I go to the cinema at least once a week — an expensive habit given the cost of central London cinema tickets. I try to go to free preview screenings when I can and to seize discount vouchers for the multiplexes when they materialise, but I would much rather go to a Curzon cinema or to the BFI, where there is a much more pleasurable cinematic experience.
Since I moved to London over five years ago, one of my favourite things to do at the weekend has been to go to one of the Curzon cinemas to catch one of their earlybird screenings. Any film that started before 2 pm would cost only £8. Great, huh? Yes, it was, but sadly the earlybird tickets no longer exist, which I discovered to my surprise on Saturday when I showed up to the Soho Cuzon to watch X + Y, only to be charged £14. I declined.
And therein lies the problem. I know that it is a tough time for the movie industry in general and for independent cinemas in particular, and if there is a film I really want to see, I will happily pay £14 for my ticket. Well, perhaps happily isn't the right word, but I will at least accept it. The great thing about the earlybird screenings was that they encouraged me to see films about which I was on the fence; films that I thought I might like but wasn't completely convinced; films where £8 seemed like a fair price for a bit of a gamble.
I was always impressed by how busy the earlybird screenings were, even at 11 am for films that weren't the week's big hitters. It made me feel as though I was part of some secret cinephile inner circle. The seats were comfy, the audience adhered to the Wittertainment Code of Conduct, and I got to see some really great films. For the past five years, I have probably been to about two earlybird screenings per month, on average, although my visits have declined a little since I moved from Marylebone to Bermondsey.
I'm all in favour of supporting great cinemas — and the film industry in general — but as with the BFI, whose preview screenings now cost £14.50 even for members, I feel like the Curzon has made a mis-step here. I see one of the roles of such cinemas as supporting independent, offbeat or arthouse movies, and forcing its customers to pay £14 to see a film they may hate doesn't seem the best way to do this. Sure, put up your peak ticket prices (like the multiplexes do anyway), but at least give your customers the chance to catch an independent film at an off-peak weekend time for an off-peak price. In the meantime, I'll be searching for more free previews and desperately seeking another cinema that might give me the chance to watch these hidden gems at a less extortionate price.