Richard Grant: “My favourite cinema is Cinelux, Swaziland”Reading time: 3'

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Richard Grant says he has three favourite movie theatres. «First, the Cinelux cinema in Mbabane, Swaziland, where I grew up»

Richard Grant
Richard E. Grant

Richard E. Grant’s new film, Wah-Wah, set in 1960s Africa, offers an insight into colonial life in Swaziland. It will be distributed worldwide on DVD and VHS later this year. This edition of Celebrity Cinema was assisted by TMR, specialists in restoration, digitisation, DVD authoring and telecine to the film, TV, corporate and entertainment markets.

«I have three favourite cinemas. First, the Cinelux in Mbabane, Swaziland, where I grew up. It was the only cinema in town and played just two movies a week. That was where I saw A Clockwork Orange, Godfathers, Cabaret, Chinatown, The Exorcist and Don’t Look Now in the early ‘70s. And it was a real ‘bug hutch’ too, where people smoked and snogged and came every week».

It became a bike shop

Alas, it closed due to TV in the 80s. But an old school mate who’d later bought and converted it into a bike emporium had kept the neon sign for me. It became rather nostalgic to see the exterior specially-recreated for Wah-Wah – my debut writing and directing feature. Swazis queued up believing the Cinelux had reopened! No one had ever made a film in that country before.

The Princess Labia, in Cape Town

To the 1930s Princess Labia Cinema in Orange Street, Cape Town, another favourite, situated opposite my old drama school. It enjoyed a regular turnover of classic and contemporary films. And it is where I watched Nashville 27 times, so you can imagine the thrill of finally getting to work with Robert Altman on The Player, Prêt-à-Porter and Gosford Park – a teenage dream fulfilled.

Going to the Princess Labia felt like using a cinema library four times a week, and it was really cheap! Here, you could even request old films while they did their best to track down a print. Also the late night screenings were perfect for skiving out of studying.

Once, during Apocalypse Now, there was a power cut just as [Martin] Sheen’s boat was sailing into Kurtz’ horror compound. The atmosphere grew increasingly electric! We all waited in dark silence for 20 minutes before the power came back on. But it was well worth the wait to watch Brando deliver his infamous: “The Horror, The Horror, The Horror”.

Cinelux in Mbabane, Swaziland. Courtesy of Cinema Theatre Association
Cinelux cinema in Mbabane, Swaziland. Courtesy of Cinema Theatre Association

The Electric Cinema

Then there’s the Electric Cinema, perfectly situated on West London’s Portobello Road. It which was cheap and seedy when I’d first discovered it, having just emigrated to England in the 1980s. Then, I lived in a bedsit just round the corner. So I regularly went there to catch up on all the films I’d missed – those which never reached Africa. It became a sort of combined education and pleasure.

I think the Electric must be one of England’s oldest cinemas and is the perfect size. I still like to go, especially as it’s now a state-of-the-art, leather-seated, clublike luxe venue with the bonus of a bar, and has the most luxurious seats I’ve ever known, so even if the flick’s a dodo, at least you can snooze in comfort!

None of these cinemas are of the multiplex breed and so, more than anything, always remind me of the real thrill of seeing something at a single-screen venue. They have a stamp and personality that I miss in the multi-screens.

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