A View From the Stalls, October 2015

Michael Rowan, a member of Chiltern Film Society's committee, provides personal musings about his cinema experiences.

Is it any wonder that when it comes to cinema that it is difficult to escape the feeling that one has seen it all before?

My earliest memory of the latest innovation is - ‘Glorious Technicolour.’ The banner headline only referred to the main feature and commonly the B movie was in far less glorious monochrome.

ThreeD came and went, as I sat staring up at the screen through the red and green cellophane lens of a pair of cardboard glasses.

Multi screens saw three cinema screens where there had only been one. This usually meant three smaller screens. Gone were the places to enjoy the epic films that needed space to be fully appreciated. We had to wait decades for the arrival of Imax and even then some Imax experiences are better than others.

Perhaps every generation has its threat to civilisation as we know it, (Cue the Jaws music.) for me it was the video or more precisely the video store, one on most street corners demanding a membership fee of £5.00. The cinema, they said, was mortally wounded.

The quality was variable and we lovers of film watched helplessly as cinemas were converted into bingo halls and night clubs or worst still demolished. Of course cinema was not so easily dismissed and those remaining fought back offering an experience not to be found on the sofa.

Surround sound came and went with hardly a whisper.

3D made a reappearance railed against only by the venerable Mark Kermode, who nobly has not gloated now that it is on the wane.

In Bayswater one can have waiter service where food and drink is served to you in your seat, whilst at the Phoenix in Finchley crisps are banned from the cinema on the grounds that they are too noisy.

Black and white film made a comeback, as did the silent movie, whilst other films were colourised for those who couldn’t make their minds up.

Films have grown not only sequentially, eg Harry Potter x 7 (or was it 8?). Back in the day a film ran for 90 minutes, occasionally less. The B movie died a death and the sole film extended to 12O and then 180 minutes, requiring some serious bladder control. Cinema though thinks of everything, Gallon buckets of drink, cup holders for the said buckets and the film soundtrack piped into the lavatory.

And where would the film industry be without sex and horror?

Flickering scenes of silent coy glances and some chaste hand holding led to the crashing of waves and trains entering tunnels. Hollywood demanded that one foot stay on the floor at all times. From such innocent times to nudity, initially artfully, later as the hook on which to sell the film. Today the biggest cinema market is the 15s and under, so back to more innocent times and the increase in films about comic book heroes.