Essential! Cinema


Ever heard of the Essential! cinema in Wardour Street, London? No, neither had we, that is until we found these two vintage programmes from it dating back to July & September 1981. A quick trip over to the always amazing Cinema Treasures website reveals its history as a screen that changed hands and styles many times during the 1970s and into the 80s. From a preview theatre, to a porn cinema and then in 1976 is turned into the Essential, which is what we’re interested in. These two programmes both date from 1981 and show that the programming there leaned heavily towards the cult, arthouse and music film side of things. In fact you could still programme all of these films today and have a very credible line up of films to show people. What’s great though is at the time a lot of these films were then fairly recent, especially the punk documentaries which they played in September, quite remarkable to think that we’re now so far away from this time. PLUS you know all of this would have been screened on 35 or 16MM, let’s hope one of two of the prints screened here still live on out in the wild somewhere!





City Limits – 1981 First Issue Cinema Special!

Recently I got hold of the first issue of the long running London listings magazine City Limits, this premiere issue was launched in October 1981 with the magazine being put together by a collective of staff that had previously worked at Time Out. What I want to look at here is the amazing cinema section, which did a great job of covering the huge amount of screenings that were happening at that time in our city. So let’s start with the very striking and bold first issue cover:

Page 1

New releases this week included: Three Brothers, Lightning Over Water, Mel Brooks’ History Of The World: Part 1 and the William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver thriller The Janitor.


Recent releases and still playing include a fantastic selection of titles that have gone on the stand the test of time, including Duke favourite Babylon, John Carpenter’s Escape From New York and The Fog, The Long Good Friday and Raiders Of The Lost Ark:








There’s a huge selection of rep screenings, George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead even gets its own image:


Of course it wouldn’t be a London cinema article without a mention of the beloved Scala Cinema, so here’s a look at what was playing that week:


The Ritzy cinema in Brixton were having a tribute season the great Peter Sellers, who had died the previous year:


Proof that free screenings have been going on for decades there was a great offer of free tickets to see Jonathan Demme’s great slice of Americana – Citizens Band.


One thing that really stands out is the sheer amount of Late Night Screenings, there’s an entire page dedicated to these and they’re not just at weekends, you could watch late night films seven days a week back then. What happened to all these late screenings, did video and TV kill them off? Were people more adventurous back then and wanted to stay out late? Here’s a look what was playing late night that week:



And here’s a final set of late night double bills that I think we could have all got behind:


So that was the state of London cinema back in October 1981, fascinating to see how things have changed and so great to compare the differences to now, I don’t think any era is better of worse, they both have their ups and downs. I do love the thought that in 35-years time someone might get hold of a vintage issue of Time Out and wonder just what the hell The Duke Mitchell Film Club was all about. We’ll see you in the front row film friends…