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Visit biografmuseet.dk about Danish cinemas


Visiting 70MM Cinemas of London's West End, September 1990

The 70mm Newsletter
Written and photographed by: Thomas Hauerslev Date: 09.05.2015
The Odeon Marble Arch with it's curved screen. Originally built as a Dimension 150 theatre in 1967. The only cinema I have seen with escalators. The box was incredible clean, cobber pipes freshly polished and the projectionist wore a tie. The projectionist showed me the D-150 lenses which he kept in a nice wooden box. The "Arch" has been demolished and rebuilt into a multiplex years later.

My first London visit was in December 1981 and I remember being very impressed by “Raiders of the Lost Ark” presented in 70mm Dolby Stereo at the Plaza in Lower Regent Street. So much light on the screen and the 6-track magnetic Dolby Stereo sound really blew me away. WOW! That is the way a movie it is really going to look and sound like. A VERY different experience and MUCH better to cinemas of Copenhagen. Upon getting back, substandard 35mm Dolby Stereo optical sound and out-of-date speakers in small shoebox cinemas did not excite me any longer. It simply was not good enough. If only the Danes knew what they were missing.......

• Go to the gallery: 70MM Cinemas in London's West End, September 1990
• Go to the gallery: Empire Cinema, Leicester Sq., London
• Go to: Dominion, London. English Birthplace of Todd-AO
More in 70mm reading:

Gallery: 70MM Cinemas in London's West End, September 1990

Empire, Leicester Sq., London

Dominion, London English Birthplace of Todd-AO

The First 70MM IMAX Cinema in England

70mm Film Presentations in London, England 1958 - 2014

"Star Wars" Presented in Dimension 150

Internet link:

The Leicester Sq Theatre later renamed Odeon West End with two screens and at least one screen for 70mm with Cinemeccanica projectors. The OWE closed 31. December 2014, and the last film was "Interstellar" i 70mm.

In September 1990, I visited London again to see and photograph the 70mm cinemas and if possible, to go to Bradford to see England's first IMAX Cinema. Thanks to my projectionist colleague John Sharp, I had a place to stay in Upton Park, 30 minutes on the Tube to the East of London. At that time John was the Chief Projectionist at the ABC Shaftsbury Avenue 1+2, and he sent me around town to his projectionist colleagues in the West End. I had met John in 1985 when I saw "Amadeus" in 70mm at the ABC. After the film, he gave me a tour, and we continued to correspond the following years. John was superb in informing me about which films were playing in London in 70mm, and he started to build a complete list of ALL 70mm Film Presentations EVER shown in London. Not an easy task. 25 years have passed and we still communicate though Facebook and see each other on the odd occasion when I'm in London.
The Warner West End with its characteristic ceiling lights and curved screen. Very fine JBL sound installation. The cinema has been demolished and replaced by 9-smaller screens and renamed VUE

This story is mainly a visual guide to some of London's cinemas in 1990 as I saw them. At that time, I was working in Copenhagen in my 7th or 8th year as a projectionist. I loved to go to London to see the really big cinemas and talk to the people working there and to learn from them. I was welcomed everywhere at the Empire (Pete and Ilkar), at the Odeon Leicester Sq (Nigel), at the Warner West End (Andy), at the Plaza (Pete again) and the Marble Arch ("Mad" Max") – (I apologize to those who I have forgotten) all very fine 70mm cinemas and extraordinary nice people. It was a fantastic vacation for a young man in his late 20s to experience the camaraderie between them.
Exterior of the Warner West End on Leicester Sq with the "WARNER" sign in red/white neon lights on the facade.

A hand full of great 70mm cinemas within walking distance of each other: Odeon Leicester Square, Plaza, Warner West End, Empire, Odeon Marble Arch, Leicester Square Theatre/Odeon West End, ABC Shaftsbury Avenue and the Prince Charles with occasional re-runs of 70mm. I was in 70mm cinema heaven. The cinema heritage of the West End was staggering to think of. All the big
70mm premieres, which had taken place there was mind bending. From the first premiere of Todd-AO at the Dominion in 1958 to the latest one "Days of Thunder" at the Empire.

70mm projectors in London was not different from Copenhagen. Mainly Philips DP75, Philips DP70 and Cinemeccanica Victoria 8. I was used to the DP70, so I knew that very well. The Vic 8 were installed in Odeon cinemas and at the Dominion, the DP75 at the ABC and Warner West End and the DP70 at the Empire, Plaza and MOMI. The Empire even ran an impressive three-projector set-up. I was thrilled to see the DP70 like that. The sound processor everywhere was the Dolby CP200 and the CP100. I seem to remember most of the speaker and amplifier set-ups were JBL. All high-end systems like the classic JBL 4675 2-way system, which was the standard system for Dolby Stereo 70mm 6-track cinemas. A really powerful system and state-of-the-art in those days.
The ABC Shaftsbury Avenue 1 or 2. "Amadeus" ran at the ABC for more than a year three times a day in 70mm with one print. The cinema has been demolished and replaced with more smaller screens and re-named Odeon Covent garden.

Not only did I see many of the cinema and had tea with the projectionists ("Milk or sugar?", "no thanks". "What, just brown water?", "yes, please".). I also went to the unique MOMI (Museum of the Moving Image), the most interesting movie museum I have ever come across. The MOMI cinema was equipped with a pair of Philips' DP70 70mm projectors. MOMI opened in 1988 to great acclaim, and sadly closed in 1999. It is greatly missed. Another high point was a visit to Dolby Laboratories in Clapham, the original site of Ray Dolby's company. John Iles had invited me to come and see the facilities, should I ever be in London. John and I had a cup of tea, and talked about cinemas, Dolby and 70mm. I was impressed by the company, their dedication to film & cinema sound, and always taking their time to write back when I wrote to them.
One of the most beautiful large cinemas of the modern age, the Empire Leicester Sq in all its colourful glory seen here in September 1990. The auditoria has since been split up into two cinemas. An IMAX in the screen end, back to back with an "Experience" Dolby Atmos cinemas in the other end.

In 1990, 70mm was still the premiere release film format, and it seemed to me that no expenses were spared to give the audience the absolute best performance quality. It probably also had to do with the fact that many filmmakers lived and worked in London. Therefore, everything had to be the best. 1990 was a premium vintage year for 70mm with 15 releases and some even with multiple prints - which was not unusual in London.

In Copenhagen, the story was a bit different. There was only one really big cinema with 70mm projectors - which I was fortunate to work at. We did not have cinemas with the same technical level as I saw in London. For instance, the optical Dolby Sound in Copenhagen was largely awful and unimpressive compared to London. We did have some fine cinemas, but never the number of 70mm releases like London, Paris or even Sweden had. In fact, during the 80s, only three films opened in 70mm in Denmark. That is a release embarrassment of epic proportions denying the audience the best quality. My travels in those days were a big inspiration and a huge revelation of how things were done in the big world outside Denmark.
Sound for the Cinema. Dolby CP100, DOLBY MPU-1, DOLBY SR and Cinemeccanica sound equipment. Note reel-to-reel tape player, JBL amplifiers on the floor, as well as 5 transportation cans for 70MM to the left.

70mm was very common everywhere in the West End in 1990. I saw "Days of Thunder", "Memphis Belle" in 70mm and maybe "Total Recall" which was playing in three cinemas across London in 70mm during the week I was there. Old 70mm prints were stored everywhere in the projection rooms as I recall it. I remember seeing "Song of Norway" and "Temple of Doom" sitting at the Empire, gathering dust. “Run, Run Joe” at the ABC and many more. Odd reels all over the place, short ends piling up, Dolby loops hanging everywhere. Many cinemas are rebuilt, or closed today, and projectionists have retired. Nothing is the same any longer, nor will it ever be.
The Dominion theatre seen from the stage. More than 2000 seats in several floors. Once the home of "South Pacific" in Todd-AO where it played for 4 years and 22 weeks. A world record. Has been used a live theatre for 25-30 years, with the occasional film presentation in between.

I was fortunate to get some 70mm clips for my "70mm frames" collection, which I still have to this day. Small 70mm treasures from days long gone by. Much of it is all faded reminding me that I am getting older. Looking at the pictures from London in 1990 so many years later inspired me to make a gallery to share the images for the first time. Maybe someone will see them and enjoy looking back at a time when things were different, and of course - a lot better. In fact, at least 70mm better.

• Go to the gallery: 70MM Cinemas in London's West End, September 1990
• Go to the gallery: Empire Cinema, Leicester Sq., London
• Go to: Dominion, London. English Birthplace of Todd-AO
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Updated 21-01-24