Curzon Cinemas Celebrate 70 Years of Independent Cinema

posted by sarahwinborn on August 5, 2004 at 5:41 am

Curzon Cinemas are this year celebrating our 70th year of showcasing the best in Independent Cinema and to celebrate this we are screening a number of special seasons throughout the year at both Curzon Soho and Mayfair. Here is a brief history of both cinemas from our company director Roger Wingate:

A Short History of the Curzon Mayfair
by Roger Wingate

A personal and episodic history – The Beginnings

“The Curzon”, as it was universally known until its companion cinema opened in Shaftesbury Avenue, was built by The Marquese di Casa Maury, in 1934. It was a Bauhaus style bungalow â€" fire regulations prohibited any construction above a cinema in the days before safety film. In contrast to the “picture palaces” typical of that era, The Curzon had an almost austere interior. White walls and vaulted ceiling, dark blue carpet and velvet covered armchair seating combined to create a sensation of restrained luxury.

My father acquired the lease of the Curzon in 1940, the year of my birth. Sadly, I have no record of the wartime programming, but I do remember my father telling me it was a busy time for the entertainment world — heatless homes and poor food encouraged going out, not to mention London’s floating population of young men and women “in uniform” on the look out for dating venues.

Distribution & Post-War Social Realism

In the immediate post War period, my father began to import foreign language films; that is to say he became a distributor as well as exhibitor. My mother was fluent in French from school days and was picking up kitchen Italian, which she was able to improve upon at Berlitz courses. As a result, she undertook the translation and sub-titling of films in both languages. “Dialogue” and “spotting list” were terms often heard at home.

At The Curzon, the period up to around 1951 was notable for films depicting the harshness of contemporary Italian life. Vittorio da Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” ran for 22 weeks in its original release (it was revived on several occasions later on) and attracted no less than 150,000 admissions. Although still a child, I was allowed to see it. I could not make out what the father had bought his son to eat in a restaurant scene — they were the principal characters – and was told it was called pizza and that this was to show their poverty!

Curzon Soho

The cinema now known as the Curzon Soho was a “first” in two ways when it was built in the late 1950’s. It was the first new cinema to be built in Central London after the end of the 2nd World War and is believed to have been the first to take advantage of the change in building regulations resulting from the advent of safety film. Thus it could be sunk into the basement under a much larger building.

That larger building was developed by the late Harold Wingate. He was the proprietor of the Curzon in Curzon Street (now the Curzon Mayfair) but was not keen to operate a second cinema. So he granted a lease of the newly built cinema to Columbia Pictures, who intended to use it as the showcase for their product. It first designed â€" a single screen with a seating capacity of over 700. However, by the end of the 1980’s, it had become increasingly evident that this configuration had become outdated. Accordingly, in 1998 the Curzon West End closed and, after extensive alterations, reopened as the three screen Curzon Soho.

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