Brass Monkeys IV: Inside The Dream Land



Some years ago writer Nicholas Royle edited a collection of writers’ dreams – ‘The Tiger Garden’ , and I wrote about my recurring dream, in which I enter a baroque cinema and sit down in the auditorium, but never get to see the film being played.

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At the abandoned mining town of Pyramiden, we reach a collection of communist blocks arranged around an eerily preserved Sovietski Soyuz community centre, which has a large cinema. Hundreds of reels of unexplored film are lying around in the projection booth – who knows what forgotten prints are here? We’re at 78 degrees N, and there’s really not much further you can go.

There’s an indoor basketball court and a ballroom. The colours are gaudy, reds, yellows and golds, no doubt to fight the long arctic nights. I’ve arrived at this surreal spot in almost perpetual daylight. Here Soviet couples raised children and lived communally until an accident killed over 160 souls and the town was abandoned.


The most northern cinema in the world is still hung with red velvet curtains and frozen flower arrangements. It’s something from my recurring dream that feels exorcised by the visit. The interior is unlit, so I don’t take ugly flash shots that will spoil it – it must remain in my dreams.


Our guard waits with his rifle while we explore. There’s a derelict hotel, the Tulip, where you can actually stay overnight. Its interior immaculate and unchanged, recalls the Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel from ‘The Shining’. Going outside brings a risk of encountering polar bears, though, so it’s best to remain at the bar and drink vodka.


8 comments on “Brass Monkeys IV: Inside The Dream Land”

  1. Roger says:

    “who knows what forgotten prints are here? We’re at 78 degrees N, and there’s really not much further you can go.” – and it’s the temperature where celluloid film survives.

    “There’s a derelict hotel, the Tulip, where you can actually stay overnight.”
    You mean it’s still open?

  2. davem says:

    Your trip is almost surreal

  3. Chris Webb says:

    I am always amazed at some of the things the Soviet Union did. The dream was impractical and moribund and the whole Communist world was built on sand, but obviously many people had ideals and faith and believed they were creating a perfect new world. It’s not surprising that older Russians still feel a nostalgia for the Soviet days. It’s impossible to imagine any western country building something like the places in your photos in similar circumstances. The Finance Director would go ballistic.

    Unfortunately Russia and the Russian Empire had only ever known autocracy, and did not understand any other way of governing or being governed. This could only lead to an arguably worse form of autocracy, paranoia and megalomania. You cannot build a new society from scratch: revolutions don’t work.

    I’d like to think that society will gradually evolve to become more egalitarian, but I’m not holding my breath. But hopefully we’ll soon start to see a backlash against Nasty Party politics.

    Is there a pyramid in Pyramiden? 🙂

  4. Roger says:

    It’s in what was called Spitzbergen when I did geography. It was actually founded by Sweden and sold to the USSR later.

  5. SteveB says:

    That’s amazing and totally surreal. Thanks for letting us make a virtual visit! Maybe the last copy of London after Midnight is still in a corner of that cinema in deep freeze

  6. Chris Webb says:

    Did you take any photos of the film reels? Assuming they were labelled I know a tiny bit of Russian and can read Cyrillic so might be able to identify some of them. The strange thing about Russian is that a huge number of words are very similar to the English so it’s usually possible to pick out the gist. For the rest I have got a Russian/English dictionary.

    I’d love it if Battleship Potemkin was in there somewhere. Or maybe it’s all decadent bourgeois Hollywood stuff!

  7. Jo W says:

    At least our usherettes didn’t have guns,only very large torchs,at the local pictures,years ago. You don’t seem to be having too much trouble with wi-fi up there. We’ve been in staying in Worcester for a few days,where the signals are intermittent,to say the least. 🙁

  8. admin says:

    You’re not allowed to take anything away from Pyramiden, understandably. But the projection booth was several feet deep in unspooled films.
    Yes, there is a retro-futurist sort of pyramid there.

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