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Globe reeling

Ricky Jordan

Globe reeling

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IT OPENED IN JULY 1956 with A Man Called Peter and will close its curtains with Mission Impossible 4.
The Globe, the last of the old cinemas, is about to go the way of the defunct Roxy, Vista, Empire, Olympic, Gaiety, Plaza and others, and its last showing is set for December 31. After giving Barbadians and visitors alike more than half a century of large-screen entertainment, music and memories, The Globe will be no more.
Many have nestled within its “surround sound” and darkened 1 100-seat interior, munching on popcorn in the Pit, House or Balcony, but only a few have basically lived in and for The Globe: the Ali family.
“I arrived from Trinidad in 1956 to manage The Globe. It had been out of business for two years and we did extensive renovation, adding for the first time a Cinemascope screen and installing a new sound system, projectors and so on – all bought from Miami,” recalled Zaid Ali, the 92-year-old patriarch of The Globe family.
This was a mere eight years after the coral stone building was constructed, he noted, and the competition was immediate: from the three Plazas in Barbarees Hill, Oistins and Bridgetown, as well as the Empire, Olympic and Roxy. Yet the populace was so keen on the box office hits pouring in from Hollywood that all of these venues used to be packed for their three daily showings at 12:30, 4:30 and 8:30 p.m.
Back then, Zaid remembered, the Westerns and later kung fu movies had such captive audiences that “if you didn’t get here by 3 p.m. for the 4:30 p.m. show, it would be sold out.”
Renting their movies through distribution agents buying from Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, Universal, Warner Bros, Fox, Sony and Columbia, The Globe held its own and eventually surpassed the other local cinemas for public appeal.
Noting that the local Globe was a branch of the five Ali family-owned Globe cinemas in Trinidad –  four of which have also closed –  Zaid also recalled that the family had owned a Globe in Guyana which also shut after successful early years. The land-owning family first set up cinemas in Trinidad as a form of recreation in the 1920s, so by the time Zaid had reached manhood it was time to expand.
“When I was in Barbados for the first few months I wanted to go back home. The area around here was like a shanty town. There were little shacks all over the place in Roebuck Street. There was no gas station, but there was a roundabout and a breadfruit tree which is still there,” said Zaid.
Starting at the princely admission fees of 12 cents for the Pit, 50 centsfor the House and 75 cents for the Balcony, The Globe blossomed, and within 25 years the Alis were able to purchase the bush-strewn Sundown Drive-in property – now the Globe Drive-In and the island’s sole surviving outdoor cinema run by Zaid’s sons Zaimool and Ben.
The eldest brother Azzard has basically run The Globe cinema singlehandedly in the last three decades. He is there daily from “morn’ till night”, after leaving school, working briefly with an architectural firm and ultimately joining the business.
“It was my father, my other brother Kazim who died seven years ago, and I who managed The Globe,” said Azzard, who has not had an off-day in about 20 years. He also noted that most of the younger Ali family members had gone into various businesses, with only Zaimool’s son Ryan, 19, assisting at the Drive-In.
“I never really thought of it [working in the cinema]. You don’t have much time for yourself. There’s no social time being at an age when you want to go out sometimes,” Ryan said.
But The Globe cinema has seen great days, not only via its movies. It made its mark as an entertainment venue featuring famous entertainers like Miriam Makeba, Johnny Matthis and the Mighty Sparrow, as well as several Miss Barbados pageants.
“The first place where ice skating was ever held in Barbados was at The Globe, featuring the Ice Follies. Sometimes we had to refuse shows because we were so heavily booked,” recalled Zaid.
“I think this was the heart of where most Barbadian entertainers grew up. I came along seeing Jackie Opel, the Draytons Two, and groups from China and Russia,” said Azzard.
The Globe also made an impact in the sporting arena. “New South Wales football team was basically formed in here. They had their meetings here every Sunday, with Victor Gas Clarke and others. The Globe Cinema also sponsored them,” Azzard added.
Though the family worked 12-hour days, the rewards were good.
“In its heyday we could make about $10 000 to $12 000 a day, and Sundays would be even better,” said Azzard.
One of Zaimool’s best memories was the pomp and ceremony occasionally associated with the cinema.
“When we were small and the Governor General [Sir John Stow] was coming, either my father or an usher would take him upstairs. And when they got upstairs, God Save The Queen would be played. Everybody in the cinema would stand until that anthem ended.”
Azzard also recalled attendance by former Prime Ministers, specifically a Good Friday when the film Jesus Of Nazareth was playing and the cinema was crowded.
“Prime Minister Tom Adams entered through the Pit, came up to the front and was about to pay. We said no and he went up to the Balcony. In those days the Prime Ministers never had bodyguards or anything like that.”
Now all that seems likely to remain are memories if The Globe attracts a buyer of its assets, including projectors, reels, plates, silver screen, mobile curtain and four-track digital Dolby system which, said Azzard, is one of the best sound systems on the island.
“I’m going to miss it because I’ve been here for so long. I really feel sad about it, especially about the staff. We’ve had very nice staff working here for many years. That’s the most hurtful part,” said Azzard.
“I feel the same way about the staff, and it’s sad to see it close, but you have to do what you have to do,” said Zaimool, while Zaid, though wistful, feels it’s time to move on.
“For the last two or three years, Daddy and I were more or less using our own money to run the cinema and pay staff, so it has reached a point where we cannot do it anymore,” Azzard said, noting that advertising and other paperwork would continue at the Roebuck Street office.
Noting that business had dropped dramatically due to competing DVDs, videos, cable TV and digital equipment found in most Barbadian living rooms, Zaid said this had been compounded by high utility bills and the Value Added Tax.
“The electricity bill is just over $11 000 monthly, compared to $8 000 five years ago,” said Azzard, adding that The Globe had tried to absorb these and VAT increases by keeping a steady entrance fee.
How has the public reacted so far? “A lot of them are very sad about the closing. Some even mentioned to me a couple nights ago that they would protest against it and get signatures to keep it open,” informed Zaid.
Zaimool said if a way could be found to keep it open, they would do so but at this time The Globe is “leaning on the Drive-In”.