It wasn’t long ago that the future of cinema seemed to be not so much in doubt but verging on the downright bleak.
After all, renting movies on DVD was cheaper and easier – and that was before the emergence of streaming and downloading films via the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime; even faster, more convenient and certainly more affordable. With the latest films available and accessible to watch, within seconds, from home, why would anyone bother to hike to an out of town cinema and pay around £10 a ticket to watch the same movie in the company of a bunch of complete strangers?
For families in particular, it felt as if a trip to the cinema – once just a staple activity during a weekend afternoon, was being priced out of range bar all but special occasions. Yet far from being under threat, cinema has boomed. According to stats from the UK Cinema Association, cinema admissions and box office revenue reached £1.24bn in 2015, a year-on-year increase of more than 17% or over £182m. In 2005, ten years beforehand, box office revenue was £776m. “2015 exceeded all expectations, with clear signs that we have further re-ignited the British public’s love for cinema,” UK Cinema Chief Executive Phil Clapp said.
Behind the renaissance is cinema’s USP – it’s all about the experience. Today, all over the UK, there are movie screenings in secret locations and stately homes; on rooftops; within the grounds of palaces and castles; on racecourses and even swimming pools. It matters less what is watched in comparison to where it is watched; the setting and the occasion is far more important.
‘Tell No One’
Secret Cinema have definitely embraced that philosophy. Described by the Guardian as ‘part immersive theatre, part bespoke film screening, part cosplay parade,’ Secret Cinema has ‘created a new kind of entertainment experience. We’d love to tell you more, but quite frankly, we can’t. It’s not that we won’t, it’s that we can’t – Secret Cinema keeps the location of its next screening a secret, as well as the title of the film. Recent screenings have included Dr Strangelove, Miller’s Crossing and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Pay a visit to the Secret Cinema website and the landing page greets you with the message, ‘Secret Cinema – Tell No One’ before inviting people to ‘Enter a Secret World’:
From grassroots film screenings in abandoned London buildings, to large scale productions in some of the most spectacular spaces worldwide, we create 360-degree participatory worlds where the boundaries between performer and audience, set and reality are constantly shifting. We are storytellers, inventors, place-makers, cultural entrepreneurs, film fans fuelled by a desire to fill the void left by an over-saturated technological world.
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Open air classics in iconic venues
A great deal less mysterious but just as appealing are the events staged by The Luna Cinema, which hosts classic films in some of the UK’s most impressive venues. To name a mere few, Alexandra Palace in north London screened Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Labyrinth in August; Ascot Racecourse had Jaws and Pretty Woman; Grease was on at Sheffield Ampitheatre; Warwick Castle screened Top Gun and Notting Hill; the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh showed Romeo & Juliet and Jurassic Park. And there were many more hosting venues not usually associated with screening movies, including Hampton Court Palace, Hastings Pier, Knebworth House and Brockwell Lido, in Herne Hill. Food and drink is available, too – and we’re not talking about over priced popcorn and flat cola, either. BBQ slow cooked ribs, hand made burgers, pizzas and nachos can be washed down with glasses of prosecco, wine and beer. Thus, these events become genuine social experiences and more than just catching a movie.
Bringing the cinema home Of course, there’s always a place for watching films at home – going out is still, for the majority, a treat. Home is where we spend most of our spare time, and where we feel most comfortable, and there is an increasing trend towards recreating the cinema experience within our four walls. Some home owners are happy to turn a room in their property into their own private cinema – this article on the Telegraph has a selection of houses with cinema rooms, some of which are spectacular. But it’s not the exclusive preserve of the rich, and is relatively easy to create. Home cinema systems are readily available from high street retailers, and for a few hundred pounds anyone can bring smart technology and surround sound to their living room. Perfect for hosting parties or just kicking back on a Saturday evening or for watching big sporting events, as this guide from AO.com suggests.
The UK’s quirkiest cinemas We’ve looked at open air cinemas, home cinemas and the interactive experience provided by Secret Cinema but let’s not ignore resident cinemas – those in buildings which have been in place for years, sometimes decades. We may automatically think of the large multi-screen cinemas which are features of shopping and entertainment complexes in and around the UK but there are plenty of others; charming and historic picture houses up and down the country.
Some of the quirkiest well worth a visit include:
Electric Cinema, Notting Hill
There are two Electric Cinema sites in London – Shoreditch the other – but Electric Portobello, in Notting Hill, features six double beds in the front row. Cosy.
Regent Street Cinema, London
What’s so special about Regent Street Cinema? Well, it’s a genuinely historic place, believed to have shown the first publicly screened film in the UK back in 1896. Closed down in 1980, it was restored and reopened in May 2015 and boasts an eclectic programme of films.
Kinema in the Woods, Lincolnshire
Kinema in the Woods is a unique experience. Based in the Lincolnshire village of Woodhall Spa it dates back to 1922 and is now the only fully functioning cinema in the UK to use back projection. Its quirkiness is enhanced by the olde worlde nature of the building – once a farm property – and the fact that an organist performs in the internal during Saturday night performances.
Fancy taking in a film at Bournemouth’s Colosseum cinema? Then it might be best to book, for there are only 19 seats – comfortably making it the smallest in the country.
And all this is just a selection of some of the choices available for film lovers. Film festivals are thriving – the BFI London Film Festival was held at the beginning of October; the Cambridge Film Festival takes place over seven days towards the end of the month, and Burghley House, in Stamford, Lincolnshire, successfully hosted a five-day film festival back in July. Then there’s the Rooftop Film Club, which does literally that – hosts movies from the top of buildings in London. Venues in 2016 included Bussey Building in Peckham, Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch and Kensington Roof Gardens.
It seems those who penned the cinema’s obituary may have been too hasty. Cinema has reinvented itself by firing imaginations – just as it was always intended to do.