Sarah and I spent a few days in Amsterdam last week. I’d been there once before, on an art college field trip, twenty eight years ago. I don’t remember much about that first visit. I filled a big A2 sketchbook with drawings, but I haven’t kept any of my college work, so what they were drawings of I don’t recall.
One of the things I do remember is this cinema, the Theater Tuschinski. I was mooching about looking for stuff to sketch when I suddenly noticed this strange art deco edifice, like an alien temple, squeezed in between a couple of more ordinary buildings on Regulierbreestrat near the Rembrandtplein. I sat down in a doorway on the far side of the street and started making a drawing of it. After a while the owner or manager of Tuschinsky’s, who was played by Peter Lorre, came over to see what I was up to, and claimed to be so impressed that he suggested I stay in Amsterdam for a few weeks as a sort of artist-in-residence. I was far too shy to do anything like that, so I said no, which is a shame; it would have been an interesting experience.
Anyway, I wanted to have another look at Tuschinski’s, and when we found it, on a damp Dutch night, it was just as spectacular as I’d remembered.
Calling it an Art Deco building doesn’t really capture its strangeness, this is some kind of orientalist-Egyptian mutant Amsterdam strain of Deco; it has weird biomechanical ribs and buttresses, lamps like the business ends of giant fireflies, and centipede elephants for decoration. Here are some daytime shots:
When I was first in Amsterdam it never occurred to me to go inside. This time we did, and it’s just as extraordinary inside as out. Sarah took lots of photos in the lobby, and in the curving corridors. It’s all been recently restored, and looks magnificent.
There are four screens now, three of which are in a new wing at the back, but by luck the film we went to see was showing in the original auditorium, where the decor is as spectacular as anything that happens on the screen…
There’s an account of the history of Tuschinski’s here, and if you’re ever in Amsterdam you should definitely try to see a film there (English language films are shown with Dutch subtitles). The staff were really friendly and helpful, too.
I think it might be my favourite building in the world.
All the photos are by Sarah Reeve, except for the square ones, which I took on my phone.
In other Dutch news, Cakes in Space, my new book with Sarah McIntyre, is now available in the Netherlands under the frankly superior title Astra En De Astrotaartjes. Here’s a review by Sandra Hessels.