Final Curtains?

Screen Two - with the curtains.


Periodically around here we have a heated debate about tabs. Tabs are what we professional cinema types call the curtains that close in front of the screen.

Do we really need them? They’re pretty rare in other cinemas, no multiplex outside the West End has them as far as I know. Whole generations have grown up without them being part of the cinema experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re lovely and have always felt it’s not a proper cinema without them, but they’re another thing to go wrong and require vigilant maintenance if they are to continue operating smoothly. There’s motors and keeping cables greased and bobbins running freely and when they go wrong, boy they can make a mess as the snagged cable tries to pull everything off the wall.

As the bunching of the material takes up quite a lot of space in the proscenium, if we did ditch them we would be able to increase the size of the screens, something that rather appeals to me.

In the end that’s why we’re all there isn’t it? To watch the screen, not the nice drapes. I programme quite tightly so quite often only one person sees them anyway.

I’m sure customers don’t storm the foyer of the multiplex in Brighton demanding some kind of fabric covering to protect the screen’s modesty. People still go there regardless.

On the other hand I’m pretty sure it has a positive subliminal effect, adding a patina of comfort and familiarity that’s quite relaxing.

I like to think we aren’t another cookie cutter cinema and things like screen tabs are what set us apart. After all, without exception all the few remaining flagship cinemas we have in the West End retain screen tabs. I love watching the elegant swish of the tabs at the Odeon Leicester Square and the Empire. Is that a bit weird?

Our original vision way back in the 70’s was not to make the orange painted boxes I mentioned in my previous post but to simply make smaller versions of a proper cinema. Perhaps, now more than ever, we need to hold on to that ideal.

That doesn’t mean we’ll be having a cinema organ anytime soon though.

14 thoughts on “Final Curtains?

  1. I haven’t been to the Odeon in Brighton for a few (~4) years, but 99% it did have curtains then.
    they would first open for the adverts, starting with the Carlton ‘red hot poker’ ident, and then close with the Orange ‘on a raft and phone going off’ advert/reminder. Cheesy music and low lighting (while presumably projectionist did something).. and then open again for the classification certificate and start of film. The projection would always start/stop with the curtains half open/closed so each of the above would be half projected on to the curtains and not the screen.

    I saw Moulin Rouge in the Leicester Square large Odeon when it came out. End credit music was awesome, at the end of the credits, in time with the music four centred words appeared one by one, (truth, beauty, freedom, love). As ‘love’ came on, which was the very last thing, the curtains were closing to cover all but the word, and the stage lighting came on with a red glow. Nice touch.

    But if it comes to screen size vs curtains. It’s screensize everytime!

  2. I would think the Odeon Brighton still has them you’re right. That’s because it’s pre-multiplex. I always think it a shame they cut up the original screen two. That was a lovely theatre, the biggest of the three. One of them them was 70mm capable, can’t imagine it is now.

    The screen size thing is funny. Most people, particularly our older patrons make a bee line for the back row, from where the screen looks smallest.

    I’m up for bigger screens, but at the expense of tabs? It would be a real wrench.

  3. These youtube videos go in to the box at the Odeon, somewhat surreal though

    I’ve only lived in Brighton since 2002, so it’s hard to image the three screen layout (though I’ve worked out it is the modern 2, 3 and 4).

    It’s really an odd multiplex, screens everywhere, upper level foyer area, screen 1 in the gods, 6 (or 7) in the basement and so on. I can never work out the layout of the building, and such a waste of prime land next to the beach – with no windows!

  4. The original cinema was upstairs, foyer. tickets and all. You entered at the top of the escalator. The layout was simple, three cinemas in a row. With the middle one being the biggest.

    The lower floor has been all sorts, night clubs etc. I’m pretty sure it was designed as an ice rink down there. Odeon presumably bought out the lower floor and expanded into it.

  5. Tabs? Get rid of them, Kevin, you need the money for other projects. As one of your oldies, I’m not going to throw a wobbly if they go. Besides, sometimes some keenie upstairs (I assume, unless the whole show is automatic) shuts the curtains before we obsessives have finished reading all the credits. Why do oldies go for the back seats? Certainly not out of nostalgia for their back seat discreet fumbling days back in the 50’s or 60’s. Most likely cos if you sit right down at the front (especially in the biggest screen) you are in danger, after 2 hours, of getting the awful crick in the neck that is one of the pains (literally) of getting old. Also, bifocals and varifocals probably work better if you’re at the angle to the screen afforded by being higher up. Back to tabs, how about auctioning them? Some collector might be enough of an anorak to want them.

    • Oh shut up! What a stupid reply, I am young and I don’t want a cinema experience without the curtains. Kevin, you should keep them as they are part of the cinematic experience. And yes the Brighton Odeon cinema still has them, but boring old cineworld in the marina doesn’t. However the Duke of york’s quite rightly has them too, as does the Dome, the Orion and the Picturehouse. Don’t get rid of the curtains as there’s no excitement to build to. It’s just “stick the film on and get people in and out as quickly as possible” atittude. There’s no art to it anymore. Also I wouldn’t say “generations” have been brought up without them, In fact I’ve only noticed this “trend” of not having them in the last couple of years.

  6. So presumably if we put bigger screens in the “crick” zone would get larger? I always sit dead centre in screen one, nearer the front than the back in three and in the front row in two.

    Screen three always looks a like it needs to be bigger. One looks fine, and three has been improved hugely since I moved it forward and made it a ted bigger. (To hide the speakers behind.) Has anyone actually noticed?

    They aren’t worth anything really. To big for home. As no one uses them much the motors aren’t worth anything either.

    Whilst I can understand the rationale behind no tabs, places that have no masking really should be drummed out of the business.

  7. How much bigger screens would you be able to put in with no curtains though, would it be something that makes a big difference or would the majority of people not really notice ?

  8. Went to Odeon in Hanley (stoke) in february and that was awful, felt cold, like I was stepping back into the 70s (with a lovely written No Smoking sign which lit up on the wall), however it had curtains. Lovely feeling..

    Though that’s been the only time i’ve visited (I hate odeons with a passion). I dunno about curtains though, cost vs comfort I presume. I feel like it wastes time with the whole curtain thing, far more concerned about picture quality and gorgeeouuss sound. Something the Picture House is amazing for.

    • If we had acres of space I would never ditch them. It feels right to have them. I’ve thought of festoons, tabs that travel upwards into the roof, but they are massively expensive and prone to all sorts of failure if not constantly looked after. More trouble than they are worth.
      The siren song of a bigger picture is almost too much to bear, as is the thought of taking away the curtains. Someone needs to invent a way of bunching them up in less space.

      Glad you like what we do, it means a lot. Had a really nasty complaint about the sound on Super 8 being too loud today ironically. Spoilt my day.

  9. The Odeon Leicester Square has (or had) a double set of tabs, the outer ones openining and closing at the beginning and end of the whole programme, the inner ones before/after adverts, trailers etc. Pretentious, but it made the whole experience that little bit more special, as if they were saying ‘this is how we do it in London’. However, the last few times I have been there, only the inner tabs were used, and for Tintin there were no tabs at all – and how cold and bog-standard it felt. I do hope this was temporary

  10. Naked cinema screens look wrong and make the place feel tacky. I just won’t visit a cinema unless it has curtains, so that means going to the West End. I feel embarrassed having to sit and look at a blank screen, it looks rude – something you’re not supposed to see – like grandma’s knickers

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