From Boardroom to Bijou: Exploring Cinema Distribution & Exhibition: Part 2: Exhibition: Introduction

By Conrad, Dean | Post Script, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

From Boardroom to Bijou: Exploring Cinema Distribution & Exhibition: Part 2: Exhibition: Introduction


Conrad, Dean, Post Script


They put a parking lot on the piece of land, Where the supermarket used to stand. Before that they put up a bowling alley, On the site that used to be the local Palais ... (Davies)

When The Kinks released this song, Come Dancing, in 1982, the succession of ever-more bland buildings on plots of land that used to boast theaters and cinemas had become an all-too-common sight in the UK. Three years later, Britain's first multiplex cinema, the Point, rose out of a flat expanse of land in Milton Keynes; but a mere twenty-six years after that, this historic, cinematic landmark is also under threat of demolition. It's a familiar tale to those who recall the demolition, in 1963, of the Fox, San Francisco--the opulent, 4,600-seat "last word in movie theaters"--just 34 years after its opening night. (1)

Whether it be the Electric Palaces and Picture Playhouses that nurtured the infant art form, of the Regals and Roxies where the greats of its "Golden Age" were revealed to the grateful masses, or the AMCs and UCIs, on the front line in the fight against the rise of VHS and DVD, the traditional fabric of cinema exhibition is gradually succumbing to the wrecking ball. All the more reason to save, record and celebrate what's left.

This issue of Post Script is not about movies, but rather the showing of movies. It is the second part of a double-bill, From Boardroom to Bijou, the first of which (30.2) casts light on areas of cinema distribution. The contributors to the current issue explore a cross-section of the exhibition end of the American and British movie industries: from the late 19th century--when cinema buildings did not yet exist, to the early 21st century and into the future--when cinema buildings may no longer exist.

Academic cinema scholarship has recently increased its interest in elements of the movie industry that fall outside the films themselves and the people who make them. This may owe something to a drift away from grand screen theory towards more historical approaches. And so the pervasive "why?" of academic discourse is gradually making more room for the "what's," "who's," "when's" and "how's" that have always sustained the study of cinema buildings, projection techniques and the showmanship of exhibition.

As I noted in Part 1, historical approaches have always underpinned the work of enthusiasts dedicated to the preservation of cinema's exhibition legacy. And this work has been essential, not least because the Studios, which contributed so much to the history of cinema, no longer have any interest in the buildings in which much of that history was written. In commercial cinema terms, they are simply not financially viable.

If we ever had any doubts that money dominates the movie industry, we need only regard the work of Kevin Brownlow, who, from the 1960s, has fought to preserve and protect silent movies from studios which have neglected, and sometimes willfully destroyed, their own screen legacy. Accepting his 2010 honorary award from the Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Brownlow laments the loss of 73% of all silent films. He adds, "I was told, when I started this business, that silent films were a complete waste of time," (Brownlow) meaning that even the movies themselves were deemed largely to have no commercial value.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Since the arrival of home video, the Studios have of course gained a clearer understanding of the value of their back catalogues, but even so, commercial considerations still hamper the historian, as Brownlow points out to his Hollywood audience:

   Now, it is amazing what's turning
   up, and if you would only relax your
   copyright laws where silent films are
   concerned, you would see an awful lot
   more suddenly appear. That has been
   one of the worst chains on this whole
   affair of ours to rescue the past of the
   cinema.

Brownlow's noble battle continues, supported by his considerable reputation, commercial viability and, now, the weight of his Oscar. …

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