Imagine yourself watching a film in a cinema. The movie suddenly stops and the screen goes black. Would you be annoyed?
Maybe, but I’m sure you’d get over it if a Wurlitzer organ were to rise up in front of the screen with colourful lights, lively music and a very friendly organist greeting you with a wave and a “hi!”
I’ve been taking a break from my warm, comfy, London-based couch to venture further afield – to Suffolk to be exact. Nestled within the salty streets of coastal village Southwold is a wonderful cinema – the type of venue that I’d love to have up the road from my house. The Wurlitzer was just one of the many features of this delightful gem. Other treats included a cheery welcome from a commissionaire, a friendly usherette, ice-cream sellers in the interval…yes an interval. That’s not all. There was a second feature – Tom and Jerry in the case of my visit – a kiosk selling tea, coffee, port, ginger wine and sweets, a balcony, and to top it all off, the nowadays alien experience of rising for the National Anthem at the end – with on-screen content a bit like this:
Created in 2002, Southwold’s Electric Picture Palace is a film society cinema (you need to be a member to go, but new members are welcome). It was designed in a 1912 theatrical style and shows a varied mix of old and newish movies.
I fell in love with it. One of the reasons I’m a couch potato you see is because going to the cinema usually isn’t like this. More often than not it’s a faceless, dark multiplex cavern with food and drink for giants with giant prices. There are always too many adverts, but, unless you want to find your seat in the dark, you’re forced to sit through them. And then of course, with the trailers and adverts on top of the film, you’re desperate for the loo by the end, especially if you washed down your trough of popcorn with a vat of cola. Once over, everyone rushes out before the credits end, kicking their empty cartons under the seats and brushing off the popcorn burrs as they scuttle out. There’s no sense of shared experience, no friendly chit-chat over the movie that everyone’s just seen. Why, I wonder, when you can watch films in your own home in state-of-the-art cinema-style environments, does anyone feel the slightest urge to go to cinemas like these.
I wish the sociable going to the pictures experience would return. I wish more cinemas would re-introduce the interval to break up the movie and stimulate chat. Let’s have the Wurlitzer, the commissionaire and the National Anthem to inject a sense of occasion and let’s have prices that mean we’ll return every week rather than every three months.