From: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Registered: May 2003
posted June 18, 2010 10:38 AM
The Phoenix cinema in East Finchley, London Photograph: PA
Old cinemas still have to struggle to survive, although they are much better appreciated these days. Most have wisely moved towards the carrot-cake-and-latte world of arthouse audiences, but they still have to compete for limited attention and funds.
This month, the adorable, historic Phoenix cinema in East Finchley, now in its 100th year, has been forced to close its doors. But not in a bad way. It is finally to receive the careful restoration it has always deserved and should be open again in September.
The 13-week closure will allow for £1m of building work to refurbish its Edwardian features and all the art deco flourishes hidden inside. There will be a gala of films and events to celebrate its reopening at the end of the summer.
The cinema has never been short of high-profile patrons because of all the actors and film people who live in north London: Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Michael Palin and Victoria Wood are all fans, but there is something noble about the way this venue has struggled on, first as the Picturedrome, then the Coliseum and then the Rex, somehow avoiding conversion into a bingo hall during the period when the industry lost heart.
In fact, it is this feat of endurance that has given the cinema its best claim to fame: it is the longest-running single-screen cinema in Britain in continuous use, which can easily be subbed down to the phrase "Britain's oldest cinema" without too much sleight of hand.
Many of its rivals for the title across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have had to come up with equally cumbersome justifications for calling themselves the same thing. Any other examples that come to mind would be welcome.
I have had many good evenings at the Phoenix, although it is also the only place I have walked out of a film (Hal Hartley's Amateur, by the way). I spent a great afternoon there once with the sainted veteran of special effects himself Ray Harryhausen, who gave a talk about his stop-motion innovations. I notice that the BFI is about to honour him on his 90th birthday later this month (so he's 10 years younger than the Phoenix).
Andy Serkis, the actor best known for playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, talked to me earlier this year about his fascination with Harryhausen and with the way special effects have developed. He has a plan to make a film that charts the changes in what film-makers can do to their audience. He is also soon to set up his own British special effects centre, to be called The Imaginarium.
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