Tag Archives: Brixton

Revealed: the Ritzy’s roots

2 Mar
The original Electric Pavilion

The original Electric Pavilion

There’s a lovely piece in the Brixton Bugle about the origins of the Ritzy Cinema. I particularly like the details that it was saved by the 1981 Brixton riots, and scuppered by the 1995 ones; and also that it first came about through an ad in Time Out. (So many creative people I’ve spoken to over the years owe some sort of debt to Time Out; David Hare would always speak to us as he credited Time Out with helping to launch his career, back in fringe theatre days.)

I remember the “Little Bit Ritzy” well, as it was then: an art-house cinema showing the sorts of movies people now take for granted on DVD or streaming, but which back in the early ’80s we would have to scour listings and travel across town to see. It was so purist about film that it refused to serve popcorn, lest the munching disturb fellow film-goers (you’ll still get shushed for munching now), though in compensation the carrot-cake was superb.

The Ritzy is one of the main reasons I have chosen to live in and around Brixton for more than 20 years. Though it is now a six-screen multiplex, allowing more films to be shown, they achieved this without — as so many cinemas have — breaking up the wonderful main auditorium, instead building on an extension. Given the cinema’s egalitarian, right-on roots, I was incensed by the recent wage dispute, about which I wrote several blogs; they are now happily resolved, so it’s okay to love the Ritzy again.

If you love the Ritzy too, read the full article here.

Brixton Ritzy staff: “Please, sir, may I have some more?” Bosses: “You’re fired.”

27 Oct
Ritzy staff campaign for the London Living Wage

Ritzy staff campaign for the London Living Wage

Next time you see one of those nicey-nicey adds for Picturehouse Cinemas that run before every screening, with smiling staff tending to enraptured patrons over Stuart Hancock’s beautiful and elegiac score, you have my permission to vomit into your box of overpriced popcorn.

I had been feeling good again about my lovely local cinema, the Brixton Ritzy, since the staff’s year-long campaign for something approaching the London Living Wage recently reached an amicable conclusion – even if the timing, which preceded the announcement of a giant gleaming refurbished Picturehouse in the Trocadero Centre, seemed a tad conveniently designed to deflect any negative publicity.

Well, it seems parent company Cineworld giveth with one hand and taketh with the other. They have just announced that because they are paying staff a little more, they will be sacking nearly a quarter of the Ritzy’s workforce: “at least” 20 out of 93. No other Picturehouse cinema is affected, because no other Picturehouse cinema has yet banded together to ask for a wage increase. They claim to have warned union Bectu that wage increases might entail redundancies, but the scale and speed has taken everyone by surprise.

I’m not a revolutionary or an idealist, but I do believe people should be paid enough to live on. Even George Osborne has been bitten on the arse by the now nearly non-existent power of unions and collective bargaining, when it was announced that though the jobless total had decreased, average Britons were being paid so little that there was an unexpected hole in tax revenues.

Picturehouse cinemas make money because they are friendly places where the cinephile patrons like to linger over a beer to discuss the movies they have seen. This image is reinforced by the aforementioned ad, which puts excellent customer service front and centre. Picturehouse are foolish to allow even the appearance of punishing or deterring those workers who, like Oliver Twist, dare to ask “Please, sir, can I have some more?”.

Sort it out, Picturehouse, before you do irreparable damage to your brand.

LATEST NEWS: Protest works!!! bit.ly/1wgUsC4

Texting in the cinema: a capital offence?

14 Jan
Image

Ssssh! A ‘noise ninja’ from the Prince Charles cinema

Today, retired cop Curtis Reeves was charged with second-degree murder for shooting a man in the chest at point-blank range. The man’s offence? Texting in a Florida cinema. My unworthy first thought was that if the jury were composed of film critics, he could walk free for justifiable homicide.

The battle over peace in cinemas has raged for decades. When I edited Time Out, the popcorn debate provoked more reader letters than Julie Burchill. The Ritzy in Brixton refused to serve it, though their excellent carrot cake nearly made up for it. Nowadays, of course, that particular battle is forever lost: the economics of the modern film business dictate that cinemas are not actually in the business of showing films; they are in the business of selling popcorn and drinks, with films but the bait to attract consumers.

But I’m not sure anyway that movie theatres should be silent churches in which to worship cinema. A film by Kiarostami, perhaps. But the fatal altercation occurred at a showing of war flick Lone Survivor; and during the previews at that. One of the most entertaining screenings I have ever been to was of School of Rock at Peckham, where the local kids ended up dancing in the aisles.

If audiences were always quiet as mice, the Rocky Horror Picture Show would never have become a cult hit, with key lines shouted out and Charles Grey’s neck heckled, or rather lack of it. When in 2012 the Prince Charles cinema engaged a team of ‘noise ninjas’ in skin-tight ‘Morphsuits’ to pounce on distracting viewers, that owed more to a canny PR manager than any genuine desire to create silence: they are famed for their singalonga Rocky Horrors and Sounds of Music, after all.

Film in the cinema, as opposed to on your own ginormous plasma TV with surroundsound, is a communal experience. We want to laugh, cry and sigh together. That’s why critics are often more dismissive of comedies and blockbusters: seeing them in small Soho preview cinemas in the middle of the afternoon with a handful of fellow critics, all stifling their natural emotional responses, it’s much harder to enjoy these films. I’m famous among friends for yelping in scary moments: I’m so wrapped up in the film I can’t help it. I hope it just adds to the atmosphere.

But that is why texting – or, worse, talking on your phone – is the least forgivable of distracting crimes. It takes the perpetrator away from that communal experience, and out of the cinema altogether to wherever the person on the other end of the phone is.

I don’t ask my fellow viewers not to crunch popcorn. I don’t ask them not to turn to their partner and ask how the detective finally worked out whodunit. But I do ask them to be there, with me, thrilling to the same explosions, laughing at the same jokes, jumping at the same scares, and even heckling the same rubbish (as with the Ritzy screening of Tom Cruise’s Oblivion). It’s why I go to the cinema. Otherwise, we might as well all just sit at home alone.