It turns out this easily forgettable place is something of a milestone in cinema history – it was the first four-screen “cinecenta” in Europe when it opened in 1969 – and paved the way for the now commonplace multiplex.
South West of the beating-heart of cinema, Leicester Square, this picture house provides a handy alternative to the blockbusters on offer at the Big Beasts. For many years the former Cinecenta has shown art house and foreign films for the more discerning Leicester Square-goer.
I assumed, quite wrongly, that this must have been another 1960s one-screen cinema that had at some point been subdivided into four. But the interior of this cinema – with all of the charm of a 1960s school or hospital – was the clue that it had always been the way it is. The corridors have that classic sixties public building blandness – even when tarted up in Odeon interior colours. The screens are nothing more than darkened rooms with a movie at the end – perfectly serviceable and, as a friend pointed out, offering nothing to distract you. There was, however, one thing that distracted me and everyone around me – the auditorium was very cold. Everyone I could see was wearing a coat.
The perfunctory nature of the 1969 building is not without its charm and, given the cinema’s place in history, I’m glad it hasn’t been dramatically re-vamped. With a bit of love and care by, say, an independent owner it could probably be a far more interesting cinema.
The Odeon shows a wide selection of art house, documentaries and foreign film, attracting the thinking-but-popcorn-munching Curzon crowd. The cinema is too close to the West End to be a bargain, I spent £19.50 on one ticket and small Pepsi and a small pop corn (which just makes me yearn for the Blessed Place). The popcorn was poor, but the staff were smiley.
I have a new-found respect for this cinema now I know its history as a center for art house film and as the first purpose built four-screener. The building’s blandness aside, it clearly serves London well and gives the Curzon chain a run for its money with the more off-beat films. The seats are pretty standard Odeon-style and are thus comfortable enough with cup holders and, where I was sitting at least, good leg room. It should be noted that even sitting in the front row of one of the four screens the seats are far enough back to enjoy the film in comfort – almost like being in your own private screening room.
There is no real reason to visit the Odeon Panton Street for the building alone, but it may well be showing that documentary you really wanted to see and will probably be showing it for a good few weeks longer than anywhere else.
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