There was a time when cinema-going was the leisure pursuit of the day – well evening mainly - but you could go in the day if the fancy took you. Indeed, tales are told by older generations of spending all day there - watching three different films, or the same film over again.
The Hollywood star system - with regulars like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman lighting up the screens - was at its peak. Cinema was THE entertainment of the day - accessible to all, regardless of class or income.
Such was the popularity of cinema that it came out top of people's limited leisure time – with more admissions than theatre or galleries. In 1946 a staggering 1,635 million people went to the cinema - an average of 33 visits per person per year. Compare that to last year - where that figure was… just 2.7
So what happened? What changed? First was the arrival of television in the 1950s when admissions started to fall. Then the ‘Picture Palace’ became frayed round the edges and started chopping up these beautiful large auditoriums into smaller boxes. The glamour seemed to go out of it all.
So what is the future for films being shown in the cinema to appreciative audiences? Perhaps the future of cinema is in its past. The magnificent Italian ‘Il Cinema Ritrovato’ film festival brings back to life the immense wealth of film's history, showing that cinema can still connect with audiences of all ages. Classic films really come back to life once they are up on the big screen - they still have that magical quality which holds audiences enthralled.
Inspiration from Il Cinema Ritrovato led Mark Cosgrove, our Cinema Curator, to set up Cinema Rediscovered here at Watershed (28 – 31 July) which brings together newly restored versions of older films, such as the epic British historical dramas The Lion in Winter (1968) and A Man for All Seasons (1966), alongside a tribute to cinematographer Douglas Slocombe - who shot everything from Ealing’s The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953) to Rollerball (1975) and Spielberg’s Indiana Jones movies.
Cinema Rediscovered will once again see classic films back where they belong – in a cinema on the big screen, entertaining audiences. Discover them anew for yourself with us in July.