Entertainment correspondent Rob Ward takes a visit to the historic Hyde Park Picture House and explains why its as popular today as it ever has been.
It can’t have been easy opening a cinema just as World War One was breaking out. Yet almost a hundred years after the Hyde Park Picture House screened its first movie, the ‘cosiest cinema in Leeds’ is still going strong. The beautiful purpose-built venue saw numerous changes of ownership before Leeds City Council eventually took control and pledged to maintain it alongside the City Varieties and the Grand Theatre & Opera House. I spoke to manager Wendy Cook about the challenges facing the Picture House and their plans for the summer…
Changes in cinema
With such a long history it’s inevitable that changes in movie viewing have affected the cinema. From the advent of ‘talkies’ in the twenties, televisions appearing in people’s homes in the fifties and video in the eighties, the Picture House has always managed to remain a constant presence. More recently, multiplexes, 3D and downloading have been the obstacles which need to be overcome - but as in the past Cook relishes the opportunities afforded by new technologies.
She explained how a slew of excellent documentaries have recently been showcased in Hyde Park, most of which have been made cheaply and effectively using digital production techniques which allow enthusistic filmmakers to produce up-to-date, socially and politically motivated films with little input from ‘big businesses’ who might be scared to put their name to such edgy material. Films such as Michael Madsen’s eery Into Eternity and the financial disaster film Inside Job have found their audience in north Leeds, as has the excellent Senna – a film which made Cook ‘genuinely care’ about a subject whose noise normally ‘makes me want to kill myself’. Recently a documetary about the nuclear arms race, Countdown to Zero, saw a Q&A session with a panel of experts – the kind of event which Hyde Park Picture house excels at.
Such nights are one of the things which elevate the cinema above faceless multiplexes. Filmmakers are brought together with their audiences and screenings are organised to coincide with local exhibitions and events. Cook explained how ‘dumb luck’ brought a rare screening of legendary director Ken Russell’s Savage Messiah to the venue – along with an appearance from the great man himself.
With an exhibition of Henri Gaudier Brzeska’s sculpture currently housed within Leeds’ Henry Moore Institute, the curators contacted Cook about the possibility of screening Russell’s biopic of the artist – an opportunity too good to miss to show a film which has never been available on DVD and which Russell describes as his best. Sadly, ill-health meant that the director couldn’t attend – instead he sent the film’s editor Michael Bradsell in his stead. Bradsell read a wonderful letter from Russell, accompanied by digital images of the director taken on the day. It was absorbing, interesting and excellent value for money – no more than the normal price of admission.
Whilst appearances from the likes of Ken Russell and Mark Kermode (who brought his Five Live show to the venue last year) can’t be guaranteed every week, there are numerous ongoing and regular events designed to appeal to a wide range of film fans. Attendees of BYOB screenings are invited to bring a baby rather than a bottle, Saturday matinees cater for younger audiences and horror-afficianados can scare themselves stupid until the small hours during the Night of the Dead.
The bread and butter, however, will always remain the day-to-day programming which enables audiences to enjoy a mixture of must-see world cinema, challenging pictures which may not otherwise be screened in the Leeds area and a smattering of interesting and intelligent big-budget flicks – think Inception and True Grit rather than Transformers and Pirates.
And there’s plenty to look forward to over the summer as Oscar winner In A Better World, a Terence Malick retrospective and the new movie from Pedro Almodovar take to the screen. 1st August is Yorkshire Day and will be celebrated accordingly: suggestions on how best to mark the occasion are welcomed. Just ensure your ideas are more original than mine – apparently Kes has been done to death. Similarly, with the Picture House’s centenary fast approaching, ideas on how to commemorate the landmark will be gratefully received; email email@example.com with your thoughts
For up to date listings, news and bookings, visit http://www.hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk/