#32BoroughsOfFilm: The latest leg of our 2019-2020 odyssey around London’s alternative cinema scene took RADIANT CIRCUS to Wimbledon Film Club for a pre-Christmas screening of NINOTCHKA – “Garbo laughs!” – complete with introduction by Lubitsch expert & author, Nick Smedley. Here’s what we found…
By RADIANT CIRCUS
About to celebrate its 15th year, Wimbledon Film Club – like many in London’s outer boroughs – started projecting arthouse cinema for local residents in an age when the major cinema chains wouldn’t. Indeed, what’s fascinating upon arriving early and having a bit of a noodle around the neighbourhood is how close Wimbledon Film Club is to an IMAX-endowed Odeon and how it’s own screenings nest cuckoo-like in a Curzon, itself nested above an abandoned HMV.
Whilst HMV’s fortunes have come and, locally speaking, gone, the upstairs accessible venue continues to make a comfortable home for the film club run completely by volunteers. Being a charity in election time, when evermore stringent impartiality rules apply, there was a delicate flurry of concern from our hosts about the choice of film – communism, the comedy! – and whether or not the Q&A might accidentally alienate one or more sides of our contemporary political divides.
That none of this came to pass says much about the charm of the club as well as its purpose. Community film clubs have many different reasons for projecting stories on the wall; this one is dedicated to the fine arts of film appreciation and good company. We’d hazard a guess that the age range here is higher than some of the other venues we’re visiting, which underpins the work Wimbledon Film Club is doing with a powerful mission to bring people together. One of the many reasons we champion community cinema is that anyone can and should be able to find good company to go see an affordable film and then get stuck into discussion of its merits. Wimbledon Film Club shows how it’s done.
On our visit, Nick Smedley introduced Garbo’s penultimate film with a graciously openminded steer to themes we might or might not discern or disagree with. As we’re discovering with many of our community cinema visits, audience response ratings are a key part of the evening and present a sometimes stark contrast to received critical opinion. After only a short while in their company, we’re guessing this audience holds as strong a will as any we’ve met, if not more so… We can only leave the members to wrestle with their own consciences having scored last season’s TAMPOPO a meagre 2.6/5 (recorded in the notes of the club’s AGM as a “marmite movie”, although “miso” might be more appropriate…). Just to reassure you of their good tastes, last season’s highest scorer was IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT for Black History Month (which got a score of 4.7/5).
We always admire the dedication that keeps community cinema screening throughout much of the year and here the club does so by being very much part of its community, attending other local events to help entice more people into the darkness. One of the reasons for starting our #32BoroughsOfFilm initiative was to both explore the diversity of London’s alternative cinema scene, but also to check the rudeness of its health. Despite the carefully crafted expertise of the screening we went to, Wimbledon Film Club’s paid membership is on the gradual decline, and will need renewed audience enthusiasm to sustain another 15 years.
Needless to say, we loved our time at Wimbledon Film Club and would happily take the tube journey again to see more films in their good company (get a taste of their 2020 programme HERE). This is an intelligently programmed, well-presented, informative source of alternative cinema where member’s views are taken as seriously as the films themselves. Despite being in the shadow of two cinema chains, their open invitation to turn up and take part armed only with your love of film is a treasure in these isolating times. If you live, work or play anywhere close, give them your support by joining HERE or at any of their screenings.
Thank you to committee member Clare for arranging our visit and providing such a warm welcome. Also to the volunteers at the ticket desk with the Christmas chocolates… your generosity gave the little late night sugar boost we needed on our journey home!
And that’s the meat of it…
- Nick Smedley’s A Divided World: Hollywood Cinema and Emigre Directors in the Era of Roosevelt and Hitler 1933-1948 is available from all good booksellers.
- We’ll post full details of Wimbledon Film Club’s Spring / Summer season very soon.
NINOTCHKA d. Ernst Lubitsch, 1939 (USA / 110 min).
THE RADIANT CIRCUS VIEW: It’s a funny old thing… Ernst Lubitsch is known for his tactful onscreen treatment of sensitive subjects but here he and a veritable coach load of screenwriters draw out the social satire as brazenly as they dare. As Nick Smedley explained in his excellent Q&A after the film, this wasn’t without controversy at the time of its release, the contemporary press jittery about the film’s potential to offend the Russians. The Nazi presence in Europe makes its presence felt here too – released as it was on the very eve of WWII – but the major target is a post-revolutionary Russia where the aristocrats have been ousted, their property ‘returned’ to the people and a population turned to servicing mankind (well, supposedly…).
The plot involves an effort to sell some reclaimed jewels in Paris, but the three comrades charged with the task are more bumbling Marx Brothers than efficient servants of the state. They get easily distracted by the shop window charms of capitalism, their behaviour demanding that envoy Ninotckha (Greta Garbo) be dispatched to resolve the mess. The presence of the former owner of the jewels – a splendidly viperous Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) – and her easy-living beau Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas), stoke the tension and potential love interest.
Garbo is of course magnificent – one far too long and preposterous drunk scene would have undone any actor! – giving her stiff-lipped daughter of the revolution sufficient character and credibility to survive the indignity of swooning so completely for a smooth-talking toad. The contrived ending – as Ninotchka is dispatched on another mission via a fourth-billed but fleeting appearance by another European emigre, Bela Lugosi – sidesteps much, reminding us that history itself has a nasty habit of getting in the way of the guffaws.
WIMBLEDON FILM CLUB
“Wimbledon Film Club is a friendly, award-winning local club, holding regular screenings at Curzon Wimbledon with speakers, post-film discussions and members’ choice films. All welcome!”
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