Cinema Pathé Tuschinski, Amsterdam

The naive film lover in me proved, as it so frequently does, an ignoramus. Having stayed away from French speaking countries in the last decade and remembering so little of previous visits, I knew nothing of Pathé’s vertical integration. Hell, that’s an ugly word – Pathé’s heritage. Sure, it took me a trip to a non-French speaking country to realize it, but that’s how things usually hit you – when they’re paradoxically unexpected.

So yes, Pathé is not only a producer/distributor of films; it also owns “a great number” of cinemas in parts of the world, as Wikipedia puts it. Moreover, it is the second oldest film company (after Gaumont, who they have a joint venture with nowadays) and the inventor of the newsreel you would see before the beginning of a movie, all the way back in 1908.

The Tuschinski cinema looks accordingly. Commissioned by Abraham Icek Tuschinski and opened in 1921, I was struck by its particular style and revealing opulence. Wikipedia puts it as a mixture between Art Deco, Art Nouveau and the Amsterdam School and neutrally claims “it is considered to be one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world” (no reference!). Perhaps I will do wiki a favour and reinforce that claim by the end of this, so that one day, when I’m an authority on interior design, the universe will be in balance again.

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Leaving the streets of Amsterdam to step into the entrance hall, the feeling was not far removed from the ballroom scene in The Shining (1980) – a tall man with a crackling Dutch accent stood behind the ticket counter and had he said the tickets were on the house, I’d have probably run off to find a secure hiding place, probably in the porn theater next door. Alas, he did not, but the cinema does have a tinge of horror to its story, as Tuschinski himself, of Polish-Jewish decent, was deported to Auschwitz after the Nazi invasion of Rotterdam and died in the camp in 1942.

The movie for the day was churned out through a process of elimination and it turned out to be Demolition (2015). Critics might not have loved it, but my thinking was that Jake Gyllenhaal can do no bad. Trying to beat the rush, I bought my ticket around midday, but my fears proved unsubstantiated. On returning to buy some popcorn and coke, there were no queues at all, with few minutes before the start of the film. Both, sadly, disappointed – the (salted) popcorn and the coke, I mean. The former was stale, while for the latter I was forced to select a regular Coke, although a big poster showcased my new preference, Life. Is this a good place to #firstworldproblems?

Moving right along: I was tucked away in Screen 3, past the red tape, through the foreboding doors and down the right corridor, all the way to the end. Seating around 100 people, with a small, but sufficient screen size, it was mostly empty on a Wednesday evening at 7 pm.  It was the low level of the seats and the unusual positioning of the cup holders (in front, rather than to the side) that made the affair in any way distinctive for me. Other than that, it could have been any screen, anywhere else – although I’m quite certain the experience in the main theater would have been something else entirely.

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As for the movie itself, the critics were half-right. From the overwrought narration to the self-indulgent dialogue, it became apparent that Bryan Sipe, the screenwriter, was not an established author. That is not to say that the concept of Demolition is baseless, as the story of a man rebuilding his life feels intimate enough at times to make you care, but there are just too many bits and pieces that don’t come together well. And yes, there’s good old Jake, money in the bank, pulling through it like a boss, with Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper keeping him company in a decent ensemble. (**)

Two days later, during my final stroll through the city, I happened to pass by Tuschinski again. This time around, the barriers were placed outside, while fashionably dressed twentysomethings were sipping champagne and making conversation in the foyer. The ‘secondary’ entrance could be used for some of the later screenings, including the enticing Midnight Special (2016). Pacing up and down the road in contemplation over whether I should indulge or not, my glance was caught by a girl, waiting expectantly past the barriers. She smiled and I smiled back.

That was all the special I could take for one midnight. And as for the wiki reference, it will have to wait until I sip San Pellegrino at the Tuschinski.

Cinema Timis, Timisoara (RO)

Of the three cinemas I grew up visiting on a regular basis, Cinema Timis is the last one standing. Not quite honorably, but standing nonetheless.

Located a mere fifty meters from the landmark cathedral of Timisoara, the single screen cinema is housed at the ground floor of some of the pitiful condominiums that ’embellish’ Piata Operei, the “birthplace of Romanian democracy”. Well, not long ago, Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015) argued that the illicit film trade during the last decade of communist Romania, alongside an industrious dubbing factory in the person of Margareta Nistor, paved the way for the changes that were to come. While such a claim is rather generous and attributes too much power to B movies from all around the world, there you have it: communism, film, freedom, all encapsulated in Cinema Timis.

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Count ’em and weep.

Until my most recent visit there, earlier this week, it had been a year or two since the last film I had seen at Timis. It should sound something like Tee-mee-sh, the name of both the local county and a river at the outskirts of Timisoara – not to be confused with the Bega river, which you would most likely encounter during a city tour. But I digress.

The state of the cinema had not improved in the mean time: some sort of administrative affairs were taking place in the foyer, the adjacent club was fortunately closed (when it isn’t, you’ve got an additional soundtrack in the mix) and there wasn’t even a semblance of the usual cinema treats commerce. Last time, a couple of Fantas and Sprites were languishing in an unplugged cooler and some cheesy popcorn was stashed under the ticket collection desk. For all that had changed, the advanced functional decrepitude strangling the place to a mechanical subsistence of little to no ambition, I still recognized the staff of days gone by, idly sitting behind the glass pane of the ticket office and chatting away, waiting to sell five to ten tickets for a mid-day screening of Fúsi (2015). Seating capacity is 624.

And that’s the beauty of it, the antidote to mall cinema outings for movies that give even the mainstream a bad name. Often, Timis opted to show mainstream movies that had been released months before in primary locations, with faint hopes of jumping on some commercial longtail or, perhaps, doubling down on the nostalgia factor. Either way, the odds of financial sustainability were about as high as those for Shyamlan directing another relevant movie. Art-house films or ignored releases at least give the cinema a chance to carve some sort of identity, which would surely have better odds of success if at least one of the weekly screenings was organized as a special event, to spin it into something desirable outside the niche film geeks.

Once inside, I was surprised to see that the movie was being projected using a home theater projector, rather than the usual cinema projector located behind wood paneling at the back of the room. Well, nothing against improvisation and the image quality was no worse than it had been in the past, so the flexibility of using digital sources (probably at some reduced cost, too) is not something to scoff at. The buzzing that came off the sound system was a bother in the (many) contemplative moments of Fusi, but still on the right side of deal-breaker. So there we were, six of us, gathered to explore the solitude of the Icelandic virgin mountain, for a total income of 36 RON at 6 RON a ticket. Still twice to three times cheaper than a mall alternative.

In the moments as the credits were rolling and I was resurfacing from Fusi’s misery, I recalled my most vivid memory of the place, dating over ten years ago. Finding Nemo (2003) was showing and I had somehow managed to convince the girl I was hopelessly enamoured with to join me. And just as Bruce, the reformed fish-eating shark, menacingly crossed the screen, she gave out an audible yelp and jumped into my arms! Well, she probably grabbed my arm, or at least grazed it, or something, but it felt like so.much.more.

Obviously, I do wish Timis can survive in the long term, or at least until Finding Dory (2016) is released and I plot my next romantic conquest, but it seems unlikely. After Cinema Capitol and Cinema Studio, both in the vicinity of Timis, shut their doors, the latter following some appalling legislative and bureaucratic knot-making, the city is left with ever fewer alternative cinema venues. The only thriving options are bar-screenings, which regularly present quality movies, but are ultimately just a lesser version of the complete cinema experience. Most likely it will have to be worse, before it all gets better, but until then, do take the time to visit the past at Cinema Timis, every once in a while.