You need to take 223 steps to get from our apartment door to Kino Tapiola’s ticket counter: I once calculated that distance. Rush down the stairs to the front door, walk 10 metres straight, then immediately turn to the right, go past the carpet dusting rack and leap across the Shell gas station yard, run a few dozen steps up the dirt road along the side of the cinema, turn to the left, then hop ten steps on the tiling, pull the cinema door open, and immediately on the right, there’s the ticket office line.

Kino Tapiola is almost exactly as old as I am. I was born on October 21st. In 1955, the first screening at the cinema was held on the 30th. I have a feeling that our destinies are somehow linked.

One of its kind

Kino Tapiola did not belong to any theater chain, so its repertoire was a fantastic mess of movies from all over the world. Films were shown every day throughout the year. There could be a break for a few weeks in July. As a rule, I was spending those vacation weeks in a summer boarding house in Ritvala, so the inconvenience was small one.

On weekdays, there were usually one or two shows, but on the weekends something completely different was going on. Friday offered three screenings, with the last film kicking off as late as at eleven o’clock. The kiddie toons began at midday on Saturday. The PG- and R-rated films came right after them. And Kino Tapiola never showed the same film in these three shows but three different movies. The same thing happened on Sunday with the difference that there was no night screening. If you wanted to spend the whole of Saturday watching movies, it was certainly possible. However, this worked out only on the condition that the adult client started the marathon with a Mickey Mouse cartoon and ended it with a cheap Danish softcore porn flick.


The real name of the owner of Kino Tapiola was Urpo Hovilainen, but everyone knew him as Kinosaur. He and his wife took care of everything from selling tickets and sweets to showing movies, with the occasional help from the son of the family. Mr. Hovilainen was – at least from a child’s point of view – a menacing revelation. He was bulky, bald and grumpy. His wife was small – with her hair sprayed stiff with lacquer – and grumpy.

The theatre building was a futuristic complex. On top of the construction – designed by Aane Ervi – was a huge gray concrete dome.  It looked like a UFO had landed on the roof of the cinema. As little boys, we were attracted to high places anyway. So we climbed up to the roof of Kino Tapiola, mainly in the hope that we would see free movies through the UFO’s window openings. All that was visible was the projector room and Kinosaur’s angry face.

Kino Tapiola presents…

We were lucky to have a primitive black and white TV set at home. However, there were many families who didn’t own a telly. Colour TVs didn’t become the norm until in the early 1970s. In addition, for many years, there were only two channels available, while the second one was put on vacation through July. TV broadcasts always ended with the national anthem no later than 11 p.m., usually earlier. Since all decent citizens had to get to bed in time to drag themselves through the six-day working week. Accordingly, Kino Tapiola’s performances were almost invariably sold out.

Mrs. Hovilainen sold tickets, candy and popcorn. Morose Kinosaur blocked the auditorium entrance and tore up the tickets before rushing into the engine room to flick on the projector. The sold-out show meant a huge crowd. A customer at the tail of the long queue ended up either on the first row or in the box.  At Kino Tapiola, the box was not the set of luxury seats with the clearest view.  Due to the structure of the auditorium, practically nothing could be seen from the box located at the very back of the hall. The first row, on the other hand, was so close to the silver screen that to follow the action on the screen you had to rotate your head until your neck ached.

The pressure cooker

The crushing rush started at children’s shows. The crowd swayed, shouted and sweated. The lobby was like a pressure cooker with hollering, red-faced Kinosaur acting as the plug, blocking the auditorium entrance with his big white-knuckled hands pressing the door jambs. At the end of the line, the frustrated group of youngsters deliberately pushed the surging mass forward. The mass whooped. Kinosaur roared. This ritual was repeated with each sold-out performance. And there were plenty of them.

Kino Tapiola screened some of the films that could be seen also on television. The theater had a huge widescreen glowing in bright Technicolor instead of the 16-inch television’s grainy shades of gray. In place of the one-watt TV squeak, you enjoyed a clear, booming stereo sound. Just a few coins handed over at the ticket counter and you stepped into the splendor of Hollywood, away from your shabby, undersized apartment or in from the streets, slippery with November slush and sleet.

Kino Tapiola didn’t show the same movie week after week. It screened about twenty different movies in just one week. Ticket prices were very reasonable. A children’s movie, usually an hour-long older fairy tale film or a 50s cartoon, cost about 20 cents. The full-length feature film was half a dollar. The X-rated films, those Danish titty farces, were up to a dollar or more, due to taxation reasons.

The escape from the real world

Because tickets were cheap and the theatre was just around the corner, I found myself in Kino Tapiola nearly every night. It was my haven and a big anxiety relief during the years when my mother and father were fighting their bitter struggle before divorce. With a repertoire of everything from American classics through French New Wave films to the key works in Italian neorealism, I was insidiously trained to understand the aesthetics and the history of cinema.

Absolutely special were the B-movies of the 40s and 50s. They were often in two parts. There was a lot of controversy about how Zorro would survive and not be squashed between two moving stone walls. Our wild speculations only received a response on the following Saturday afternoon. The disappointment was crushing when the cliffhanger situation had clearly been edited at the beginning of the second part. We had heated discussions about the obvious scam.

My regular place in the auditorium was the third row seat number 101. My friend Matti always sat on the bench next to mine, number 102. Many a time we hadn’t agreed to go to the movies, but quite regularly we found each other watching the same Italian spaghetti western together.

Music and other types of entertainment

Before the main film, record music was played. For years, the same shabby German schlager mix entertained teenagers who had become under the spell of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The gang reacted to this crappy muzak by singing along, in German-like gobbledygook, ”Bitte, Bitte, Bitte, Mein Lieber Johnny!”

Then the lights went out, but the film of the night was not yet to start. Now it was the time for a ten-minute provincial review. There was not much variation in these either. The shortie on the Savonlinna Opera Festival rotated so often that we could memorize the narration. A large part of the audience went along to mumble with the famous opera singer, Martti Talvela: ”I’m casting a fiery net in the human sea, looking for poor sinners…” Loud whistles and booing ensued. That was the cue for Kinosaur to shout from the engine room: ”If that bloody racket doesn’t stop right now, the movie won’t be shown!”. Gradually the laughter and hubbub subsided. The purple velvet curtains slid open. The movie began.


Addictive, to say the least, was a kind of rudimentary loyalty card for collecting a stamp per each screening you attended. With six stamps, you could watch a standard-price show for free. I got my card filled in a couple of weeks, sometimes in just one week. Six-stamp cards were also bartered. Out of smokes, selling a full card would get you enough coins to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Coming soon!

The outer walls of the cinema were covered with large steel-framed velvet-based display cases. The five-feet multi-colour poster of the upcoming film was in the middle of the largest display case, surrounded by letter-size colour images pinned to the velvet. A printed note at the bottom read in large letters COMING SOON! The posters were usually in the original language, so Kinosaur himself had to text the Finnish title on a poster. At that time, the titles of all the foreign films were morphed into something in Finnish. Spelling was not Hovilainen’s best area of expertise. So we always rushed to see what kind of twist he had now developed. 

The lobby. Espoon kaupunginmuseo

The lobby benches were covered with red faux leather. In front of them were low tables with glass covers. Underneath the glass were genuine big photos of the upcoming movies. These were cleverly confiscated by the bravest of us in the rush of the lobby. To ease the pressure at the ticket counter, sometimes another indoor kiosk was opened to sell soda, popcorn and candy.

A pinball wizard

For a couple of years, a pinball machine stood in the lobby. It was quite impossible to play it while the roaring, smoking, and jostling crowd of teenagers rolled back and forth waiting for the show to begin. If you arrived at the theatre as soon as the doors opened, that is half an hour before the start of the first film, you could play a few rounds in semi-peace. At some point, the popular pinball was swapped to a boring basketball game with annoyingly loud effect sounds. Soon there was no machine in the lobby. Plenty of noise was available anyway.

The Film Club

I joined the Tapiola High School Film Club – as if I hadn’t had enough of movies anyway. The Club’s ouvre consisted of class A classics and new quality films. These were screened, of course, in Kino Tapiola. Stanley Kubrick’s ”Space Odyssey” made an indelible impression on the adolescent boy. Another club movie that’s etched into my psyche is Jaques Tati’s “Playtime”. The miracle was that this time the film title had not been twisted in any way. The non-verbal humour of ”Playtime” tickled my funny bone in the bad way. As soon as the movie started, I was lying on the cinema floor helpless with laughter, gasping for breath. Years later, when I took my girlfriend to the Finnish Film Archives to see ”Playtime”, she never laughed. Our relationship did not last long…

Some really raunchy stuff

In October 1973, I finally reached the magical age of 18 and got to watch a real adult film, advertised as a very daring one in advance. Even the title of the film ”A Buck in the Paradise” sounded promising. The film was a hugely popular Danish sex comedy from the early 60s. The naughtiest bit in this crummy dud was the bald head of one of the male characters. It was the only movie I walked out of, in addition to the Japanese rubber Godzilla.

Nice people, after all

Gradually, I became acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Hovilainen. Oh yes, they knew me, as I had been constantly visiting the ticket counter.  Both turned out to be very nice people. The goings on had calmed down a lot and the auditorium was no longer filled to the capacity except in some exceptional cases. From time to time I stayed to talk with Mr. Hovilainen about movies. He knew a lot about films and cinema, of course, and told me many funny anecdotes of the various stages in the history of Kino Tapiola. I politely asked if he knew about his nickname. Kinosaur scratched his bald dome and laughed kindly.

The Fall

When my studies at the University of Helsinki began in the mid-1970s, my visits to Kino Tapiola became less frequent. The Hovilainen family gave up the theatre in 1977. Adams Film bought the venue and ruined the well-tried concept by showing the same boring novelty film for several weeks in a row. After all, Tapiola had not a big enough population pool, when the capital city, Helsinki, and its dozens of cinemas were only a twenty-minute bus ride away.  In addition, many of the new films we had already seen before they reached Tapiola.

Other cinemas exist…

Although I didn’t visit Kino Tapiola that much anymore, my film hobby continued with the same intensity as before. There was a mighty cinema concentration near the University and my membership in the Finnish Film Archives guaranteed rich and high-quality offerings. As my history studies slipped downhill, I made more and more use of the Archive’s services. Three films in one evening was by no means unusual. I had a cushion in my leather shoulder bag ready to be slipped under my bum. Six hours of Sergei Eisenstein in one night on Kino Joukola’s hard benches required a little extra cushioning… I got long glances as I dug the pillow out of my bag. While the other viewers were fidgeting with numbing buttocks, I was able to focus on Eisenstein’s high art with ease.

A blockbuster for four people

Until the end of 2010, my mother lived alone in our family’s old apartment on Menninkäisentie next to Kino Tapiola. After getting a driver’s license and a reliable car, we visited her a couple of times per month. Kino Tapiola was once spoken about at the dinner table in the 90s. My mother said she rarely went there to watch movies as there were so many interesting series on TV.

Hey, but now we could all go to the movies! It was an early Saturday afternoon. We looked for a theatrical announcement in Länsiväylä magazine. In half an hour, a new episode of the Star Wars saga,”The return of the Jedi”, would begin. My mother didn’t want to go.  So the rest of us walked those 223 steps to Kino Tapiola. We thought we were there at the wrong time. No, the time was right, the show was about to start. When we stepped into the dimly lit auditorium no one else was there, only the four of us. Suddenly, the lights went out and the film began. This blockbuster, which had attracted millions of viewers worldwide, received a slightly smaller but very enthusiastic and grateful audience in Tapiola.

The Resurrection

Kino Tapiola got into the same downward spiral with lots of other movie theaters trying to compete with dozens of TV channels, DVD and Blu Ray devices at every home, and, last but not least, streaming services. The theatre also needed a complete renovation as well as a state-of-the-art screening and audio technology. In the early 21st century, there was a clear writing on the wall that Kino Tapiola – which had been shut down for lengthy periods of time – would close its doors once and for all. In honour of my friends living in Tapiola, it must be said that the events that preceded what looked like the end of Kino Tapiola took a different turn. At the turn of the decade, the local people’s movement saved the theatre and the entire block from destruction. Long live Kino Tapiola!

Kino Tapiola and Mäntytorni. Espoon kaupunginmuseo


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