Feature: Picturehouse

Valdemar Alsop 12 December 2012

Have you seen Blades of Glory? It’s a standard Will Ferrell movie, marmitey like all his others – for the record, I love it. Anyway, it reminds me about the recent takeover of Picturehouse by Cineworld. Can these two, just like the two belligerents in blades who form the first all-male figure skating partnership (go and see it if you haven’t, if only for the dancing), make it work? Or is the whole project doomed from the outset like an Avatar-esque invasion of Pandora? For many of you out there, and maybe me, this isn’t even question: it’s an article of faith. Big equals bad.

Of course, the obvious main worry is that Cineworld, with all the grace of Jabba the Hutt breaking Ramadan for the first time, might destroy our beloved Picturehouse’s special identity. From reasonable prices and allowing us to take booze in to see a flick, to screening quirky, anti-mainstream films (and even holding a Slackers’ Club), there is great concern that this could all be swept away, turning our Picturehouse into a grim, clone-town copy like all the others that blight the cinema landscape around the country. It might happen; I would hate it if it does.

But let’s be honest here for a second. Those beers and wines in the fridge at the Picturehouse are hardly home-brewed by humble farmer David, who struggles valiantly plying his moonshine against the odds in Market Square. Those films – ahem, Skyfall – that many people want to see are not exactly filmed in the back of King’s College Chapel with an iPhone. As much as I love the Picturehouse, it’s not quite the ‘independent’ cinema many of us think it is. Take a look at the back of a Ben and Jerry’s tub and see who really makes it before you start throwing stone-laced snowballs at big, bad Cineworld.

Can this elephant-man marriage work? Well, they didn’t sell-out for nothing: I can only guess the cost pressures Picturehouse must face in the current climate. It can’t be easy to keep going and there were probably myriad reasons beyond cashing-in that drove the owners to do it. My guess is that, like the all-male skaters of Blades of Glory, they did it because it was the only option on the table to save the thing they love (the Picturehouse) and to keep it going. Cineworld have an opportunity here to show that they can act like well-heeled saviour Santas instead of greedy Grinches (oh, it’s Christmas, let me have my token mention) and preserve all that makes Picturehouse special by leaving it alone. If they don’t, there’s no reason why you or I should go there over any other cinema. Someone else (ever fancied trying?) will see there’s demand out there for an excellent film experience, and they can take my money every time. Cineworld have a chance to make sure this isn’t a big deal. If they ruin it, my stones will sharpened and ready for chucking too.

Valdemar Alsop