“The cinema will be a world away from the multiplexes of the West End with competitively-priced seats and a programme that would tap into the venue’s historic significance.” – Sarah Carthew, Westminster University
Everyone has heard the legendary story of the Lumiere brothers’ first cinematic projection in London, when audiences nearly fled the building due to the impending impact of a train through the wall in front of them. In fact, what at first appeared (to the untrained eye) to be a train full of people travelling at speeds fast enough to level concrete, was revealed (when it did not kill everyone) to be an illusion; a trick of the ‘light.’ What audiences were actually looking at was not the train itself, but photographic images of the train projected onto the wall at 18-24 times per second. It was the genius of the Lumiere brothers to film the train from such an angle as to accentuate its trajectory towards or even ‘through’ the lens of the camera; what Tom Gunning has called the ‘Cinema of Attraction.’
The site of this mythic event – The Regent Street Cinema – is one of Britain’s oldest and most cinematically coveted theatres. According to Alex Needham in a recent article for the Guardian, the Regent played host to countless scopophilic experiments including ‘magic lantern’ shows, diving bells and electrification. It was also the site of one of the first photographic studios in Europe, built in 1841 and boasting a portrait of Charles Dickens. However, since the 1980s the building has been disused and presumed obsolete; that is until Westminster University announced their brand-spanking-new regeneration scheme to help raise the proverbial phoenix from the flames.
Kicking off with fundraising and celebrations tonight (22/03/2012), the six million pound scheme, fronted by Westminster’s Sarah Carthew, promises to offer cinema-goers a historically faithful film programme, offering competitively priced tickets and a diverse number of movies that forgo the usual spout of blockbusting fare. Additionally, the auditorium will be used as a lecture hall (in a similar fashion to King’s College’s cinema on the Strand); a space for classes but also a place where students can project and promote their own work. Truly an exciting project, The Regent Street Cinema is located at 309 Regent Street (just north of Oxford Circus) and is scheduled to open its doors to the public in November 2013. Keep your eyes peeled until then.