THE Prince Charles in London’s West End isn’t the only repertory cinema in Britain.
There’s the magnificent BFI, for instance, with its lovingly curated seasons and its carefully calibrated programme that balances beautifully between pretension and popularity.
But the BFI wouldn’t show Mothra, an infamous Japanese monster film from the 1960s.
It’d never arrange a sing-along night dedicated to the terrible Prince vehicle Purple Rain, show the Evil Dead trilogy alongside Studio Ghibli classics or excruciating 1980s action films interspersed with Nosferatu and the best of Ingmar Bergman.
In short, there isn’t anywhere left in this country doing anything quite like what the Prince Charles is doing and for this it should be cherished.
Located just off Leicester Square, the cinema is surrounded by “attractions” — 24-hour casinos, fast-food joints and bog-standard night clubs competing for the attention of out-of-towners and tourists.
Just south of a rapidly gentrifying Soho, it’s a place for geeks and freaks, loners and bands of brothers. It’s seen me through break-ups and disasters and I don’t know what I’d do without it.
Dishing out a diet of recently-released alternative films of the day along cinematic classics, double bills and shameless pulp hits, the cinema is something of an anachronism but one lovingly maintained by its staff and admirers.
It captures an anarchic spirit that the other, more high-brow, art-house cinemas lack.
“One of the joys of screening old films is giving people that chance to see something they’d never seen before, exactly as the director had intended,” says Paul Vickery, the Prince Charles’s head programmer.
Another of the cinema’s staples is the all-night marathon. From Bill Murray movies to genius/awful horror classics like the Friday 13th series, these events are always a glorious coming together of like-minded souls.
Over the bank holiday weekend, I and a companion went along to an Arnold Schwarzenegger all-nighter, lasting until half eight in the morning.
You may think the ludicrous oeuvre of the former Republican governor of California would be an odd choice for a leftie but I make no apologies.
The likes of Commando, with its unintentional comedy and fascinating insights into 1980s US foreign policy norms —sure, let’s just get one muscle-bound guy to overthrow a South American state, no problems there — or Running Man, which shows a dystopian future-world dominated by consumer capitalism taken to its logical conclusion, are brilliant films in their own right.
But they’re even better if they’re watched at 3am with a bunch of sleep-deprived enthusiasts who cheer on every last one-liner.
The whole thing is fantastically organised, with sensible rules — switch your phone off— and enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff manning the bar and popcorn stand.
Between each film, we mingle with the people from the upstairs screen, who are braving a Wes Anderson marathon. Some are dressed as characters from The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic. I pity them, because they’re not about to watch Total Recall.
By 6am, the atmosphere has markedly changed.
The person behind us is snoring heavily, to sniggers from his surrounding pals.
As Arnold’s Terminator heads to the Tech Noir club in search of Sarah Connor, I feel a burning behind my eyes. As the film ends, with one more to go, the lights go up to reveal that half the audience has already departed.
But we make it to the end. We’re corralled upstairs for a survivor’s photograph, greeted by a chorus of cheers and cut-out Arnie masks.
And then we joyously disperse: some to the pub, some to a belated breakfast. And us? We’re off to bed.
We’ll be back.