The Last Projectionist Review

Film Still
  • The Last Projectionist film still


By all means make a film about the history of your cinema, but don't try and sell it as something it's not.

With The Last Projectionist, self-styled "filmmaker" Thomas Lawes stands himself, hands on hips, in front of a gaping, open goal. He then blithely toe-punts the ball past the crossbar, over the stadium roof and into a nearby drainage ditch where it is stolen by a group of roving children and punctured with a rusty nail.

The death of 35mm film as a standard tool in both the production and presentation of cinema is arguably the hot-button industry topic of the moment, ripe for a deep, impassioned examination and worthy of being brought to a wider audience. It's a question which embodies the paradoxical notion of economy versus artistic freedom, where the heedless sway of the marketplace is causing seismic shocks to the aesthetics of cinema.

What Lawes offers is an extended advertisement for his own cinema, The Electric in Birmingham, and following about a jolly hour of lager-fuelled, nostaliga-tour witterings and did-he-just-go-there? animated inserts that wouldn't have passed muster on '70s children's television, we finally get to the meat of the matter.

A host of experts gab about the future of film and how the role of the cinema projectionist (or to give them their new title, 'technician') has been irrevocably altered to the point of obsolescence.

If anything, the people Lawes has chosen to speak to undermine his initial love letter to the glory days when 'threading' a projector was an amazing skill and sleeping in the projection booth was a grubby given. Good riddance, they say, to fusty old film. Why waste money on the logistics and maintenance of 35mm when we can fill our cinemas with retro velvet couches and sell white chocolate-dipped gooseberries at a 500 per cent mark up in the name of an "experience"?

Now, it may be facile to chide a film for not being what you hoped it would be. Yet, the promise of the title suggests something more melancholy, prompting us to consider a world where films are screened via analogue machinery, but a compact computer which requires minimal human regulation. It's a baggy, shoddily constructed film, bereft of any guiding ideology or cause. Lawes chief aim appears to be to needlessly insert himself into as many shots as possible.

Granted, there are a few spry anecdotes about The Good Old Days, such as when newsreels would arrive so late that the stories they were covering had usually moved on ("If someone was reported as being ill, the likelihood was that they were already dead by the time we got the footage"), or the earnest programming blunders during the '80s where the family film was shown on screen one and the dirty mack bongo flick was shown in screen two.

Any one of these digressions would've made an interesting movie in itself: the history of low budget British erotica; the newsreel production line; the evolving architecture of urban cinemas.

Instead, we get a mulch of half-formed ideas and stand-alone anecdotes that add up to little more than a bunch of stuff. Staunch advocates of 35mm film, such as the critic/broadcaster Mark Kermode, have made far more interesting and probing essay films on their personal blogs.

By all means make a film about the history of your cinema, but don't try and sell it as something it's not.


A topic that has real weight and is important to cinephiles across the globe.



Ho hum.


In Retrospect

A missed opportunity. If you're going to make a film about your own cinema, at least give us a reason why we should care.

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View 6 comments


3 years ago
Just saw the film, thought it was great. Moving stuff! Although the picture used above isn't from the same film.


3 years ago
Saw it last night...really enjoyed it. Everyone else must have too as there was spontaneous applause at the end. You mention Mark Kermode in your piece but he absolutely loves the film...gave it a glowing review yesterday, refuting most of your points and made it his film of the week. Weird.


3 years ago
Yawn, who cares....Film is dead, digital is the future and this movie will not be seen by much.

I bet that The Last Projectionist was made with digital cameras and will never see a 35mm print made.

Ian Mantgani

3 years ago
Wow, what a hip slap in the face of nostalgia! You're right: who cares about better picture quality, costs to exhibitors and longevity of prints

Ian Mantgani

3 years ago
Wow, what a hip slap in the face of nostalgia! You're right: who cares about better picture quality, costs to exhibitors and longevity of prints; let's go with the flow, because that's what smart people do! Tell us more, Mr Science?

Ian Mantgani

3 years ago
Is Lawes a 35mm sentimentalist? I read an interview somewhere in which he said that while he loves it, he's all for the switch to digital, just aware that an era is passing.

Anyway, I'm not to keen on the switch. Would prefer to see film and digital live side by side, rather than see 35mm obliterated. The drastic drop in picture quality dismays me when I go to the movies now, although it does mean when you see an old print, you appreciate all the more how much it pops. Digital resolution has improved a lot in the last few years, but it still looks flat and lifeless, and you can see lines if you sit too close, where with film you had the sense you could jump into the image.

Am gonna use this as an opportunity to plug the 5-min documentary I did on the matter, and an interview about it:
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