Empire Cinema

5 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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CF100
CF100 on March 7, 2016 at 4:35 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon: The “new” Warner West End had a good standard of presentation, including as you say the “gold” tabs, and I had many enjoyable trips there. I’m not sure the others of that generation were of the same standard—the one at Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock, for instance, was unimpressive. (Can’t remember if the tabs were in use?)

By the late 1990s, new (by then Warner Village) builds were of the “box” design with wall-to-wall screens and stadium seating (and, for some reason, inferior KCS speakers instead of JBL.) If I remember correctly, tabs had been dispensed with.

A real shame Odeon have stopped installing tabs—it hardly does Odeon’s proud design heritage justice! The streamline moderne Odeons are to my mind the canonical example of “what a cinema should look like.”

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 7, 2016 at 2:00 pm

The Cannon/MGM/Virgin/UGC/Cineworld (!) in Southampton’s Harbourside Leisure area opened in 1989 as a five screen multiplex and all screens then had tabs which were out of use by the time Virgin’s brief sojourn into the cinema business took place. All Odeon’s multiplexes, when new, were fitted out with tabs until just a few years ago when the Circuit’s new-builds began to appear with just naked screens for the first time.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 7, 2016 at 1:41 pm

CF100 Warner Village Cinemas U.K. multiplexes were all fitted out from new with gold screen tabs – side opening in their larger auditoria and festoon in the smaller ones. This included the “new” Warner, Leicester Square. I believe all tabs in their multiplexes were out of use within a few years although not usually removed for several more years.

CF100
CF100 on March 7, 2016 at 8:48 am

Ian: Interesting, I can’t say I remember it not filling almost the full width. Wonder if they’ve changed projectors? Perhaps the screen was intended for a future projection upgrade which has been shelved? (Ideal to upgrade to Dolby Vision with Christie 6P laser projection as it already is equipped for Atmos… but the politics around that must be delicate to say the least!)

Of course the problem is the screen “floats” off the wall… and you can clearly see that when entering from the sidedoor. (Visible in your photo “IMPACT SCREEN TO REAR.”)

Ian
Ian on March 7, 2016 at 7:50 am

If I understood the manager correctly a few weeks back the maximum throw onto the screen in the Impact auditorium is smaller than the screen size and they are thinking of masking it down. See the photo link above “Impact screen from Balcony”

There is a considerable unused edge on the screen. I doubt that tabs are envisaged though!

CF100
CF100 on March 7, 2016 at 7:07 am

FanaticalAboutOdeon—Picturehouse Central-and other venues—really show how there is very much a niche market for cinemas featuring “theatrical” trappings—but perhaps not for the “multiplex hoards”!

Would be nice if the Empire Leicester Square fitted tabs—and the Chinese reinstated them for their IMAX screen—but I doubt there is sufficient space. Vertically, from what I can tell, the screen is jammed right up against the rafters. Horizontally, the top of its sides are up against boxed out sections which I assume hide parts of the roof structure.

I do think the IMPACT screen could use losing a few rows, reducing the screen size, and having some sort of proscenium feature with tabs etc.

CF100
CF100 on March 7, 2016 at 5:05 am

I recall the first time I visited a cinema lacking tabs—it was an AMC in the US—and I was absolutely shocked. The (American) individuals with whom I attended remarked “Umm, curtains in a movie theatre?! Aren’t curtains, like, old and stuff?!” Certainly they had no clue about “real” cinemas—and that multiplex had all the charm of visiting a branch of KFC. :–(

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 7, 2016 at 5:05 am

With regard to tabs and attendant lighting, I ought to credit other West End cinemas where such features are alive and well. NFT One was originally designed with solid panels moving across the screen in place of tabs but these were replaced some years ago with silver satin tabs lit by footlights and very nice they look too. The present Curzon Mayfair’s main screen was designed to be exposed all the time with spotlights projecting spheres of coloured light on the screen, here, too, within a few years tabs were installed and effectively lit by the existing spotlights. The same thing happened at the erstwhile Odeon, St. Martin’s Lane which opened with a “floating” or suspended screen and frame while the wall behind the screen was floodlit before and after performances and during intermissions – about the time the Odeon ceased being “Odeon Disney” and reverted to more traditional, if selective, programming, a track and neutrally coloured tabs lit by spotlights were installed. The recently and beautifully restored Regent Street cinema has silver tabs lit by footlights from day one. The largest screen at the brand new PictureHouse Central has exquisite tabs in turquoise, orange and silver reflective fabric.
All is not lost therefore and, if the will, the budget and the space were there at the Empire, Leicester Square to retro-fit tabs, it would be far from the first cinema to do so.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 6, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Undoubtedly there is a generational aspect with regard to the finer, more peripheral points of “film” presentation. Youngsters who have grown up knowing nothing other that the average multiplex will, naturally, wonder what we’re talking about. Alongside this, I’m often taken aback at how little most people do actually notice. I’ve been with friends to performances where various things have gone seriously wrong – lengthy loss of focus, unexplained periods of complete darkness and silence and periods of green screen. A friend with grandchildren at Odeon Bournemouth – Screen 1 had to find a member of staff to turn off the cleaners' lights – these were apparently being used in place of what was left of the auditorium lighting! By the same token, those same people wouldn’t normally notice tabs or lighting effects or specially selected non-sync music helping to set the mood. All this doesn’t mean we should cater to the lowest common denominator so full marks to Plaza, Stockport; Rex, Berkhamsted; Odyssey, St. Albans; Alhambra, Keswick and all those other cinemas where proprietors know how to create magic. Odeon, Leicester Square still use screen tabs and pageant lighting (the house tabs are there but the track was damaged by the flown 3D screen). It’s generally subliminal – except to nuts like us – but it can enhance a show no end.
It’s not that such accessories are in any way out-of-date, it’s more a case of accountants running things and thinking these things are not necessary to show a film, which they’re not, of course, worse still, they might malfunction and cancel a show – refunds equal anathema! With one, maybe two people responsible for say twelve screens the concerns are, sadly, not unjustified.

In my home cinema, children are captivated when colours change and dim as silver tabs open and the trade mark appears to magically show through. Numerous guests, many younger than myself and far from dinosaurs, also say “This is how cinemas used to be – they’re not the same these days” or words to that effect. I used to manage the erstwhile Scarborough Odeon and the projection team there would have found it hard to believe the errors Ian was faced with in the little cinema at the rear of our old circle.

Nothing wrong with the things I miss in many modern cinemas but employing/training sufficient staff to check all equipment regularly to guard against failure, as in the past, would be as alien today as advertising in newspapers when they assume – wrongly – that everyone has a computer or access to one. That may one day become much nearer the case but it hasn’t happened yet. Even quad posters could be an endangered species!

I vote with my feet these days and select my cinemas very carefully indeed.

Ian
Ian on March 6, 2016 at 3:31 pm

“my question is, “back in the day,” was the average cinema-goer enthused by cinema interiors” …

Difficult to quantify but I suspect yes to a certain extent. The “roadshow” films had reserved seats, souvenir brochures, and an atmosphere more akin to theatre than cinema. And the way films were distributed through the circuits and regions made the venue more special. There was also very much a heirachy of flea pit through to posh cinemas – and a circle seat at a Palace was the place to be. I (and friends) certainly travelled some distances to get to a good cinema (Embassy Chesham).

CF100
CF100 on March 6, 2016 at 3:05 pm

Ian—I am rather younger than you so I’d prefer not to think of myself as a dinosaur just yet! In this context, my question is, “back in the day,” was the average cinema-goer enthused by cinema interiors and presentational aspects of screenings?

I find most people today are not in the least interested—if they can be bothered to go to the cinema at all.

(I’ll add that the friend I dragged along to the IMAX with Laser screening previously went with me to see “Lucy”—and as I noted before on this site, his jaw dropped to the floor on entering the auditorium and after the film said that he had “never seen or heard anything like it.” Of course he had never been to Empire 1. Anyway, that was an effort of mine to provide (at least something like) a “real” cinema experience to someone else! Also, it is fair to say that many who I’ve shown pictures to of “Empire 1” can hardly believe their eyes—but equally many roll their eyes, “I don’t see what’s so fantastic about this!”)

Cinema operators do seem to be trying to differentate the experience, although from what I can tell, this equates to large reclining seats and (sigh) table service!

Exited via the fire-escape ladder? LOL—sounds about right. :–(

Ian
Ian on March 6, 2016 at 2:40 pm

But stark truth is – aren’t we just the dying act of the dinosaurs here (myself definitely included)?

I have been a member of the CTA (UK Cinema group)for 4 decades. There are still people there that I met on my first visits, but far fewer new members. The age of the stalls and circle cinema with even one set of screen tabs is largely over. It is great that there are still people who remember the style and glamour of the past – but that is what it is – the past. I try to capture it where I find it (Carlton Westgate take a bow) but I struggle to find the enthusiasm to photograph the average (and they are all average) multi-plex. I wish I had known of the future decimation of the Odeons and ABC’s back in the 1970’s – I would have tried much much harder to record them.

Looking into the future does anyone think there will be a multi-plex appreciation society? I don’t know if the blandness is consumer led or whether it is all todays cinema-goers know and expect, and I deplore the decline in presentation standards exacerbated by digital. At a live screening at the Reel in Grantham recently I had to go find someone to turn the house lights off after the interval, at the SJT in Scarborough last week it was full minute (there was a helpful on-screen clock) before anyone turned on the house lights after act 1 of Hangmen. It is all automated (badly) and showmanship has exited via the fire-escape ladder!

CF100
CF100 on March 6, 2016 at 2:37 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon—Ah yes, I see what you mean regarding signs for both “cinema” and “IMAX.” My guess is this ultimately boils down to Westminster Council—it would perhaps make more sense to have “CINEMA” on the marquee and a high level “IMAX” sign on the front? As it is IIRC permission for the high level IMAX sign (visible when approaching from the West) went to appeal.

Regarding the dilution of IMAX, that’s a difficult one. AFAIK, the company’s finanical situation was, shall we say, not too good as long as they were in the “institutional” market. So, expand with “Hollywood” product… blow-up to 15/70 using their “DMR” process. And then, of course, they needed more venues.

The other problem, of course, is the demise of film as a distribution medium, and the development of increasingly better digital projection.

So, is IMAX Digital on a 60' wide 1.9:1 screen the same as a 15/70 in an “institutional” purpose-built venue? Perhaps not, although “immersiveness” is to an extent a function of auditorium size (or rather depth)—but is it bad? The IMAX Digital projection system is very good and they have their own patented technologies incorporated.

(By the way, I went with a friend for my first trip to the Empire to see the “IMAX with Laser” system—and I was surprised when it seemed they did not noticed the (blatant) difference between it and the previous “IMAX Digital” projection—let alone my laundry list of points!)

In the case of the Empire LS, given that few releases are 1.4:1 anyway, in all technical respects the answer is yes—as the “IMAX with Laser” projection system is the replacement for 15/70 projection in “classic” venues, and the screen width and auditorium depth are all well in line with “classic” IMAX cinemas.

IMAX seem to be sustaining what they’re doing at the moment, with massive expansion in China. There is a real threat from Dolby’s “Dolby Vision” system and more generally that 4K laser projection capable of filling “giant” screens is not exclusive to IMAX (which, again, ties in with the long term prospects for 15/70 as a distribution medium.)

Either way, as long as there are cinemas, IMAX or not, giant screens are here to stay.

In agreement with you on “tiles” and “monotony.” The difficulty is, if we accept the conversion of Empire 1 as a given, then what to do? Basically, I’m looking at it from the perspective of “could I have come up with a better proposal?” On reflection, maybe—perhaps modern acoustic tiles could meet the requirements whilst better retaining the original look.

(As for other theatrical aspects, keep in mind that I complained to GM Stephen Bush about the LED sequencing, after attending a screening on opening day!)

Of course the 1962 auditorium was a great place to watch films, one that I prefered over any other venue. Also, for a long time it had a reputation for its excellent sound system; but there’s no question that the slap/flutter echo was a problem—at times it made for poor dialogue intelligibility. (And why, going back to for instance THX standards, control of reverberation time in auditoria has been a requirement—all the more puzzling how Empire 1 was ever certified, even if the sound was first rate in all other respects.)

(Granted, if Empire 1 were kept, taming it may not have necessitated removing all of the tiles—perhaps just the addition of some absorption. The front of the projection booth would have been one obvious starting point. Having said that, it’s not fully tamed in the IMAX auditorium—but much improved.)

Hopefully this post hasn’t bored everyone to tears!

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 6, 2016 at 12:47 pm

I wouldn’t assume every “man in the street” was aware multiplexes, or sub-divided cinemas like the Empire, only ever have one IMAX screen and, if they must have anything other that “EMPIRE” on the canopy, doesn’t the generic term “cinema” more truthfully describe what’s on offer? By all means have “IMAX” on the front-of-house but not instead of “CINEMA”. Now that IMAX installations are becoming common across the U.K., like Cinerama before it, the name is already becoming diluted – especially as presenting feature films in the format, spectacular though it undoubtedly is, in my experience, reminds the less initiated that it’s far from what they once experienced in Bradford, the Trocadero or BFI IMAX in London. Also akin to Cinerama, travelogue/documentary films can’t sustain a format for ever – at least digital product doesn’t have to be made especially for the system – but I’ve been asked more than once why “Gravity” and “Star Wars – the Force Awakens” had strips of blank screen above and below the actual picture. “Clinical and soulless” comes down to something much simpler i.e. the lack of anything remotely theatrical to subliminally create atmosphere and a sense of occasion – be it screen curtains, artistic lighting (ultra-bright, dimmable LEDs can be used with colour gels – they don’t have to be the three primaries constantly rising, fading and blending “Christmas tree” fashion through the single and secondary hues) or internal architecture offering something other than variations on the black box principle. Look at George Cole’s Empire cinema of 1962 where the arcing ceiling sections and random gold coloured tiles breaking up the monotony of such vast spaces – was it such a dreadful place to watch and hear films? Not in my experience.

CF100
CF100 on March 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm

That being said, that reminds me—here are some links to photos (and accompanying notes) of some restoration work to the Empire’s frontage, carried out in 2007:

Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3

CF100
CF100 on March 6, 2016 at 12:24 pm

The facade is hideous and as I have said before on these pages, whilst I respect the classically informed work of Thomas Lamb, it certainly isn’t to my taste and the facade is the last (visibly) remaining section. The mismatched balcony only serves to make it worse. Better off covering it up again!

That said, the balcony is, as far as I’m aware, only used by the casino as an outdoor section of a bar—so I’m not sure how much of a “copy” of the OLS' balcony it is?

There are many questionable aspects of IMAX’s marketing, but the proof is in the pudding—they do have their own (often patented) technologies and in-house R&D. One has to consider that the IMAX signs alone are effectively worth a substantial sum in terms of advertising—given Westminster Council’s strong presumption of “no adverts.”

IMAX only ever have one auditorium within a multi-screen cinema.

On the subject of “clinicial and soulness”—I’ve often wondered, in a broader and general sense, whether this comes down to the use of old materials/products. For instance, the plaster tiles in Empire 1 were “unique” in the sense that one presumably not find them anywhere else today, but were surely a factory-made product. Stretch fabric wall coverings over acoustic absorption are not “unique”—but certainly technically superior. (Of course, cold cathode lights are “warm” whilst LEDs aren’t—but that’s another story.)

Ian: Thank you for posting links to those nice photos.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on February 29, 2016 at 5:58 pm

Terry, it is! The “façade” is an architectural jumble sale – upper part of the original façade visible but only when not hidden by all-over film banner, an open glazed area sits on the canopy attempting to imitate, without success, the Odeon’s 1998 external balcony over on the Square’s east side, while the uninspiring canopy no longer says “CINEMA” it now says “IMAX” even though only one screen in the complex justifies the brand. A mess.

terry
terry on February 29, 2016 at 9:34 am

It all looks cold, clinical and soulless……………….

CF100
CF100 on February 15, 2016 at 3:41 am

Some remarkable photos of the Empire auditorium block under construction in 1927…

This one in particular puts the Screen 1 conversion into context. As the IMAX screen is positioned slightly past the “kink” in the righthand wall, it can be seen how narrowly it avoids the roof structure, with the middle of the screen behind the truss, and the sides ahead of it.

More photos:

Steelwork 1 Steelwork 2

It can be seen that the Coles-designed auditorium ceiling follow(s/ed) the shape of the roof, particularly the curved section adjacent to the booth.

The dome of the Lamb-designed auditorium under construction:

Dome 1 Dome 2

N.B. I am posting this is a matter of interest and to provide a record on this excellent site, rather than as a value judgement of any particular iteration of the Empire Leicester Square, although it goes without saying that the Coles-designed auditorium must stand as the canonical version.

CF100
CF100 on February 9, 2016 at 6:00 am

FanaticalAboutOdeon—I completely understand what you’re saying and why it’s not for you.

A little confused that you should end up with headache at the Empire IMAX and not elsewhere? The auditorium depth is about the same as the BFI IMAX…

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on February 8, 2016 at 6:05 am

Compared to the BFI Odeon IMAX at Waterloo and the National Media Museum IMAX in Bradford, the Leicester Square installation felt decidedly inferior and the auditorium too shallow. I left with a headache, something I seldom suffer, and I’m afraid “left” is the operative word. While most would either not notice or just accept the LED lighting around the vast, naked screen, it fails to replicate the remarkable, cold cathode system which so attractively bathed the Empire Cinema/One auditorium and recalls Christmas tree LEDs just constantly pedalling through the hues as a gesture by architects as opposed to a lighting designer. The foyer, and facilities at that level, was excellent although the entrance area between the pavement and the stairs was very tacky on my visit. Our views are inevitably somewhat esoteric and I respect those of fellow cinema fans who still enjoy what’s on offer at the Empire. It’s just not for me.

CF100
CF100 on February 8, 2016 at 5:21 am

FanaticalAboutOdeon—I still clearly remember my first visit to Screen 1—and, like you, loved it ever since.

Sadly, we all know that it was no longer commercially viable and (the IMAX screen) is a very good conversion, resulting in what is still a large and comfortable auditorium (about 90ft.x130ft.) and now equipped with perhaps the best projection available today.

It is still very much run as a flagship venue—helpful and friendly staff, glitzy foyer areas, premieres, etc. Of course it’s not the same and I wish the conversion hadn’t happened, but I still find what it has to offer is far above average.

I can understand if one finds the massive IMAX screen to be altogether too overwhelming—I felt weak to my knees after “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”!

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on February 7, 2016 at 8:00 am

The Screen 1 conversion details are very interesting and appreciated. Sadly it’s all theory to me now as one visit to the IMAX screen was enough. Having loved the Empire Cinema/One since 1971, the present “pretend multiplex” has no charm whatsoever. The only cinema in Leicester Square I visit these days has a 120' black tower.

CF100
CF100 on February 6, 2016 at 8:04 pm

Screen 1 conversion details

Including a photo of the IMPACT auditorium under construction.

The challenges posed by the conversion project are discussed in some further detail than the Cinema Technology Magazine article; to summarise:

  • The dividing wall is 15x40m and weighs 50 tons (a different figure?)

  • As Cinema Technology Magazine noted, the dividing wall had to isolated from the floor and is hung from the roof; additional considerations were that Empire had no access under the auditorium floor and it was incapable of carrying the dividing wall’s load. The difficulties in doing so are briefly mentioned (e.g. monitoring roof structure deflections as building work progressed.)

  • Building of the IMPACT auditorium also had constraints on floor loading and lack of access. The balcony is supported by a 17m long main girder, visible in the second photo on that page.