Picture Palace will be a monument to plámás but must be finished.

When the notion of an arthouse cinema for Galway was first mooted back in the day, it seemed a much more desirable project than it has since become. In a city that just loves its luvvies, it seemed only right that a place with a history of film development and promotion should have a flagship arthouse cinema, a venue that would act as an unofficial shrine for those who love non-mainstream movies.

It was, we were told, serving a need. And it was an argument that met little resistance early on. Back then, we didn’t know what we wanted. We just saw what the rest of the world had. And we wanted it. By two. And whatever you were having yourself. So for the first time ever, Paddy went skiing, Paddy did coke, and Paddy made an eejit of himself trying to compete with the Arabs in buying up Mayfair (the place, not the magazine ), probably as a result of too much coke and too much falling down the piste.

The backers were pushing an open door. If Galway was to ever take itself seriously as a centre of all the arts, it needed to have an independent flagship cinema which concentrated on showing films that were not mainstream. And sure if it came in under cost, it would be a steal.

But to the vast majority of people who just wanted Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers, it meant little. They didn’t want their movies steamy and subtitled. The ordinary man and woman on the street struggled to see how such a facility would contribute to the betterment of life in the city. 

But that was then. And the people who backed it, did so with the best intentions of delivering for the arts. And it seemed they were prepared to drive it over the line with energy and plámás and yarns and a belief that if they could get the momentum going, the place would build itself. And they did so with an unforeseen drive and enthusiasm.

This week its delays and its cost overruns featured on Prime Time and they made startling viewing. It seemed that all the way through, there has been an element of ‘let’s see how far we can get with this without anyone noticing the cost or the benefit, and hopefully by the time people have noticed, the bloody thing will be up and built.’

But building is hazardous and subject to events and unknown unknowns. Pesky things happen.

As observers of the TV show Grand Designs will testify to, there is always the moment when the presenter says “John and Mary hope to be in by Christmas. (PAUSE ). It is now July….”

Things happen and things happened that maybe should not have happened. And so it has stumbled from one saga to another, from one plámás to another.

And there have been many versions of July.

But the world has evolved since then. That was before Netflix. Now we can watch arthouse films on our phones or our laptops. We can go home any night, or go to any coffee shop, plug in the earphones and watch any of the best independent or foreign or niche interest movies that are out there. No longer is there a need to be seen at a movie venue when you can be at home sharing on social media what you’re watching, what you’re eating and what you’re wearing. You can be googling and impressing people with your interpretation of the plotlines.

And so we’re stuck with this shell on the docks. It is, we are led to believe just a few steps from being finished, but how big those steps are, we just don’t know. Maybe, in the words of Sam Allardyce, it just seemed a good idea at the time. And maybe that time has passed.

It will be handed to Element Pictures who will fit it out and run it for three decades, and God knows in what form we’ll be watching cinema in three decades.

The City Council is right to finish it so that it doesn’t become a monument to failure. At least if it is finished, it can become a monument to plámás and a key part of the cultural infrastructure of the town. But at least it will be functional and open. And you would hope that it would play some part in 2020, even though it will effectively be in private hands.


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