Being an avid cinemagoer and living in London, I feel particularly spoilt for choice in regards to the diverse range of films available, although cinemas in the West End aren’t really the cheapest places to go if you want to see something (I paid £24 for two tickets recently). I love the Ritzy in Brixton and one of my fondest cinema memories is strolling out of there on a cool, summers afternoon a couple of years ago, having watched a re-release of Antonioni’s The Passenger.
Although I’ve visited what could probably be considered an unhealthy amount of both commercial and independent cinemas in both in London and elsewhere, my all-time favourite is still the The Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. Situated deep in the middle of a deprived housing area, home to both a large student and Asian community, the Picture House is truly a hidden gem. It’s a place I visited often during my student years and beyond, taking in some amazing pieces of cinema and genuine classics along the way (Far from Heaven, Morvern Caller, Mulholland Drive, Battle Royale, Y tu mamá también, Memento, Amores Perros.)
Built in the early 1900s, the cinema’s old, murky Edwardian décor, complete with a piano, organ and gas lighting, really provided a unique viewing experience. I mean, how many times could you actually claim to have watched a David Lynch film while sat in a building, the interior of which could have sprung from his own fertile imagination. There were times when I half expected to walk into a screening and instead be greeted to a strobing light and a backwards-talking dwarf stepping out from the cinema’s ancient crimson velvet curtains. This was by no means a luxurious place to watch a film however. A small, cramped counter housed both the snack bar and box office, ensuring chaos on busy evenings, and a packet of wet-wipes were always on hand in the men’s toilet as the taps didn’t work. A security guard was even employed during screening times as the cinema had experienced more than its fair share of robberies.
One of the many reasons why I love film is the notion of escaping your normal, drab surroundings for a couple of hours and being immersed in a world completed removed from your own. The Hyde Park Picture House best exemplified this for me. Whether having the opportunity to hang with a bunch of young, rebellious Californian skaters (Dogtown & Z-Boys), or observe two thirtysomethings wondering around the left-bank in Paris, rekindling a brief romance from the past (Before Sunset), the Hyde Park offered escapism in an area where it was much needed, enhancing the whole cinematic experience in the process. Just don’t get me started on how cheap the price of tickets was!