The Curzon is perched on the edge of the cinema district, adjacent to Chinatown. I tend to get there or get home via a walk through the city within a city. It was the first cinema I’d walked into in the UK and felt at home. The upstairs entrance is a exactly the kind of semi-hipster cafe that we’re inundated with in Wellington, and you buy your tickets from the same place you buy your coffee, which gives it both a personal and informal feeling that’s extremely welcoming. The cakes and coffee on sale are a little pricey for their quality, but they’re in the beating heart of Western Imperial Capitalism, so they’re not bad for all that. The screens are downstairs, and I find that descent primally satisfying, like a descent into the Cinematic Underworld, to see ghosts of the past, present, future and places that will never be. The middle level of the cinema is a small bar. It’s got comfortable couches, and a a passable range of drinks in the same semi-hipster way as the cafe front above does coffee. Completing the semi-informal vibe, they don’t allocate seats, or at least, they don’t for the third-sold screenings of independent movies I’ve been to.
The weakness of the place is, unfortunately, the cinemas themselves. They’re only modest in size, as befits a semi-independant, but they feel smaller. The ceiling isn’t quite touchable, but the seats are barely raked and the screen barely clears a standing height so I’ve found it best to pick a seat without someone in front of you, and move if someone does. Moving around doesn’t matter much because none of the seats are especially better than the other either in terms of comfort or view – and by that I mean “comfort” since they’re the old-school fold-down seats that were killed utterly in Wellington well more than a decade ago when Reading Courtenay opened up and stabbed Hoyts fatally through the chest with its raked comfortable seating, large screens and cleanish floors. Nor is the sound great, though again, I’ve seen mostly truly low-budget independents there whose sound design is probably nothing special in any case. In fact, they’re not noticeably worse on any of these fronts than the multiplex cinemas I’ve attended and the marginal price hike on a “standard” fare feels like money well spent being somewhere with a bit of soul.
The Curzon is one half of a great cinematic experience, but the reason I’ve gone back the several times I have is their film selection. They were virtually the only place playing 99 Homes and Mississippi Grind, for example, and even there the runs were on the short and small side of limited. There’s a sign on the banner outside at the moment saying “Save Curzon Soho” and I intend to do that, one film at a time.