Photos: Scott Hukins [www.scotthukins.co.uk]
For the first time in forty years, a sizeable audience sat in the stalls of the Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield’s finest surviving suburban cinema, and watched feature films on the big screen over the weekend of July 18th-19th 2015: http://www.thestar.co.uk/what-s-on/out-about/video-sheffield-picture-house-revived-with-film-festival-1-7359851.
Thanks to the inspired vision of the arts platform Hand Of, run by three recent Sheffield graduates, Rob Hughes, Louise Snape and Ismar Badzic, several hundred people – some of them from surprisingly far afield – experienced this very special building doing what it was designed to do, making people happy.
Pullman-style seats – more comfortable than the originals – were installed, together with three bars, one of which sold sarsaparilla, the traditional temperance drink of pre-1960s Sheffield. Outside in the car-park there was a rich choice of street food and cakes; in the foyer, the distinctive fragrance of popcorn hung in the air.
The choice of films touched on Yorkshire’s film heritage – Brassed Off (1996) and Four Lions (2010) – and the Abbeydale’s heyday – two Laurel & Hardy titles, the short Brats (1930) and the feature A Chump at Oxford (1940), together with the first feature-film ever shown at the Abbeydale on its opening night, December 20th 1920, The Call of the Road, starring the British boxer-turned-actor Victor McLaglen.
The Call of the Road was a very special opportunity to see a silent movie as it was originally presented, on a big screen, with a fully improvised piano accompaniment by the virtuoso Jonathan Best [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAJdJ7iSrMM]. Any other experience of pre-1929 feature films pales in comparison with watching a clear print, run at the correct speed, with live musical accompaniment in a crowded auditorium.
The afternoon was made even more special by the presence in the audience of Vincente Stienlet, grandson of Pascal J Stienlet who designed the building, and Cynthia Allen McLaglen, the niece of the film-star Victor McLaglen.
The Abbeydale has been very lucky in its owners since 1975 – the office-equipment dealers A & F Drake Ltd who found a use for the place into the early 1990s, the Friends of the Abbeydale Picture House who made use of it up to 2012, and the current owner Phil Robins who is developing it as a multipurpose community venue.
The Picture House Revival was a huge step forward in bringing the place back to life. Thanks to Rob, Louise and Ismar, the place was lit up on Saturday and Sunday evening, and after the end of the show crowds of people poured out on to the street, smiling: http://picturehouserevival.tumblr.com.