What’s your favourite Devon or Cornwall cinema? Plymouth Arts Centre reviewed

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What’s your favourite cinema in Devon and Cornwall? Here’s Nick Ingram’s review of the Plymouth Arts Centre

November and December at Plymouth Arts Centre, Looe Street, Plymouth, has brought a cornucopia of delights from their film programme. We’ve watched Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou. Heath Ledger has given his final act in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus. Julie & Julia, sees Meryl Streep playing Julia Child as she finds her inner French cook (even though it is worth noting that Elizabeth David was a far better food writer then Child was any day of the week).

That’s not all. Carey Mulligan had an affair with an older man, in what is most likely the best British film of the year, An Education. Audrey Tautou failed to capture the essence of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in Anne Fontaine’s, Coco Before Chanel. And to finish off the year, one can not go far wrong by checking out a wonderful shiny new print of Orson Wells in the immortal classic of Hollywood classical cinema, Citizen Kane.

The programme at Plymouth Arts Centre as the past few months have shown is stoic and solid. Although not highly experimental – Pierrot Le Fou, is the most experimental film shown this year – the arts centre does show a wide selection of independent American and European films – at least those films which find distribution deals. In this cinema one gets the overwhelming chance to see films in languages other than English. There’s German, French, Spanish, Hispanic cinema, Japanese, South East Asian, Chinese, even the odd Bollywood film. Here is the world on the screen.

As a whole, the cinema and art centre is part of a wider complex made out of art galleries, and a most likeable cafe called The Green Room, serving vegetarian food, coffee, and wine by the bottle and glass.

And when you turn the corner towards the service counter there’s a barrage of cakes, and waistline increasing sweet things. The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable. So it means you can go in and look around the conceptual art in the galleries, or view in the cinema the latest film, and then have a leisurely evening meal.

Of course, you do not necessarily have to see the art or watch a film, you can just walk in and stuff your face to your heart’s content. But it should be noted that in connection with the cinema, the cafe does do a £10 meal deal – which means a cinema ticket and food thrown all together in to one tasty package.

The cinema itself can only be descried as compact and bijou, having no more then 60 seats for each programmed show. This can be a problem if the centre is showing a Coen Brothers film or a new Almodovar. Tickets tend to sell quickly, so for the bigger films it’s always an advantage to book early by phoning the box office.

Although the cinema is compact, it was refurbished just over two years ago. The hard unwelcoming seats were taken out and replaced with new multiplex-size comfy arm chairs. The screen itself can handle widescreen, cinemascope, and the older academy ratio. The sound system has always been solid, although there have been times when the projectionist has seemed reluctant to try and balance the sound out, especially on modern films that have had the sound recorded in surround. Then again, one of the weaknesses of surround sound is the fact that it has always been quite awful, and it is still a wonder that the major studios have not yet dropped it.

If there was ever a criticism to be made of Plymouth Arts Centre Cinema, it would be the age of the projectors, which on some occasions have had the habit of going technically awry. Even to the point that the projectionist has had to suspend the performance, and had to make a running repair to the projector.  In my own experience I have been sat in the cinema while watching Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, only for one of the projectors to go out of action. It would seem that at the time this projector was not repairable, and the last two reels of the film had to be shown from a single projector, the projectionist having to stop the film to change the reels.

This though is a minor criticism, and one which always brings a smile to my face. For in the long run the experience of the cinema here has been one of wonderful films, and of great film discoveries. There is not a better place in Plymouth to experience cinephilia at it’s best.

The fact is, a smaller theatre of 60  seats will always have an advantage over the cavernous multiplex cinema. In a smaller theatre the spectator can cultivate a closer more private experience, with the screen. The space between film and the spectator is smaller and that cinephilic act of falling in to the cinema is so much easier. Hopefully, a lot more people will fall in to the cinema at Plymouth Arts Centre in the coming year. After all its one of the best places in town to do so.

• Got a favourite cinema in Devon or Cornwall? Tell us which one and why. Comments below, please

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One thought on “What’s your favourite Devon or Cornwall cinema? Plymouth Arts Centre reviewed”

  1. My vote goes to the Barn Cinema, on the Dartington estate near Totnes. They also show a great selection of old and new films, and now have a great digital projector as well, which avoids the tension of waiting to see how smooth the changeover of reels is going to be! The image quality is great, but it was nice to see ‘Citizen Kane’ projected from film recently. With digital projection we’re seeing these old films far cleaner and sharper than even the people who made them.
    There was a memorable incident a few years ago when ‘Tokyo Story’, Ozu’s masterpiece, was shown. About half way through the last reel was played by mistake, and no-one seemed to notice (myself included – I hadn’t seen it before) until the lights went down and they announced what had happened. It wasn’t their fault, I hasten to add – the reels had arrived incorrectly numbered from whichever cinema had it previously. They did offer a refund though!
    The best bit about Dartington is that if you go to see a matinee, or during the summer, you can walk through the beautiful gardens afterwards, while contemplating the film.
    If someone would construct a foot-bridge over the River Dart, I’d be able to walk to it in about 20 minutes, which would make it even better!

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