The Muswell Hill Odeon: Cinema's Zombie Corpse
By Daniel Toffalis on 4 January 2012
‘Hollywood on brink of bankruptcy as people turn to illegal downloading to watch movies’.
That’s been an extremely common headline over the last decade, hasn’t it? A sustained press campaign riling against an amoral download culture, pining for the cosy experience of yesteryear when a trip to the cinema with friends was the highlight of one’s social calendar. But you know what? I don’t buy it. Have these people actually been to the cinema recently? Sorry, let me re-phrase that in local terms (this is a local site, after all) – has anyone actually been to the Muswell Hill Odeon recently? Good God.
A couple of days ago, naively, I purchased two tickets to the critically acclaimed Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It’s a great movie, although I do take people’s point that it can be tough going at times. Well, imagine trying to follow it with two people talking throughout the entire movie. Picture the tense, critical moments of the film, the lights dip, the soundtrack muffles, a tense look from Daniel Craig, then …. CRUNCH. CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH. The sound of someone behind me, chowing down on Kettle chips, shoes off, feet on the back of my chair. Now you can begin to understand why the Muswell Hill Odeon is the zombie corpse of a soon to be dead past-time.
That’s the first problem, see. Cinema-etiquette. Since when was it ok to chatter throughout a movie? No, seriously – talk throughout every scene like your watching something on TV in your own home. This is a PUBLIC SPACE! Do people really not understand the ‘common rules’ that operate which make public spaces work? In a park, a sunbather shouldn’t strip naked, on account of the kids nearby. Or in a crowd at a football match, one wouldn’t wear a huge, silly hat that would block peoples … er, ok, scrap that one. But you catch my drift.
Cinema etiquette is officially dead. It’s now totally ok to talk inanely, eat (three) bags of crisps apparently and tweet throughout an entire film. This is what I thought Parliament was like - not the flicks. Are people no longer equipped with the social grace required to share a public space with their fellow man? That's what the cinema is supposed to be about. A docile, quietly receptive crowd, all equal in their state of concentration. Now, bad manners frequently break the bubble and with that dies the experience of the cinema, .
The other issue, specific to the Muswell Hill cinema is the terrible lay out. Let me just map it out for the benefit of those who haven't been. Screen 1 is the top billing. It’s layout is strange, with all of the seats being located in an overhanging balcony, it's front seat still a massive 30 metres from the screen. The space below the balcony, where the seats in a cinema would usually be, is totally empty. A strange situation. Since when were the ‘Gods’ the only seats on offer in a cinema? And Godly they were not, believe me. Some quick research told me that the bare space underneath the balcony used to be occupied with seats but the management decided to squeeze two more screens into the complex and had to strip out the furnishings. Just simply, a terrible, terrible idea.
Naively, I purchased two ‘standard’ tickets to the 7.30 screening at £9.50 a pop. There were no seat numbers, it’s a “sit where you like” I was told. Oh great, I can just nip in early, grab a seat in the middle and enjoy the show. But no. Of course I couldn’t. That would be too easy. Instead, the middle seats are reserved for ‘special customers’ who pay £11.60 – that’s £2.10 more than the rest of us. These customers pay for a prime viewing position in huge leather seats. First the Gods, now you're telling me cinemas have a business class section? In Muswell Hill? Now this premium tickets system I wouldn’t mind, per se, if it wasn’t for the fact that the majority of us, the other hundred or so paying customers, are shifted to the far flung nether reigons of the cinema, where we can barely see the screen. I was forced into the corner seat on the front row (actually a desirable one, I’m told) and spent the entire film jealously eyeballing those with bums comfortably nestled in the Triple A space.
Then there’s the sound. Or lack of it. In the opening gambit of adverts the Odeon boasted of how all their cinemas were now fitted with high-def screens. That may be true but in doing so they seem to have forsaken an equally important part of the experience: the audio. You could barely hear it. CRUNCH. CRUNCH, CRUNCH. There it is again. How can you be sitting in a cinema where the sound of your neighbour’s snaffling is louder than the audio track?
So, I know I’ve ranted and I'm sorry but this is a listed building for Christ's sake. Surely they could do something with it. Next time Hollywood execs find themselves in a meeting, twiddling their thumbs, trying to work out how they can bring back the eminence of Cinema, can I just suggest this? Spend one evening, trying – yep trying, because that’s what it was – to watch a movie in the Muswell Hill Odeon. The sheer amount of effort and energy it takes to watch the film turns what's supposed to be a relaxing experience into a trying one. And you wonder why people download instead? Blame the Muswell Hill Odeon.