As the sun sets across Southampton’s Ocean Village, a bright light on the shore welcomes the evening. A terrace overlooks the marina ahead; busy and bustling with life. On Friday 12th July, after a two-week closure, the newly refurbished Southampton landmark and Harbour Lights Picturehouse publicly opened its doors to the world of film once more.
The cinema that sits by the marina is best known for its art-house appeal. Inside, guests are welcomed by the friendly faces of the warm and welcoming staff. A cosy lounge, punctuated by the conversations of eager cinemagoers and the sounds of enjoyment, is situated by the corner of the café bar and offers a perfect view of the ocean below. The café bar is the centrepiece of extravagance, serving an array of beverages and a fully loaded menu. A soundtrack of soothing jazz accompanies the scene; an aura of elegance and class marks the fond occasion. The art-house cinema is also a house of art. A unique feature to the cinema – the exhibition hall – has a collection of fine art on display for cinemagoers to browse. The walls are also decorated with a collage of a dense and colourful film history. Upstairs lies the true treasure of the cinema and the most impressive latest instalment: the screening rooms.
Walking in there is a distinctly fresh smell, gentle and reminiscent of new beginnings. Large rows of cosy, reclining soft seats lures the viewer in. The spacious viewing experience is adjustable and flexible; there is a new sofa feature on the back rows along with rows and rows of seats on a gentle incline welcome the eager viewer into a luxuriously comfortable cinematic domain. This spatial luxury has become a rare feature of the modern cinema-going experience; there are no protruding armrests or interfering cup holders, nor is the individual viewing space invaded by neighbouring spectators with rigid posture correction seats that virtually overlap each other. Most importantly there are none of the additional soundtracks often heard at the multiplex; no noisy clamour of the fiddling of packets or the slushing and slurping sounds of a slushy as a fellow spectator sucks viscously at the ice at the bottom of the cup. There is a general respect for the viewing experience. When it comes to the screening space, size matters. The screening space is not too confined or claustrophobic nor is it large and empty. Instead there is an ideal proximity to the screen, creating an intimacy with the feature. Space is abundant and accommodating to the needs of the viewer.
All of the features of the new Harbour Lights cinema are indicators that this is truly a haven for fans of the cinema. It is a house of worship, where on Sundays there are often showings of the memories of yesteryears or, if your tastes are more finely tuned towards the arts, a healthy rotation of “screen arts” is readily available with features such as opera and theatre. For aspiring filmmakers, short films are often on display as preludes to main features. In addition, the venue offers vintage screenings, “discover” screenings, iconic cinema, “silver screen” (for the more mature patron), autism-friendly screenings, “big scream”, “kids club” and “toddler time”, all making for an diverse experience. Harbour Lights accommodates the many flavours of cinema and tastes of film lovers.
In a world where big budgets, towering posters and super-sized concession stands and combo meals are defining traits of the cinema-going experience, Harbour Lights restores balance to an experience that has become diluted and restricted by its own glamour and growth. Harbour Lights surpasses the tunnel vision of mainstream cinema, it ignores the gimmicks and the automated service. The cinema offers a refreshing perspective of film choosing to accept it not as an industry but as an art form. Harbour Lights is a relaxing yet energising home away from home for those seeking refuge from the grips of the typical, bland and noisy mainstream. Harbour Lights is a cinema, a landmark and a home, with a personality.
Of course, our reviewers also watched some films while they were there. Read them here:
The Bling Ring
A Field in England
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