A new golden age revives the silver screen

Centenary of the cinema: Attendances have doubled in the past decade as young people switch on to film
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The Independent Online
REBECCA FOWLER

The first audible words uttered in a talkie film were: "Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothing yet." As the industry celebrated its centenary yesterday amid a revival which has seen the public flocking back to cinemas, it was a fitting opening line.

After suffering a perilous first 100 years, since the Lumiere brothers showed the first moving picture in Paris, despite the arrival of television and video which both threatened to kill off the pop-corn crunching audiences, the cinema is flourishing almost as never before.

In the last 10 years audiences have doubled from around 50 million to 120 million, and young people are among the most avid cinemagoers, with 72 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds going at least once every three months, and the number of screens went up from 1,271 in 1984 to 1,971 in 1994.

So what has brought Britain back to the silver screen? In 1985, when cinema had hit the worst doldrums, the first multiplex opened in Britain, offering a variety of screens, restaurants and comfort. There are now nearly 100.

"Lots of people lost faith in the industry, but people have always wanted to see films on the big screen, together, as part of a group experience, and when these screens were introduced they had a tremendous impact, there was a renewed interest, which means we now still don't have enough," said Jon Anderson, marketing director for Columbia TriStar, the film distributor.

The technological advances of film-making have also served the industry well. The revival in the 1980s was born on the back of such films as Terminator, Die Hard and Blade Runner.

"Television cannot compete. Films made with entirely computer-generated images are now being made, and it will not be long before we are resurrecting stars from the dead with old footage, it's limitless," Mr Anderson said.

Film has also held on to its ability to shock. The great shock factor has been reintroduced with a vengeance to thrill cinema audiences off their seats. Fatal Attraction, one of the highest grossing films of the 1980s, saw Glenn Close seemingly rising from the dead, and more recently the stars of Shallow Grave sawed of the limbs of their victim to disturbingly convincing sound effects.

Directors have pushed the boundaries unflinchingly since the first screen kiss in close-up in 1896 - in The Widow Jones - was described as "absolutely disgusting" by a film journal. More recently Quentin Tarantino, the darling of the new cinema, has gripped audiences with hypodermic needles and male rape.

But the formula for what makes a blockbusting hit remains as elusive now as it was for the Lumiere brothers, who declared a few years after their opening night that film was an invention "without a commercial future".

The two highest grossing films in Britain are Jurassic Park, which used state-of-the-art technology to recreate dinosaurs, and Four Weddings and A Funeral, a comic love story of English manners and eccentricities.

The budgets also continue to burgeon. This year saw the making of the most expensive film, Waterworld, which cost almost $200m (pounds 131m), although Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, remains the most expensive film of all time, costing the equivalent of $213m today.

Supporters of the industry are confident it will flourish for another 100 years.

"Cinema is one of the greatest means of communication we have; the moving image transcends language, cultural and national barriers . . . the modern world would be unimaginable without film," said Wilf Stephens of the British Film Institute.

The film-makers say little has changed for them. Budgets are still always too high, schedules overrun, actors throw tantrums. Cecil B DeMille, the legendary Hollywood figure, said it all in the Ten Commandments, when his stuntmen stared over the 40ft set for the scene when the earth opens.

"Do you have any direction for us, Mr DeMille?" asked one. "Just save your lives, and make it look good," he replied.

Leading article, page 14

Cinemagoers' top 10

1 Pulp Fiction (1994)

2 Star Wars (1977)

3 Reservoir Dogs (1992)

4 Raging Bull (1980)

5 Schindler's List (1993)

6 The Godfather (1972)

7 Aliens (1986)

8 North By Northwest (1959)

9 Jaws (1975)

10 Casablanca (1942)

Source: Empire magazine

Critics' top 5

1 Citizen Kane

2 La regle du jeu

3 Tokyo Story

4 Vertigo

5 The Searchers

Directors' top 5

1 Citizen Kane

2 Raging Bull

3 81/2

4 La Strada

5 L'Atalante

Source: Sight and Sound survey

Top 10 grossing films

1 Jurassic Park (pounds 47.1m, 1993)

2 Four Weddings and a Funeral

(pounds 27.8m, 1994)

3 Ghost (pounds 23.3m, 1990)

4 The Lion King (pounds 23.1m, 1994)

5 ET (pounds 21.5m, 1982)

6 Crocodile Dundee (pounds 21.5m, 1986)

7 Mrs Doubtfire (pounds 21.2m, 1994)

8 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

(pounds 20.5m, 1991)

9 The Flintstones (pounds 20.2m, 1994)

10 Batman Forever (pounds 19.3m, 1995)

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