Cult of the Cinema’s Favourite Picture Palaces Part 1

Places where I like to spend my time watching films… at the Cinema…

When I am asked where the best place to watch any movie I always reply ‘……. well the Cinema, of course !…..’ and this is where I will begin my piece on the glories of going to the picture house, listing my favourite cinemas over the years that I have been going to, watching films in these hallowed emporiums of celluloid delights and enjoying the whole cinema going experience. I have been to many cinemas in my forty plus years of going to these hallowed temples of cinematic worship. I have watched films in some of the nicest and also some of the not so nice, urine smelling cinemas in London and beyond. I am no snob, if the blessed picture house is showing the film I want to see then I am there, wether it is the bastion of film preservation, the NFT or a wee smelling Odeon in North London (sorry Odeon) then you will see me there.

I have mentioned that the first film I remember seeing at the cinema was Live And Let Die (1973) at the Granada Cinema, Tooting Broadway, when I was wee five-year old. I was taken to an 8pm performance by my Uncle John and an entourage and it was a great nights entertainment, one, because I was out late and two because I was at the cinema, so yes, cinema was my life blood. My father was a cinema lover too, watching many Egyptian films starring one of his favourite actors, Adel Emam and many Charles Bronson films too amongst others. He was also had a huge film poster collection too, but I never got to see them as my grandmother had thrown them all out. What a shame. If only I had those now. His love for the cinema was passed to me and with that a continuing journey through the corridors of the cinematic world which I love to this day.

So to these places called cinemas. These are buildings who’s sole purpose is to entertain, wether a repertory cinema, independent or the high sprawling multiplexes, these are places where people gather to sit through two hours of visual stimulation, then to leave either happy or disappointed with what they have just watched on the big screen. For me, if a film is created for the cinema screen, no matter how bad, it should be seen there and any chance I have to catch an older film which I could not have seen at the time and watch it in rep, is good enough for me. I have only walked to of three films in my whole life, one was When The North Wind Blows (1974) as my mum was ill and we all had to leave. Next was Crash (1997) which my then girlfriend found an uncomfortable watch so we left and finally Fakers (2004) which was a very bad film with a good cast, but bored me silly and I am not easily bored by a film. Overall, not bad I would say; But I am diverting from the point of my story, which is to exhault the virtues of some of my favourite cinemas, from the beautiful to the flea pits these are some of my the haunts where you would of found me in the dark, anytime of the day and or night.

Lumiere Cinema, St Martins Lane, London

The Lumiere was a beautiful, old fashioned cinema, with a fantastic marble stairs which led you down into a lovely cinema screen with many rows of plush, comfortable seats which had great leg room and was never full of patrons. It was heaven for any cineaste and it was such a pleasure to go to this picture palace. Sadly it closed it’s doors on 7th June 1997.

The Lumiere Cinema

The Granada Cinema, Tooting Broadway

The Granada was a grandiose building, opened 1931 which was one of the landmark cinemas in London. i was fortunate enough to be living one street away from the building, so I was forever wakling up and down the marble steps of the cinema and I did watch one go my first films there too. The cinema closed at the beginning of 1974, re-opening as a bingo hall in 1976.

The Granada Cinema

The National Film Theatre Screen 1 (NFT1), Southbank, Waterloo, London

The National Film Theatre Screen 1, or its more modern title the NFT 1 is a fantastic screen to watch the very best that cinema has to offer, both past and present. I have sat in that screen so many times, wether retrospectives, premiers, the London Film Festival, or a new/limited release feature, this screen has so many memories. I have witnessed interviews with actors, directors, writers and soundtrack composers. I have talked to film fans about what we have just seen and more importantly soaked the atmosphere of just being in the hub of British film, the BFI!

NFT1 Southbank

The Scala Cinema, Kings Cross, London

The Scala was the go too cinema if you wanted to see any film from mondo documentaries, to the Mad Max movies, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre thrown in. Not forgetting the Russ Meyer triple-bills that were screened every other Saturday and you get the whole idea of what they repertory cinema was all about. I saw my first screening of The Exorcist there in c.1990 and to this day have never forgotten it. The cinema closed down in 1993 after losing a court battle with director Stanley Kubrick.

The Scala Cinema

Genesis Cinema, Mile End, London

The Genesis cinema is a place I can call ‘home’ which means a lot to me. The staff and owners love and respect the art of film in everything that they do. They make the cinema going experience enjoyable, with no pretence or snobbery. The cinema itself has been operating as an independent venue since 1997 and has been a vital resource for the local community for years. During the CoVid pandemic, I ventured to this cinema on many occasions, being one of the first venues to open up, which was cool for me as I had not been to this cinema for so, so many years I am so glad that I have re-connected with it.

Genesis Cinema

ABC Piccadilly, London

The ABC Piccadilly had been under several owners, including Cannon, it was a two screened venue and showed a myriad of foreign language films, cult films and many independent American movies. I saw many Abel Ferrara films there on their initial releases and a couple of Jackie Chan films. It was good value for money, always had a great selection of films and a set of stairs so steep you were afraid you were going to break your neck going down them! The cinema closed in 8th July 2001.

ABC Piccadilly

The Leicester Square Odeon, London

The granddaddy of the London cinema scene, this one huge screen cinema was the mecca of film going to me. Many a Star Wars film was shown there, with movies diverse as Slipstream (1987), various James Bond films and premiers upon premiers, it still stands as a landmark cinema building. Though now not the biggest screen in London, it still has the history and style befitting an aged matriarch. I have always loved this cinema, it was a go to with my father, who would drive to the West End to take us to the movies and we would end up at this cinema so many, many times.

Leicester Square Odeon

ABC / Odeon Panton Street

In terms of variety of films shown, the Panton Street cinema has shown so many films from around the world, wether run by the ABC chain or Odeon, the five screened cinema has always been a great place to watch these films which never really got a main stream release, but here they were always watched and highly appreciated. I could not begin to list all the films I have watched at this cinema so far, but I might have a crack at listing them one day.

ABC Panton Street

The Metro, Rupert Street

The Metro was a nice little cinema, tucked off Leicester Square and offered a selection of European films, cult classics and smaller new releases which made this a cool little divergent cinema in central London. I remember going to a six film Italian exploitation movie showcase there, curated by a group of DJ’s who happened to like Eurocult movies as well as watching more obscure French, Spanish and German feature films. A sad lose when it closed down.

The Metro, Rupert Street

Cineworld Haymarket

I have been going to this cinema for over 30 years and this is where I joined the @cineworld membership scheme way back in December 2002. It is a lovely old cinema, with three screens, a main large screen with great seating in varying levels and two smaller screen in the bowels of the building which were like a mini maze getting to them. I always wondered why they never seemed to open the upstairs bar just before you go into Screen 1, but that added to the novelty of the cinema itself. It is now owned by the Empire chain of cinemas.

Cineworld Haymarket

Curzon Soho Cinema

Much like the Odeon Leicester Square, this grandame of the London cinema scene is a wonderful place to see an electric mix of world cinema and some smaller film offerings, with the respect that is bestowed to everything this cinema screens. The ticket prices have increased so much at they venue, but it is still one of my favourite haunts and hopefully will remain so

Curzon Soho, Shaftsbury Avenue

The Mayfair, Tooting

This was another cinema in the area I grew up in that I regularly frequented as a kid. I remember watching Sinbad And the Eye Of The Tiger (1977) and The Amazing Spider Man (1977) as a double bill on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Way back in 1978 I pestered my father to try and get me in to see The Wild Geese (1978) but being a AA certificate and the fact I was only ten years old, may father could not get me in, so I had to wait till 1982 to watch it on television (back the it was a four year window for most films to arrive on UK television) Sadly the cinema closed on 13th January 1979. I had many fond memories of that cinema.

The Mayfair Cinema (ABC), Tooting

The Empire Cinema, Leicester Square

The Empire is probably one of the most famous cinemas in central London. Currently boasting six screens, I remember way back in the 1980’s it had three screens, one of the earliest examples of a multi screened cinema complex. My favourite screen is Screen 6, which has only three rows for that really intimate feel, which I love, especially if you are the only one in there.

The Empire Cinema, Leicester Square

The above picture palaces are a tip of the iceberg of cinemas I have visited over the years as a a film watcher. There are many more I could add, though I suspect that I will write a few more episodes of this particular blog post as I have yet to add a few picture houses I have visited outside London and abroad. to me this is just a personal trip through my favourite past time and hopefully that by reading this post, you might remember the cinemas you visited as a youngster and even now you might visit some of the ones mentioned here, if only to marvel at the beauty of what the cinema is all about. Thank you for reading…..

…. the best place to watch any movie…. the Cinema

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