Cinema Architecture and Atmosphere

In this special edition of our new strand ‘Art in the Making’, we sing the praises of cinema theatres, their design and their histories, focusing on the architectural visions that have shaped movie-going as an acutely spectacular, social, communal experience. In Odeon Cavalcade (1973) Cecil Clavering illustrates the influence art deco had on his cathedral-like cinema designs, while in Cinema in East London (1979) the Four Corners film collective reveals movie house sites and histories that have been sadly pushed out of view or knocked down. The Cinema Theatre Association’s Richard Gray will give a short presentation about their campaign to protect historic cinemas buildings, BFI projectionist Alexa Raisbeck will discuss her ‘Oral History of Women Projectionists’ project, and Allen Eyles will give an illustrated talk on the history of BFI Southbank.

Odeon Cavalcade
Leave behind the ugly modern multiplex and step back into the glamorous world of the 1930s picture palace, in this charming documentary about Art Deco cinema architecture. Influenced by Le Corbusier, Oscar Deutsch created an iconic cinema brand and house style for his Odeon cinema chain. Designed by modernist architects Harry Weedon and Cecil Clavering, the distinctive buildings were anything but drab, with their sensual curves, glass, chrome and plush soft furnishings.

Cinema in East London
This is a tape/slide programme made by Wilf Thust, Ron Peck, Joanna Davis, Mary Pat Leece and Paul Hallam as part of the East End Festival. It shows the history of cinema and theatre existing in East London, combining a collection of historic photographs and interviews.

Unveiling Eros and West End Cinemas
We begin with views of a fenced off Piccadilly Circus where the relocated Eros monument awaits a grand unveiling. News crews and the public are seen crowding around the monument. Ken Livingstone can be seen chatting to officials. After a short montage of West End flagship cinemas we see a crane lowering a cage. People in the cage unveil Eros while a large crowd looks on. There follows another montage of cinemas in other parts of the West End and an ex-cinema in Kilburn.

Between the 1950s and 1990s Alan Stingemore made a considerable number of films covering a wide variety of subjects with a particular emphasis on railways and cinemas. His films often capture memorable events like those shown in this film or last ‘glimpses’ of subjects that were about to disappear forever. During the 1980s Alan travelled throughout the region and beyond filming old cinemas, particularly if they were about to be demolished. These films form a fitting tribute to the memory of these buildings, often designed in the ‘Moderne’ or Art Deco style, which are now lost forever.

Opening of Whitehaven Film Theatre
Stanley Reed, then director of the BFI, discusses the state of the 1970s British Film Industry and the need for great films to be seen outside of London. Alan Knowles talks about the Borders’ first regional film theatre and how a regional venue will complement mainstream cinemas in West Cumberland. With Christopher Miles on his most recent feature film, The Virgin and the Gypsy which, in 1972, had never been screened in West Cumberland! Luckily Whitehaven’s new Film Theatre can put that right!

Opening of Chingford Odeon
Short item on the construction of the Odeon cinema in Chingford, east London, made for showing in the cinema itself on its opening day, 9 September 1935, within the newsreel Universal Talking News. The cinema’s striking art deco design, and its huge tower that dominated the district, offered an image of exoticism and luxury intended to entice regular patronage, a fact reiterated in the commentary.

The Odeon cinema (renamed the Classic in 1967) was located in Cherrydown Avenue in Chingford. Demolished shortly after being closed in 1972, the site is currently occupied by a discount shop.

Programme notes from BFI Player ( and Four Corners Archive (

Richard Gray is the Chair of Casework for the Cinema Theatre Association. It campaigns nationally for the preservation and conservation of our heritage of traditional cinemas. Richard is also a former Chair of the Association. He published Cinemas in Britain in 2011, an exploration of the building type from its 19th-century origins to the present day. Richard has lectured on cinema and theatre architecture in this country, the USA and elsewhere. He formerly worked for English Heritage on the interpretation of historic sites open to the public.

Allen Eyles is a founder member of the Cinema Theatre Association. He edits its annual magazine Picture House and is the author of CTA books on Odeon Theatres (two volumes), Gaumont British Cinemas, ABC: The First Name in Entertainment, The Granada Theatres and London’s West End Cinemas. He has worked extensively for the BFI on a freelance basis.

Alexa Raisbeck is a Technical Supervisor for the BFI and has been working as a film projectionist for over 17 years. Outside of this she lectures, gives talks, researches and writes academic and technical articles related to film projection. She has also produced film art that focuses on the material of film which has been exhibited in London and is working on a current project that includes interviewing and documenting the working lives of female projectionists in the UK. Her interest in film lies behind the screen and ‘tabs’ (or curtains) and includes women in film projection, technical, projection and cinema history and cinema buildings.

The Cinema Theatre Association (CTA) was founded at the start of 1967 and quickly arranged visits to cinemas, issued a newsletter and started an archive. It has continued with visits all over the UK (as well as numerous trips overseas, as far as Russia, the USA and Australia), lectures, publications (the bi-monthly CTA Bulletin, the annual magazine Picture House, and several books), building a substantial archive of photographs and other memorabilia, and campaigning for the preservation of cinema buildings. Its most recent events have been virtual talks, including a series on cinema architects.

Director/Producer: Barry Clayton
Production Company: Greendow Film Productions
Sponsor: Arts Council of Great Britain
Associate Producer: Malcolm Hignett
Researchers: Rodney Wilson, Dennis Sharp
Assistant Director: Malcolm Hignett
Script: Barry Clayton
Original idea: Dennis Sharp
Photography: Mike Davis, Stephen Goldblatt, Frank Hardie
Editor: Peter Day
Sound: Michael Lax, Tony Anscombe
UK 1973
36 mins

Directors: Wilf Thust, Ron Peck, Joanna Davis, Mary Pat Leece, Paul Hallam
Production Company: Four Corners
UK 1979
28 mins

UK 1985
3 mins

UK 1972
5 mins

UK 1935
1 min

Total runtime 73 mins

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email