Friday, May 12, 2006

Mine's smaller than yours

I live within less than a minute’s walk from two cinemas, the Broadway, and the Screenroom that proudly proclaims itself as the smallest in the world. Both of them are classified as independent ‘art’ cinemas but while I’m a regular at the Broadway, I’ve never been to the Screenroom. Every weekday morning at 6.30am, I stand on the corner at the Lord Roberts, my local, waiting for my lift to Northampton. So, every morning, I spend a few minutes looking directly at the Screenroom telling myself that I really ought to go there at least once just to see what it’s like inside.


In my student days in Cape Town, I used to be a regular at the Three Arts Theatre in Plumstead, a place that proudly proclaimed itself as the biggest theatre/cinema in the southern hemisphere. There are lots of places in South Africa (I’m sure the same applies to Australia and Brazil) that have grand pretensions about their size. On a world scale, they don’t exactly measure up so they compare themselves to their ‘rivals’ in the southern Hemisphere, the less blessed hemisphere when it comes to matters of size. The Three Arts, now Ice Olympia, seated 2000 people and was a great place to see films long off the main circuit. Unlike the Labia, Cape Town’s independent ‘art’ cinema, it had no pretensions about its artiness but it was a good place to catch great films from the past.

I often saw films there with G. Unlike him, however, I didn’t go there on my own to see films while stoned off my head. He’d often fall asleep when watching films but was usually woken up by someone, probably the cleaners, before the cinema was closed. The Three Arts, being such a huge place and run on a shoestring budget, used to just shut for the night after the last patron was seen to go. There were a number of occasions when he woke up several hours after the place had closed to find himself in a huge, pitch-black auditorium, not knowing where he was until his stoned brain managed a clear thought or two. Getting out the first time wasn’t easy. He had to work his way to the stage, feel for light switches that weren’t easy to find and eventually break out through the fire escape. It got easier after that and he’d always leave with a great selection of movie posters that made wonderful wallpaper.

In the eighties, the Three Arts became a music venue for international artists whose careers were on the skids but who didn’t mind ignoring the boycott of South Africa if it meant lining their pockets and stretching their egos for a little bit longer. I saw Tina Turner there (before her subsequent re-ascent of Pop’s pinnacles), Chick Corea and The Temptations, amongst others. Despite the ‘international acts’, its glory days from the sixties and seventies were long gone and it was slowly decaying. By the time the Bolshoi Ballet performed there in the early nineties, soon after the lifting of the cultural boycott, it was plumbing new depths. One of Cape Town’s newspapers, reviewing the ballet, mentioned seeing rats running across the stage.

Newer theatre and music venues in more fashionable parts of the city dealt it its death blow and, as a cinema in a world of much smaller venues, its size counted against it. For a while it hosted evangelical Christian meetings until it resurrected itself as an ice rink.

I used to enjoy seeing films in that large, impersonal space but actually prefer smaller venues. There’s really no reason why I haven’t been to the Screenroom yet as it’s literally right on my doorstep. Perhaps, I lied when I asserted that I’m not a size queen?

13 Comments:

Blogger kyknoord said...

Takes me back, this does. I have fond memories of visiting the 3 Arts as a lad to watch a double-bill martial arts matinee. I have even fonder memories of the kids trying out their newly-acquired ninja powers on the lawn outside while they waited to be picked up after the show.

11:08 am  
Blogger Caroline said...

Do you think that smallest in the world means smaller than a small television?

11:47 am  
Blogger Tammy said...

The labia - wow many a movie seen there. Always stoned, followed by profound discussions afterwards - sheesh we really were so pretentious in those days.

12:49 pm  
Anonymous xmichra said...

I would feel odd seeing a film in such a large area. Theaters that are too big make me uncomfortable... I don't know why that is.

You really should go into the screenroom, just to say you had =P

1:21 pm  
Blogger whatalotoffun said...

How small like in only about 10 people per movie or what. Whe dont go to the movies we watch it on our big screen at home.

1:27 pm  
Blogger Qenny said...

Don't worry about being a size queen. I've always said, it's not what you've got, it's how big it is.

4:25 pm  
Blogger Saddle Up said...

I love the whole cinema experience, the more intimate the better. I can understand why you don't fancy the Screenroom, but you should give it a shot :)

8:45 pm  
Blogger Ancient Clown said...

I must say watching a movie is cool enough, but getting a chance to watch a movie you are in on the BIG screen is actually wierd.
"Detroit Rock City"(1999) is the one I'm in...with dialogue, can you spot me?
your humble servant,
Ancient Clown

11:00 pm  
Blogger Dawn said...

This made me think back to 'soppies' in Jo'burg. I forget what the name of the cinema was that showed the same three or four movies repeatedly, back-to-back, the whole day - and if you didn't step in a puddle of 'kotch' from the 'dronkies' that chose soppies over Joubert Park, it could turn out to be quite a fun day ... and it was moer of a cheap, too. Fond memories of a proud Vaalie! You really do see a far more faceted life when you're goofed enough to believe size and status don't matter.

9:02 am  
Blogger justin said...

Mrs C and I paid our first visit to the Screen Room, about 2 months ago, to see "Hidden". We liked the place - it had a cosy and intimate feeling about it, but I think I'd want a larger screen to see one of the epics, like "Lord of the Rings".

10:24 pm  
Blogger nyasha said...

if you go to the Screenroom then you can claim you have tested the biggest and smallest cinema screens in the world! 2000 seats?!
What i don't like about small cozy cinemas in England is that they have 15 min. intermissions in the middle of the movies. No fun, spoils the momentum...

7:15 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

kyknoord: Did you ever go to the Roxy in downtown Cape Town? I only went twice but was really sorry when the place closed down...another slice of history gone.

caroline: Not sure how big the screen is but it only seats 21 people.

tammy: seems like we shared a similar growing up...those days were wonderful even if horribly pretentious. I actually thought you were from Jo'burg but you must have gone to varsity or something in CT.

xmichra: I plan to go sometime soon.

whatalotoffun: 21 or 22 seats...there's a link in my post that gives the details. Apparently the next biggest cinema only has one seat more.

qenny: now that's a saying I haven't heard before! :-)

ancient clown: I don't know about that film - anything memorable?

dawn: so you are another ex-rooker, it seems? :-)

justin: that does make sense...epic films or films reliant on great cinematography NEED a big screen.

coffee addict: I've not experienced that before...perhaps it's a certain type of cinema. Does sound odd even though I grew up when going to the cinema was a big deal...shorts and stuff before quite a long interval where you went out and chatted and got things to eat before the main attraction.

saddleup: will definitely give it a shot. The good thing about the place is that it shows films that have recently been on circuit that one may have missed.

9:50 pm  
Blogger Rob7534 said...

I kept thinking that by the terms, "Small Art Theatre," that was code word for a PORN theatre!

Damn. So they didn't screen any of that then?

And you see, I TOLD YOU, that you were in fact a size queen. Although in reverse somehow

1:57 pm  

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