On a recent trip to Kent, I visited a quaint little cinema in Westgate-on-Sea. Tucked between shops on the high street, you pass through its arched entrance into a dark foyer with an old fashioned counter where you buy tickets at yesterday’s prices. The Carlton brought back fond memories of my visits to the cinema as a child.
Typically in the 1960s, several cinemas were located in town centres, each showing a different film. Multi screen cinemas had yet to be invented and 2 for 1 deals or cinema cards offering unlimited visits were a thing of the future!
Visiting the cinema was a real treat, and I remember queuing to see favourites like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. Often, more than one film would be shown with an interval in between, when an usherette would wander down the aisle with a tray full of goodies and stand at the front while we queued to purchase ice cream or popcorn.
There were no fixed start and end times for programmes. You turned up and left when you liked as the films were screened continuously throughout the day. At the close I remember standing quietly while the national anthem was played!
The first British picture house was the Regent Street Cinema in Oxford Circus. It first screened footage in 1896, when 54 people paid a shilling to watch several silent, grainy, 40-second scenes of ordinary life. The audience was astounded at footage of a train entering a station, believing it to be heading towards them!
Early silent movies films were accompanied by live orchestras, but from the mid 1910s organists provided the musical score. Cinemas were ornate with balconies and staggered rows for easier viewing. Over time this evolved into the tiered, stadium style seating we have today. Thick, heavy curtains covered the screen, which were drawn back when the film was due to start.
In 1927 The Jazz Singer was released. The first feature length film to include sound, it heralded the Golden Age of Hollywood with all-talking, all-singing movies. Going to the cinema became hugely popular, with newsreels, short comedy films, documentaries or cartoons being screened before the main feature film. Many classic cartoons like Loony Tunes and Mickey Mouse were created for this purpose.
Cinema faced a decline during the 1980s when films became readily available on video. With this trend continuing, new innovations have been introduced to make visiting the cinema more attractive. Stereo sound, 3D films, luxury seating and live broadcasts of theatre productions are amongst them. Visiting the cinema today is very different from my experience as a child, and I can’t help wondering what it will be like in fifty years from now!