London is great, but sometimes it does a soul good to get away from the big smoke to breathe some sea air. Less than 90 minutes away from the capital by train is Deal, a very elegant seaside resort in Kent. Attractions include a smart pier, a pebbly beach, the intriguing Time-Ball Tower, fish’n’chips and all the ozone you can fill your lungs with.
There’s a new reason to visit Deal though, for those film-historically inclined. A small but very welcoming museum called Kent Momi, or the Kent Museum of the Moving Image, if you haven’t been introduced yet.
A pebble-dashed house, just a couple of minutes stroll from the train station and the seafront, is now home to something between a collection and an exhibition of cinema artefacts. In fact it is full to bursting with cameras, pre-cinema devices, posters, pressbooks, and other memorabilia. Even a reconstruction of Googie Withers’ dressing table. And crucially, this film museum goes back further than most – to magic lanterns, dioramas and all the predecessors of the cinema as we know it.
Kent MOMI is a not-for-profit museum that explores the deep history of the moving image — from the days of candle-lit magic lantern performances and hand-painted slides, through Victorian visual experimentation, to the advent and heyday of the cinema.
The museum is the brainchild of a husband-and-wife team, film archivist David Francis and scholar Joss Marsh. They have a broader team of curators and workshop leaders though, and there seem to be several potential directions for growth and expansion. When the museum first opened, in may last year, Francis told the Guardian, “We saw this as our retirement project – but now, you never know. I’m afraid I am a serial retiree.”
When I visited this weekend, there were several exhibitions on show. There’s a conceptual gallery on the ground floor, called ‘35,000 Years to Catch Shadow’, tracing the history of our fascination with telling stories with light. Other floors, rooms and even the staircase were filled with artefacts relating to the history of the movie poster, Vinten cameras. Ealing Studios, and the ‘The Royal Polytechnic Institution and Multi-Media Victorian London’.
The museum is open to the public three days a week, Friday to Sunday, but there are special events, workshops and screenings too, including a very apt tie-in with Talking Pictures TV. If you just want to come along and browse, as I did, you’ll be pleased to know that your £5.50 entrance fee is really a year’s membership, so you can return as often as you like within the next 12 months. I can’t promise you won’t spend any more money though, as the museum has a gift shop stocked with DVDs, gifts and secondhand film books as well as a café.
Deal is a very pleasant seaside town, and after poking through the displays, including an especially generous selection of Ealing material and an interactive Pepper’s Ghost installation, we retired for a liquid debrief in the nearby Taphouse pub (highly recommended, although we regretted not sampling the vegan pizza). Not before we ambled along the seafront though, where this striking building caught our eye:
It’s the old Regent Cinema (that’s the Time-Ball Tower just visible behind it), which was built in 1933 but sadly has been defunct for a number of years now. There’s a local campaign to reopen the cinema, and earlier this month, Deal Town Council has just approved a set of plans for a two-screen cinema seating 200 with an adjoining 120-cover restaurant and bar. Fingers crossed, this beautiful picture palace can start screening films to the public again. Wouldn’t a trip to the pictures make a perfect double-bill with a visit to Kent Momi?
- Kent Museum of the Moving Image, in Deal, is open from Friday to Sunday, from 12pm till 6pm.
- Keep up to date with the Reopen the Regent campaign here.
- 30-Second Cinema is published on 14 March 2019, and available to pre-order now!
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