My Film Hero: Dave Godin (1936-2004)

Dave GodinNot all film heroes are tough guys. My film hero is a small, bearded man with a twisted back and a chain-smoking habit. Dave Godin gave me my one and only “break in film”, as the barman at a small independent cinema, the Anvil, in Sheffield.

This was back in the 1980s when things like local government funding were not dirty words. The Anvil was funded by what we liked to call “the Socialist Republic of Sheffield”, I guess in the belief that ordinary people were interested in innovative, subtitled and generally left-wing films. Were they? Yes, sort of. Sometimes they came in droves, more often in dribbles. “They” were students, writers, the general public – all sorts.

I was a rubbish barman, not that much nous was needed. I was only really there to service at the interval and clear up afterwards. All drinks were bottled, so it was straightforward.

Even so I still managed to mess it up, most memorably for Betty Blue, where the crowds who’d flocked to the Anvil – not of course for the famous bonking scene! – found themselves in an interval queue stretching down the stairs. My mathematics skills, never strong, deserted me, and in a complete funk I decided to charge the easy price of £1 per unit, whatever the contents. This was in the days when bar staff had to calculate in their heads and £1 was a moderate sum.

What Dave thought when he saw the receipts is an open question. Did it all balance? I doubt he cared much. I also doubt he cared when he realised, soon after I joined the company, that I had fibbed on my CV; contrary to what I said, I’d never worked a bar previously. I just wanted to watch films. And watching films is what I did, once the bar was closed for the night.

What Dave cared about was film and, more generally, the arts. What (or who) he didn’t know about cinema wasn’t worth knowing. The Anvil put on all sorts of amazing stuff: we had French seasons, Italian seasons, Russian seasons, South Yorks seasons. Diva, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Cinema Paradiso, Paris Texas, Au Revoir Les Paradis, Inspector Laverdin. We had gay seasons, women-only showings, black and Asian seasons.

What the good burghers of South Yorkshire thought about this, I’m not sure, but Dave could sell film to a blind elephant. He was a raconteur and had an amazing backstory to draw on as a music journalist and collector. He’s known for inventing the term “Northern Soul”, was heavily involved in bringing Motown to the UK and is famous for putting Mick Jagger in his place. That story is on Wikipedia, but print of course doesn’t capture Dave’s sense of outraged justice. Nor how tough he was. I remember him talking about walking with another white man through the Bronx in the late 1960s, and the contempt in his voice as he recalled his companion’s inability to hide his fear.

Sadly, the only council-funded cinema in the UK couldn’t retain its privileged status, and the Anvil shut its doors for the last time in 1990. Dave died 14 years later. This anarchist, journalist, administrator and rebel was laid low by the big C – the cigarettes got him in the end. A lifelong committed vegetarian, he’d converted to Jainism in his last year of life.

I’d long gone by then; in 1988 I’d moved on to what was eventually a more stable and solvent lifestyle. Dave’s glowing reference helped me get my feet on the floor after a long time of instability. But he has stayed with me for other reasons too. I liked and admired him especially for his passion and his belief in the relevance of film to everyone, not just an educated elite. A hospital nurse, a porter, a steelworker, a corporate bigwig – everyone had the same right of access. There were no barriers with Dave, just as there was no destructive irony, no slippery distinctions.

Like Dave, I’d also been bought up with a love of film and the arts, but in our family that love was miserly, insular. Dave’s passion to share great film — just like his passion to bring black American music to the UK — was a revelation. My appreciation of the strength of character that it took has only increased as I’ve grown older.

Ed Rowe is a full-time dad reacquainting himself with cinema after an early love affair came to an untimely end. He has worked as a barman in a small cinema and was an extra in the drama A Very British Coup.

6 thoughts on “My Film Hero: Dave Godin (1936-2004)

  1. I once tried to put together a film festival dedicated to Polly Platt, onetime companion of Peter Bogdanovich, who has done virtually every job in cinema aside from acting and directing. And I found that it’s hard to interest people in the work of those who do not either act or direct. Reading this is an outstanding reminder of all of the smart, passionate film lovers at multiple levels who have helped build the world of movies in which we are all swept up. There are a lot of ways to make an impact. Excellent tribute.

  2. Thanks James. If course I didn’t know Dave’s backstory then – and there was no Wikipedia too look things up. But he was cleary unique – and a good namedropper (Brian Epstein featured a bit), so it was obvious that he had had an interesting life. I wasn’t an important figure at the Anvil, so I’m sure I didn’t hear the half of it! Cheers all.

  3. A lovely tribute to your colleague, Ed–he sounds like a unique person. Theaters like the Anvil are in short supply these days and ought to be treasured; even where I live in New York City, they seem to be dying out. The memories of them, however, will always remain.

  4. Nice to see this. I knew his name from the Northern Soul music scene, but until now, hadn’t made the connection with the cinema in Sheffield. A fitting tribute, and good to read about ‘Red Sheffield’ once again.
    Best wishes from Norfolk. Pete.

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