There are a number of great websites which are dedicated to Early Cinema, containing lots of useful and interesting material to read and view. I have included a number of my favourite sites below:
You can also view a selection of Early Cinema films here, via YouTube. This playlist contains a number of films from the very early days of cinema:
But it is still possible to see and experience some of the Early Cinema, especially Bioscopes, including at the Great Dorset Steam Fair each year.
Traditional Independent Cinemas/Picture Palaces
After the introduction of the Cinematograph Act which required cinemas to have separate rooms for the projection equipment to help reduce the risk of fire spreading many new permanent cinema buildings were created.
The grandest cinemas were often referred to as Picture Palaces and as these images show they really were very grand buildings. Sadly, very few of them survive across the world today.
Cinema started to move into permanent buildings, often taking over theatres or music halls. Between 1910-1940 cinemas started to be purpose-built taking on the grandeur of the theatres and the film industry in their architecture and being full of the latest technology – they were palaces for attending the pictures – Picture Palaces. Often these cinemas would put on a programme of film, along with live performance as well, this was known as Cine-variety – this site provides a good idea of what it was all about: http://mikelangcinevariety.wordpress.com/cine-variety-memories-of-a-forgotten-era/. It was for this reason that the projectionist’s role also included a large number of the same techniques and traditions.
Often the film was part of a wider cine-variety act, where there were acts between the films. You can read a bit more about this here:
With the introduction of Television and later on the Video player these cinemas started to struggle and the decline of the cinema started to be seen. Many cinemas were divided up so that they could show more than one film at a time. These were often not very well done, with bad sight lines to the screens, sound bleeding between the different auditoriums. Others became bingo halls or snooker clubs before often shutting down. In the late 1970s into the 1980s, the cinema in the UK was looking fairly dark.
However, in the last five years or so, since digital technology started to become more common, but also the way in which multiplex cinemas are run and operated, along with a new social interest in local, non-corporate, ‘finest’ companies as a whole has seen a reassurance in the Traditional Independent Cinema, to the point that Cineworld (the only big cinema chain to be listed on the UK stock market) bought the Picturehouse chain (an independent cinema chain which specialised in arthouse cinema content).
These are the types of cinemas which we are perhaps more use to since their introduction from America in 1985 (the first Multiplex in the UK was at the Point in Milton Keynes) and this saw the rebirth of the cinema-going experience for the public as it offered more choice through more screens and more luxury through new equipment and seating, along with fewer staff costs. At first, no one knew if multiplex cinemas would work so many of them were built in industrial areas or out of town in a building which was essentially a warehouse with a set of auditorium in them, thus allowing for a quick conversation to another use should there be a requirement to.
Multiplex cinemas were successful and more of them were built all over the country during the 90s and the early part of the new century. There was also the introduction of a number of new cinema chains, including some from America to the UK.
As out of town shopping centres decreased in popularity and the number of new shopping centres back in the high street has become popular, so the multiplex cinemas have moved with them so that it is almost always now the case that a cinema is planned as part of any new development.
Cinema ‘Experience’/Art Houses
This section could really appear under a number of the different headings on this page, but it has it’s own specific mention as it has become almost a genre in its own right. There are a variety of different companies who set out to provide the cinema plus, something else. This type of cinema is often more expensive than the multiplex, but it provides something else on top. It is often seen as the opposite of the traditional multiplex, and in fact, many multiplexes have copied some of the ideas of these types of cinemas, adding luxury seating, bar, restaurants and more.
Community/Mobile/Pop-Up/Outdoor, Open Air and Mobile Cinemas
As a result of modern technology, the ability for anyone to create and run their ‘own cinema’ has become easier. It has been possible for a long time to have a home cinema and now as mainstream cinema has moved towards digital and digital technology has not only improved but become cheaper so it has become easier for anyone to set up a cinema in their local community.
The number of summer pop-up cinemas grow each year.
In the UK there are actually three full-size digital cinemas, that previously ran 35mm. They are the Screen Machine in Scotland, the Picturehouse and the SSVC and were built by Toutenkamion in France (the website provides a complete technical breakdown for those that are interested). Below is a video about the Scottish Screen Machine:
These are articulated lorries that convert into 80 cinemas. In America, these mobile cinemas are on a much grander scale such as these ones from CineTransformer.
Non-Traditional Projection and Cinema
Examples of successful mobile cinema, are the Film4 Somerset House screenings which take place each July/August each year and which sell out very quickly each year; Secret Cinema is becoming more and more influential in the alternative cinema stakes. Although cinemas have been found in everything from canal boats through to VW Campervans. The FilmAid International Charity screens educational films in the outdoors.
I want to Run a Cinema