The Peel Street Cinema Experience

Photo by Myke Simon Courtesy of Unsplash

Peel Street Cinema—formerly the Film Society—shows classic movies every Tuesday inside of a nineteenth-century townhouse on Peel Street. On September 28th, 2021, dusk is quickly approaching as I scuttle up a signature Montreal incline towards the silver screen. 

 I am surprised by a light crowd, animated yet muffled, assembled outside building 3475. A few escapees slip away and ascend the stairs to the front door. Yellow light seeps out as it’s cracked open to suck them up. Having arrived fifteen minutes early, which is really thirty-ish minutes to lift off, I sit down on a flat stone fence/wall that palisades the sidewalk and imagine what the inside of the building has in store. I’m picturing a drab reading room with one of those tube TVs on a stand and maybe some Monobloc chairs. I haven’t seen any photos. I’m apprehensive. 

 At 6:55, I decide I’m not taking any chances. The event is at seven. Time to head in. Most people are moving towards the front door.

 Tonight’s flick is a David Cronenberg film called Dead Ringers, starring Jeremy Irons—some body horror, ushering in an October of weird, macabre, and esoteric camp.

 “The door doesn’t work,” someone says, opening it for me as I ascend the steps. That’s good. That adds charisma. Leave it like that. I’m ushered in.

 Someone scans my vaccine passport in the foyer, an impressive foyer, with warm lighting and friendly eyes.


 Attached to the foyer is the theatre. There are no Monobloc chairs or tube televisions: this is obviously a loaned space. A genuine projector is situated in the wall behind maybe thirty or so seats—proper theatre seats, red and all. They’re comfy and classic. They’re situated on enough of a quaint incline that the film is observed atop a bubbling sea of reclining heads that just peek over into the picture. It’s wonderful: an important part of Peel Street Cinema seems to be the crowd. You are part of a collective here.

I burrow into the corner of the back row and await some familiar faces. Next to me is a fireplace, and further along the wall is a radiator. There’s some quaint decorative trim on the walls. The projector screen upfront has mounted speakers.

There are enough thrift pullovers to fill a Goodwill.

Some company arrives, and we’re quickly all slotted in next to each other in the back row.  Anticipatory murmurs begin to bubble over into full-on cinephile hubbub. Everyone is connected. I hear Palme d’Or over and over, and someone near me “really digs that.”

There are enough thrift pullovers in here to fill a Goodwill.

If the Dunning-Kruger effect is true, these people are well along the x-axis. Mystically knowledgeable and arcane but refreshingly humble, they would gladly talk to you about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as passionately as they would Tarkovsky. There’s an honesty in the crowd, too. Nobody is posturing

“I’d like to say I like sci-fi, but I haven’t even seen 2001.

  “Have you seen Enter the Void?”

“—Seven hours long and still sold out.”

 “But did you watch the Susperia remake?”

By 7:15 the room is full, and two guys are trying to shut off the lights. Hubbub has evolved into serious banter. The b-roll of pretty shots ends.

“If you like body horror, why haven’t you seen Crash?

The lights go out. There is some light cheering. An individual stands up at the front of the room. 

 “Welcome back guys. We have a good one tonight. David Cronenberg. Dead Ringers. Not going to say much more. You’re here for the movie, not for me. This is it.”

 Everyone is seated as the opening credits roll. The silhouettes of those in front of me are immersive. 

When something funny happens, the audience laughs, and you smile with them. When the movie reaches that inevitable Cronenberg gross-out, the audience groans and cringes, and you move in your seat with them. You lean forward in waves, sigh, and flinch together. It doesn’t matter if you’re alone. You’re absorbed.

The film ends and there’s some applause. The lights come back on and everyone rises and stretches. I head out the door eager to reserve a ticket for next Tuesday. They regularly fill-up ahead of time.

It’s a unique experience. One I recommend. 

Here is a club for comradery: not your resume.

As of Tuesday, October 5th, Peel Street Cinema has lost access to the theatre at 3475 Peel. They’re asking students to send in suggestions for “a small cozy space on campus.” You should still go, regardless of the location of future screenings. The atmosphere is made by the patrons. Whether garden chairs or reclining seats, the zeitgeist of the cinema will stay the same. Besides, attendance is free. 

The Peel Street Cinema is a must for any McGill student looking for a passionate, genuine, and charming evening. 

Here is a club for comradery: not your resume. 





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