This is the Parkway cinema; I have posted on earlier occasions about seeing 70mm prints here. These are rare treats and included The Hateful Eight in its full 2.76:1 glory. The cinema also screens 35mm prints and I saw the new British release of this title there. The owner, Bob Younger, set up a second 35mm projector so that the film could be screened with single-reel changes. He reckoned that the Parkway was the only venue in the country to do this.
The Parkway is on a site that featured an earlier cinema from 1920 when the Empire Super Cinema opened. In 1954 the current venue was built and operated for years as part of the Odeon circuit. In 1980 it converted into a two-screen venue, which it remains. In 1997 a group led by Bob Younger managed to rent the venue and open the current cinema. They bought up the venue in 2021.
The larger auditorium is screen one on the ground floor and this offers both digital projection and 70mm from a Zenith 4000 projector. Screen two, upstairs and smaller, now has two 35mm Zenith 4000 projectors. After an earlier 70mm screening I enjoyed a tour of the 70 mm projection box; last week I enjoyed visiting the 35mm projection box.
On this occasion we saw Empire of Light from a 35mm print; it was preceded by some older classic adverts including the Benson & Hedges ‘Zulu’ skit and the carling Black Label ‘Dambusters’ spoof. The feature was actually shot on an Alexa mini LF camera which has a 4K capacity and variable aspect ratios; Empire of Light is in 2.39:1. The production used Codex / Arrirraw digital processes; most screenings rely on a DCP, which I think is only 2K.
The film is set in a cinema in Margate at the beginning of the 1980s. Whilst the cinema provides the setting the focus is more on the relationships between the characters, staff at a venue that is part of a cinema chain. The interaction among the staff is affected by the class and racist conflicts of the period. There is a powerful sequence of violence. There is also friendship, a hint of romance and a sexual relationship. Olivia Colman was critical of the sex scenes in the feature and on this occasion I tend to agree with her.
Most of the action is in the front-of-house of the cinema and on the front of the seaside town. Only twice do we see inside the auditorium and only once the projection of a film from the period. There are three brief scenes inside the projection box, including reel changes and the operation of the carbon arc light source in the projectors.
The film uses an actual cinema, the Dreamland in Margate. But this is combined with studio sets and the use of computer generated imagery; apparently a disused cinema was also used for an auditorium scene. The front-of house is a studio set: the exteriors combine the actual with computerised images: and the upstairs restaurant is the actual old front-of-house. This works well and the cinematography by Roger Deakins is extremely well done; he is an outstanding craft person.The script and direction are by Sam Mendes: I found the film absorbing but I thought that the character studies were not fully effective: the cast though are good. The cinema and film exhibition are clealry intended to feed into the themes of the drama; however, I thought more actual film watching would have developed this.
The projection box appears to be a studio set with actual projectors; the latter provided by the Projected Picture Trust. The projectionist in the film, Norman (Toby Jones) tells a staff member that they are K.18s. This is a projector made by the Kaylee Company, which operated in Leeds from 1948 until 1958; becoming a subsidiary of Gaumont in that period. Originally Kershaw & Sons Ltd, later Gaumont-British Kaylee, the firm supplied the majority of British cinemas in the 1950s. A later Kaylee model, using carbon arc illumination, can be seen in the foyer of the Pictureville Cinema at Bradford’s Media Museum: the Cinema Museum in London has several Kaylee projectors on show. YouTube has short videos on projectors using carbon arc illumination. In 2011 the disused Lyric Cinema in Leeds still had a pair of carbon arc projectors. A project by the Pavilion Arts Project saw the projectors repaired and their carbon arc lights used for a series of screenings; one was an early film which featured the work of Roger Deakins. The Lyric building remains; whether the projectors remain is unknown. You can check out the Parkway programme here.