The Last Flea Pit in Town: An Elegy for Odeon Panton Street
London’s sky was yellow, thanks to a Ballardian touch of Saharan dust in the atmosphere, and it gave everything the tinge of a 1970s spy thriller, or a dystopia shot on the cheap in the Outback. But the email that arrived at 4.14pm was pure horror. The subject line would be where the minor-note violins would start playing:
Important Update: Odeon Panton Street
No one wants an important update about somewhere like Odeon Panton Street, certainly not this movie fan who relies on the newsletters for the occasional discount voucher and cheerful reassurances that even if you missed the last Channing Tatum headliner, there’ll be another coming in the next month.
If the subject line was there to provide the first hint of doom, the jaunty tone of the header image would be when the creepy children’s choir started singing.
Nothing good can come after an ellipsis. The children’s choir are about to reach a crescendo.
Your ODEON Panton Street will soon be transformed into ODEON Luxe Haymarket.
The only good thing about this sentence is the acknowledgement that Odeon Panton Street is mine. Me, the kind of solitary moviegoer who blesses its sticky floors and rock-bottom prices, who has learned how to wrangle with the furious automated ticket machine that spits out five reciepts with a volcanic rage, who has filled in innumerable How Was Your Experience Today? surveys praising the smiling staff who sell me my gin in a tins from a lobby space narrower than Harry Dean Stanton, people who work on the edge of Leicester Square in a public-facing role and thus must put up with all sorts of nonsense.
Odeon Panton Street was mine. But let the screaming commence.
Every seat on every row in your new ODEON Luxe Haymarket will be expertly designed for you to relax and recline during your film. With less seats and more personal space, you’ll have a more immersive experience with every visit.
The most immersive experience you can have at Panton Street is in a trip to the loos, which are built to proportions that Peter Lorre would find dinky. The washing potential of the sinks are more suggestions than reality, and if forced to queue you’ll end up tucked in a stranger’s armpit.
Every screen is a bit whiffy. There’s an air con unit that sometime roars to life in the middle of a screening, recently drowning out Ethan Hawke’s mumbling in Maudie. It’s not the sort of place you’d want to recline, because you’d rather not get that close to the floor.
But it’s one of the last places you can see a movie for under a tenner. Weekday tickets were £6, and they’d even accept two for one passes, should you find someone to squeeze your hand during the sad parts of A Monster Calls.
The behind the scenes work will be starting on Sunday 22nd October until December 2017.
Prime movie season, that, just when horror films start to blend into Oscar bait. The perfect mix for Panton Street’s scheduling, which featured movies you’d been meaning to see but missed the first time around, festival circuit curios, and Chinese and Bollywood blockbusters. It’s where I saw Your Name, Whiplash, Mr Turner, and Slow West, and it was the only place in the UK where you could see Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret.
At time of writing, the four screens are showing a typical Panton Street mix: Botoks, which appears to be a Polish medical thriller, a Chinese martial arts comedy called Never Say Die, and two art house-leaning-on-mainstream releases, Mother! and Wind River. Did you miss Baby Driver over summer? Tomorrow there’s a 3.30 screening; go on, call in sick and go see it for just one pound more than the price of a large packet of Picturehouse popcorn.
There aren’t many Panton Streets left. The old Cineworld Shaftsbury Avenue was renovated and rebirthed as a smarmy Picturehouse with a Members Bar. It doesn’t do premixed cocktails or even those handy wines sealed in plastic glasses. As a Timeout customer review says “This cinema is just chic in every way… Clean and no funky smells lingering in places.” Almost true — they clearly missed the Cineworld’s only remnant, the decidedly non-chic friezes mounted above the escalator that look like backdrops from a sword and sandal epic.
What will remain from Panton Street? Will there still be corners that contain that special scent? A scrap of carpet, saturated with years of wasted afternoons, quiet longings, and unmentionable bodily fluids, preserved under glass somewhere? Perhaps the sinks could be recycled into shot glasses? Or will it be clean, with no funky smells, no funky anything, built for immersive experiences and gourmet snacks, not broke-arse misanthropic movie fans hiding from the sun?
The email ends, like most horror movies, with the threat unresolved and the promise of a less satisfying sequel:
We will keep you updated with all the latest on your ODEON Luxe Haymarket opening…we can’t wait to welcome you back soon.