Friday, September 26, 2008


I’ve been reading Deptford.TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies, the second publication coming out of the Deptford.TV project, which uses open source and collaborative tools to visually document urban change in Deptford. Deptford.TV organised a number of short films to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Battle of Lewisham, the defeat of the fascist National Front in the area, which you can watch here.

Pirate Strategies is dedicated to the memory of my late friend Paul Hendrich, who was involved in the Deptford.TV project. The first part, local strategies, is on New Cross and Deptford, with Brianne Selman on the pirates of Deptford, Ben Gidley on the idea of the regeneration of Deptford, and the University of Openness on walking the Olympic Sacrifice Zone. The other sections, on economic, technological and social strategies, explore various aspects of open source and Web 2.0 utopianism, copyleft and the creative commons, by Duncan Reekie of Exploding Cinema, Armin Medosch and others. You can read some of the book on-line here.

A highlight, for me, as someone who is relatively digitally illiterate, is a history of cinema in New Cross and Deptford by Neil Gordon-Orr. The book’s publication this month is the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the area’s first cinema, although not the area’s first experience of the moving image. The chapter tells wonderful stories of the nineteenth century fairgrounds in the area, Charlie Chaplin’s mother’s last music hall performance at the Hatcham Liberal Club, the massive 2,300-seater cinema in New Cross in the 1920s (that's the one in the picture above, which I took from Odeon Cavalcade), the General Strike meetings and May Queen crownings in the Empire and other local picture palaces. Neil also tells stories of some of the films made in New Cross, such as the Dirke Bogarde Once a Jolly Swagman, filmed at the New Cross speedway stadium, as well as traditions of DIY and community-based film-making and film-screening in the area.

It is striking to read about the huge number of movie theatres in the area in the golden age of film, from the vantage point of 2008 when Lewisham has not one single cinema left – the only London borough, I think, without one.

The last cinema in the borough was the Odeon in Catford. A couple of years back, this became an outlet of the United Church of the Kingdom of God, a Brazilian-based global church. UCKG received some notoriety earlier in the 1990s, when they were involved in the violent exorcism of Victoria Climbie, who was later killed by her abusive aunt, a UCKG congregant, the social workers having been terrorised via a degenerated version of racist multiculturalist ideology into accepting that her treatment had something to do with “African culture”. UCKG preach a very particular Protestant theology, which focuses entirely on this-worldy reward (primarily material) being achieved through personal faith, which can be best demonstrated by commitment (including financial) to the Church, rather than by ethical acts. Their followers in South East London are mainly, but not exclusively, African, and that sort of theology seems to be gaining ground in other African churches in the area.

The UCKG takeover of the cinema was fiercely fought by some local residents, in a campaign led by the South London Solidarity Federation, the anarchist group featured in this blog when they were fighting the closure of Lewisham’s Post Office. I seem to recall that Lewisham Council also tried to stop it, but had few legal weapons at their disposal – perhaps Andrew can tell that story better.

To its credit, Lewisham council runs the Lewisham Film Initiative, which funds and publicises some of the local venues screening films. One such venue is the Broadway Theatre in Catford, where I watched one of the best films of recent years, the Ray Charles biopic Ray, which I wrote a little about in my Jerry Wexler obituary. The audience was predominantly black, and the atmosphere was fantastic, with a big round of applause at the end.

Another such venue is Café Crema in New Cross, which has its own film night, as well as a wonderful occasional Brazilian night. Class Acts, associated with the afore-mentioned local anarchists, puts on films there too, including Dolly Parton’s great 9 to 5 (which, if I remember right, Class Acts described as a “communist-feminist comedy classic”) and The Free Voice of Labour (the lovely Pacific Street Films documentary about the last days of the Yiddish anarchists of New York, featuring the late Paul Avrich, who The New Centrist has written about).

The Lewisham Film Initiative also subsidised the purchase of licences for the first two Brockley Jack Film Club screenings, which are organised on a totally self-managed voluntary and non-profit basis by local cineastes. The first screening, early in the summer, was sold out, but the next, Little Miss Sunshine, was not, and the Club is now financially on its own, so it needs your support if you live in this manor – by getting a ticket for Night of the Hunter on Monday October 20th*, or joining the Club.

*Note change of date

Related blog link: Transpontine on film.


Andrew Brown said...

It's a bit of a blur, but I think the Planning Committee decision was against a change of use for the old cinema, but their decision got overturned on appeal.

tnc said...

Thanks for the link, Bob.

John said...

Thanks for this - shall order the book...

There will be films in the Goldsmiths Cinema (Richard Hoggart building) on most tuesdays this term, starting 6pm - organised by the Centre for Cultural Studies and the Students union Film Soc. The planned films so far are all to do with Prison. See the Prison Season flyer here.
No charge, all welcome.