Phoenix Programmer Paul Ridd takes a look at the latest Picturehouse Publication.
Earlier this year, I took over programming the Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford from Deborah Allison, whose book THE PHOENIX PICTUREHOUSE: 100 YEARS OF OXFORD CINEMA MEMORIES (written in collaboration with Hiu M. Chan and Daniela Treveri Gennari) is launched this weekend.
It’s certainly been an enjoyable challenge, gauging what the Phoenix Punters like to see, programming around a massive roof refurbishment, and getting to know and work with the new management team, under the inimitable Kenny Gold.
But for me, reading Deborah’s book has proved the most potent and humbling learning experience, as far as programming the cinema is concerned. Seeped in meticulous detail, and filled with fascinating personal anecdotes of working and going to the cinema from a vast number of sources, the book pays fitting tribute and testimony to what has been a rich and varied century of cinema; a history that has run parallel to the evolution of cinema and cinemagoing un the UK. It feels humbling to now be part of something with such a vast legacy.
An exhaustive account of the cinema’s evolution begins with its silent era manifestation as the North Oxford Kinema, then the Scala, the New Scala, right through until the 1070s, with the coming of Studios 1 & 2, and briefly Studio X; a venue for the more salacious celluloid in Oxford for a time. We then look at the cinema’s transformation into its modern manifestation as The Phoenix, as the site edged closer to becoming what it is today; the go-to venue in town to see the very best film has to offer. A sense of the changing cinematic landscape is also richly evoked, as the book examines the evolution of ‘Alternative Content’ – the myriad ballets, operas, plays and special events that form part of the fabric of the Phoenix programme – that has run parallel to the return of quality Art House and mainstream film to the cinema.
Along the way, we learn of the various families and organisations that have operated the cinema, as well as hear from a plethora of voices and see a huge range of photographs (some never before published), both vividly recalling the cinema and its various manifestations. Veteran Phoenix regular and supoorter David Parkinson contributes an overview of the many and varied films that have played at the Phoenix over the years in a fascinating section towards the end of the book, while a moving final chapter turns the viewpoint over to Phoenix customers themselves, whose testimonies prove final tribute to this invaluable community building.
As Oxford born and bred myself, the Phoenix is the site of some of my earliest and fondest memories of cinema going. This wonderful book has only enriched my feel for the place more as the cinema goes into its second century. Long live the Phoenix.
The book will be on sale at the Phoenix kiosk or via mail order on 0871 902 5736 from Saturday 23 November.
“Just seen the book – in two short words, love it. It’s so cool and so… well dammit, it just makes you feel proud of the cinema.” – Jeremy Smith, Group Features Editior, Oxford Times and Oxford Mail
Special offer for Picturehouse Members: £5.99 until 31 December (£7.99 thereafter)
Please note there is a supplementary UK P&P charge of £2.95 for mail orders.