With a second lockdown underway, our writers pay tribute to their favourite independent cinemas in the capital. This time: Ben Flanagan on Peckham's no-frills multiplex
I long for the simple things. Movies on my screen, popcorn in my mouth. You can take your Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 8mm at The Castle, your 70mm presentation of Lawrence of Arabia at the Prince Charles, your hand-cranked 16mm screenings at The Cinema Museum. Sometimes what the people need is a nice, crisp DCP of Sonic the Hedgehog in screen 4 at the Peckhamplex.
The Peckhamplex is the ultimate London cinema. The walls are paper thin, you get searched for contraband at the door, every ticket is a fiver. While every £20 a pop central London experience blurs into one, no visit to the 'Plex is easily forgotten. Opening night of Todd Phillips’ Joker presented a cross-section of society: teenagers laughing at the already-memed dialogue, DC fanboys shaking with joy at seeing themselves represented on-screen, confused parents wondering if they should have snuck their kids into a film this violent.
Older audiences, influenced no doubt by the fascistic “Wittertainment code of conduct” that views eating, laughing, and having a good time at the movies as something of a sin, tend to balk at the notion of a cinema like the one I am describing. Indeed, there is a participatory element to the Peckhamplex that is essential to how it brings audiences together. When Cardi B came onscreen in Hustlers, the entire audience burst into spontaneous applause.
But it’s not all flumps flung from the back row and shouts of “What’s she doing with them scissors” at Lupita N’yongo's character during a screening of Us. There is a zen ambience in screenings of grown-up films like Les Miserables and Blindspotting, a rumbling excitement in late night screenings of horror films such as Midsommar, a solemn respect at awards fare like Phantom Thread.
A stiff upper-lip attitude to cinema is mere social-engineering all but guaranteed to keep the normal people out. Some wonder why mid-budget movies don’t get bums in seats, why young people show little interest in cinema beyond the Disney-death-aparatus. But when films are only available in places that cost upwards of £10, and the only snacks are a small packet of champagne-flavoured popcorn, that’s an industry actively shunning the people it needs the most to survive.
Like all of London, Peckham is hopelessly battling gentrification. The ‘Plex is located on the bottom floor of Peckham Levels, a converted multi-story car park that houses Frank’s Cafe, a rooftop bar of incredible views and pricey beers. While the building’s set-up is a Ballardian metaphor too obvious to remark upon, the cinema itself, complete with unchanged pricing, a non-judgemental atmosphere, and a vibrant pink finish, will invade your cinephile dreams.
Sadly, Tenet's failure to dismiss UK cinema-goers’ apprehensions about returning to the big screen set off a domino chain: blockbusters like No Time to Die have been pushed back until 2021, forcing the Peckhamplex to close its doors again, and you can’t keep a ‘Plex running if there are no new films to show. That’s why I’m praying for its return to full fitness as soon as possible. South London – England! the world! – needs its Peckhamplex.