London’s movie-lovers usually have 81 cinemas to pick from. Fancy mainlining the latest Marvel? The BFI Imax is there for you. Want to soak up a movie at a cosy community cinema? Try The Lexi in Kensal Rise or Rich Mix in Shoreditch. Leicester Square’s Prince Charles Cinema is ready to welcome the sleep-averse for a ‘Lord of the Rings’ marathon or ‘Fight Club’ in 35mm. If the cinema is a piece of cake, as Alfred Hitchcock said, London is a whacking great ‘GBBO’ showstopper.
At least, it was. The decision to push the new James Bond movie, ‘No Time to Die’, to 2021 is another body blow for the city’s hitherto vibrant cinema scene. Cineworld and Picturehouse have already closed temporarily. Some Odeon cinemas are going weekends-only.
There are still good films being released – even some genuinely great ones like ‘Saint Maud’ and ‘Rocks’ – but are there enough to keep cinemas viable? John Reiss, chairman of Peckhamplex, which reopened in August, thinks not. ‘When audiences for “Tenet” dwindled, we closed again to preserve resources until the expected Bond release,’ he says. With Bond now gone, Peckhamplex is shuttered again.
It’s a similar story at Dalston’s Rio. ‘We will stay open for now but if distributors continue to withhold content, we will run out of titles,’ says the cinema’s executive director Oliver Meek. East Finchley’s historic Phoenix Cinema is staying shut in the wake of the Bond news (although it will be returning soon with some special events). ‘It’s a big disappointment,’ says director Jelena Milosavljevic. ‘Distributors and [cinemas] need to support each other.’ At Mile End’s Genesis Cinema ‘No Time to Die’ is jokingly referred to as ‘Show Another Day’.
The natural reaction to all this is to worry for our cinemas, worry for the people who work in them and worry for the future of the medium we all love so much. After all, the city’s cinemas are umbilically linked to our collective love of movies. My biggest buzz recently came watching the Russell Crowe thriller ‘Unhinged’ at the gorgeous (and very safe-feeling) Genesis. The film was forgettable; the sense of reconnecting with the big-screen experience will linger with me for ages.
So what next for London’s cinemas? The hope is that 2021 will bring a deluge of Hollywood movies – and that streaming services won’t have usurped our love for the big-screen experience. Many cinemas are staying open, showing indies, docs, classics and the odd Netflix movie. And with new films from David Fincher, François Ozon and Roy Andersson on the slate, it’s not all doom and gloom. But as Genesis owner Tyrone Walker-Hebborn stresses, cinemas will need our support to get through: ‘It’s crunch time now, so if you feel confident enough to come to a Covid-safe environment, come down, buy a ticket, some popcorn and a drink.’
For those not ready to return yet, there are other ways to lend a hand: buying memberships, gift vouchers and merchandise online. Cinemas have always been there for us. Now’s our chance repay the favour. Besides, it’s Christmas soon and someone in your life needs a pair of Prince Charles Cinema socks.
Looking to support your local cinema? Here’s some easy ways to lend a hand.
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