Cinema still exercises a powerful influence in the world today. There are the A-listers and the B-listers (terms I was never familiar with) along with all the time-honoured film festivals. Although youngsters still flock to see a blockbuster, I wonder if that influence is as all pervasive as it once was.
For a long time it seemed that cinema was on a slippery slope with the rise of internet piracy and competition from every conceivable quarter, but at long last it has found its proper niche of operating a service and not just selling a product.
What motivates people to going to the cinema? May it be because watching a movie in the company of hundreds of others, with a giant screen dominating and the wrap around surround sound, is an experience that people are willing to pay a premium for?
In the Golden Age of cinema (the post-war years) the attendances were truly vast. Hardly a person in the land did not go to the cinema at least once a week, and many twice – as I did. The competing modes of entertainment were so few that the ‘flicks’, as we knew it, had almost a free run. Today, however, life is very different.
Certainly the technology has advanced, with incredible special effects, digital and 3D all adding an extra dimension. The stars in my day became role models we all aspired to and were expected to behave well, even if privately they matched any of today’s shenanigans. When someone broke rank and was in danger of being caught out, the studios would go to extraordinary lengths to preserve their squeaky clean image. Winona Ryder would never have been allowed to go down the swanny over shoplifting; unquestionably, studio power was absolute.
Adults, and in particular youngsters, are almost overwhelmed by choice nowadays. Go to any high street and it seems that almost half of people are engaged with their mobiles, while at home the youngsters disappear almost immediately to their bedrooms to play video games. It is easy in these circumstances to see why cinema felt itself to be up against it. Modern cinema has met this lethal challenge by upping its game mightily by improving the ‘experience’: bigger than ever screens and better than ever sound and 3D (for those who fancy it).
Yet all these innovations are only available to those wanting to see new releases. That vast body of movies which so influenced the lives of all those over 55 is now relegated either to dusty archives or the small screen – an altogether inferior experience. Vue and the like are not interested in featuring these classics from the Golden Age.
But all is not lost! After 25 years as a projectionist (many of them spent at Plymouth city centre cinemas) covering both traditional and digital film showing techniques, David Huxham wants to bring back that great experience which the older generation so pines for. David has come up with the great idea of Plymouth Film Shows, where he will be hiring a screen at the Reel Cinema at Derry’s Cross every Wednesday morning. The doors will be opening for the first time at 10:15am on 26th September, when David will be showing that great silver screen classic, Singin’ In The Rain, staring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Conner and Debbie Reynolds.
Tickets are priced at £4 each and the Plymouth Film Shows’ website can be found at www.plymouthfilmshows.co.uk, which includes details about what’s on, how to purchase tickets and much more. David has also put together a competition on the site giving away several pairs of free tickets, so give it a try!
I was delighted to meet David a couple of weeks ago when he came into my shop on the Ridgeway to have his shoes repaired. He explained to me how his working life has been almost a love affair; always thrilled at putting on a show for hundreds, sometimes thousands, he started as a projectionist at 17. But much as he admires present advances in cinema techniques, he laments that lost ‘experience’ which was so central to his early life.
I, for one, look forward to a trip down memory lane to see some of the great classics on the BIG screen again, with many benefitting from being digitally enhanced, potentially providing an even greater level of enjoyment than could be experienced in that Golden Age.
Unfortunately David doesn’t propose bringing back the organist or the pretty, titillatingly clad ice cream sellers who walked up and down the aisles flogging their wares in their precursor minis; nor does he require the audience to all rise at the end of the performance and belt out the National Anthem. Woe betide those who tried to slink off early, anticipating the movie’s end. Destainful looks would accompany their hurried retreat.
A lovely little footnote to David’s story is that his Mum & Dad met while standing in a cinema queue at the Gaumont, Union Street, cinema in 1954. “Do you want to go in as a double?” inquired cheeky-chappy dad of the strange young woman close by. The rest is history.
Good luck, David. Let’s hope that Plymouth gets behind you.