Who is Lambeth’s most famous son? If you don’t answer Charlie Chaplin, nobody could really blame you. For a city with a rich screen heritage, we don’t do a great job of preserving our cinema history. This weekend, though, the great man is back in the limelight for a rare Open Weekend at the Cinema Museum.
It’s the perfect venue in more ways than one - the museum was once the New Lambeth Workhouse where young Charles spent part of his childhood. Today it houses an astonishing collection of artefacts culled from the picture palaces of the early 20th century - from projectors, lights and ushers’ uniforms, to samples of the floral air freshener cinema owners used to spray around the auditoriums in the less healthy and hygienic era before the NHS.
Much of the collection was rescued from the wrecking ball and the skip by the museum’s founder Ronald Grant. He also runs the image archive that keeps the museum afloat. It has no public funding and is staffed largely by volunteers, which means most of the artefacts and an extensive library of books, magazines and images are crammed into a series of rooms in the old workhouse. Visitors usually have to make an appointment but this weekend all comers are welcome to drop in and wander its corridors lined with goodies from dearly departed cinemas, watch silent comedy shorts with a piano accompaniment, attend talks on restoring home movies and, in the grand central room that used to be the workhouse chapel, pay homage to Chaplin with art works and biographical displays by Cnidoblasts and Anna Odrich, the museum’s collection manager. As Grant says: “It’s all done for love.”
By Concetta Sidoti
Cinema Museum Open Weekend is this weekend, 27 to 28 June at the Cinema Museum.