Sneaking a Peek at Hackney Picturehouse

Hackney Picturehouse

“It all looks a bit…ummm…new!”

Thus went perhaps the strangest quote I overheard during my quick jaunt around City Screen’s new East London venture, Hackney Picturehouse, which threw open its doors earlier today for a special open day for Founder Members. Hackney Picturehouse is, of course, ‘a bit new’ because it is, of course, a bit new.

Historically something of  an East London vacuum – ‘but there’s no tube stations?’, goes the common, puzzled refrain from the rest of the capitol – the area has been on the up and up over the last few years. Some call it gentrification or mutter disapprovingly about hipsters, others are quick to point out that as much as some areas of the Borough have changed or ‘improved’, others are still struggling to make social and cultural ends meet. But however you see it, Hackney is increasingly become an excellent place to live.

And the most recent addition to that excellentness is the Hackney Picturehouse, a four-screen miniplex that will officially open its doors to the public on October 28 and, luckily for me, is but a mere stroll away. For the privileged elite (ie. those who were willing to shell out thirty quid for membership at a cinema which hadn’t even opened yet), today brought a special sneak-peek, followed by a choice of preview screenings to be held later this week.

Thus, after months of quiet anticipation and the occasional excited arm-flapping moment, I present a sample of my first impressions of the new Hackney Picturehouse:

First things first, and for a relatively grand building, I have to say that the entrance – on the long side of the old Ocean building on Mare Street – is a little underwhelming; there’s the usual glass doors, concession stands and posters advertising upcoming screenings, but not a whole lot more. It’s a pity they couldn’t find a way to utilize that corner doorway, but all is forgiven when you come to the neck-botheringly low ceiling art which pays tribute to founder members in a riot of colour and typography. It took me a while, but I eventually found my little imprint on the future of Hackney entertainment:

Names in lights...
Around the corner and I’m straight into Screen 4, the smallest auditorium, with the ultra comfy seats we’ve come to expect from Picturehouse Cinemas and ample leg-room. Initially I sit at the very front, disconcertingly close to the screen and move hastily to the back row, which sits under an overhanging projection booth – quickly deciding this is my favourite seat. If I tell you that I’m usually a middle-middle kinda guy, you might get some idea of just how cosy Screen 4 must be. Obviously the cinemas are all still in varying states of completion, so I disregard the odd unattached speaker, but the strange flashing on the side walls whenever the screen is showing white or light colours is a little disconcerting.

Back out into the foyer, and at the bottom of the stairs sits a relic of celluloid times gone by – a Philips DP70 – an infamous projector built to handle 70mm Todd-AO film and the only one to have ever won an Oscar. Thankfully for us cinephiles, however, this isn’t the only non-digital projector in the building and I head upstairs, making a beeline for Screen 3, which houses 35mm projection capabilities in an old-style elongated auditorium set-up, with an oddly shaped screen designed specifically to cater for a range of aspect ratios. Importantly, the raised level of the screen and the ample floorspace at the front will be hosting live accompaniment for silent film screenings, beginning with The Wirral’s finest exponents of sci-fi math-prog, The Laze, who will perform their score for the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney, on November 1st.

Next up is Screen 2 and, entering as I did from a strange second door at the top of the auditorium, I am immediately confronted with the prospect of committing one of the cardinal sins of cinemagoing, blocking part of that all-important shaft of light which streams from projector to screen. Needless to say, with the projection booth sitting at the top of the stairs, and the projection angle being quite tight, it could potentially be an annoying auditorium if you have a lot of latecomers struggling to find their seat.

Finally, it was time to step into the big one – Screen 1. I had some idea of what to expect, having already seen pictures of the auditorium on Facebook, but walking in at the bottom with projection filling the rather large screen that makes up the entire end wall made quite an impact. Of course, given the sheer size of the projection area, I doubt the first five or so rows will prove all that popular. Similarly, the sheer width of the steeply-raked auditorium means that the seats on the far side – particularly from the front until about half-way up – will test your neck muscles rather severely.

All in all, however, these are but minor quibbles about an ambitious new cinema that I’m sure will prove exceedingly popular (especially given the dearth of cinemas in the Hackney area – Dalston’s absolutely brilliant Rio Cinema notwithstanding). In fact, I’m a little worried it might prove too popular and it’ll be a fight to get a hold of tickets for some of the one-off screenings, Q&As and special events that are planned over the coming months. In the meantime, I’m just looking forward to my preview of Errol Morris’ Tabloid next week, and the prospect of finally having a truly ‘local’ cinema, the first in the many intervening years since I lived around the corner from the Chelsea Cinema in Adelaide’s leafy eastern suburbs.


Membership, as well as tickets for the first week of screenings and a bunch of upcoming special events, can be purchased on the Hackney Picturehouse website. And for all your up to the minute needs, be sure to follow the lovely folks on Facebook and Twitter.

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