Saturday, May 02, 2015

Old cinema architecture

click photo to enlarge
The design of the first railway carriages were closely modelled on that of the horse-drawn carriage. This seemed entirely right at the time. After all, wasn't there a similarity of function between a carriage pulled by an engine and one pulled by a horse?

When architects and builders began to erect the first purpose-built cinemas a similar mind-set seems to have taken hold. Cinemas were places of mass entertainment that held a large audience of people who all looked at the same spectacle in front of them. This was very much like the music-halls, theatres and concert halls of the time. Consequently it seemed entirely reasonable to draw upon their designs and decoration when building the new venues of mass-entertainment. To look at the music-hall architecture of someone like Frank Matcham and then at the cinemas of the first two decades of the twentieth century is to see many similarities. It is true that the sum spent on the average cinema's architecture was often less than on a music hall. However, the same debased classical features and the borrowings from exotic architectural styles (Moorish and Oriental were popular) pervade most such buildings.

The other day I stood in front of the former Tower Cinema in Hull. This was built by a Hull architect, H. Percival Binks, in 1914. The overall style is classical with domes, obelisk pinnacles, pediments, pilasters, rustication, swags, even a pseudo Diocletian window and an allegorical figure. However, it is faced in the then fashionable green and cream faience and has debased Art Nouveau touches - see particularly the stained glass lettering and its surrounding low arch. When built it must have seemed very up-to-date and quite different from the staid stone and brick of the Victorian buildings of the city; in fact, perfectly in keeping with the technological marvel of the moving pictures on display inside. Today it is no longer a cinema but some sort of night club. Mercifully, with the exception of a band of grey paint over the lower level tiles, little has been changed on the facade and so it remains an interesting building that speaks of its time of construction.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (27mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On