At the Flicks

This section features a history of the cinemas in Warrington. By way of an introduction, I want to take you on a journey of how man’s dream of telling a story in pictures became reality.

Reader memories are also included, so if you have any memories of working in or visiting any of the cinemas please feel free to get in touch.

The last time I was in a cinema believe it or not was 37 years ago! I saw ‘Jane Eyre’ starring Orson Wells and Joan Fonteyn at the Odeon (Jane Eyre being my favourite book of all time). For some unknown reason since childhood, I always came away from the cinema with a violent migraine… maybe the bright flashing screen, I don’t know, anyway I was expecting my eldest child, very near my time but couldn’t resist seeing ‘Jane’. Don’t need to tell you I suffered afterwards and haven’t been in a cinema since”. (Reader requested that their name wasn’t displayed.)

Introduction

Since the dawn of civilisation, mankind has learned to communicate and tell a story using words, images, sounds and gestures. The earliest such figurative paintings in Europe date back to the Aurignacian period, approximately 30,000 to 32,000 years ago, and are found in the Chauvet Cave in France.

The “ancient craft of communicating events and experiences, using words, images, sounds and gestures” by telling a story is not only the means by which people passed on their cultural values and traditions and history from one generation to another, it has been an important part of most forms of entertainment ever since the earliest times. Stories are still told in the early forms, for example, around a fire while camping, or when listening to the stories of another culture as a tourist. The earliest storytelling sequences we possess, now of course, committed to writing, were undoubtedly originally a speaking from mouth to ear and their force as entertainment derived from the very same elements we today enjoy in films and novels. Open air theatres were a popular place for entertainment in the days of the ancient Greeks and later the Romans.

The Horse in Motion
The photo is in the Public Domain 

Eadweard Muybridge –
Library of Congress Prints
and Photographs Division; http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a45870 Reproduced from Wikipedia

The first permanent theatre in Warrington opened in Scotland Road on 21 December 1818. The Public Hall opened in Rylands Street in November 1862, and Charles Dickens appeared there in 1869.

The theatre was a very popular place for entertainment.

Meanwhile, experiments were being conducted to turn the art of still photography into moving pictures. On 19 June 1873, Englishman Eadweard Muybridge successfully photographed a horse named “Sallie Gardner” in fast motion using a series of 24 stereoscopic cameras. The cameras were arranged along a track parallel to the horse’s, and each camera shutter was controlled by a trip wire triggered by the horse’s hooves. They were 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by the horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second. This experiment also proved that all four of the horse’s feet were off the ground at the same time (see image, above).

Nine years later, in 1882, French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey invented a chronophotographic gun, which was capable of taking 12 consecutive frames a second, recording all the frames of the same picture. The second experimental film, Roundhay Garden Scene, filmed by Louis Le Prince on 14 October 1888

in Roundhay, Leeds is the earliest surviving motion picture. The first though to design a successful apparatus was W. K. L. Dickson, working under the direction of Thomas Alva Edison, called the Kinetograph, and patented in 1891.

Read more about Dickson in Wikipedia.

Frame from the 1891 Dickson Greeting, featuring William Kennedy Dickson, in the first American film shown to a public audience.

This camera took a series of instantaneous photographs on standard Eastman Kodak photographic emulsion coated onto a transparent celluloid strip 35mm wide. The results of this work were first shown in public in 1893, using the viewing apparatus also designed by Dickson, and called the Kinetoscope. Contained within a large box, only one person at a time looking into it through a peephole could view the movie. It was not a commercial success but in the following year, Charles Francis Jenkins and his projector, the Phantoscope, made a successful audience viewing while Louis and Auguste Lumière perfected the Cinématographe, an apparatus that took, printed, and projected film in Paris in December 1895.

In the infancy of motion pictures, the cinematographer was usually also the director and the person physically handling the camera. As the art form and technology progressed, a separation between director and camera operator emerged. With the advent of artificial lighting and faster (more light sensitive) film stocks, in addition to technological advancements in optics, the technical aspects of cinematography necessitated a specialist in that area

Cinematography was key during the silent movie era—with no sound apart from background music and no dialogue, the films depended on lighting, acting, and set.

The Talkies

The year 1927 was a milestone in cinematography with the release of The Jazz Singer, the first talking picture or “talkie”, starring Al Jolson. Earlier in his career at the Winter Gardens on Broadway he would tell the audience, “You ain’t heard nothing yet” before performing additional songs.

However, for some movie performers, the talkie signalled the end of their careers because their voice just didn’t fit the new medium. Of course, it didn’t matter in the silent era because they couldn’t be heard. Therefore, on the whole, only the most eloquent speakers would succeed.

And of course, everything was in black and white in 1927. Or was it? You would think that images recorded in colour would come after black and white.

But you’d be surprised.

Colour

The world’s first colour moving pictures dating from 1902 have been found by the National Media Museum in Bradford after lying forgotten in a tin for 110 years.

The films were made by Edward Raymond Turner from London, who patented his colour process on 22 March, 1899.

Some of the footage features Mr Turner’s children in the garden of their home in Hounslow. You can view the footage at the BBC website. And make sure you visit the museum in Bradford.

3-D or Three Dimensional

So what next in the progression of cinematography? One innovation was 3D. And no, Sky didn’t get there first. Again, it goes back to the days before the talkies.

The earliest confirmed 3D film shown to an out-of-house audience was The Power of Love, which premiered at the Ambassador Hotel Theatre

in Los Angeles on 27 September 1922. My mum and dad remember going to watch 3-D films at the pictures when they were kids.

Stereo and Multichannel Sound

So what about stereo or multi-channel sound in films?

In 1937, Bell Laboratories in New York City gave a demonstration of two-channel stereophonic motion pictures, developed by Bell Labs and Electrical Research Products, Inc. Walt Disney also began experimenting with multi-channel sound in the early 1930s. The first commercial motion picture to be exhibited with stereophonic sound was Walt Disney’s Fantasia, released in November 1940, for which a specialized sound process (Fantasound) was developed. Fantasound used a separate film containing four optical sound tracks. Three of the tracks were used to carry left, centre and right audio, while the fourth track carried three tones which individually controlled the volume level of the other three.

Nowadays everybody is familiar with Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound. In a nutshell,

instead of two channels of sound, you have six or even eight separate speakers linked to a sound processor in the DVD or Blu-ray player and the amplifier. The familiar 5.1 surround sound system has a left and right speaker either side of the screen, a centre speaker close to the screen where most of the dialogue comes from, and two speakers behind the viewer. The sixth speaker is the subwoofer where all the low-frequency (bass) sounds come from. I am told the human ear can only pick up low-frequency sounds from one direction, so that’s why you only need one speaker for that, and it doesn’t really matter where you position it. That is the .1 of the 5.1 set.

Some movies are now made in 7.1 surround (such as Noah starring Russell Crowe). This system uses two extra speakers, one each side of the viewer, in line with the hearing position. And it sounds good too.

Some information from Wikipedia.

So we have the lights, the cameras and the action. Now let’s put it into all together and take a look at the cinemas that have existed in Warrington over the years.

If the cinemas were known by more than one name then the earliest name is shown first. The cinemas are described in the order they were opened. To the best of my knowledge all information was correct at the time of publishing. Some information is incomplete and I hope to fill in the gaps over time. If you can help, please get in touch.

I am extremely grateful to Ken Roe, Volunteer Theatre Editor of http://cinematreasures.org/ for allowing me to reproduce his notes on the mywarringon website, which are incorporated into my own research. I have also given reference to A Warrington Chronology by David Forrest for further information on opening and closing dates of cinemas.