In 1999 there were 550 cinemas in England. In 1944 there were 4,036, and they could seat a tenth of the population in one sitting. Manchester alone had 122 cinemas.
In the 1970s, in a widespread attack of what can only be described as criminal damage, a great many of these elegant art deco buildings were destroyed and replaced with cheapjack office blocks. Now English Heritage is trying to list those that remain. I grew up in such vast baroque palaces.
As the race heats up for the Oscars, it looks as if the empty, grandstanding ’The Master’ will win beside ‘Argo’ and ‘Les Miserables’. But there’s one aspect of the British Academy Awards in which I revel, and that’s spending time at screenings in the beautiful BAFTA building, with its elegant rooms, welcoming staff and superb screen. I stroll down there in the evenings, catch the movie and then grab dim sum in Chinatown, and it makes me never want to watch a TV screen again.
There’s only one snag; it also spoils you for ever seeing a film anywhere else in London. Going to the Imax and finding yourself sandwiched between a bloke eating a pizza and two girls chatting about hair colour while you’re trying to concentrate on watching a film becomes impossible.
The Homes of Film-Lovers
London once had lots of dedicated independent cinemas where audiences actually knew what they were going to see; the beloved and much-missed Academy screens in Oxford Street, with their beatniky hand-made wood-cut posters, the Biograph in Victoria, a pick-up joint for lonely bachelors that happened to run the best double-bills in town, and even railway station cinemas that ran cartoons and Pathe newsreels showing Princess Margaret opening smelting plants and the Dagenham Girl Pipers – they were all worth visiting.
The NFT is still excellent, but I missed the neon-fountained Studios 6 and 7, Oxford Street, and the legendary censor-baiting Scala, which is commemorated each year with a festival of cult movies in its honour. However, the thought of a mall multi-screen without a projectionist or ushers in the room, just gangs of bored teens, ceases to have any appeal.
Credit Where It’s Due?
The only downside of BAFTA is the house rule of waiting until all the credits have finished before rising (many of those credited are often in the room, so it’s considered disrespectful) especially as credits now sometimes run to 12 minutes or longer.
Why should the second unit van hire co-ordinator get a credit at all? Shouldn’t all the credits of those not directly involved in the film be dropped? They work for companies – surely it’s enough to feature the company name. When you buy a diamond ring, the kid who sweeps the floor under the lathe upon which it was turned isn’t listed as ‘broom technician’ on your invoice.
I have credits on a few films, when all I did was give a little free advice. Did I need them? Not really – they were offered out of politeness. Having watched the scroll of about a million names on The Hobbit I’m no wiser than before about who did what. The names hurtle past too fast to read anyway. It would be great to go back to the days when the titles of the key workers involved appeared, and make sure that everyone else got paid a little better, instead of having a producer say ‘I’ll give you a credit’.
One thing I know; I’ll always love filmed stories, which is why I’ve written about the experience in the upcoming ‘Film Freak’.