Gazette comment: ABC is back but Hackney is so different

Dalston Lane in 1983. Picture: ALAN DENNEY

Dalston Lane in 1983. Picture: ALAN DENNEY - Credit: Alan Denney

In the 33 years since Al Pacino’s unprintable final line in Scarface rang out, Hackney – and the world of film – has transformed.

Some expected home video to kill the cinema industry; Blockbuster was founded two years after the ABC shut, only to file for bankruptcy in 2010, around the time that digital projectors began to dominate the cinemas that remained. VHS came and went; DVD sales are in steep decline having been overtaken by streaming services earlier this year. And yet independent cinemas in Hackney are enjoying something of a renaissance.

The derelict Castle Cinema in Chatsworth Road was the first, launching a crowdfunder last year in the hope of becoming Hackney’s second indie film hub. Not to be outdone, the Rio – which unlike most of the others survived the 20th century – announced plans for a second and then a third screen. The Institute of Light in London Fields sparked into life. Now the ABC (formerly the Savoy) in Stoke Newington Road looks set to join the party.

What amazes me about these buildings is some of the fantastic architecture that has just been screened off. I know even less about buildings than I do about film, but I can tell the auditorium above Efes and Epic is pretty special.

Looking at Alan Denney’s photographs, it seems not everything in Hackney has changed since the ABC’s heyday. The East Enders at the bus stop could almost have been taken today, but for the unrecognisable Pembury Estate behind them. The spirit of protest seen in the TUC picture lives on – see the teachers strike last Thursday. But with prices rising and demand for homes soaring, it would be foolish to pretend nothing has changed. The Arts Centre will capitalise on Hackney’s past; in return, it must ensure it offers something to the communities who were part of it.