What is it about old stuff that is so engaging? If a shop selling “Vintage clothing” was to call its stock “Old, second hand, worn out, sweaty clothing” then it would be a lonely place. I can’t see “vintage washing machines” selling very well and I certainly wouldn’t buy vintage fish and chips. But vintage burgundy, vintage cheddar, vintage cars all somehow conjure up heritage, style, charm, even quality, simply by being old.
So the time came when it seemed like a really good idea to open a Vintage Cinema and I was lucky enough to be invited to the very best of its kind last week.
The Rex in Berkhamsted opened in 1938 and was in former days both a cinema, a bingo hall, two cinemas and, until 2004, a roost for most of the local pigeons and a variety of rodents. James Hannaway, unassuming proprietor, visionary and fundraiser saw the potential for the building and had the energy to not just raise a great deal of cash but also to see the perfect restoration though to completion.
The reward is not only his, (it’s been full 362 nights a year since it opened) but ours too as under scallop-shell lighting with a glass of Merlot in hand you can enjoy films you’d never see at Vue, in seats with more leg room than John Cleese’s pyjamas. We lost our Rex cherries to “A week with Marilyn” (so appropriate) framed by the fantastic art-deo “proscenium” (a sort of gilt border round the screen) which lends the movie an even greater quality if that were possible.
But Hannaway is not stopping at one venue; he’s already peeling chewing gum from carpets and chasing the pigeons out of The Odyssey in St Albans, so who knows, maybe vintage cinema is on the way back. What next? Vintage PCs? Pa-pah, pa-pah, pa-pah, pa-pah, pa-pa-pah….