The power of films in the imaginative lives of audiences can only be properly understood when films are located within the wider cinema culture. These comprised fan magazines, cigarette cards, postcards, cheap biographies, the book of the film, the sheet music of the film and above all radio. But during the 1930s, Hollywood began to appreciate the value of radio in publicizing and promoting its films. It discovered that radio complemented films rather than substituted for them. For three decades in both the United Kingdom and the United States from the 1930s to the late 1950s radio was the dominant medium for the daily domestic consumption of news, music and drama. The major structural development in the 1920s was the emergence of national networks: the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), initially two networks, Red and Blue, in 1926 and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1927.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the
subsequent chapters of this book. The book charts the development of cinema
exhibition and cinema-going in Britain from the first public film screening,
the Lumière Brothers' showing of their Cinematographe show at
London's Regent Street Polytechnic in February 1896, through to the
opening of 30-screen 'megaplexes'. In part the existence of cinema
is the result of an array of technological developments going back arguably
to the sixteenth century with the camera obscura and encompassing the
development of celluloid film and its projection to a large audience. It is
also the result of the efforts to create spaces for the public exhibition of
moving images; grand spaces which have embraced and reflected the great
modernist project of the twentieth century. The book places the development
of cinema in a broad social, economic, cultural and political context.
Sherlock Holmes has had such enduring appeal because he embodied the strengths, the complexities and the contradictions of the late-Victorian age. Every generation since Conan Doyle has had its perfect Holmes. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of William Gillette as an interpreter of Holmes. Although Holmes is now indelibly associated with the nineteenth century, the Holmes films of the 1930s, like those of the 1920s, all have contemporary twentieth-century settings. British radio only belatedly took up the Holmes saga. The first BBC Holmes radio play was Silver Blaze, broadcast on 12 April 1938 with F. Wyndham Goldie as Holmes and Hubert Harben as Watson. Thanks to audio cassette, we can enjoy a plethora of Holmeses. The short stories leant themselves perfectly to half-hour adaptation and radio provided pictures that no film or television version could ever equal.
The Scarlet Pimpernel, in reality Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet, is a character who decisively fixed the image of the French Revolution in the minds of successive generations of British readers. In the Pimpernel saga, liberty, equality and fraternity came off a definite second best to chivalry, duty and noblesse oblige. Several important factors explain the durability of the Pimpernel in the popular imagination. He is one of the most notable examples of the 'masked avenger', a staple figure in swashbuckling literature and film. The 1935 film The Scarlet Pimpernel became the definitive screen version and one of the most fondly remembered British films of the 1930s. Although The Scarlet Pimpernel, made in 1998, had the first of the three episodes, retold the basic story familiar from the 1935, 1950 and 1982 versions, there were changes. A second series of three ninety-minute episodes was produced in 2000.
By the early 1980s, Britain was viewed as a market in which the domestic
exhibition sector was in terminal decline, while at the same time being a
market in which films from the USA were both popular and dominant. This
chapter discusses the development of the multiplex cinemas in Britain from
the mid 1980s to the present. The opening of Britain's first multiplex
cinema called "The Point" in 1985 heralded a new kind of cinema.
The building of new cinemas, initially on the edges and latterly in the
centre of Britain's towns and cities, was the result of changes in
economic, political and cultural policies precipitated by both the apparent
triumph of laissez-faire capitalism and the hegemony of the Hollywood film.
Multiplexes built new audiences, the over 35-age group. The chapter also
looks at the impact of multiplex cinemas on the cinema-going audience and
the cinema industry.
This chapter deals with the period after 1913, in particular that of the late
1920s of British cinema industry as it was a time of dramatic developments
and the establishment of several features of the industry. It covers the
establishment of the British Board of Film Censors in 1913, and the cinemas
in First World War when the government instigated several organizations
whose role it was in the first years of the war to produce propaganda
targeted at those outside the country. The chapter also discusses the
development of large cinema circuits and the development of cinema
construction from the small, single-floored and simple buildings into the
prototypes of the 'super cinemas' of the 1930s. The War and the
associated conflicts in Europe saw the hegemony of Hollywood established and
consolidated in the post-war period. The 1920s ended with a momentous
technological advance, the development of synchronised sound.
There are few more prosaic settings than a radio studio, usually an anonymous-looking room with table, chairs, curtains and control panel. The best cinematic depiction of radio studios in action can be found in the documentary film BBC, The Voice of Britain , commissioned by the BBC from the GPO Film Unit. The ubiquity of radio was such that established literary classics could be reworked to accommodate the radio age. One of the more unlikely broadcasting crazes in both the United Kingdom and the United States was the spelling bee. Spelling contests with instant prizes, they were all the rage in the United States in 1937 and came to the United Kingdom in 1938. Paramount cashed in on the desire of radio audiences to see their favourites in the flesh with a series of what were in effect musical revues, the Big Broadcast series.
This chapter documents the developments in the 1960s and 1970s which saw the
decline of British cinema, and the lessons learnt from the success of
American cinema industry. The decline in fortunes of the cinema throughout
the 1960s and 1970s took place in the context of dramatic changes in British
society. The period is one in which cinema exhibitors sought to distinguish
the silver screen from the television screen as a plethora of technological
advancements were marketed, such as stereophonic sound and special
widescreen formats, notably CinemaScope. The end of the 1970s saw the
emergence of the video cassette recorder for the home television as well as
the conditions created for the development of a new kind of multi-screen
cinema, pioneered in the USA. The development of the shopping centre
heralded the introduction of new cinemas and chains that took their
aesthetic inspiration from the malls themselves.
Everyone has heard of Tarzan, the white man raised by apes in the African jungle who became a legendary warrior and fought for good against evil. However the Tarzan of the MGM films differed in many respects from the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes and developed in twenty-five subsequent books. MGM's Tarzan was a monosyllabic noble savage of indeterminate origin, living in a tree house with a pet chimpanzee and eventually mating with Jane Parker, the daughter of an English trader. So popular was the character of Tarzan with young readers that an organization was set up to cater for them in 1916. The Tribes of Tarzan (later the Tarzan Clans) was rather similar to the Boy Scouts, whose junior branch, the Wolf Cubs, was directly modelled on The Jungle Book.
The Second World War was a radio war. Radio in wartime was informational and inspirational. It provided news, entertainment, propaganda. Three notable British films derived their titles from recurrent phrases in the news bulletins: One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing, The Next of Kin and Fires Were Started. Two of the memorable radio voices of the war were the novelist and playwright J. B. Priestley and Quentin Reynolds. The Lion Has Wings was made by Alexander Korda in six weeks flat, following the outbreak of the war. Dangerous Moonlight, directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and scripted by Terence Young, was a classic romantic melodrama in which a Polish concert pianist falls in love with and marries an American millionaire's daughter. Radio had a role to play too during the Cold War, in two films in which God intervenes in the modern world directly.