With the Coronavirus pandemic affecting every facet of our lives as we know them, the value that film and the cinema has in our past, present and future may go understated. Under threat of mass closure and possibly extinction, the importance of keeping film theatres open once everything has calmed down is significant and cannot be ignored.
Since the origin of film, the cinematic experience has played a foundational role, showcasing the medium to audiences as both commercial entertainment and artistic expression. Until the emergence of narrative film and synchronised sound in the 1910s and ’20s, a ‘cinema of attractions’, demonstrated by the work of the Lumière brothers (responsible for one of the earliest known film screenings in 1895), was focused on exploiting the spectacle inherent to the technology, a spectacle rooted in the collective experience of a crowd sat together in a single room. Cinema shifted from its infant mobility at travelling fairs and casual venues into its own fully realised, unique place of leisure. Purpose-built theatres emerged, equipped with projectors offering the highest-quality way of viewing a film, allowing spectators to become immersed in a dark, fixed place with little chance of disruption – except from those around them.
So, how exactly does the cinema fit into modern day life? Certainly, the rise of online streaming services has made staying at home to watch movies a lot more convenient and, in some cases, far cheaper. Nevertheless, the fact remains that this ease is at the expense of the finest and most impactful experience possible. The continued marketability of home cinemas and high-def physical media – home projectors, 4K Blu-rays, even 8K screen technology – definitely displays audiences desire for the feeling of the cinema. While these home set-ups can come close to replicating the experience, the results invariably fall short, especially considering the social side of going to the pictures and the natural superiority of cinema projection and audio. Suffice to say, the cinema is as important to film as a concert is to a music fan, or a gallery to an artist.
Most of all, the cinema provides an unparalleled space to truly feel a film, whether that be an action-packed blockbuster or a low-key arthouse feature. There’s a distinct sense of familiarity and comfort at the cinema, with our senses taken away by its many well-known, welcoming associations, like the smell of fresh popcorn. What the physical space offers is a means of both escaping from and understanding our reality, contributing to a multitude of powerful, formative memories that can last a lifetime. The experience has the power to change us as people. Personally, if it were not for the cinema, I would never have discovered my passions. Nor would I have been supported through some difficult times, where all hope and happiness seemed lost. It has changed my life in so many ways that to fully express what it means to me in words is, frankly, impossible.
There have been glimmers of hope in the past decade for the cinematic experience surviving, in part due to the astounding success of major blockbuster franchises like the MCU. In 2018, cinema attendance in the UK was recorded at its highest since 1970. The beginning of 2020 showed promising numbers, with approximately 16 million admissions in January, matching the figures of that same month two years prior. Strong interest is still there. Without active support to keep cinemas afloat, however, it is likely that many independent theatres will close before we can return to them – with the chains in big financial trouble too. In just a few short years, the cinema as we know it could tragically be lost. That is a deeply troubling thought.
COVID-19 has put into perspective many things that we take for granted. As a result, it has made us look back and appreciate them all the more. It is time for us to fight for cinemas to remain open and give future generations the chance to experience the ultimate film experience. Without it, the future ahead looks to be a far lonelier one.
Visit Empire’s Celebrate Our Cinemas page to find out how you can support cinemas across the country.