The Last Projectionist.



An evening for the cineaste when the Robert Burns Cinema Film Club returned after the summer break with a well-received showing of Tom Lawes labour of love The Last Projectionist (2011). This documentary, obviously put together with a great deal of love and warmth by all concerned, is basically about the history of Birmingham’s Electric Cinema which was built in 1909 to show silent films. The cinema took on various guises before Tom Lawes bought the near derelict building in 2005; he refurbished and re-launched it as the independent cinema we see today. During an earlier reincarnation (1937) it was converted to show newsreels and cartoons, in the 1970’s it became an adult movie venue showing cheaply made sex films and in the 1980’s it was transformed into a two screen cinema showing both adult and family film’s simultaneously. By the 1990’s it became an art-house cinema but was starved of investment and fell into disrepair.  This film also tackles the demise of 35mm film that has now largely been replaced by digital technology 

Britain's oldest working cinema in 1937.

Alec Barclay opened Monday night’s proceedings by reading a critique by the Guardians Peter Bradshaw who ended his review by describing the documentary as ‘an entertaining trip down cinema’s memory lane’. This was followed by a short talk by our very own in-house projectionist for 25 years, Mr Alex Murray who demonstrated the difference between the RBC’s original 16mm film, its 35 mm equivalent and now the digital black box that just plugs in and is controlled by a computerised device. Alex went on to explain that although he has a sentimental attachment to celluloid film he does find the digital version a lot easier than having to splice films together, add adverts and trailers and then reverse the procedure when the film has been shown and need’s to go back to the distributor. He also pointed out that there are no moving parts to go wrong with the new equipment. When asked by one audience member what the future held we were told that it probable would involve a satellite that would allow film theatre’s to have live feeds and also to download movies directly into an in-house server.  Although most of todays films are digital the RBC will always maintain its 35mm projector for archive and specialist film.

The Electric Cinema cir.2012.

As I intimated previously this history of ‘cinema going’ was very favourably received by the RBC audience. I personally found the somewhat humorous reminisces of the group of projectionists very enjoyable as well as the more serious discussions about the change over from 35mm to digital.  Also interviewed in the documentary were previous managers and ex-owners of the Birmingham’s best-known independent film house along with some other independent operators from different parts of Great Britain. Part of the films strength was its blatant pitch for the future of the small cinema and the unique experience that it offers to clients who would refer to be treated with respect and watch their movies in the company of other civilised film lovers rather than the popcorn munching, soft drink slurping and mobile phone addicted masses. Long live the RBC Dumfries.

The beautifully renovation interior.
For technical reasons we were unable to show the filmed review by BBC’s Mark Kermode, so for those who are interested please follow the link:  Mark Kermode's review of The Last Projectionist.