SIXTY long years have passed since the Columbia Cinema opened on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. The site is now home to Curzon Soho, one of London’s premier cinema venues.
To mark the 60th anniversary (4 February 2019), Curzon Soho showed the first film to get a screening at Columbia – the musical Gigi, based on a novella by French author Colette. Remarkably, the film, directed by Vincente Minnelli, ran at the cinema for seven months.
Although the film received nine Academy Awards at the 1959 Oscars, is required viewing for all cinephiles, and received widespread applause from a packed audience on Monday night, the evening’s highlight was a cameo ‘performance’ from Gigi herself – actress Leslie Caron – who came on stage to say a few words.
Although now in her mid-80s, Caron has lost none of her sharpness or vivacity as she praised Colette for the brilliance of her writing – ‘telling you as it is’ – and escaping from the ‘depths of Burgundy’.
She also gave a little insight into the difficulties faced by Minnelli in filming Gigi – against the backdrop of a wet Parisian summer and a city full of cars and television aerials – and his attention to detail (14 takes of one scene, just to get the swans in the background in the position he wanted them).
Caron was joined on stage by Stephen Woolley, producer of film Colette, who admitted he had steered clear of Gigi for years because of the song ‘Thank Heaven For Little Girls’ (sung by Maurice Chevalier). But after making Colette, he watched it and found it ‘absolutely incredible’. He described the film as ’very fresh’. The only downside? That Leslie Caron had not won an Oscar for her performance as the young lady courted by Gaston (Louis Jourdan), one of Paris’s most eligible bachelors.
Woolley brought perfect symmetry to the ‘prequel’ by admitting he loved Curzon Soho – remembering the time when David Hare’s 1985 film Wetherby was showing at the cinema and it was billed outside as Wet Herby. Woolley frantically helped a colleague close the gap between the ‘t’ and ‘h’ by allowing him to get on his shoulders and adjust the lettering.
Long live Curzon Soho. Long live Leslie Caron. As Caron sang 60 years ago, Monday 4 February 2019 was the kind of night invented for champagne.