Sunday 15 September 2019

Cinema paradiso: 'We want them to remember the night, not just the movie'

Theatre director Karl Geraghty in the Stella Cinema, Rathmines, Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Theatre director Karl Geraghty in the Stella Cinema, Rathmines, Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

A show-off chrome popping-machine spits out puffed kernels in the foyer of the Stella Theatre in Rathmines.

The 94-year-old art deco cinema reopened last month after undergoing the mother of all make-overs.

The proprietors of the boutique Dublin theatre are determined to make going to the cinema an occasion again. Something worth getting dressed up for.

You recline on day beds - which come complete with cashmere throws and individual leather ottomans to rest your feet on.

There's no sticky floors or watered-down Coke served in containers the size of KFC bargain buckets.

Instead, cocktails are poured into cut glass crystal and delivered to your seat.

Movie-goers enjoying the full Stella experience
Movie-goers enjoying the full Stella experience

And then there's that freshly popped popcorn.

I've become used to seeing the stuff being hoiked across multiplex floors in transparent refuse sacks, and dumped into troughs of fake butter.

So the retro popping machine is both novel and as old-fashioned as men wearing sleeve garters.

The renovation of the Stella is made all the more impressive given how grotty the cinema used to be.

Many patrons remembered seeing pigeons reside in the cinema's facade as they entered - something today's customers won't be seeing any time soon.

The re-opening of the Stella coincided with confirmation that the Savoy's Screen One will be divided in three after Christmas.

While many bemoaned this decision, it seems a ginormous screen simply isn't enough of a sell for audiences.

These days we need a more enticing MacGuffin - as Hitchcock might say.

We're in a new era of cinema-going; and that's where boutique movie theatres come into play.

"With Netflix, it's a lot harder convincing people to get up off the sofa these days," Karl Geraghty, theatre manager at the Stella Theatre, said.

"You have to offer people something unique - so parents would think it was worth their while getting a babysitter in."

In many ways we're entering a new era of cinema-going that focuses on the experiential.

There are live-streamed operas in movie theatres around the country, open-air summer screenings in Galway and Cork, and the rediscovery and appreciation of celluloid - partially thanks to the work of directors such as Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino.

The Irish Film Institute (IFI) in Dublin, for example, is home to the only 70mm projector in the country, allowing it to hold special screenings of 'The Hateful Eight', 'Lawrence of Arabia', and 'Dunkirk'.

The 70mm screening of Christopher Nolan's epic World War II movie was so successful the cinema is bringing it back for a festive run.

The IFI also relies on Q&A sessions with filmmakers to enhance visitors' experience. "It's memorable and intimate. It's more personal and people like that," IFI spokesperson Daniel Anderson said.

Themed seasons and film festivals are another way to entice movie lovers to leave the comfort of their own home.

The Lighthouse Cinema, which is part-owned by film company Element Pictures, specialises in these with Halloween horrorathons, De Niro Vs Pacino runs, and 'Dear Constant Reader: A Stephen King Season'.

"It's all about making it an experience," Stella manager Karl says. "Be it Imax soundscape, or people getting dressed up to see 'Rocky Horror', or going to see a movie in a luxurious setting, you have to make sure viewers are getting more than just a black box. You need to make sure they remember the night, not just the movie."

Irish Independent

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