Friday 11 May 2012

Visit to the Cinema Museum, London

This is a post I originally wrote as a piece for the newsletter of the London Region Archives and Records Association (I still have to concentrate not to say Society of Archivists!).  I've altered it slightly since and included a few more photographs. The newsletter is available here.

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) have a monthly film club: a free drop-in event with ‘screenings of archive films from LMA and other organisations, occasional guest speakers and plenty of opportunity for discussion'.  Sounded perfect - two of my favourite things, film and archives - together! When I saw the March film club was a visit to the Cinema Museum in Elephant and Castle I was even more excited as I'd been meaning to visit for years.  Emily, the organiser of the Film Club, was very friendly and arranged to meet everyone outside.  She had arranged for us to have a tour and a film screening.

Exterior of the Cinema Museum, photo by me
Ronald Grant was our host for the evening and he told us the story of the development of the film museum, the history of the building (it was previously a workhouse where a young Charlie Chaplin spent time), and a great history of film itself.  Ronald started working as an apprentice projectionist with Aberdeen Picture Palaces Ltd at the age of 15.  On moving to London he worked for the BFI and the Brixton Ritzy.  A trip back to Aberdeen led to a chance encounter with his old employer who showed him warehouses full of artefacts from the cinema chain he had worked with.  In order to save these from being destroyed he returned to London with a large quantity of artifacts and film equipment which formed the basis of the museum (there more on the history of the museum on their website.

Category Board featuring 'H' for Horrific!, photo by me
The collection has continued to grow since then and covers everything you could think of from the doors and display boards of the cinema to the interior fixtures, film projectors and the films themselves (over 17 million feet of film), film journals, books and magazines, uniforms of staff from the cinemas, posters and original artwork, publicity stills and photographs of cinemas, and I’m sure lots more that I’ve missed out!

I really liked this carved poster frame with Mutiny in the Bounty (which starred Richard Harris) in the centre, photo by me
Ronald was a fantastic tour guide, weaving his personal history in and around all the objects and artefacts in the museum. He also showed us the space they use for doing events including film screenings and sessions with film makers and actors – I’ll definitely be going back!

The evening ended with an archive film screening of a selection of films including some a film made about the last tram in London ( 1952) and, to my delight, a film by the New Zealand film-maker Len Lye which I think (I knew I should have written this up when I got home that night!) was A colour box (1935). I would highly recommend a visit to anyone interesting in film, film archives and film history.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the April meeting of the film club so I can’t report on how that went but I’m looking forward to the May Film Club on Wednesday 23rd May.  Information on the dates of the upcoming film clubs are available here.

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