The Harbour Lights in Southampton
NOTE: This post has been slightly edited owing to some clarification given by Picturehouse’s Vince.
The Guardian had a nice piece over the past week asking to know what people’s favourite cinema was? The majority of it obviously depends on where you live and the number of cinemas near you. A great deal of people in the UK living in rural areas often have little in the way of option but to visit their local Odeon or Cineworld, neither of which represent even remotely nice experiences for the most part.
Where I hail from, in Southampton on England’s south coast, we were never blessed in the most incredible manner but we didn’t do too badly. Not much in the way of independent cinemas, but the mega-multiplex Leisureworld at the bottom of town, replete with hideous nightclubs wedged outside and in, is big enough, and attracts such a particular crowd, that when they would play independent or arthouse films, it was often only cinephiles, budding or otherwise, that would go. The rest of the place would be clogged up with shitty ‘parody’ movies, horror and blockbusters.
The other cinema in the area was the Cineworld at the bottom of town. It went through a large number of different ownerships and incarnations before settling on Cineworld for the past few years. It used to be very close to an arcade of shops on the dockside, but this has been deleted in favour of enormous new flats for the budding white collar industry of the town. For those who don’t know, Southampton has become an incredibly divided city in terms of wealth and class – it essentially breaks down into a town centre surrounded by alternating council estates and luxury developments. Anyway, that cinema, much like most Cineworld outlets, is serviceable but somewhat basic, like the easyJet of cinema chains.
The jewel of the town was the Harbour Lights, a part of the Picturehouse Cinemas group. It’s literally only a few hundred yards from the aforementioned Cineworld, in the development known widely as Ocean Village. It is an absolutely superb cinema and entirely out of sorts within the setting it lies. It shows retrospectives of Hitchcock and various other, mostly British, auteurs and is the go to place for the discerning cinema fan in the city. If you are ever in Southampton, look it up.
Now we’re in London, the choice is significantly wider, but so is the gulf between good and bad.
My favourite cinemas are in their place for quite different reasons. The best multiplex, by some distance, is the pretty excellent Islington Vue. The prices are standard London but they get a really good selection of movies playing in the place and, above all, the leg-room is unbelievable. The tiering of the seats is good enough that you’d need Shaq in front of you to obscure anything, something you don’t get in most multiplex Cineworld or Odeons in the City.
Of the independents, the BFI Southbank is a pretty marvellous little place, most especially given the quality of retrospectives they hold. To provide an example, in the past few months I have seen 2001, Nashville, The Passion of Joan of Arc, 8 1/2, A Bout de Souffle and The 400 Blows, to name but a few, through their retrospectives and one-off screenings. The best moment for that cinema came with watching Brazil when, out of nowhere, out pops Terry Gilliam to introduce the film and answer questions.
Also great is the Everyman Hampstead, one of a chain of luxury cinemas often located conveniently in the range of London’s top celebrity regions. Hampstead is the home to the likes of Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais while the other premiere luxury cinema, the Electric, is in Notting Hill, within quick distance of the Chelsea/Kensington set. The Everyman is pretty great though. It’s one where you sit in sofas or armchairs and, prior to the film starting, can press little buttons on your accompanying table to order drinks or food without moving. Maybe a little too close to the future depicted in Wall-E for some, but pretty great for my money. The place also sometimes has music before proceedings begin, often pleasant-enough acoustica, and the whole thing is solidly sophisticated. Best moment for there? Seeing The Dark Knight while putting away a bottle of wine, undoubtedly influencing the five-star rating that one got given.
Also noteworthy in London are Cineworld’s Haymarket site, a converted theatre in which they have made a geniune effort to create a nice experience, although the leg-room isn’t great. Noteworthy for a completely terrible reason are the West End premiere sites, all of which are grossly overpriced, poorly set out and normally filled with complete divs/loud tourists. One of them, I’m pretty sure its the Vue, fucking stinks. Literally makes your eyes water.
Anyway, those are a few of the most notable for me, what about the rest of you?
Thanks for your nice Harbour Lights comments, but not sure where you got the idea it was “swallowed” by Everyman Group. It’s still very much owned by Picturehouse Cinemas. The only connection between Pictuehouse and Everyman is that Picturehouse programme all of the films that appear at Everyman cinemas. Other than that they are two very seperate companies.