Fans applaud rebirth of a London legend

LONDON – The 1990s were a grim time for one of the London film scene’s most beloved and venerable figures. Beset throughout the decade by breakdowns and bankruptcy, the year 2000 proved more than just a return to once-glorious form; it was nothing less than a rebirth.

Bolstered by the support of superstar filmmakers and thesps, buoyed by new management (and still glowing from an expensive late-’90s facelift), this stalwart star of stage and screen once again faced adoring crowds and a slew of hit films.

Well, it’s not exactly a star of stage and screen, but, in truth, a stage and a screen. But as one of its biggest fans, Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella puts it: “What prompts an audience to leave home, if not allegiance to a movie star, is allegiance to a venue.”

And the Everyman cinema, in the leafy London nabe of Hampstead, has built up almost 70 years of venue allegiance. In issue one of Variety‘s International Film Guide in 1964, Peter Cowie reported: “Jean Cocteau wrote on the occasion of the Everyman’s 21st anniversary (1954), ‘If all films were watched by audiences such as yours, I would express myself only through cinema.’ ”

Programmed from 1933 to the mid-’90s as a quality film venue and repertory house, the Everyman is revered by generations of film-savvy Londoners as the place where they first saw the works of world film masters from Kurosawa to Kieslowski.

“When I moved to London in 1980,” recalls Minghella, “I lived about a hundred yards from the Everyman. They were playing something like 50 different films a month.”

Today, filmmakers like Minghella and Ridley Scott are enthusiastically tying their business activities to the Everyman — in Scott’s case using the Everyman screen to fine-tune his new film “Hannibal” and in Minghella’s case setting up the London offices of his partnership with Sydney Pollack’s Mirage Prods. down the road.

This kind of adjunct showbiz buzz perfectly suits the aspirations of the Everyman’s owners, Glynn Manson and Daniel Broch, who have just celebrated their first anniversary of ownership.

Their marketing chief, Richard Nyman, placed an ad in the local press trumpeting the accomplishments of their turnaround, which followed the descent into receivership after the previous owners had sunk around $1.5 million into an ambitious renovation that failed to stem the screen’s financial decline.

“THANK YOU” blared the ad in late December, noting that attendance in the past year had risen 300%, revenues were up 466%, and the Web site had gone from essentially zero hits upon conception in April to 34,000 in November.

While the Everyman was booming in 2000, it was in stark contrast to the exhib business as a whole. Regal Cinemas, with thousands of screens across the planet, sank into deep red ink.

Manson and Broch are small fish, admittedly at the other end of the exhibition spectrum. And Broch sees exhibition as “a business I don’t want to be in.”

He decries the “plastic” nature of the multiplex and calls moviegoing “a painful experience” that people only endure “because there’s no choice.”

Making the Everyman the “event destination” of Broch and Manson’s dreams, they know, “is a gamble. But it’s not worth the time and energy otherwise,” says Broch.

The team is about to renovate the Everyman facility again, closing down for three months midyear to bring in a jazz and supper club downstairs and multimedia facilities adjoining the full bar upstairs.

Broch has his eye on Web and satellite simulcasts of Everyman events, not Hollywood blockbuster bookings, and plasma screens, not discount passes.

To that end, one of his first steps last year was to sub-contract the booking to specialty pro Oasis, and while Londoners old enough to remember the wonderfully eclectic menu of the Everyman’s repertory days may lament its loss, Broch and Manson are offering moviegoers everything from Kids Club holiday screenings of classics like “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” to Curtis Hanson’s paean to (ex)potheads, “Wonder Boys.”

Broch is also intent on garnering more premieres like the star-studded bow of Natural Nylon’s “Nora,” which came in courtesy of that firm’s affection for the venue.

Playwright-screenwriter Sir David Hare has joined the venue’s advisory board.

“There are few screens in the world that achieve that status as gathering place of enthusiasts,” says Minghella. The storied “star” of Hampstead may not only survive, but branch out into brave and edgy new career possibilities.

And this “multipurpose” event destination idea might seem as fresh as the first screening of Rene Clair’s “Le Million” at the Everyman in 1933. Or we can only hope so.

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