The New Picture House: Is Cinema Outdated?

Emilia discusses the uproar at the impending closure of St Andrews local cinema.

In such a small town as St Andrews, it is no surprise that news of the supposed cinema closure spread so quickly. In October 2023, it was announced that the New Picture House (NPH) on North Street was to be bought by Nexus Luxury Collection, which Justin Timberlake and Tiger Woods are shareholders in. The cinema is set to be converted into the second ‘T-Squared Social’ site, a sports and entertainment bar merging Timberlake and Tiger’s interests in sport, dining, and socialising, as well as their names (T-squared, geddit?). The first site opened in Manhattan in September 2023, and with this, their eyes were ‘already looking to new locations around the world’; cue, St Andrews. With both Timberland and Woods familiar with the town, and with the cinema so close to the legendary Old Course, it seemed like a perfect location.

This has been met with mixed reviews. A ‘Save Our Cinema’ petition was created, and collected over 11,600 signatures, a considerable amount considering the town’s population is around 16,900. Yet losing local businesses seems to be a recent phenomenon; in 2021, the student-run Barron Theatre was closed; in 2023, the 144-year-old shop J&G Innes Ltd closed; in 2024, it seems a shame to lose another business that has been part of the town for years.

The cinema was opened in 1931 across the street from the Cinema House, its competition until it closed in 1979. The NPH then gained prominence, gaining a second screen in the 1980s, and a third in 2002. It is a beautiful building, designed by local architects Gillespie and Scott, and listed a Category B building in 2008 by Historic Scotland. It is one of 50 independent cinemas in Scotland. To put this into perspective, in St Andrews alone there is allegedly 30 pubs.

 

Credit: Instagram/ @saveourcinemastandrews.

The outcry causes for a call towards cinema popularity in general. It seems almost a dying breed, with the likeliness of a student having a streaming site such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Disney+ being as inevitable as finding a book in a library. There have been times where the largest screen of the NPH will be empty save for a single group of friends. With student tickets at nine pounds, it isn’t surprising that this is not a regular haunt for most St Andrews residents. For that price, an entire month of (ad-free) Netflix could be bought, with thousands of movies and series available at your fingertips, your own private movie screen available whenever and wherever you want.

It can, however, be argued that cinema is on the rise again. Two of the biggest movies this year, Barbie and Oppenheimer, were dubbed Barbenheimer as they massively exceeded the box office revenues, no doubt aided by their simultaneous, counterprograming release. Globally they grossed over two billion collectively. Barbie, with $1.446 billion from the box office, was the highest grossing movie of 2023, and the 14th highest-grossing film of all time. In the UK, total box office admissions increased by 8.3% 2022-2023. High admissions help to boost the low cinema revenues levels still lingering from Covid 19 and a general cost-of-living crisis.

It cannot be denied that there is a certain magic to the cinema; buying popcorn and slushies, relaxing on comfortable seats, screaming with a community of strangers over plot twists, and gushing with friends afterwards. The Save Our Cinema petition writes that NPH is “a part of our identity, a source of pride, and an integral element of our town’s fabric”. An Instagram page (@saveourcinemastandrews) was created to petition against the sports bar. Over 1000 followers have been gained, and graphics posted that can be seen in various windows around town. It has even teamed up with the St Andrews Film Festival to promote the petition. It seems the potential closure is the one thing to resurrect dying interest, or at least act as a trigger for people to appreciate that they didn’t realise they didn’t want to lose the cinema until it was threatened.

There are, however, two sides to this argument. Apparently, the Cinema cannot go ahead as it is, as it currently runs at 10 percent occupancy. A key consideration is that the sports bar allows the cinema to continue, as one screen would be kept amongst the golf simulators, bowling alleys, restaurants and cocktail bars. The other option is the possibility of losing the cinema entirely to residential flats, or something suchlike.

The argument if perfectly summed up like this: whilst Woods said “We wanted to bring our T-Squared Social concept to St Andrews to add to the local community and be a welcoming place for those living in St Andrews and for visitors alike”, a sonnet to Woods and Timberlake can be found stuck onto the side of the cinema: “Tiger Woods and Justin Timberlake/ Can go and jump in the nearest lake! / You’re not welcome here and no mistake. / Our town’s culture and future is at stake.”

 

Credit: Emilia Brooks.

 

It seems the petition is not enough, with plans announced to go ahead for the bar. But people are not giving up, and action is being taken. On 11th February, there is a St Andrews Film Society event to ‘pack the cinema and get every screening sold out’ to show support for the cinema.

If indeed this is The End, and the cinema is lost, don’t worry. You may not be able to watch movies but you can admire the large photographs of Woods playing golf, or Timberlake singing in concerts gracing the bar walls. And if you’re missing cinema snacks, fear not… The T-squared Menu serves pork belly and popcorn.

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