Come into my Kino

Kitsch cinema is alive in Manchester, says Ryan Gilbey
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You can walk Manchester's Oldham Street a few times before you notice Caf Pop, set back in a doorway. Outside, a man fumbles at the top of a ladder, tacking up a banner. He's the only thing moving on the rainy street. It's Thursday night, and, once again, the Kino Film Klub is invading Caf Pop.

Kino is the North-west's mobile cinema. It operates in regular eight- week seasons, setting up one-nighters here at Caf Pop and at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, and at CineCity in the Manchester suburb of Withington. The slant of the programming is clear from the posters lining the club's office wall: Veronika Voss and Wild at Heart, My Dinner With Andre and Savage Messiah. Now two years old, its fluid existence, like that of London's Cinema Fume, is a sign of the repertory scene's financial instability. As funding shortages squeeze repertory cinemas out, determined figures in the industry's margins are showing films wherever there's a wall.

All of which makes Kino's decision to raise funds for a permanent base all the more adventurous. John Wojowski, the club's director, has raised £40,000 from Manchester City Council, the European Regional Development Fund and a sponsorship deal with a cinema equipment company toward the cost of setting up Kino in next door's basement. It will be an 80-seat cinema maintaining Kino's broth of trash and art. It will also screen (and eventually finance) work by local film-makers. That will take another £40,000.

John emerges from setting up the reels in the projection booth (a walk- in cupboard). He's worried: it's 7.10pm and the audience hasn't arrived. "It's weird, 'cos we were packed last week [for an Oshima/Borowczyck double-bill] and the week before, when we had Cheech and Chong, people were sitting on the floor."

Some of his staff - all are voluntary workers - have gone awol tonight, including the girl with the ice-cream tray. And the popcorn machine that was supposed to arrive yesterday won't now appear until tomorrow. But it's not all doom and gloom. Kino has a loose, communal atmosphere unmatched by anything since the all-night shows at London's late-lamented Scala Cinema. This is encouraged both by the floorplan - a jumble of tables and chairs set out before a screen, an open fridge at one end - and the decor.Kitsch memorabilia abounds ( Che Guevara, Jimmy Osmond and Ken Dodd happily cohabit) as do tacky relics - psychedelic bean-bags, three- bar fires, spherical TV sets.

"The decor here is one reason we chose it as a venue," John explains. "Kino fits in so well because this is the youth-culture corner of Manchester."

But doesn't Manchester's Cornerhouse cinema already cater for that audience?

"Their programme is limited and a lot of people feel intimidated when they walk in because it's the regional film theatre. Its audience is mostly ABC1s, while Manchester has got the biggest student population in Britain. People deserve to see those classic films that the Cornerhouse isn't showing."

About 20 die-hards turn out for tonight's vampire double-bill. Kino staffer Charles, a huge man with a jutting ginger beard, takes up the mike, referring to Kino's director as "Mr John-we-can't-spell-his-name-or-pronounce-it" and welcoming "Anna Powell, complete with her wonderful head of hair."

Anna, a film studies student, introduces Countess Dracula, pointing us to its depiction of "vampirism as a disruptive force within the family" and to its "interesting breast imagery". There is enthusiastic applause. Ten minutes in, a vampiric couple kitted out in full cloak and fangs make their entry too late for it to be dramatic (they were probably late for their own funeral). They make for a table near the back and drain some glasses.

The interval brings much goading from Charles for audience members to come up and tell a joke. Anna tells me that she frequently writes introductions for Kino's horror screenings. She's a regular - the Cornerhouse is "too middle-class" - but doesn't come as often as she used to because the popular films are being repeated in an effort to get new clientele in.

John says that even when Kino acquires funding - it's appealing to businesses in the North-west, and has applied to the National Lottery Fund - it will continue with occasional Caf Pop nights to remind audiences where it all started. After The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, the Count and Countess thank John and disappear into the hearse purring outside. Two lads quiz him about next week (it'll be a sure-fire sell-out: Carwash and Cleopatra Jones). The popcorn machine will be here then, too, John says. They'll be turning people away again, for sure.

For more information about Kino, telephone John Wojowski on 061-448 0878.