Sunday, November 7, 2010

VISIT - Phoenix cinema celebrates 100 years

Wednesday   10   November   at  8 pm,   first floor bar

The Phoenix Cinema, 52 High  Road, East Finchley, N2 9PJ

This year the  Phoenix , one of the old cinemas in Britain, is celebrating  its 100th birthday. Its architectural features alone are outstanding.  Come and join us while we celebrate with an appreciation.

The invention of the cinema is one of the signposts of the modern  era. Previously culture meant either trips to the theatre [ the cost !]  or to the rowdy music halls, which have their virtues  but even applied art is not  one of them.  The cinema opened up a whole new world  to which even people born and brought up like Charlie Chaplin, from the London workhouse,  were able to contribute and make their own distinctive mark.

America of course was the home of this startling new medium but it was not long before the long arms of capitalist enterprise engulfed it . Over time various artists have attempts  to establish a degree of professional autonomy . Many were sympathetic to, or actually joined, the communists, more as a sign of resistance than to signify ideological commitment. McCarthy did his best to eradicate that.

The new regime in Russia after the revolution in 1917  instantly saw the possibilities of film and encouraged the film makers as part of their political programme.  This is not the place to debate the nature of Russian state capitalism but we can note the substantial contribution of Serge Eisenstein and co.

In Britain, a trip to the pictures became increasingly a cultural habit. Cinemas like the Phoenix with its innovatory  use of sound  in 1929 and the talkies,  responded to this enthusiastically.  A bit later  a group of  committed and talented film makers  produced not the blockbusters, as advertised, but high quality and serious  films .  More directly, working class organisations established clubs for the propagation  of socialist causes with the Workers Film Movement  . Perhaps the most notable was the Salford and  Manchester Workers Film Society but there were many others.

The weekly trip to the flicks became a regular feature, especially for young people . Even children got their own version with Saturday matinees, as many will remember.  The popular  explosion of culture symbolised by pop music , the Beatles, Rolling Stones and this areas own stars , The Kinks , also saw a wave of new cinema productions .  Some of these were of course  nationalistic and military in orientation but it was new and exiting and kicked the  old cultural interests with precedents and continuous profits  into the dustbin.

Labour-based films over the last 30 years have seen such productions as Ken Loach's Riff raff, Adalen 31,  The Grapes of Wrath, Harlan County  USA, Matewan, Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter, Norma Rae, Blue Collar, Union Maids, Sit Down and Fight  Walter Reuther and the rise of the Auto Workers Union,  With Babies and Banners, Silkwood, The Wobblies, and many more.

The Phoenix,  which is  owned and managed  by a Cinema Trust, a charity run by and for the community, is effectively an independent cinema, outside the big chains. Its location  just over the border in Barnet means it is not a challenge to the much newer Haringey Independent Cinema, which  features monthly films  in the West Green Learning Centre in Tottenham.  RaHN  supports both these enterprises  and invites you  join them in East Finchley  for an informal meeting  - and  drink  -  to celebrate the 100th birthday of this grand  old institution.  It runs a range of activities, both for this and generally  and you can get more
information from , or by phoning
020 8444 6789 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting             
020 8444 6789 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

Better still go there via Fortis Green Road or East Finchley tube which is opposite.

Today everyone can be a film maker.  Record your discussion, meeting, strike,  picket line or demonstration and send it to YouTube.  But there is no replacement for the social role of the cinema.

You can read more in  Steven G Jones : The British Labour Movement  and Film  1918- 1939   [1987,   248 pp] ;   Richard Porton :  Film and the Anarchist Imagination  1999, 314 pp] ; Tom  Zaniello : Working Stiffs, Union Maids ,  Reds and Riffraff  an organised  guide to films about labor   [1996, 295 pp] .

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