Category: Exhibitors

The New Pictureville

“Pictureville is the new name for cinema at the National Science and Media Museum from 1 November 2019.”

The change over follows the decision by Picturehouse to end the contract for running the three auditorium at the Museum; finishing on October 31st. Rather late in the day the Museum is now  providing information regarding the new provision; (the main page has links to specific items). As promised there will be  a membership scheme which is similar to that operated by Picturehouse. The ‘Silver Screen’ provision will continue, but only Thursday mornings (predominantly senior citizens) will continue to have refreshment included in the tickets.  There is a slight increase in prices. Opening times will remain the same but the Pictureville Bar will only open at 1 p.m.

However, there is little information regarding the most important issue, what will be in the programme. The only titles mentioned are the new Star Wars and Shaun the Sheep, plus some  Event Cinemas. It turns out that the Museum will run the cinemas but not programme them. They have contracted with INDY Cinema Group:

“We run your film programming and day-to-day cinema operations, working behind the scenes to make everything seamless – so you can  focus on the business.”

The company already programme for or in association with The Leeds International Film Festival (and indeed that in Edinburgh) which would suggest a familiarity with and arrangements across the Global Cinema scene. But they seem to specialise in ‘Pop-Up Cinema’; and in my experience these do not usually have theatrical standard projection. The site lists cinemas they work with but not one close to West Yorkshire. The Museum pages proudly refers to their provision of IMAX, 70mm, 35mm and 4K Digital. I am not sure how much experience INDY have with the first three formats; on their Web Pages the only illustration was of a standard digital projector.

The 2019 ‘Widescreen Weekend’

So it is a case of wait and see. It would help if the Museum provided more information on the forthcoming programme, less than a week away. They have not offered an explanation of how the contract with INDY will operate. I do have reservations regarding this sort of set-up. Apart from the distance between the programmers and the audience, geographically and in awareness, I think this sort of servicing can lead to a rather uniform programming across venues. That was certainly the case with Picturehouse. The Hyde Park Picture House, whilst its recent programme is less varied than in the past, continues to include screenings not available generally. Rosie from Eire earlier in the year was one example. And more recently, Menelik Shabazz’s Pharaohs Unveiled was another example. But the Hyde Park closes in January 2020 for the year-long development plan; so the Museum may be the only beacon in a world of cinematic darkness.

I hope that the Museum will at least continue one helpful practice by the Picturehouse Staff (who are transferring back to the Museum); the provision of accessible listings which included the format of the film and indicated which auditorium would be used. 70mm in Pictureville remains the peak of cinema-going in West Yorkshire.

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Note, the Museum WebPage still has no information on tne programme from November 1st. However, if you sign up for the Newsletter you can access  a page with such information. Lined up are titles already in release: Shaun the Sheep, Official Secrets, Judy …….: there is a new release, Ken Loach’s Sorry We missed You: IMAX titles including several Star Wars episodes and Terminator; and events called ‘Live Cinema’. So far there is no sign of the titles Roy expressed concern about [in a comment], from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia and South America.

If you check the ‘booking’ function you cna identify the auditorium but by the seating plan rather than the name of the of either Pictureville or Cubby Broccoli. There is no indication that information on formats, apart from IMAX, is provided

Note, if you are already signed up for Musuem Newsletter you proably need to sign up afresh; I had to in order to see this information.

A survey worth completing

The ‘Science and Media Museum’ in Bradford is conducting an audience survey. You likely have missed this. It does not seem to have been much publicised and I searched in vain on the Museum Webpages for it. I finally sent in an email request and received a link to the following:

NATIONAL SCIENCE AND MEDIA MUSEUM CINEMA MEMBERSHIP SURVEY

This has a fairly conventional series of questions; about attendance at Picturehouse and other cinemas: the frequency of screenings: preferences in terms of 2D/3D: preference for types of screenings: and, intriguing but also conventional questions aiming to help:

The Museum is keen to understand its visitors and what motivates them . . .

These are mostly tick boxes as well. It is rather boring and also includes questions about one’s age and the usual dubious list of what are called ‘ethnic categories’.

But there are three occasions where there are boxes for composed comments, which, with a little imagination, can be used to suggest matters about programming, titles and formats that one would appreciate. This may, perhaps, bring a little influence to the future programming.

The context for this is [as reported here] Picturehouse are ending their contract with the Museum at the end of October this year. We know three things about the Museum plans. They intend to take back the running of the three auditoriums; Pictureville, Cubby Broccoli and Imax. They have promised to bring in a filmgoers membership scheme akin to that run by Picturehouse; [ the point of the survey]. And they apparently intend to sub-contract the programming to an agency, but who or what is unknown.

At present the Museum’s two film auditoriums make the Museum one of only three venues in Leeds / Bradford that are capable of screening ‘reel’ films. And, despite the limitations of the Picturehouse programme, the venue has been one of only two that offer frequent screenings of art films, foreign language films [excepting Hindi-language cinema] and true independent productions. The other is the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. But the latter closes for up to twelve months in January 2020 as part of the major redevelopment. If you want to see any of the Cannes Festival titles that Roy has rightly praised it is likely to depend on the programming at the Museum. Otherwise it is trains or cars to Hebden Bridge, Sheffield or Manchester.

So take the ten minutes, [it is about that], to complete the questionnaire and take every opportunity to write in favour of a varied quality programme of films.

Postscript: The link is now displaying ‘the survey is closed’.

If you have missed being able to complete the Survey you can complain to:

Email: talk@scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk

Screenings in Bradford, West Yorkshire

The current arrangement whereby Picturehouse operate the screenings at Bradford’s Media Museum [now Science + Media Museum] will be changing in 2019. I only discovered this from a friend who has a Picturehouse membership due to expire. He was advised he could only renew for six months as Picturehouse would not be renewing the contract with the Museum when it expires in October 2019. I have now done a little investigation and there are notices on both the Museum and Picturehouse webpages but I do not think you would notice them if you did not know where to look or what to look for.

The statement by Picturehouse, similar to that of the Museum, is as follows:

“Following four successful years, Picturehouse and the National Science and Media Museum have agreed to conclude our partnership when the current contract comes to an end on October 31, 2019. The National Science and Media Museum will continue to operate three screens, maintaining its commitment to a full and exciting cinema programme, including unique special events.

Picturehouse will remain dedicated to delivering Bradford’s high standard of cinema programming until October 2019 and will be focusing on our exciting nationwide expansion after the contract concludes.

No job roles have been put at risk and Picturehouse staff in Bradford have all been communicated with. The museum, which last year enjoyed a seven-year high in visitor numbers, will continue to provide a welcoming home to great cinema for regulars and new audiences alike.

We wish Bradford National Science and Media Museum the very best for the future and we thank them for the last four years of a successful partnership.”

For people with Picturehouse membership they have the option of renewal when due for six months. Unlikely to be an exact fit except for a fortunate few. The change by Picturehouse follows on from their ‘downsizing’ of projection teams in their venues.

This seems to be another example of the Media Industries unwillingness to inform or consult with ordinary people with an interest in matters. The Museum failed to have any discussions when they decided to contract out the cinema programme four years ago. One Manager at the time claimed there had been consultation. It turned out someone had spoken at one of the popular Senior Citizen Screenings on a Thursday morning. I am reminded of the recurring line by Lone Watie (Chief Dan George) in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).

Importantly, what will this mean for film fans in the area? The Picturehouse programming is close to the mainstream and certainly less varied that that operated by the Museum prior to the changeover. However, it is also true that Picturehouse have programmed in films not screened elsewhere in the vicinity. And they do still offer screening using the 35mm and 70mm projection equipment in Pictureville and Cubby Broccoli.

The film programme was contracted out because of the financial deficits at the Museum. It seems that it is now managed or certainly overseen closely by the Management at the main venue, The National Science Museum in London. This management do not display a great interest in either film or photography. The change of the Museum’s title [to Science + Media Museum] has, to my mind, been accompanied by a reduced focus on these popular media. There was the outrageous purloining by the Victoria and Albert Museum of a major photographic collection. And recent cinematic exhibitions have been small-scale affairs on the wall opposite the IMAX entrance. The Insight Collection has much reduced access: the staff still offer interesting material but their number is clearly reduced.

If the Museum returns to operating the film programme I doubt that it will resemble the impressive variety of former days. Likely alternatives to Picturehouse as a contractor are not obvious; the Odeon chain apparently turned down the opportunity four years ago. The Museum does still operate the Widescreen Weekend, but this is predominately a mainstream programme. European widescreen films are a rarity. And the other Festivals once offered have fallen by the wayside. What would be good, but seems unlikely with the present style of management, would be a discussion with local people and regular patrons of the cinemas.

Another nail in the coffin . . .

It is not widely reported that the Picturehouse chain is sacking (via redundancy) its projectionists with the exception of the Central venue in London and their facility at the Bradford Media Museum. The latter is restricted by the contract between Picturehouse and the Museum.

Quite a few of the Picturehouse venues, including York’s City Screen, have 35mm and/or 70mm projection. Presumably these will be standing idle from now on. It is sad to see the chain, which had a slightly more varied programme than the multiplexes, joining the rush to downsize the cinema industry. The University of Warwick have a research project into this issue: they estimate 90% of the qualified technical staff in exhibition have already been given the push.

I heard about this by word of mouth. There is little reporting on the issue, even on the internet. The Little Bit Ritzy in Brixton and the Hackney Picturehouse venues both have webpages on this.

Inevitably 35mm and 70mm projection is going to reduce further. And do not believe the hype about digital standards. In Britain nearly all DCPs are 2K or even of lower quality. So far this year I have seen more 35mm prints than I have seen 4K DCPs. To achieve the standard of 35mm requires between 7K and 12K (estimates vary).

Moreover digital projection is not just about pressing buttons. The justification of Cineworld, who now own Picturehouse, is that the industry has moved over to digital. They should learn from their own experience. I tried to watch a Hindi-language film at the Bradford Cineworld. The title was in 2.35:1 but the drapes there were set to 1.85:1! it took three complaints and 30 minutes before the manager (who controlled the technical side) rectified the error.

The cinema in Leeds Light (built for the South African Ster-Kinekor chain known in the UK as ‘Ster Century’) has/had masking for different ratios but since it was taken over by Vue this facility is never used. And the illumination during features varies from quite low to exceedingly bright depending on which auditorium one is in. When I complained regarding the light level that made low-key scenes impenetrable the manager claimed this was the standard level.

Cineworld have already had strikes over low wages at Picturehouse venues this year. It seems that at least at some of the outlets there are protests about the issue. But the deafening silence on the issue means that (probably) most members or customers are unaware of what is happening.

The lost art …

Rare 4K treats!

The Sight & Sound letter page in the March issue had a good letter from Adam MacDonald raising the issue of identifying 4K releases into cinemas. He suggested that this was something that the magazine could offer readers. Unfortunately the only response printed to date is from Patrick Fahy who supervises the ‘Credits’ for the magazine. He suggests asking at cinemas: what is called ‘passing the buck’.

In Leeds Vue used to have a little box on their Online pages which gave this information. That has disappeared and now if you ask at the desk they have to try and find someone who actually knows about this. On my one visit to The Everyman they thought I was asking about the sound! Other multiplexes with 4K projectors offer a similar ‘service’.

The one venue with 4K projectors who do provide the information is Picturehouse at the Science + Media Museum in Bradford. The Picturehouse CityScreen in York also has a 4K projector but they do not seem to offer similar information. So good news. This coming week there are, not one, but two films on DCP in 4 K. Over the whole of last year I only counted ten releases in 4K, so this is a feast.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a joint USA/British production. It is an adaptation of the novel by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. This title is in colour, standard widescreen and has 7.1 sound.  It was directed by Mike Newell.

Custody / Jusqu’à la garde, a French film from 2017 scripted and directed by Xavier Legrand. This is in colour and 2.39:1 ratio with English sub-titles.

Of course, you need to attend a screening in the Pictureville auditorium which actually has the 4K projector,. Note, Custody seems to only have one screening in Pictureville on Wednesday April 25th: the rest are in Cubby Broccoli which only has a 2K projector.

Is this a positive portent for the future or just one isolated highlight?

Heritage Day at the Hebden Bridge Picture House

“This year, from 7-10 September, Heritage Open Days is back to shine a light on England’s fascinating historic places. This annual festival celebrates our diverse history, architecture and culture, offering you the chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences all for free.”

The Hebden Bridge Picture House‘s Open Day was on Saturday September 10th. This was also the final screening on the cinema’s long-serving Kalee 35mm film projector. For a while now the projector team having been nursing along this 65 year old machine, including some running repairs to keep the films on screen. The projector is now retiring: a suitable home for old but capable machines.

Appropriately enough the final title screened on the Kalee was Alfred Hitchcock’s last British film, Frenzy (Universal Pictured, 1972). Filmed in and featuring London it was shot in colour and standard widescreen. It is the most sardonic of Hitchcock’s films with Barry Foster in a stand-out performance as Robert Rusk, Convent Garden entrepreneur and serial killing psychopath. Jon Finch is capable as the victim/hero of the film, Richard Blaney. The film has some excellent London locations, photographed by Gil Taylor and Leonard J. South. It also has a screenplay by Anthony Shaffer adapted from the novel by Arthur Le Bern. Le Bern’s other famous novel is ‘It Always Rains on a Sunday’, provided the story for one of the finest East End representations from Ealing and Robert Hamer. Shaffer script has real drive but also some fine and witty lines, two concerning ties.

The real victims in the film are Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Brenda Blaney and Anna Massey in a fine performance as Babs Milligan. There is also a fine cameo by Billie Whitelaw as Hettie Porter, suggesting an interesting sub-plot to the film. But the gallery of female victims marks this as one of the most overtly misogynous of Hitchcock’s films.

Alongside the serial killer narrative we get an enjoyable minor plot around food: between Alex McGowan as Chief Inspector Oxford and Vivian Merchant as his wife. This adds another sardonic note to the scenario. It also features one of the many authorial motifs in the film: the familiar one involves a bowler hat.. There is a complete list of these in the excellent ‘Hitchcock’s Motifs’ (Michael Walker, Amsterdam University Press, 2005). Apart from ‘food and meals’ there are such interesting examples as handbags, mothers, and staircases.

The staircase is a good example of the design, cinematography and editing of the film. At one point there is an impressive reverse track down a staircase and out into a Convent Garden street. A trope that Hitchcock perfected early in his career. And the film offers an intriguing variation on the serial killer’s labyrinth.

Hitchcock on set for FRENZY

The film was shot in Technicolor but distributors (in a typical false economy) printed the film up and circulated it on Eastman color stock. So the projectionist had to offer an apology before the screening for the ‘fading’ on the print. There was a definite pink tint on the film but there were only a few scratches and good contrast and definition. So we enjoyed most of the qualities of this film. Whilst not one of the great masterpieces directed by Hitchcock it does standout in the late titles that he worked on. It does, though, miss the hand of Bernard Hermann: the score is by Ron Goodwin, who appears to be trying to add a Hermann tone to the music, but without the Hollywood composer’s touch.

The cinema is installing a replacement 35mm projector over the coming month. They hope it will be ready for a November screening. The new machine is a Victoria 5 and has been acquired from the old (and sadly defunct) Bradford Playhouse. This is the projector that operated in the smaller auditorium. Years ago I saw Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) in that auditorium projected on that machine. This was the occasion that I realised that the film is one of the finest masterpieces directed the Swedish artist.

I am looking foreward to seeing films of a similar quality at the Hebden Bride Picture House and screened from their ‘new’ projector’. Their regular presentation of films in their proper 35mm format is an example to other exhibitors in Yorkshire.