The Lyric, on Tong Road in Leeds, opened as a cinema in the 1922 and operated as film venue until 1988. Following that it was used as a warehouse, and more recently has provided a home for a local church. Then in 2011, the Pavilion, a commissioning organisation for new artwork, became involved in a project with the young artist Lucy Skaer. Her idea was to produce a 35mm film which could be screened on the classic Kalee 20 projector: These were manufactured in Leeds between 1947 and 1953. Fortuitously, despite all the changes, two Kalee projectors were still in situ at the Lyric. Whilst it has not been possible to fully restore the cinema the projectors were restored, a wooden screen erected in the proscenium arch, and the auditorium re-opened (though without fixed seating).
Allan Foster, who now projects for the Hyde Park Picture House and who worked at the Lyrics in its final years as a cinema, carried out the restoration. The venue is rather basic, there is no substantial heating and you fetch and carry your own seat. But the projection is fine and the sound is pretty good as well.
Lucy’s artwork, Film for an abandoned projector, is a series of images meditating on time with shots of the cinema, the projectors and a variety of natural and artificial objects and scenes. There has an overall logic, (which seems to explore time and its effects) and there is a haunting eloquence in the flow of images in both black and white and colour. The film is projected every week on a Thursdays (till December 15th), so one of Lucy’s aims is for it to acquire the wear and tear of film running through projectors. We enjoyed a little extra, a short film from the 1980s with Roger Deakins among the credits.
The night we went along we also enjoyed a tour and explanation from Allan (and his assistant Tony) about the projectors themselves. The event was a particular pleasure, as these projectors still possess the old carbon-arc illumination. Now superseded they provide a high quality and consistent illumination. Among other tasks the projectionist has to keep the carbon rods positioned and replaced as they burn out. This is the sort of technology one usually only sees in a museum, but here they are working and providing classic screening in the now rarely seen 1.37:1 aspect ratio. An experience that I forlornly (but mistakenly) thought I would never see again in an actual cinema.
The forthcoming Pavilion commission is 9 Intervals, a multi-episode digital film work by Aurélien Froment. The film addresses the relationship between design and body, constitution and perception. It takes the seated position of the cinema viewer as its starting point. Parts of the film were shot at the Hyde Park Picture House, another classic working antique, this time dating from 1914.
Details at www.pavilion.org.uk