeping with her boyfriend, Hugh, she is rather un-romantically chloroformed and tied up in a car park, where Hugh explains to her the situation, and that whilst he is very sorry about doing this to her, the follower is her problem now.

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The style and direction of this movie was so refreshing to watch. Long, lingering shots, slow zoom-ins, lonesome locations and that soundtrack — this movie isn’t all about the jumps and easy scares. It uses instead the nostalgia of older movies to create a recognisable, yet oppressively creepy atmosphere that offers no relief from its spookiness.

I suppose my only frustration was the desire for answers. Where had this thing come from? Why was it following people after they’d had sex? What would it do if it ever reached the very first person it started with?! But on thinking about this more, I became content that this premise isn’t meant to be answered. I enjoyed the chill of such an idea as though it were a manifestation of anxiety; this emotion that you can’t quite pin down and so it remains scary.

Horror movies aren’t for everyone, but I still find it sad when I hear others say they actually hate the genre because, “it’s rubbish”. Horror movies can be creative, terrifying and stay with you throughout the long night’s sleep after watching it. It Follows proves this.

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PS Not one to watch if hoping to get lucky on a date night.

Rating: 4 stars

Cinema Paradiso

Cinema Paradiso was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and released in 1988. It is set in the small Sicilian village of Giancaldo, where the main character of Salvatore Di Vita grows up. The film focuses around his friendship with Alfredo, the projectionist at the Cinema Paradiso. This is where Salvatore’s love for film develops, as Alfredo and the Paradiso become hidings from the complications of adulthood and love.

toto-alfredoI first discovered the existence of Cinema Paradiso through Ennio Morricone’s wistful, romantic, completely heartbreaking soundtrack. The melody swells to create illusions of a grandiose love story, one wild with the tangles of youth, dreams, and the sadness that tugs on such things. Without even seeing the movie, I was already infatuated by the visions such a theme inspired in me.

Morricone’s soundtrack has all the theatrical emotions of longing and loss that people feel when in the throws of youth or nostalgia. It’s this state of mind, and the divide between the poetic life we see depicted in movies, and the life we truly live that Cinema Paradiso awakens in its protagonist so well.

The film begins with Salvatore shown to be a successful film director living in Rome. On finding out that Alfredo has died, he heads back to his home town in a reflective state. At this point Alfredo is just a name, though as the flashbacks begin to roll we discover the person behind it and how closely his presence runs with who Salvatore has become.

cinema-paradiso1Known as Toto, a young Salvatore is drawn to the exciting worlds within the cosy little Cinema Paradiso, which is the villages main attraction, and usually bustling with rowdy patrons. At first a pest, Alfredo soon forms a bond with him, introducing him to the ways of the projectionist booth. They watch the movies together from here, listening to the reactions and finding a sense of joy through creating an escape for the locals.

It’s the small details that make this film feel so personal. For example, the local priest passes a rule that all kissing scenes in the pictures be censored, causing great frustration amongst audiences. This is both humorous and poignant, as the climactic moments of these stories are often their romances, and therefore without the kisses it’s as if something vital is missing, and reality along with the trappings of the small village seep through.

When Salvatore embarks on his own romantic endeavours with a local girl named Elena, he faces the struggles of real love and its burden of obstacles. As Alfredo says to Salvatore: “Life isn’t like in the movies. Life… is much harder.” It’s in this way that he is Salvatore’s mentor, passing on his wisdom of life and urging him, when he is older to leave Giancaldo in order to find fulfilment.

Upon travelling back for Alfredo’s funeral, Salvatore finds that the Cinema Paradiso is going to be torn down and made into a car park. It’s a reminder of how only our romanticism of things has the ability to freeze them in time, while making their reality more heartbreaking.

It’s easier to see things cinematically, though dangerous to rely on illusions, because reality can never quite live up to an idea. That’s not to say that the film is completely dismissive of a dreamier perspective of life. In fact, it shows how it’s necessary to give people and places the meaning they deserve. Without the fantasy worlds of film, our dreams and experiences would never be so large.

Rating: 5 stars

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