Luke McKernan1
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  • 1 British Library
‘Only the screen was silent . . .’
Memories of childrens cinema-going in London before the First World War
in Film Studies
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Before 1906, there were no dedicated venues for the exhibition of film in London. Five years later, cinemas had spread all over the city, and 200,000 people were attending a film show in the city every day. Many in these first cinema audiences were children. Significantly - indeed probably uniquely for the time - cinema was a mass entertainment deliberated aimed at, and priced within the range of, the young. Decades later, some of these children left memoirs (published or unpublished), or were interviewed by oral historians. This body of evidence on the experience of cinema-going before the First World War has been hitherto ignored by film historians. This essay examines this testimony from London audience members, which is constructed around the various stages of the act of going to the cinema. The testimony demonstrates that the experience and the enjoyment of the social space that the cinema provided were at least as important as the entertainment projected on the screen. The early cinema demands greater recognition for its function as a social sphere, and particularly as a welcoming place for children.

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