In conversation with Richard Gray, Chair of Casework for the Cinema Theatre Association (UK).
Dean Conrad: I'm here with Richard Gray from the British CTA. Richard, why cinema and theatre?
Richard Gray: The people who started the CTA [in 1967] liked the sort of big cinemas that had stages, so they were actually "cinema" hyphen "theatres."
DC: Like the Plaza at Stockport?
RG: Like the Plaza, Stockport. Or the Empire, Leicester Square, which had a stage; the State, Kilburn, and so on. And they were less interested in the Odeons, because they were considered too sort of streamlined and Moderne, and so on. And they weren't even particularly interested in the earlies, you know, the picture palace era.
DC: But that interest of the stage--the cine-variety, (1) as it were. Were the early members of the CTA not giving a nod to the America thing? Because a lot of the early American [cinema-]theatres had very impressive stages. Were they in awe of the Americans?
RG: Well, no, it's just that that was the sort of cinema that they had an enthusiasm for. Theatrical type buildings.
DC: The CTA is interested in the architecture and the buildings in which films are and were shown, rather than the films themselves?
DC: And your role in the CTA?
RG: I've been all sorts of things in it. I'm now called Chair of Casework, of I called myself Chair of Casework. Before that I was Chairman of the whole thing. I was Secretary at one point. I've been the Archivist. Anyway, Chair of Casework. I do this explanation when I start off a talk.
RG: It [the CTA] was started by people who had this enthusiasm for this particular building type, and I think it came out the fact that everybody went to see films, and sooner or later you get bored and start looking at the ceiling ...--the atmosphere and the whole thing to do with them. As well as all the people who were involved professionally with them, like projectionists. We've got a lot of projectionists in the CTA. But then if you want to look at them [the buildings] sort of serious[ly], or certainly to take photographs, it's very difficult, because if you start walking down to the front to look back, sooner or later somebody will say, "Can I help you?" Which doesn't mean "Can I help you?" It actually means "What the hell are you doing?" "Why don't you just come in, look at the film and then go?" But that's how it started really.
RG: It started on Sunday afternoons. I suppose one of the reasons I joined it was because Sunday afternoons are boring!
DC: In the old days, when you weren't allowed to do anything?
RG: Well, when there were no shops open, or....
DC: Like the Tony Hancock episode. (2)
RG: Yes. Exactly. There were less disruptions on the Underground and so on.
Anyway, so it started from people just going on these tours. Then you end up doing a newsletter. Then you've got people writing articles about cinemas. And then I thought: I don't want to know about another demolished cinema, or to go to one and say, "Oh dear, it's being demolished next week." I wanted to DO something about it. Because you can. You see. And also because my working life's involved in historic buildings. So I made myself a bloody nuisance, ringing people up. All sorts of people. You got to do something: you've got to list it, you've got to preserve it; it's terrible, we can't let this go. And the trouble is, you see, you've got, you had, this prejudice or lack of interest in both directions. Because you found that the general public just took cinemas completely for granted, they didn't take them on board as historic buildings. The profession of architectural historians didn't think they were architecture a t all. People in the film business weren't interested. Or [thought they were] a nuisance because they were beginning to be aged buildings and too big, and so on. This was thirty or forty years ago.
DC: Too expensive to maintain?
DC: Too expensive to heat?
RG: Yeah. So I started the casework function, you see.
DC: So why do you think the architectural profession wasn't interested?
RG: Prejudice. Because there's always been a prejudice in favor of the very old, you know? I mean, I was the younger generation. You'd got these older people. People are never interested in buildings that were built in their own lifetime. So, you know, people were only just about getting used to Victorian buildings--the history of saving, I mean. You've got all sorts of terrible things like Euston Arch coming down in the 1960s, so what's an old cinema? Euston Arch was built in the 1830s, so why am I banging on about a cinema built in the 1930s? I just thought that they were something.
DC: Something worth saving?
RG: They were worth saving. Not all of them. But the best of them. We've got to do something.
DC: Now that "something" for you is what? Was what?
RG: Well, they're of architectural and decorative quality. Either externally--like the Odeons were built with fantastic exteriors, a lot of them. Most cinema architecture is about the interiors.
DC: So what makes them any different from, say, a Frank Matcham (3) legitimate theatre? Are they distinct from that?
DC: Just a continuation?
RG: Just a continuation. Yes. Because, I mean the older generation to me, they were concerned about the Victorian theatres going. You see, there was a terrible period when variety finally died, after the Second World War, in the 1950s, when theatres came down-donk, donk, donk--one after another.
DC: And got replaced by cinemas!
RG: Or turned into. They were either turned into cinemas, although that didn't last long. When ITV started, (2) they turned into television studios.
DC: But that's the point, the Alhambra [London, Leicester Square] was replaced by the Odeon; The Empire [London, Leicester Square] rebuilt as the Empire cinema.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
RG: Oh yes! When the Alhambra came down, I don't know of anybody who was protesting; I think there must have been. I've never looked into the history of protest about the Empire going. That was the most famous variety theatre in the country.
DC: So, that was 1928?
RG: In 1928. But when the Alhambra was threatened ...
DC: In '36, '37?
RG: Mmm, well it [the Odeon] was finished in November 1937. They built it within the year. And the fact that the Alhambra was going in the mid-'30s. Then there were a few murmurings.
DC: Because that was a spectacular building.
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
RG: Yes, I think it was. You know this was thought to be terrible. People were starting to get upset about theatres going. I mean, postwar, in the '50s, the big upheaval was the St. James's Theatre, which went, but you had all sorts of people--[Laurence] Olivier--and you started getting big-name actors getting very concerned about theatres going.
DC: The legitimate theatres?
RG: Yes, about these legitimate theatres going.
DC: I was just playing devil's advocate slightly in saying that the cinema had its role in getting rid of those old theatres.
RG: Oh, well yes. A lot of people were anti-cinema. You know: "I prefer my entertainment live." Because between the wars, theatre after theatre went over to film.
DC: So your casework remit, that links to your work with English Heritage, does it?
RG: What I did with English Heritage until I left in the late '90s was nothing to do with cinemas. I left and then a year or so after, I did this survey, what they call their "thematic surveys"--so I was paid by them to go back as a consultant and then recommend cinemas for listing. And then it went through a sort of grandiose committee, of the great and the good, and then we got fortysomething extra listings and upgradings. (3)
DC: Now the listings: there are categories.
RG: It's One, Two-star, and Two. Two-star is considered more special than Two.
DC: There's also A, B, C, D.
RG: That's in Scotland. There's A, B and C with an "s" in brackets behind it, which just stands for "statutory."
DC: So what were the early successes of the CTA? You said your role was to "do something" about it, not just moan about stuff being pulled down.
RG: Well, it's quite difficult to point at what was a success really now. I suppose one was the Odeon, Muswell Hill. Because that wasn't listed. And the Grosvenor, Rayners Lane, which became an Odeon. And I remember saying to somebody in their office in English Heritage, that building--the Odeon, Muswell Hill--is better, than that; well, you've got to do that one as well; this one's under threat. The Odeon, Muswell Hill was under threat at one point. Because I was within the organization, I could occasionally go and make a fuss in somebody's office--until they listed something.
DC: And the Odeon, Muswell Hill, was a particularly good example of what? Interior? Exterior? Because it's intact?
RG: Well, it was a very good interior and it's also survived. Its quality of survival is very good. I remember the State, Kilburn was listed in 1980, an awfully long time ago now. And we were very pleased. I remember being there when Michael Heseltine (4) announced that, at some meeting somewhere. It was like a sort of meeting of the Victorian Society, of some sort of conservation group meeting, and he stood up and amongst various things he announced the listing of the State, Kilburn. We all went "wwrraaghhh."
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
DC: So, listing: what does that compare with in the States? Landmarking?
RG: Landmarking. The only thing is, I don't know too much about it there really. It's more powerful, it's got better teeth, here than it does in the States. I think landmarked buildings do get demolished. I don't know about now, going back ten, fifteen or more years you found that a landmarked building could go. But there have been fantastic landmarking successes. The greatest I think was the whole of South Beach, Miami, being listed as one go, and that was largely through the work of a woman called Barbara Capitman. I think she went up to Washington and nagged some senator or something.
DC: All those Deco exteriors?
RG: All those Deco exteriors. The whole lot was going to get bulldozed, and she got something like three hundred buildings listed.
DC: Going back to the theatres. When I think of grand American theatres that have been saved: the Los Angeles, well the whole of that downtown Los Angeles district.
RG: Well, that's a fluke.
DC: A fluke?
RG: That's A-typical, downtown Los Angeles, mainly because the commercial center moved away.
DC: And so they didn't want the plots for putting high-rise on?
RG: Yeah, because in New York, the Paramount went; that became just more offices. The Roxy went in 1960.
DC: Radio City [Music Hall] remained.
RG: Well, yes, that nearly went. Anything that is still there was threatened. But probably the 175th Street--Loew's 175th Street--never was threatened. Whether that's landmarked now or not, I don't know. Whether every good example of movie palace architecture is landmarked now, or not, I don't know.
DC: An example of each style?
RG: Exactly. That I don't know. People in Elmhurst would know that. (5)
DC: Yeah, I think in terms of America when I think of those big theatres: like the Los Angeles, like Radio City Music Hall, like the Paramount at Oakland. Are the British cinemas always in the shadow of these big buildings, or is there something unique and distinct?
RG: The American scale is bigger, because there are a lot of 3,000-seaters--or were, when they were all operating--3,000-seaters, 4,000-seaters. Whereas in this country we had three 4,000-seaters; we didn't have anything at 5,000 seats. So the scale, the amount of money thrown at them in the States was more.
DC: Now those theatres that you mentioned earlier--those of the Granada chain and the Odeon chain--now there's something distinct about the British cinema scene.
RG: The Odeons is one of the most distinctive group of cinemas built by anyone anywhere in the world. They're particularly distinctive because of the external, the high street presence. Because they were designed, a lot of them, there were exceptions, but the best of them--Scarborough, Colwyn Bay, Sutton Coldfield, Harrogate, a whole load of them, Crewe, Blackpool--were all designed to be very noticeable buildings on the high street.
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
DC: So that distinct British thing; I was thinking of the German influence. I'm saying that that really distinct Odeon style came over from Germany. The Universum  and that? So it's interesting to me that the picture palace--or the grand cinema, shall we call it--came over from America, but that really distinct British chain came from the other direction.
RG: Yes, yes.
DC: I wonder why that is. Is it a case of scale?
RG: The Odeons look like they do because I think [Oscar] Deutsch (6) wanted something different. And I think that's the coincidence of when they started--and sound coming in. The difference between silent movies and sound films is [that] the silent films are sort of mysterious, fantasy things. As soon as you got it [sound] the amount of reality was magnified enormously. I think people thought that they wanted a different sort of building. Coupled with the fact that it was the Moderne style--I'm using that word advisedly, rather than the Modern Movement, which was different. The Moderne style, with an "e" on the end of it, was coming into fashion. And the modernity thing started happening from the late '20s. First of all with French Art Deco and then the streamlined [Erich] Mendelsonian style which came in.
[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]
RG: So I think it was just that they wanted something new, you see. Allen [Eyles] has done all the research on this really [see Eyles 2002 and 2005]. He unpicked it all. Weedon Odeon in Birmingham: the first Odeon looking Odeon. The first cinema which looked like an Odeon, but wasn't an Odeon, was the Beacon. 1934, '33 or '34. And they were feeling their way towards a style. Another seminal one was the Odeon at Worthing with the tower. There was nothing in that tower at all.
DC: It literally was a beacon.
[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]
RG: Yes, it was a beacon, literally, Yes.
DC: And then you've got the Regal chain that aped the Odeons.
RG: The ABC?
DC: Allen Eyles in Picture House  had an interesting article on the ones that were aping the Odeons.
RG: Oh, yes. Well, once it had got going. He's got a line in that article about some exhibitor out of London somewhere saying to his architect, "Oh, well, we want something that looks like an Odeon." (7) Because then you've got a graspable style, you knew what you wanted. But while they were feeling their way towards it, I don't know that anybody had a feeling that this was wrong, but they wanted to do something different. They didn't want buildings that were either ornately Italian Renaissance, because that tended to look like a variety theatre or a straight, or legitimate, theatre of some description.
DC: Of the fantastic.
RG: Or the fantasy stuff, which is an Egyptian temple, of a Chinese temple, or a Persian Market, or Albert Ketelbey on legs.
DC: Now that modern style--going back to America for minute--places like Radio City Music Hall got the clean modern lines because, in 1930, you're in the grip of recession and Depression and people didn't and couldn't afford to, and didn't want to, flaunt the money. And so the style was cleaned up.
DC: You don't think that runs at all?
RG: No. It's fashion. It's stylistic fashion.
DC: So the fact that Radio City Music Hall was there at the time that the Odeons were kicking off as well, that's all part of the same style? The zeitgeist?
RG: The zeitgeist. Yes.
DC: So the coincidence that cinema buildings became less ostentatious about the time of the Depression is just that: a coincidence?
RG: Well it might be part of a wider-the style itself may have come out of the Depression, but I think the cinemas were following the style.
DC: Rather than a desire to seem--less over the top?
RG: Yes, yes.
DC: I'm interested in that fancy line. So Finsbury Park Astoria couldn't have been built in the "talkies" period?
RG: Well, of course it opened in 1930, so it did, but it was planned in the silent era.
RG: So what you're saying is what would it have looked like--or any of those--if it had been built five years later? They would have looked like Radio City Music Hall. You see the Spanish atmospheric phase didn't last all that long here. (8) There was far more of it in America. Because Finsbury Park is Spanish, I always think of it as being more successful, whereas Brixton [Astoria] is Italian. But they are the two most successful atmospherics in this country. Tim [Hatcher] and I have sometimes speculated as to whether Eberson had some connection.
DC: John Eberson.
RG: Yes. Because how you design one of those things from looking in a book! The difference between that, between those two atmospherics, and the Tooting Granada--or anything [Theodore] Komisarjevsky did--was the three-dimensionality. (9) You know, you've got the little villages and there is a three-dimension[ality], whereas what Komisarjevsky was doing was applying decoration to walls. It didn't have a totality of plasticity, so to speak. If that isn't too pretentious.
DC: But you mentioned that John Eberson must have had a hand in it because ...
RG: We don't know. He [Tim Hatcher] knows more about this than I do.
DC: Because Eberson was the one who started this off in America, in places like the Majestic at San Antonio. And you said you couldn't just design that place by looking in a book.
RG: No, it was different from what Komisarjevsky did, because he was just taking architectural motifs out of various books and sticking them on the walls. And he did it very well. But it is still what it is. Whereas this, there's almost like a sort of dado level--which is conventional architecture, more of less--but then it goes into scenery.
[FIGURE 7 OMITTED]
DC: With lighting behind that, and then the ceiling with stars.
[FIGURE 8 OMITTED]
RG: The ceiling, all of that, yes.
DC: Projected clouds and the whole thing.
RG: Unless you've experienced that, what were they called? "Landscape theatres." That was before the term "atmospheric" in this country really. I think in Morton Shand's book he disapproves of atmospherics--but he didn't know--he just didn't like what Julian Leathart was doing. (10) Because he'd been a promising architect doing German and continental inspired things and suddenly he'd gone over to what he [Shand] referred to as "landscape kitsch."
DC: And the atmospherics: there is an argument that they came in because they were cheaper to produce than the suspended-plaster, massive, fully-decorated things, but it sounds from your "three-dimensionality" comment that it might not have been the case.
RG: I think in America they were cheaper. Because so much more money was spent on [cinemas]. Here the density of decoration was less ...
DC: In the non-atmospherics?
RG: Yes. So I think here they were comparatively more expensive.
DC: I was interested in your comment, "People are not interested in buildings built in their time." Now, I'm going to leap forward fifty years here to the Point, in Milton Keynes. Now, for our American audience, the Point was the first British multiplex cinema.
DC: Eight screen, I believe. 1985.
RG: Yes, '85.
DC: And it has the appearance of a glass pyramid with an external skeleton--basically. And it's, I have to say, it's a really ugly building. Now, if that were to be listed, what would be the reason for its listing? Because it was the first multiplex?
DC: So it's historical, rather than architectural?
RG: Yes. It's relatively easy to make this historical claim for it, as the multiplexes--I suppose it's rather like saying the first supermarket might be interesting, because its part of--not cultural history--it's part of sort of infrastructure history, or something. It's sociologically important. But architecturally--it's two things really, because it's the actual pyramid, which is just the entrance building, the actual cinema block is tacked on and the two are not integrated in any way, there's a sort of connection between the two. And the pyramid has a bingo--I think it always did have a bingo--it was nightclub originally, but now it's a nightclub in the basement. You climb up, it's sort of on a plinth. The idea was to provide a focal point for Milton Keynes, because also it was the highest point of a very flat place, and it was originally outlined with neon. It wouldn't be easy to get it listed.
DC: Not least because it hasn't reached the thirty-year point. Where things are not usually considered until they're at least thirty years old.
RG: Yes, twenty-six years, it's not old enough. But if something is exceptional then you can get it listed.
DC: You'd be having the same problem with people like me saying it's an ugly building as you would have been having in '67 about buildings built in 1937. Is there a parallel here?
RG: Oh yeah, the younger the building, the more difficult it is to get it listed.
DC: I guess what I'm getting at is--is there something inherently more valid or conservable in the 1937 grand building than there is in the kind of stark architecture of the Point--or is it all just on a continuum?
RG: It's no less stark than a fairly stark Odeon. I mean some of the Keith Roberts Odeons, there's one listed--Luton--he was the only architect, Odeon architect, who really did use the Modern Movement. They're not Moderne buildings.
DC: You mentioned earlier that the remit of the CTA was to rescue things that have architectural and aesthetic value. That was one of the things? That it was important to save a good example of each style, type, use of building. It's important that we have one of each, at least, left. Is that where the Point fits in? Or is it just because it's the first?
RG: It's the first. I mean, I'm keen on it because it was the first one. I think it is sociologically interesting from that point of view--and I also think it's quite a good building. You know and a fair amount of thought went into it, and it's not a piece of Postmodernism. The late-'80s was the period of Postmodernism, which was that Noddy Toy Town style. That was pretty awful. And the second [multiplex] was the Salford Quays, but that was a sort of symmetrically inspired, Postmodern building, which by comparison I don't think is in the same class. Anyway, it's the second. People always like the first.
DC: Sure. But you'd make the same case for the first Odeon and the first purpose-built cinema in Britain?
RG: No, I think--well, yes. Some few years ago, we put forward the King's Hall, Tooting, (17) as possibly the first purpose-built cinema in this country. Colne, the Central Hall has been devalued by John Burroughs, who has done all the research on that one, because it wasn't built as a purpose-built cinema. The difference has to be that someone sits down and says, "let's build a cinema." Not, "let's build a building which might be a cinema, if we give up it being a shoe warehouse." Colne doesn't even look like an auditorium, so that's gone out the window. So we've got this one in Tooting, but it's been very heavily altered. It's been a Mercedes-Benz showroom for some time and has lost its original front, and English Heritage wouldn't wear it.
DC: It has to be designed as a cinema?
RG: Yes, there was one in Great Yarmouth which went out the window. DC: The Gem?
RG: The Gem. Because that was designed for C.V. Cochrane as a sort of indoor zoo, and then it didn't open, because the people surrounding it thought there might be all these smelly animals, and so instead of being an indoor zoo, it opened as a cinema. So that doesn't count.
DC: That's 1908?
RG: Yes. It's a sexier date. Anything that swims into focus pre-Cinematograph Act . (12)
DC: Right. So we can't count the Duke of York's, Brighton. Or [the Phoenix] East Finchley. Or the Electric at Harwich. (13)
RG: No, you see they're all later. This one in Tooting opened in January 1909. Which meant it was being planned in 1908.
DC: So what I wanted to do was to end this little chat with a look into the future. Now that's obviously what you've had to do for the second edition of your book. The first edition was '96, so you've had to fill in that 15-year gap. What is the future for cinemas in Britain? The appreciation, time renovation, the restoration, the rescue. Is the future bright? I guess what I should ask you first is what are the key differences between then, 1996, and now, 2011?
RG: Well there are more listed examples. At the back of that book there are two lists: there's the "listed" list and then there's what I call the "important surviving cinemas." Now a number of those important cinemas have gravitated to the listed list, although there are more which are under this basic protection and, in general, listing works. And we're still getting them listed, although we haven't done a lot lately. The future is dictated by what is happening to the use of the buildings, because in the mid-'90s bingo was reasonably strong still. You've now got very important cinemas--Grade 2-star listed ones--which de getting under serious threat because bingo is coming to an end. I'm thinking particularly of the Granada at Woolwich, which is getting into a dreadful state, with trees growing out of the roof and so on, and water pouring down inside. Because bingo's not making money any longer. And the savior has been these Evangelical churches.
DC: Like in Finsbury Park?
RG: Well, yes. When cinemas closed down for films, bingo came along--after the Gaming Act in 1960. Now, because bingo is really tailing off in so many places, these churches are coming along.
DC: But bingo didn't save the American cinemas.
RG: No, it didn't.
DC: That was the churches. A lot more of the Evangelicals.
RG: Well, the idea of converting these cinemas into churches is an American idea.
DC: Because they're grand auditoria, they lend themselves to ...
RG: Well, no. The churches like these auditory spaces. They don't want arched, traditional nave and aisles. They don't want a processional space; they want an auditorium-type space, with people sitting on raised seating, pointing towards a stage or plinth on which there is a clergyman of some description. They don't want the trappings of the Anglican Church of the Catholic Church. They don't want a conventional church building.
DC: Despite the fact that some of them have organs?
RG: A lot of them, if there's a cinema organ installed, simply don't use them. Oh, we've got Kilburn. Which has got a Wurlitzer in it.
DC: The State, Kilburn.
RG: Yes. But I don't think they use it, because you go into these churches and there's a drum-kit sitting on the side, and somebody comes on and strums a guitar.
DC: So that is the future. Is that the future?
RG: Well, the other future, the shining example, is the Plaza, Stockport.
[FIGURE 9 OMITTED]
RG: I mean, that is marvelous because, not just, I mean there have been a number of other cinemas which have become performing arts venues of one sort of another--like the Regent at Ipswich; and the Regent, Hanley, that's one of those ones. Hammersmith Apollo; the Dominion Tottenham Court Road was always built for both. There are other examples: the Playhouse, Edinburgh, marvelous re-use of that, really, but that is limited to the numbers of buildings that you can do that really.
DC: And also the building needs to have a big enough stage to draw in the ...
[FIGURE 10 OMITTED]
RG: You can always build a stage on the back, if you've got room.
DC: So you can do that to a listed building?
RG: Yes, at Hanley, which is Grade 2-star. Terribly complicated because they couldn't extend the stage back. They could extend it up and make a higher fly tower, but they had to move the proscenium forward. Which then meant that the sight-lines had gone from the balcony, and probably rear-stalls as well, so they had to re-step the balcony. It was a very, very expensive scheme, but it is possible to do this kind of thing. The holy writ which I roll out to planners and conservation officers is that if these buildings can't be cinemas or performing arts venues, theatres or something of performance of one sort or another--basically the purpose for which they were built--then the second best use is as a church. It's the least invasive.
DC: That point about the listing--now I'm thinking of a legitimate theatre space: the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, which closed for years. And when they renovated it, they raised the Flower Hall, but they ripped the machinery out, the Victorian machinery underneath the stage, and so what they actually did was renovate the public spaces. The facade and the auditorium.
RG: Well, it needed it.
DC: I know, but what they didn't keep or maintain was any of the mechanism and the stuff that ran the theatre.
RG: What, the technical side? Well, that's disgraceful.
DC: Yes, but when you go into cinema listing--take the Plaza, Stockport: they've got a working projection room, the organ, the organ chambers, the blowers on the organ--all this has been preserved. Now, does a listing preserve all of that?
RG: Yes, it does.
DC: So, if it's there, it can't be taken out.
RG: We discovered recently that the Hammersmith Apollo, which has still got its organ, that the organ wasn't in the listing description, even though it had been raised to Grade 2-star level, because when it was looked at again to raise it up to the higher level, the organ console wasn't there. It has been disconnected and sent to somewhere in South Wales. It was left out. So we got English Heritage to write it in.
DC: So the listing has to be very specific.
RG: Yes. We've never written projection--or did we? No, I think very occasionally. I think projection equipment had been written into the listing description at Avenue, Ealing.
DC: Right, but this idea of blithely bashing out the back of a listed building in order to extend the stage, so it can be a live venue, seems to go against that ethos.
RG: It hasn't happened often. It's difficult to think of anywhere where it has, off-hand.
DC: So, the future is bright? Safe? It's never safe, is it?
RG: It's never sale. We're fighting a battle at the moment with the Astoria, Brighton, which is listed; it's been listed for some time.
I don't like losing them, once they're listed, because it's--precedent.
DC: Yeah, absolutely.
RG: We lost the Palace at Southport a few years ago, but before that we hadn't lost a listed cinema for something like fifteen years. Generally it works.
DC: I'm thinking about that future.
Teenagers today will view high definition Blu-rays on massive screens in their front rooms, or they'll download their films, or they even watch films on their 1-inch by 2-inch screen devices.
DC: Now, that sense of cinema seems to have ... Is it disappearing? That youth doesn't have the sense of cinema as a place and a space for viewing films that they used to.
RG: Well, the surviving cinemas take their place among any building type. You could say that if a medieval barn doesn't have corn in it now, then what is it? You know. Why did anybody ever have this barn? But you don't do away with it as a building. They become more heritage buildings, rather than one that you might call "for everyday use."
DC: On Valentine's Day the Plaza at Stockport showed Casablanca. I don't know what audience it pulled, but I think the plan is--they have that Vitaphone projector, with the sound-on-disk, which is all up and running now apparently--I think the plan is to show The Jazz Singer of The Singing Fool.
RG: Well, I asked Gary for that.
DC: This is Gary Trinder?
RG: Yes. Did you meet him?
DC: I did, yes. He was extremely helpful. He and David Eve.
RG: The sound-on-disk machine is now working and I said well that's the obvious thing to do, but it's easier said than done because you've got to find a silent print in America, and it involves a lot of delving about. I mean, that's the thing to do, I thought. And they experience it, you see. You want to experience it. But actually, you don't really know what to expect. It might be awful.
DC: But it goes back to my thought about the younger generation and these buildings. If they experience these buildings doing what they did in 1928, 1940, whatever-Casablanca--maybe that's the way to bring back an appreciation.
RG: Well, it all turns into education. What we're trying to do, keep on trying to do--and it's so difficult--is to get film back. You see some of the most spectacular cinemas are now these churches. They were public buildings: anyone could go along and buy a ticket and go and see a film inside. And then before the film, or after the film, you experienced this marvelous interior. Thirty of forty years ago they ceased to be that, because it turned into a bingo club, of which you've got to be a member.
DC: Of a church.
RG: And then a church. Which again is a sort of membership-type building. I suppose you can say anybody who was interested in bingo could experience it. Anybody who wants to be a committed Christian on a Sunday morning can do it, but you know, generally it would be nice for everybody else to see these buildings, so what I want to try and do is to get film back in them, but it's been like trying to push about a whole herd of elephants up the Matterhorn.
DC: But of course you're also asking for film to be put back into buildings when modern cinemas are getting rid of film and going digital, so you've got a double-whammy.
RG: Well, an image; a moving image. Yes.
RG: With a big screen.
DC: So, is the trick to get the big cinema chains interested again? In these old buildings? I mean, Disney taking the El Capitan on Hollywood Boulevard.
RG: Well, yes, but unless they see--I mean that was an angle that they [Disney] played to.
DC: A flagship cinema with live stage shows?
RG: And the stage show was part of the tourist experience on Hollywood Boulevard. You looked at Grauman's and the footprints and all the rest of it, and then went over to the El Capitan. Something to do in the evenings.
DC: The Egyptian, the Pantages?
RG: Yes, well they're not really tourist attractions.
DC: Yeah. But none of those have turned into churches. I know downtown, two miles away, the Million Dollar and the United Artists' have ... (14)
RG: That would be great, wouldn't it? The center of the world film industry; the most famous cinema in the world, Grauman's Chinese, becomes a church! My god, that would be the end of everything, wouldn't it?
DC: Yeah, I think the Indians might have something to say about Hollywood being the center of the film industry now.
RG: The American film industry is truly international. You can see an American film in Japan, in the middle of Africa, in Europe, here, anywhere, all around. But not the Bollywood product.
DC: The CTA is going to India.
RG: Yes, next week.
DC: You're not going? Did you go last time?
RG: Oh, yes, it was marvelous. We went to Bombay [Mumbai] first of all. There was one marvelous one, the Liberty, because it's so well preserved, it's complete, it's a wonderful piece of Art Deco. There were other cinemas that we saw as well, all very good, and Bombay is a marvelous Victorian city.
DC: Yeah, I think it's useful to see the parallels. You're talking about India, were talking about Germany, about America and Britain--and their distinctness. Earlier, you mentioned the THS, the Theater Historical Society, which is the CTA's parallel in America?
DC: So what's their remit? They've got a lot of money?
RG: Well they have offices. They have a paid Director. Then they've got archival staff, although I think quite a lot of those are voluntary. The main thing they've got to do is raise the money to pay the salaries and I suppose also the rent of the premises that they've got in Elmhurst. And they make their money out of the conclave every year. There is a feeling here that that's really all the CTA needs to do. It's tending to be, of rather following, the THS, which has been basically an archival organization. I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in trying to protect these buildings.
DC: Right. Rather than protect the pictures of the old buildings.
RG: I mean, if all you've got left is a black and white photograph, and the building's gone, that's terrible. DC: Yeah.
RG: If it's possible to keep the building ...
DC: Like, for example, the Davis [Croydon, Surrey, UK].
RG: Like the Davis. It's gone.
DC: The cinema of your youth.
DC: I've read your book [see Gray 8].
RG: So it seems.
DC: Well, Richard, I will end it there.
Thanks ever so much for your time.
RG: OK. Righty-ho.
[FIGURE 11 OMITTED]
Eyles, Allen. Odeon Cinemas 1: Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation. London: BFI/ CTA, 2002.
--. Odeon Cinemas 2: From J. Arthur Rank to the Multiplex. London: BFI / CTA 2005.
--. "Imitations of Odeon." Picture House 35 (2010): 12-16.
Gray, Richard. Cinemas in Britain: One Hundred Years of Cinema Architecture.
London: Lund Humphries, 1996. 2nd edition forthcoming (2011).
Shand, P. Morton. Modern Theatres and Cinemas. London: BT Batsford, 1930.
(1) A good example of a cine-variety program--a mixture of movies and vaudeville--is offered by the Empire, Leicester Square, London in 1950, see: <http://www. arthurlloyd.co.uk/Archive/May2004/ CVProg.htm>.
(2) Tony Hancock (1924-1968) was a popular British comedy entertainer. His 1950s' radio show, "Hancock's Half Hour," transferred to television in 1956 and is regarded in the UK as a classic of the medium. The radio episode "Sunday Afternoon at Home" was broadcast in 1958, but the notion of tedious Sundays with nothing to do was a recurring theme in the radio and TV scripts.
(3) Frank Matcham (1854-1920) is widely regarded as Britain's most successful theatre architect--although his commissions were not limited to theatrical buildings. Matcham, along with his company, was prolific during the Victorian period, introducing a number of important innovations. His cantilevered steelwork designs were to become central to the development of large picture palaces. For more, go to: <www.frankmatchamsociety. org.uk>.
(4) Michael (now Lord) Heseltine was a British Member of Parliament from 1966 to 2001. The Kilburn State listing announcement would have been made in his capacity as Secretary of State for the Environment, a position that he held first under Margaret Thatcher, from 1979 to 1983.
(5) Elmhurst, IL, is home to the THS, The Theatre Historical Society of America, which does similar work to the CTA. See <http:// www.historictheatres.org>.
(6) Oscar Deutsch founded the Odeon cinema chain in 1928.
(7) "Give me that Odeon look!" (Eyles 2010, 12). For more on Deutsch and the impact and influence of Odeon cinemas, see Rock and Barber, both in this issue of Post Script.
(8) The "atmospheric" cinema was designed to give the feel of being in the open air, often with a Spanish or Italian courtyard design below a smooth plaster "sky" canopy effect.
(9) See Richard at the Tooting Granada at <http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=hzfmM2oH5NM>.
(10) For an example of this, see Gray 58.
(11) See <http://www.cinema-theatre.org. uk/atrisk/kingshall_tooting.htm>.
(12) The British Cinematograph Act came into effect on 1st January 1910. Contemporary fears had been that the act, with its emphasis on fire, health and safety regulations, would stifle the burgeoning cinema business in the UK. It would prove to have an opposite effect. Government intervention appeared to legitimise the cinema, strengthening the industry's hand and leading to the kind of diverse developments in film exhibition examined in Gray's book.
(13) These centenerian cinemas are notable for the fact that they are still operational. See: <http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/cinema/ Duke_Of_Yorks>,<http://www.electricpalace.com> and <http://www.phoenixcinema. co.uk>; however, they are not the only survivors of the period directly following the 1910 Cinematograph Act. Charlotte Crofts has suggested that the Curzon, Clevedon, might well be added to this group--a listed building, and still operational as it approaches its 100th anniversary in 2012. See: <http:// www.curzon.org.uk>.
(14) I am indebted to Tim Hatcher for supplying the following update to this situation: "The church moved from the Million Dollar to the State a few years ago; the former reverted to an ethnic live entertainment venue, which sadly hasn't been doing too well of late. Following Rev. Scott's death, his widow attempted to keep the church running at the United Artists, but ultimately failed, and the organisation removed from the theatre eighteen months or so ago, since when it has been shuttered and for sale." By e-mail (July 2011).
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|Title Annotation:||British Cinema Theater Association|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
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