Dating Tales from the Cinema: An Interview with The Phoenix

We asked Elizabeth Taylor-Mead, Executive Director of The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley, North London, to answer some questions around the topic of dating and the cinema. Read on to find out a unique romantic story about Johnny Depp, Elizabeth welcoming numerous A-List celebs into a cinema she worked at in the US, and how a young Mark Kermode failed on a date, but discovered a love for a particular classic horror film.

Q. Cinema date dos and don’ts – what are your tips for a successful cinema date?

Elizabeth: “Definitely arrive before the film starts, and don’t talk all the way through the trailers. Many of us true film fanatics love the trailers as much as the films so it’s a sacred space. If you are still getting to know your date you’ll want to chat to them as much as possible; just remember not to disturb the other audience members. Our advice is to arrive early enough to chat away over a drink in the bar. At the Phoenix you can grab a drink and even a delicious homemade meal on our balcony, offering the ideal place for a spot of pre-film chin-wagging. If there is no café or bar why not chat away at the kiosk? It’ll give you the chance to ask one of the ultimate cinema-goer’s questions – how do you feel about popcorn? For some couples, chomping on popcorn in the cinema is a make-or-break event.

Either book your preferred seat ahead of time, if your cinema allows reserved seating, or arrive early enough to find the optimal viewing seats. Ask your date where they’d like to sit – what if you’re someone who can’t stand other people coming between you and the screen, but your date loves nothing better than to sit in the last row? People have strong feelings about their comfort levels in the cinema, and for most of us, these habits die hard. Sometimes you might find it’s easier to give up the guy or girl and find another kindred spirit, than it is to agree on where to sit!”

Q. Starstruck – have any famous couples ever visited your cinema?

Elizabeth: “I’ve only been here for seven months so don’t know enough about our illustrious audience members yet, but when I worked with top art house cinemas in the US I had the experience of welcoming Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Martin Scorsese, and a lot of other film-loving celebs. A lovely story I heard from a colleague who ran a very cool silent movie cinema in Los Angeles was that when Johnny Depp was wooing Vanessa Paradis, he used to regularly rent the whole cinema and have special dinners prepared and sent in, with amazing wines, and they would watch silent classics on their dates. Alas, they’re no longer together but it’s a great way to impress a date if you’ve got Johnny Depp’s finances!”

Q. Un-classic cinema – which films, old or new, would you recommend to avoid on a date?

Elizabeth: “I guess it’s a matter of mutual consent, and of course depends entirely on the taste of the dating couple, but in general if it’s a first date and you really don’t know the other person well, I’d avoid films with very graphic sexual content. Too much pressure!

It’s a good idea for the person choosing the film to get some idea from the other person about what genres they really don’t like – if you’re not into sci-fi, there’s no point paying to see “Edge of Tomorrow” in an auditorium of high-concept geeks if your date is into quirky rom-com.”

Q. Dating disasters – do you have any stories of dating gone wrong at the cinema?

Elizabeth: “One of our most enthusiastic patrons of the Phoenix, film critic Mark Kermode, tells the story of coming to the Phoenix every Friday night through his teen years and bringing a date to see “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. She was grossed out and left half way but he was mesmerised and stayed. His romance with that girl ended on the spot, but his romance with cult films has continued until this day.”

Q. True love – do you have any romantic stories from your cinema? Has anyone ever proposed there, or even got married there?

Elizabeth: “Again, I haven’t been at the Phoenix long enough to witness any proposals or weddings, but I know there have been many in its 104 year history. I do meet people here who tell me their parents or grandparents had their first date here, so we’ve been fostering romance for a long time.

At the cinema I worked at for ten years in Boston, we had private hires for surprise proposals just about every season. It’s a gorgeous Art Deco movie palace, with a giant auditorium and three smaller screens. I remember one where the guy made a faux trailer to run during a sold-out Friday night show. He’d surreptitiously shot footage of his girlfriend at her most adorable and funny so that everyone watching fell in love with her too. It was quite a sweet short film and then at the end it was just his face to camera, saying her name and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, and asked her to marry him. Of course, with his face blown up to 60 feet, it was quite an overwhelming experience. The rest of the audience was in tears or cheering or both. The whole staff would get into these proposals planning where to seat the couple, having flowers and champagne at the ready, a velvet cushion and spotlight for him to leap up in the flesh and present her with a ring. Very over-the-top in terms of romance!

Lots of weddings take place at art house cinemas, especially iconic ones like ours. It’s just such a unique atmosphere, you can feel the history and all the pleasure of the people who’ve enjoyed watching films there over the years. Personally, I can’t imagine anything better with someone you’re just getting close to than watching a great story on the big screen, in the dark, with hundreds of strangers. Bliss!”