Romaine Hart obituary

Publié le par The Guardian by Jane Giles

Film company boss who was the driving force behind the creation of the trailblazing Screen on the Green in the 1970s
Romaine Hart rejected the fusty, traditional ways of mainstream cinema management. Photograph: Sally Soames/The Times

Romaine Hart rejected the fusty, traditional ways of mainstream cinema management. Photograph: Sally Soames/The Times

When Romaine Hart transformed the Rex, a 1950s fleapit cinema in Islington, north London, into the Screen on the Green in 1970, she set a standard that would have a profound influence on the ways in which audiences appreciate first-run arthouse films. Described by Quentin Tarantino as “the coolest cinema in London”, the Screen on the Green would inspire generations of future film-makers.

Romaine, who has died aged 88 of a heart attack after a typically fulsome Christmas, rejected the fusty, traditional ways of mainstream cinema management. In a blaze of art nouveau inspired branding, the Screen’s opening night premiere of Downhill Racer, starring Robert Redford, included Laurence Olivier, Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes among the audience. The cinema’s luxurious seats were made of purple velvet and the ushers wore hot pants.

The Sex Pistols, Clash and Buzzcocks played a riotous gig at the Screen on the Green in August 1976, while on other occasions the cinema’s tiny foyer was filled with sand and surfboards for a beach party-themed all-nighter, and Little Nell made a guest appearance naked in a bathtub to promote The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Screen’s programmer Roger Austin had been inspired by the cinema scenes of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The rows between Austin and Romaine reverberated throughout the auditorium, but she gave full licence to his maverick programming, which suited the cinephile environments she created.

The Screen on the Green made cinema-going both edgy and fun, and contributed to the transformation of working-class Islington into an arty, trendy borough with soaring house prices. Meanwhile Romaine divided her time between her Georgian townhouse in Highgate Village, further to the north of London, and a bohemian bungalow overlooking the South Downs in Sussex.

As the unwieldy single screen owner-operated cinemas of previous decades gradually closed down, Romaine’s company flourished, opening new sites in London and the home counties.

In contrast to the Screen on the Green’s punk ethos, the Screen on the Hill in Belsize Park became renowned for its Saturday morning children’s film club, supercharged by a local resident, Tom Maschler, then chairman of the publisher Jonathan Cape, and featuring guest appearances by luminaries such as Roald Dahl and Michael Palin.

The architects Fletcher Priest brought the allure of glass and chrome to the Screen’s chain of first-run cinemas, typified by intimate auditoriums, sophisticated snacks and specialising in a certain kind of must-see film.

Always having to fight for the best films to show, Romaine set up her own distribution company, Mainline Pictures, acquiring the UK rights to a diverse collection of thrilling world cinema by auteur directors. These included Barbet Schroeder’s Maitresse (1975); Paul Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man (1983); Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap (1984); Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette (1985); Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985); Bruce Weber’s documentary Let’s Get Lost (1988); Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre (1989); and Todd Haynes’ debut feature Poison (1991). Films by women were then few and far between, but the Mainline catalogue included Kathryn Bigelow’s stylish co-directed debut, The Loveless (1981).

Thanks to the business acumen of Romaine and her small team, the films Mainline distributed were profitable and impactful, still showing on big screens even once the company embraced home video. One of Mainline’s early acquisitions was David Lynch’s first feature Eraserhead, which in March 1979 opened at the Scala, a repertory cinema programmed by Stephen Woolley, formerly an usher at the Screen on the Green and later a prolific film producer.

Romaine was born in Streatham, south London, the daughter of Goldie (nee Mistlin) and Alex Bloom. Her father’s family had owned cinemas and other properties since the silent film era. Romaine left St Mary’s Hall school, Brighton, at 16 to attend a secretarial college and her father taught her the film business by allowing her to programme the Royal Cinema in Deal, Kent. An only child, she inherited Alex’s share in Bloom Theatres following his death in 1968.

Romaine also sat on the admissions board of the National Film and Television School, and in the 80s her presence on the board of David Puttnam’s National Film Finance Corporation was a canny appointment, linking the source of script funding to its eventual audience. She was appointed OBE in 1993.

Romaine was known as an unconventional risk taker, backing outsiders and underdogs in a male-dominated industry. In 1992 I was a naive young cinema programmer facing prosecution for copyright infringement. Turning to Romaine for advice, I found her pragmatic, kind and approachable, as did the many film-makers she befriended and encouraged.

After the seven Screen cinemas were sold to the Everyman chain for £7m in 2008, Romaine retired, but continued to attend the film markets of Cannes and Santa Monica, catching up on movies with her many industry friends, eating well and shopping.

Romaine married the businessman John Hart in 1958, and in 1970 they snapped up the Sussex bungalow that became their second home, turning it into an outpost of liberal Hampstead, hosting convivial salons and wild pool parties. Romaine worked with the architect Seth Stein to regularly update her home’s decor; even the nude artwork whose nipples were pressed to turn on the kitchen lights finally went, a relic of another era.

The marriage ended in divorce in 1981. Romaine is survived by her daughters, Nicola and Zara, and grandchildren, Xander and Esme.

Romaine Hart, film exhibitor and distributor, born 14 June 1933; died 28 December 2021

Pour être informé des derniers articles, inscrivez vous :
Commenter cet article