As Picturehouse Cinema unveils plans for two new cinemas in the area, we take a look at Hollywood’s insatiable thirst for south London
So it’s not quite Hollywood, but south London has played its part in film history with a long movie heritage and as a location for some iconic screen moments over the years.
Who can forget Michael Caine’s oft repeated line from 1969’s The Italian Job – (adopt Cockney accent) ‘You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!’ – after one of his partners in crime destroys an entire security van in a practice explosion before the real heist takes place. That was shot in Crystal Palace Park.
Then there’s the infamous scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 A Clockwork Orange, where Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his ‘droogs’ beat up an elderly vagrant in an underpass. It was filmed in Trinity Road underpass in Wandsworth. Babylon, a 1980’s film co-written by Martin Stellman (the writer of Quadrophenia) and Franco Rosso, who also directed it, tells the story of a black British working-class musician and was filmed in Deptford and Brixton. And Reese Witherspoon’s ‘Harvard’ speech in Legally Blonde (2001) was actually shot in the Great Hall of Dulwich College because, such was her popularity at the time, she was in town shooting another film.
More recently, Crystal Palace hosted motor-racing drama Rush, directed by Ron Howard, UK indie film Fast Girls and the upcoming London Fields, starring Johnny Depp. Scenes from this year’s Muppets sequel, The Muppets Most Wanted, were shot on Peckham Rye and at The Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley, and Guy Ritchie was recently in Herne Hill shooting Man from UNCLE, starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.
‘Filming in the capital is hugely important, boosting the economy, creating jobs and a powerful driver for tourism,’ says Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London and the British Film Commission. ‘South east London has long been a popular destination for filmmakers, but over the past 10 years Film London has successfully increased filming across the capital and this area has also enjoyed a significant boost.’
But the area is not just a sought-after film location; it has also had a strong influence on cinematic styles. The Gaumont film company, which ran its Camberwell studio near Dog Kennel Hill in the early 1900s, was a British cinema pioneer – an early adopter of new technologies at the time such as sound and colour, and inventor of the chase scene, many of which were filmed around the area. From this studio, Gaumont produced more than 500 short films that were shown around the world.
Only 30 or so survive, and some of them, including Adventures of a Roll of Lino, Tommy the Tin Pot Hero and Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight, have been digitised and will be shown at a free outdoor screening on the site of the original Gaumont film studios on 30 August. The screenings, organised by The Friends of Dog Kennel Hill Wood, will feature a live piano soundtrack played by renowned silent movie accompianist Neil Brand.
Coming to a screen near you…
What south London lacks in multiplex cinemas, it makes up for in independent screens and special events, all of which offer interesting alternatives to the exorbitant snack prices, sticky carpets and generic atmosphere of the big chains.
As well as the Ritzy in Brixton and Peckham Plex, there’s Whirled Cinema in Herne Hill, Rooftop Cinema in Peckham, The Luna Cinema, which screens films in locations such as Brockwell Lido, and the Peckham & Nunhead Film Festival (4-14 September). And while the Cinema for Crystal Palace Campaign continues to press for a cinema in the area, Crystal Palace Pictures film society shows films at the Gipsy Hill Tavern every other Thursday.
But this part of London has been crying out for more independent cinemas for years, and finally those cries have been answered. Picturehouse Cinemas, which runs the Ritzy, has just got planning permission for a new cinema on Lordship Lane in East Dulwich. The existing St Thomas More Hall at number 116a will be redeveloped to provide a three-screen cinema with a cafe/bar and small courtyard garden to the rear. There’s also talk of another Picturehouse Cinema for West Norwood (you can find out more at norwoodforum.org).
Clare Binns, Director of Programming & Acquisitions at Picturehouse Cinemas, said: ‘It’s great that we can now bring the best of World Cinema, great films for all generations, and our diverse Screen Arts programme to more local neighbourhoods around London town. It’s a very exciting time for Picturehouse Cinemas.’