Tuesday, 2 November 2010

London's best cinema screens

I'm excited by the hype surrounding TRON: Legacy, which is due out Christmas-time. When Tron first came out in 1982, my family lived around the corner from the Odeon Marble Arch. At the time it was probably one of the most impressive screens in London and my friends and I trooped there five times to see Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner whizzing round their ZX tracks.

The Odeon Marble Arch has since been spliced and diced into a multiscreen, like most venerable picture houses, and I've been trying to work out if there are any big screens remaining in London that have survived fairly intact. Chelsea Cinema is perhaps one, the largest of the Curzon screens at 713 seats dating from the early 1980s, though it is part of a much larger cinema that was replaced by King's Road Habitat. (The Gaumont Palace had a capacity of more than 2,500 and the current auditorium is where the old cinema's balcony used to be.)

Curzon Mayfair is my favourite large art-house cinema left in the capital, a Grade II-listed building from the '60s, though even this lost its rear stalls - where I remember watching a glorious reissue of Lawrence of Arabia with my dad - to form a second screen in 2002. Another Grade II-listed cinema is the Electric, on Portobello Road, which opened in 1910 and underwent a thorough, thoroughly bland, refurbishment nearly 10 years ago.

The turn of the last century was a golden age for new cinemas (watch out for these anniversaries): in Brixton, the Ritzy (1911), has had many screens added, but retains much of its charm in the foyer and main auditorium. There's the Rio (1915), Dalston, which is largely unchanged in layout since remodelling in 1937 despite a refurb in 1999. Other contemporaries include Islington's Screen on the Green (1913) and Notting Hill's Gate cinema (1911, though the building whose ground floor it annexed dated from 1861), while the nearby Coronet was converted from a theatre to full-time cinema use in 1923. Hampstead's Everyman is another theatre that became a cinema, in 1933, and another cinema, like the Electric, that has gone the sofa route. (You can sense my displeasure, can't you?)

In Leicester Square, the Empire and Odeon continue to hold their popcorn; on the South Bank there is NFT1, while the BFI Imax is a more recent purpose-built innovation (1999). The main screen in my local Odeon (pictured), in Richmond, still impresses, though the auditorium has been sequestered so you are sitting in the old balcony again, with other screens beneath. The recently refurbished Ciné Lumière, in South Kensington, should be cherished as a rare, single-screen repertory cinema. (As is the Riverside, in Hammersmith, though it's part of an arts complex.)

My most missed screen? That other Lumiere on St Martin's Lane, where I frittered away the best part of teenage holidays, indulging Peter Greenaway, among many others. It couldn't have had a more contrary new life: after lying dormant for many years, in 2006 it was turned into a gym.

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