From the silent movie era in the early 1900’s when moving pictures were a new and novel innovation, to the megaplex movie theaters of today that have Dolby Surround Sound and show 3D movies that use a lot of computer generated effects, the movie theater has seen a lot of changes in both technology as well as in lifestyle.
In the early days of moving pictures, most people still had no electricity, no radios, television hadn’t been invented, and the moving picture was something new, probably the biggest development in entertainment that the world had seen.
With the only entertainment in the home being the radio (for the lucky few) or the gramophone, a trip to the theater was a major diversion, albeit for those who could afford it.
The advent of the movie theater created a whole new era for entertainment, and with it being far more affordable than live theater, it was affordable for more of the working class as well, which led to movie theaters springing up all over the USA, with other countries not far behind.
The early movies had no sound of course, and so dialog was written on the screen, and a live orchestra played a soundtrack for the movie.
Although the silent movie era was soon to end, with the invention of the talking movie, it did generate a host of stars, whose names are still well known today, like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Lillian Gish to name just a handful.
With the advent of the talking movies, and the onset of World War II, a whole new era arrived, that of the newsreel, which in a world without television, allowed people around the world to see what was happening in the world, and to watch events from the front line, as well as sports highlights.
The movie theater remained popular until the 1970’s, since although most people by then had television in their home, movies had to be released for at least several years before they were allowed to be shown on television, therefore if you wanted to see the latest blockbuster movie, you had to go to the movie theater.
In the earlier days of the movie theater, the performance used to include two movies, with an intermission between them, and both were proceeded by a showing of newsreels, like “Movietone News”, which showed recent major news events. The first movie shown became known as a “B Movie”, which was shown before the main feature. This was phased out gradually in the 1970’s and most movie theaters began to just show a single movie instead. With most people now having televisions at home, the newsreels also faded into obscurity.
With the invention and popularization of the VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) however, and changes in the length of time before a movie could be released outside of the big screen, it became possible for people to buy or rent movies to watch at home, and many movie theaters ran into financial difficulties and closed down.
In order to keep the remainder going, many were converted from a single theater with a larger screen that could seat a large audience, to multiple theaters in a single building, with smaller screens, and where a range of movies could be shown concurrently to smaller audiences.
At the same time, the quality of the projection equipment was improved, and the modernized theaters saw new surround sound systems that could provide a much enhanced viewing for the audience.
The increased popularity of the VCR and the decrease in the cost of movie rentals, plus the advent of the higher quality DVD in the 1990’s and the increased number of cable and satellite television channels, sounded the death knell for many more movie theaters.
In recent years the introduction of high speed internet into most homes has meant that movies can be streamed live without even having to leave the house. Vast improvements in the quality and size of the television screen, and the introduction of Home Theater systems have also meant that it is possible for people to turn their living room into a small movie theater, and therefore it isn’t necessary to pay to go out to see a movie.
The latest development is of course 3D television, which is as yet not very popular and is also expensive, but within 5 years no doubt it will be normal to have one – maybe.
There are far more movies produced these days as well, and if they are not very successful in the movie theater, they are often available on DVD within a matter of months, so there is no longer a need to wait for years to see a new movie. Many movies are also produced that never even make it to the movie theater. The whole world of movies is changing, and with it the need for movie theaters to adapt to the needs of the public.
The one thing that the movie theater has going for it, is that it is still a theater. It may be fine watching a movie in the comfort of your own home, but there is nothing quite like being in a movie theater and experiencing a movie along with a lot of other people.
When a character says or does something funny, the whole audience laughs along together, and when something in a scary movie makes someone jump, the person sitting next to them jumps twice as much.
Of course we must not forget the memories of taking a date to the movie theater and sitting in the back row, where it was dark and you had the chance to snuggle up together and make out. While there are many more opportunities for younger people to be alone together these days, the movie theater is still a good place to take a date, and for us oldies too, it’s a chance to relive some of those dates from years gone by.
So Long Live The Movie Theater! Here’s to the first 100 years, and may you still be around in some form or other for the next 100 years.
Authors viewpoints and memories.