Dr Matthew Jones, Senior Lecturer in Cinema And Television History at De Montfort University, gives us the lowdown ahead of the special 1960s Cinema Experience + One Million Years B.C. event at Picturehouse Central on Wednesday 29 June, 7.00.
Cinemagoing is one of those things we tend to think of as a constant in an ever-changing world. Whatever happens beyond the lobby door, inside we can always rely on comfortable seats, our favourite snacks at the concessions stand, and a few hours of uninterrupted entertainment.
However, a visit to the cinema in the 1960s was a very different experience indeed. The darkness of the auditorium was pierced by usherette’s torches, choc ices were the treat of the day, and the more adventurous cinema managers would arrange complex lobby stunts and gimmicks to draw in a crowd. There was a formality to proceedings, with smartly dressed commissionaires greeting patrons at the doors and, in some places, afternoon tea being served. Even inside the auditorium things would have been unfamiliar to us, with a constant coming and going as many people would arrive halfway through the film and stay until it looped back around again to the point where they had started watching.
These cinema experiences were already fading away by the 1960s, on the cusp of being eradicated completely by shrinking ticket sales and the eventual arrival of the multiplex. However, for one night only, the 1960s are being brought back at Picturehouse Central.
Working from almost 1,000 people’s memories of 1960s cinemas collected by an Arts And Humanities Research Council-funded project, a team of academics from De Montfort University’s Cinema And Television History Research Centre has collaborated with actors, directors and costume designers to recreate this lost world of ‘going to the pictures’ as an immersive theatre experience.
Step into Picturehouse Central on 29 June and you will be taken back in time to explore the sights, sounds and tastes of a London cinema that is struggling to adapt while the city around it is swinging. The new youth culture – all miniskirts and bobs – is pressing in at the doors, and Mr Robert Ward-Jones, the cinema’s manager, whose background is more Savile Row than Carnaby Street, doesn’t know whether to batten down the hatches or attempt to move with the times. But now Hammer’s new film, One Million Years B.C., with its stunning dinosaurs and equally stunning Raquel Welch, has landed firmly on his programme. It’s crying out for a little showmanship, and Mr Ward-Jones has pulled out all the stops in one last desperate attempt to draw in the cool cats of London.
So dig out your finest 1960s attire, come down to Picturehouse Central and see what awaits you inside!
For an hour before the film you’ll be able to explore the space, discover the secrets hidden inside, meet the characters who work there, and get involved as Mr Ward-Jones puts his plan into action. Then join the swinging Londoners for a screening of the film and perhaps a little nightcap in the bar to round things off afterwards.