If you are interested iElectric Cinema 191 Portobello Road, Notting Hill London W11 2ED - Mozilla Fir_2013-09-11_11-28-09n the technical side of cinema there is a strong chance that you are also interested in the buildings or locations the films are shown in. This section of the website looks at the different types of cinema buildings and also points you in the direction of further information if you wish to run your own or book a mobile cinema for your own event.

Early Cinema/Bioscopes

The very first film screenings which took place happened either in tents of showmen who travelled P1000472around with fairs from village to village, or churches or other such venues. You can read a blog post on this subject here: Early Cinema: Bioscope Shows.


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:


The University of Sheffield has the National Fair and Cirus Archive, and includes biographies of a number of significant people within the early days of cinema:

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: 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:


Although this article dates back to 2010, it lists 10 of the best Independent Cinemas in the UK and the Cinefiles Series is a weekly article which highlights a cinema of note and only the other day.

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).


Multiplex Cinemas

These are the types of cinemas which we are perhaps more use to since their introduction from America Vue cinema Bury openingin 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

This new section of the website looks at the non-traditional use of projection equipment, including Projection Mapping, Community Cinema, along with Outdoor or Pop-Up Cinemas – anywhere a film or content may be shown or used which is not within the traditional cinema building.

Projection Mapping
Starting a Cinema
Mobile Cinema

When cinema was first developed, it was showman that took the concept around from village to village, fair to fair as a novelty. As cinema developed cinemas found more permanent buildings for their home, although a small dedicated number of mobile film cinemas existed. During the second world war and beyond there were mobile cinemas that entertained and educated the troops where ever they were. But mobile film cinemas require a lot of work and space to set up and run. The equipment they use is heavy and bulky and requires quite a lot of space. However new digital technology is changing all that. Digital projectors can project nearly anywhere from anywhere and there are any number of examples across the Internet where images have been projected onto the side of buildings.
It is also noticeable that in the last few years that there has become an increasing romanticism for outdoor or open-air screenings, despite the unpredictable British weather. In other countries where the climate is a little more predictable outdoor screenings have been happening for many decades. Whether this is new found interest is both a combination of the new technology available or the desire for an alternative to the standard multiplex cinema is another matter. The Time Out magazine in 2011 has for the second year published a list of the many outdoor screenings that are taking place across London.
While doing research into Outdoor screenings it has been interesting to notice a large number of websites either offering the equipment for screenings along with the number of ‘pop-up’ cinema screenings which are taking place. (Pop-up is the relating to the type of screens that are many used for outdoor screenings as they are inflatable screenings which are tethered down.
Having been involved with a number of outdoor screenings at various levels, I know how exciting they are, and they are more satisfying to show a film to than ‘traditional’ venues. I certainly think that we will see more and new variations of unusual cinema happening in temporary venues in the next few years.

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

 Have a look at this blog post here: Starting a Cinema along with these specific articles and places.

Links/Further Information

If you are interested in finding out more information about cinema buildings and their histories then the two best places to start is the Cinema Treasures website and the Cinema Theatre Association.




 Timeline of Film Colors
On the left-hand side, you will see links to other sections of the website.