An elegy for Odeon Panton Street
October 22, 2017 11:17 PM   Subscribe

Oh! Another luxe theatre in Leicester Square, just what London needs. Pant Street, IIRC, is where you can actually access the loo from the actual theatre? Will they at least keep that feature, and the accompanying smells? It always felt like the people's theatre, tucked a couple corners behind the giant screens on the square where the red carpets roll out. Sniff.
posted by stillmoving at 11:57 PM on October 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I can walk there from my office. I will go and see Baby Driver at 3.30 tomorrow in tribute to the old place.
posted by Major Tom at 12:26 AM on October 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

So my first proper job out of university - end of the 1990s - was working for a company who designed and installed ticketing systems in cinemas, Odeon, Cineworld, Virgin, UCI and Curzon. I spent a good year driving around the UK supervising the installs and being on-site support for the staff. This mainly involved building machines in the office, then sitting in movies all-day until there was a problem. My single contribution to anything lasting was taking some ticket design code for the printers, and painstakingly re-laying it all out and adding various extras until it was perfect for Odeon Cinemas. Sadly not used anymore, since tickets cut into margins and receipts are considered good enough, here's an image of my ticket :)

I had the pleasure of seeing the refit and reopening of Odeons Leicester Square/Mezzanine, West End (RIP), Kensington, Wimbledon, Brighton and actually, nearly all of them, and these old cinemas are sorely missed.

The main thing was transforming the grand old monster screens like Streatham, Kensington, Marble Arch, and chopping them up into smaller multi-screens with handfuls of seats but the ability to get more customers in. The 1980s were probably the last time it felt like everyone was listening or watching the same things (Thriller, Madonna, U2, Star Wars, ET, blah blah blah) as technology suddenly made it easier to get the skills and make cultural artefacts. The huge boom in movies meant the end of giant cinemas. The big Leicester Square refit was a monumental exception. But often with the big refits, out went the interesting nooks and crannies and spaces and balconies that most of these cinemas had.

The article talks about the old Shaftesbury Avenue Cineworld, which brings back memories of all the tatty ABC cinemas, one now Odeon Covent Garden. It was once fit for royal premieres! See this Flickr collection!

Panton Street was never a grand screen, it was the original multiplex, designed for art-house movies but happily showed anything it could. Art-house audiences presumably have more money these days and will appreciate the refit, but at least they're not destroying the original premise of the, erm, premises. Here's a pic of the original Cinecenta. Birdy! Ghostbusters!

Odeon West End was the real superstar, though. Rock solid stalwart of the London Film Festival, managed by Chris Hilton who then took over from the most formidable manager whose name escapes me, Bill something. The OWE was the real deal, sadly missed, along with the Hand and Racquet pub.
posted by bookbook at 2:20 AM on October 23, 2017 [14 favorites]

As a commenter on the original thread... I remember going to the Cinecenta (thanks for that reminder!) a lot during the 80s and early 90s, though what I actually saw has mostly blurred out. There was another cinema - one screen - on Haymarket which tended to be where I saw a particular type of film, not quite cult, not quite art, not quite popular. Withnail and I is a perfect example. Long since lost to the predations of property development. As I mention in the thread, the archetypal Cinecenta film for me was Ken Russell's Crimes of Passion, and I roll seeing a trailer for Reanimator coming-soon-to-this-cinema into that memory, though it was most likely a different night or a different year even. Strangely, the memories of buying the tickets and wandering into the screen and of walking out in a haze of post-cinema gratification is much stronger than those of the actual films I saw.

(There was a type of film I was attracted to like wasps to a toddler with an ice cream, which tended to be the last film in any episode of Barry Norman's Film show on BBC1 - Repo Man, Stop Making Sense, Diva, This is Spinal Tap - which I don't think were called cult films at the time (that was later on when they were packaged up and sold to students, along with the obligatory Betty Blue poster, preferably with the original French title) they were just films that only a few people were going to see. I thought at the time it was just random programming, but of course it was deliberate, and many thanks to Mr Norman for introducing me to them all.)

Another lost cinema that deserves a mention is the Swiss Centre, the only one I've ever been to where the audience had to take a lift from the ticket office to the screens, which specialised in non-English language films. If I'd trawled round Leicester Square, then on to Panton Street and Haymarket and nothing took my fancy, I could always count on there being something on at the Swiss Centre that I'd never heard of and that appealed simply on the grounds of unfamiliarity.

And, well, the Scala of course, but I suppose one day that will get a post of its own. The only cinema ever to be brought down by Stanley Kubrick.

I need to get out to the pictures more. I just got a lifetime membership of the Prince Charles hoping that I can use the sunk cost fallacy to my advantage (if the property developers don't get to it before I've recouped the cost of the membership in discounts).
posted by Grangousier at 3:05 AM on October 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

The Scala! Please compile that post. Happy memories of the all-night screenings there in the early 90s. I still have a set of posters somewhere.
posted by srednivashtar at 8:15 AM on October 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thank you for that bookbook - I work around the corner from Odeon Covent Garden (still called the Saville Theatre in Google Maps), and have been in there dozens of times, never knew of the history. And as the kind of saddo who has a special album for her movie and gig tickets, I'd have been proud to add yours.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 1:32 PM on October 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

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