Liverpool Biennial 2016:
ABC Cinema.

"Cut! Cut! Who let those bums in here?"
-- Steinberger P. Green, "The Feast of Steven"
Art In a rare move, I'm going to be perfectly honest with you, the main draw for visiting the ABC Cinema was to view the interior of the building rather than the festival.  In the 90s, my film going was a relay between the Odeon on Lime Street, the 051 Cinema on Mount Pleasant and this edifice.  It's here I saw Wayne's World, Heat, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, It's A Wonderful Life on several occasions and many more.

There's the occasion I attended a viewing of the 15 certificate of The Truth About Cats and Dogs in a screening with several families who'd clearly misunderstood the meaning of the title and somehow didn't leave during the phone masterbation scene.  When I complained to the manager, he too had thought that it was one for the kids "judging by the title".  Or Final Analysis where a friend and I spent the whole screening sat behind two older pupils from our school who were necking.

Twenty years later, I was initially slightly disorientated because the entrance is through the fire door onto Lime Street rather than up the main steps which is how it was accessed in 2008 when it was previously used as the Biennial's visitor centre, back when the festival had such things.  I mentioned that visit on this blog (which includes other cinema going anecdotes -- I wonder what Theresa is doing now).

On entry you're handed a torch by a volunteer because there are occasions when the space is plunged into darkness (see below) but otherwise you have a fair amount of freedom walk around the space where the stalls used to be.  Various artworks and installations have sectioned off the space but it's still possible to work out the geography of how the cinema was set out just before it closed in the late 90s.  The Liverpool Echo has plenty of images, even of spaces inaccessible to the public.

The key headline is that since 2008, when all three screens were intact, the two smaller auditoria have been removed so that the space has been returned to how it must have been when the cinema was originally built and it was quite natural for thousands of people to share the big screen experience.  What was the screen one (in my day) is back to being a currently inaccessible balcony and those smaller screens are now clearly where the stalls used to be.

Turning a corner reveals the old foyer, and I stood for a minute remembering where the original ticket office would have been and the refreshment stand.  As far as I can remember, by the time it closed the ABC still hadn't installed any kind of electronic ticketing so the hundreds of people piling in would still have been issued with a relatively primitive slip of the kind which served perfectly well for decades before box offices and refreshment stand were combined in multiplexes.

In a cycle of about fifteen minutes the space is plunged into darkness (hence the torches) and we're invited to sit in on of the collapsable chairs distributed across the front of the stalls to watch a piece of video art projected on a screen atop the stage in a decent approximation of the Picturehouse adverts featuring the music of Daniel Johnson.  For a few brief moments, even its its dereliction, the ABC Cinema on Lime Street returns to its original utility.

Fabien Giraud and RaphaĆ«l Siboni’s The Unmanned: 1922 – The Uncomputable, "reflects on Lewis Fry Richardson’s attempt to build a huge weather-forecast factory".  On screen, women represent various elements of their gender stereotypical and biological, from comfort in dark times to pregnancy while a voiceover narrates various apocalyptic situations befalling the planet due to man's poor judgement in relation to how to save us from climate change.

Seeing all this the same week The Futurist just up the road was demolished it was impossible not mourn slightly the loss of these "authentic" cinema experiences albeit that in reality this was mostly about horrible projection and sound, uncomfortable seating and having audience members in even closer proximity with their noise and eating.  But there's something antiseptic and uneventful about multiplexes; you might as well watch most films at home (which is mostly what I do now).

As ever there have been announcements and plans about the future of the space.  Back in 2007 the plan was for a boutique hotel.  Now it's a live music venue and media hub, plans which feel more certain due to the number of stakeholders involved and proper planning applications.  Although part of me wishes it could remain a cinema in the style of those Picturehouse adverts, the dereliction becoming a feature.  True love will find you in the end.

Next Destination:
143 Granby Street

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