The Cinema Museum is an Aladdin’s cave of delectable movie allsorts – vintage projectors, spruce usher uniforms, signage, posters and a library bellowing archives of casting directories, sheet music for silent film and images of young movie starlets. I particularly liked the ones of Clara Blow – the original ‘It’ girl of the 1920s.
Run by eccentric directors Ronald Grant and Martin Humphries, it is housed in the former Lambeth Workhouse in Kennington home to the young Charlie Chaplin, his brother Stanley and mother Hannah when they hit on hard times in the 1890s.
Ronald, who Martin likens to Toto from the film Cinema Paradiso, meticulously collected artefacts and memorabilia from his days as a projectionist in Aberdeen in the 1970s. He salvaged what he could from the haemorrhaging cinema industry of the day as the multiplex giants swept in replete with corporate branding.
The highlight of my visit was Ronald’s guided tour. He lights upon different artefacts which set him off on a tale of cinematic social history with eyes twinkling with enjoyment. His is in the only cinema museum in the country which exhibits the original waxed scent used to fumigate cinema auditoriums of the 1950s. Internal piping in many houses was a pipe dream and fortnightly visits to bath houses the norm, so public places like cinemas were regularly sprayed with scent. There was no real health value in the practice but it reassured people, paranoid and fearful of expensive pre-NHS medicine.
There are rows and rows of projectors, from early models to the more sophisticated types, which get dusted down and used for projecting home-made movies which the public can bring in. While we all sniggered, disparaging the worth of these personal recordings, Ronald reminded us of Abraham Zapruder’s silent colour motion picture of Kennedy’s assassination; the only recording in existence. Of course smart phones have taken over now.
For this little gem of a museum to keep going it needs public funding. It is run entirely by volunteers and Ronald and Martin would dearly like to purchase the building and give the collection a permanent home. Gather a group of friends together and pay a visit. A guided tour of the Cinema Museum for adults costs ten pounds.