Tonight’s the night. You’re at the mirror trimming your moustache, you’re pressing your shirt and fastening your crimson suspenders to your long johns, you scold your maid for next to no reason, you’re unwrapping the feathered hat you had delivered that morning. You’re looking sharp and you’ve got the urge to absorb some hard culture. What else could you be preparing for other than hour and a half of stationary yet exhilarating pleasure at your local cinema?
Genesis cinema in Bethnal Green have recently unveiled a refurbished little chunk of their establishment to the public. I was invited along to their debut screening, Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place. I choose my words carefully when describing the evening. I’ll make it immediately clear that has nothing to do with Genesis itself, the hors d’oeuvres were banging and the new screening room is very nicely laid out. The film sadly was neither.
Regardless of my grievances with Sean Penn, the evening did get me thinking. Venues like Genesis are places I can’t imagine being without as a film enthusiast. You don’t have to be a scholar of the screen to know that some of the greatest art put to celluloid doesn’t hit the multiplexes and there is still a huge community of people who appreciate alternative genres of cinema.
Teeny-weeny independent theatres are places for the more refined, or rather the more cerebrally considered pictures (forgive my elitism but it’s largely true) that require more of a gent than just eyes and ears. They provide film lovers with an environment in which they can appreciate their beloved art in the kind of setting they feel is right.
Simple considerations such as no eating policies and genuinely comfortable seating give you a sense that you’re in a place that takes this stuff seriously. Though admittedly you tend to share rooms with people who take it a little too seriously. Like the beret-wearing twat I keep seeing who insists on stroking his bearded little chin and audibly overanalysing the mise-en-scène in German expressionist films.
Independent and art house cinemas around the country are a podium for the talented and inspired filmmakers not only from the British industry but World Cinema that could be all too easy to overlook. That’s by no means to exclude independent theatres that showcase the mainstream, in this instance atmosphere and heritage are a pleasure unrelated to what you’re watching. It’d be a shame to think that these places no longer existed and our only option was to watch SexyGunCar5 amongst awkward teen couples and families dragging their unsightly offspring to see the latest animated heart warmer. But the people of London have a noble plan. Already projects are in motion to restore independent theatres across the city.
Luckily there are plans in place to restore venues around London that consider all of the above as essential parts of a film lover’s experience. One of the most notable would be the restoration of the Regent Street cinema, a venue dubbed the ‘Birthplace of British Cinema’, their website offers a virtual tour of the planned restorations and information on how you can be a part of this ambitious and noble project. Another site that has received a phenomenal public response is the Walthamstow Cinema Trust. A building of true heritage that began as a beautifully designed art deco music hall, then converted to one of the Granada chain’s ‘Super Cinemas’ in 1903. Rumour even tells that the venue was a regular haunt of Alfred Hitchcock.
To lay it down, everyone worth looking at or talking to has had a love affair with cinema for as long as it’s been around. If you’re one of those people, you owe your bestowed passion to those who’ve made film’s grand escapism available to you. Get involved.