East v West – Two new London cinemas
This week we welcome two new cinemas to the city, the deluxe Aubin in Shoreditch and the down ’n’ dirty Portobello Pop-Up in Notting Hill. Dave Calhoun checks out two very different alternatives to the multiplex
In the east: The Aubin CinemaFind me a fleapit cinema in London, and I’ll find you a bag of money as a reward. They don’t exist. They’re gone. For whatever reason – property prices, the rise of home entertainment, increasing disposable income, soaring expectations – the days of cinemas with sticky carpets, crackling prints and tramps sleeping in the corners have disappeared. Even the multiplexes are embarrassed to be ordinary. Just look at the new Vue Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush, which has recently been muscling in on the ‘boutique’ action by offering small, luxury screens where tickets are almost double the normal price. Regulars at the Screen on the Green in Islington will be aware of the trend: since the Everyman Media Group took over the cinema in 2008 and renamed it the Everyman Screen on the Green, they’ve slashed the number of seats, upped the prices and comfort and opted for middlebrow programming. Thank God they kept the old neon sign.The latest addition to the boutique scene is The Aubin Cinema in Shoreditch. Run by the Soho House Group, which has operated the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road since 2004, the Aubin has just 46 seats, many of them plush, two-seater affairs, and is nestled in a basement beneath the Aubin & Wills clothes shop on Redchurch Street. There’s a members’ club vibe to the place, which is unsurprising since part of its function is to serve the cardholders at nearby private members’ club Shoreditch House, which, unlike its Soho cousin, is without a screening room. Everybody’s welcome, though, and ticket prices are top-end but not extortionate: solo seats are £13 and sofas are £28 from Tuesday to Sunday, with £2 extra for 3D screenings.
The plush interior of the Aubin Cinema in East LondonOf course, you’re paying for the surroundings as much as the films. The screening room is an intimate affair, with each seat or sofa equipped with a blanket, just in case the aircon gets too frisky, and the small bar area is attractively downbeat, looking more like a corner of a warehouse conversion than a typical concession.And the programming? At the moment, the film choice is remarkably similar to the Rich Mix Cinema on Bethnal Green Road, just a few hundred metres from the Aubin. In recent weeks, both have been showing ‘Tetro’, ‘Whatever Works’ and ‘Shrek Forever After’. The difference is the price – Rich Mix charges £8.50 a ticket, compared to £14 for half an Aubin sofa.So the challenge to filmgoers is simple: are you prepared to pay£5.50 extra for a comfier seat, a better-designed screening room and a feeling that you couldn’t be further from the fleapit cinema of old if you tried ? The choice, as they say, is yours.
The Aubin Cinema is open now.
See our listings for films and times.
And in the west: the Portobello Pop-up CinemaWe arrive at the Portobello Pop-Up Cinema – five minutes’ walk from Ladbroke Grove tube, where Portobello Road meets the Westway – to find the filmmaker Barney Platts-Mills, director of ‘Bronco Bullfrog’, standing, smoking a cigarette, on a patch of freshly laid concrete under the flyover. The pillars around him are all covered in graffiti. Behind him, a tube train rushes past a few metres from where, in a few days’ time, there will be a cinema screen and, hopefully, a wall to block out most of the sound. Some old cinema seats, bought off eBay, are en route, along with an ice-cream van to sell food and drink and some beanbags to accommodate those not quick enough to grab a chair. Today, this place looks like a building site. This weekend, it will be London’s latest cinema.The Portobello Pop-Up Cinema as it looked three weeks before openingIf ever there was an anti-boutique cinema, this is it. Here, the exclusive, the new and the comfortable are much less valued than the unusual, the unifying and the accessible. When the Portobello Pop-Up opens on Friday July 9, it will invite a donation of £4 from each punter, although its aim is to welcome all the community, so no one will be excluded, even if project director Tim Burke (pictured left, with Platts-Mills), who recently organised Mick Jones’s Rock & Roll Public Library, admits he will need some good security to filter out troublemakers.Platts-Mills is one of the project’s imaginative and relaxed organisers. He laughs nervously at the mention of the opening date, which is doubly amusing considering that the inaugural film is his own 1969 teens-on-the-lam flick ‘Bronco Bullfrog’, followed the next night by Bruce Robinson’s ‘Withnail and I’. Burke explains the programming will be eclectic and collaborative: he hopes to invite organisations like Amnesty and the human rights organisation PEN to show work and bring along their own networks of people. There will be themed seasons. The theme in August will be ‘Summer of Love’, with screenings planned of ‘Mamma Mia!’, ‘Cinema Paradiso’ and ‘Breathless’, while in September there will be free screenings hosted by the Portobello Film Festival and films on the theme of Dystopia, with ‘Stalker’, ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Escape from New York’ all planned. There will be nights in association with local organisations such as the nearby film bookshop Cinephilia West, production company Latimer Films and documentary collective RiceNPeas, and the first few weeks will see screenings of classics like ‘Performance’ and ‘The Harder They Come’.Burke, ready for action in blue overalls and hurriedly signing cheques for builders, is calm about the preparations. ‘We might not be fully ready by July 9, but we’ll show Barney’s film whatever,’ he assures me. He points out some chalk markings on the ground where the projector will be housed in a shipping container and explains that, courtesy of the Westway Development Trust, he’s got control of this space for two years. For now, the Portobello Pop-Up will only be open in the summer, but Burke’s attitude is to wait and see: there’s no reason, he says, why they can’t install heaters and insulation and keep it going all year. Watch this space, we say, and watch our listings for a film programme that’s bound to chop and change as this unique and welcome cinema find its audience and its feet.The Portobello Pop-Up opens – hopefully! – on July 9. See listings for films and times.
Author: Dave Calhoun
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