Loving The Movies

London, The Arts


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’.

6 comments on “Loving The Movies”

  1. glasgow1975 says:

    perhaps credits could appear on a website, the address of which appears on screen after the ‘main’ credits?

  2. Helen Martin says:

    That might work, Glasgow, especially since it’s the only way you can really find out who that guy was in the hotel bar – didn’t he look a lot like…? Yes, the credits run too fast. Now that several companies join up to make films and jurisdictions provide grants to encourage filming there are big chunks devoted to their logos which also adds to the length of the credits. I usually stay for the credits in the hope that I’ll see something of interest beyond the “ICU Location Catering” and the insurance firm.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    That “loving” usage gives me a Big Mac shiver.

  4. John says:

    I think these endless credits are a waste of money and idiotic to boot. Isn’t there a credit for credit design now? It’s almost like a very long advertisemnt for movie production services in some of these epic credit sequences. Craft service gets a credit. Why? The guys and gals who drive the actors to the studio or location site have credits. Seriously? Even the poor sap who is in charge of the portable toilet/make-up rooms gets a credit on location films. He’s called the Honeywagon Driver. Inane.

    As for disappearing movie palaces I miss them an awful lot. We still have the old Chicago Theater and the Music Box. The others have either been torn down or are so extensively rehabbed on the inside, nearly all their former glamor scrubbed away or obliterated, so that only the outer facades of few give a hint at their real age. We’re still waiting for some billionaire patron of the arts to rescue/restore/reopen the beloved and historic Uptown Theater. Go here for some astounding facts about this criminally neglected architectural wonder in American theaters.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I had hoped that the Uptown was being worked on. Obviously I was misinformed.The Orpheum in Vancouver was redone a few years ago when the symphony moved back into it . All the early glitz is still there and the huge mural, centred with a massive chandelier on the ceiling, too. It is a dual purpose theatre but films aren’t shown there because it is thought to be too big. They built a large entry hall onto it, though, so people can drift around being seen during the interval. I usually come in through the old entrance and regularly get lost.

  6. paul stephenson says:

    Australia is not always noted for its culture (only found in yoghurts etc!) but we are blessed with some wonderful old-style cinemas here in Perth. in fact the Luna group has four fiercely independent movie theatres and three of them would rank right up there with any others round the world. they even do outside films in the summer ( ie now) in the courtyard-like a drivein without the cars.
    But the highlight over here is the Cgygnet (near the Swan river geddit). a pink art deco delight that still has reels of tickets, all the old fixtures and fittings and retor shows with organ every month. have a look at the website and you’ll want to come down under just for that.

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