Seeing with the “Mother Theatre”: The sea and cinemas of Cape Town’s city centre
de Almeida, Fernanda Pinto
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In this essay, I consider the building and demolition of the Alhambra, once known as Cape Town’s Mother Theatre, as a way of approaching the transformations of the city centre in the twentieth century. I show how city planning schemes and segregation policies transformed the central district’s cinema theatres – particularly the area informally called “Theatreland” – and proposed alterations to the seashore land that restricted pedestrian access from and to the sea. My essay identifies three moments that ordered these configurations of the central district and its cinemas, and how they became implicated in the city’s competing aesthetic projects. Cinemas, I argue, offer an important lens onto urban transformations in Cape Town, particularly in relation to the city’s maritime connections and the construction of the Foreshore. I trace these “cinema-scapes,” from their metropolitan ties to civic nationalist symbolism, and the different imaginaries of the public in Cape Town which, I suggest, inform a contemporary nostalgia for cinema.