I still have fond memories of queuing patiently around the block at one of Leicester’s main cinemas, waiting hopefully to see the latest blockbuster, going up the red carpeted sweeping staircase, past the bar and into the auditorium.
It’s probably my imagination, but cinema-going back then seemed to be more of an experience, although not always a glamorous one. Some of the old fleapit cinemas could be hot and smelly places, but they were focal points of their communities.
It’s being brought back to life in The History of Cinema-going in Leicester, a short documentary film celebrating the city’s cinematic past to present.
The film, which lasts about 21 minutes, uses archive footage and interviews with cinema-goers to reflect on the city and the history of its development, and on our relationship with cinema.
It was born out of a De Montfort University research project, using archive material from the county records. One of the pieces of gold they discovered was the ledger for the Tudor cinema on Tudor Road, which closed during the fifties.
This ledger is the only one of its kind to survive in Leicester’s archives. It was maintained by the cinema manager and detailed every day what A and B films were showing; the numbers of adults and children, women and men admitted; sales of ice cream and the like; even what the weather was like that day.
It was gold dust to an academic like Dr Matt Jones, senior lecturer in Cinema and Television History at De Montfort University.
He was a part of the team that created the film, and has been mapping the growth of cinemas in the city.
“We are haunted by our cinema past – they occupy spaces and names. Many of the filling stations in the city stand on the sites of former cinemas. Some of the old buildings still exist but have changed use. Other cinemas are now remembered in place names.”
Talking to Matt it’s clear how closely aligned the history of cinema-going is to that of the city – it was affected by the growth and decline of the tram system, the Second World War, the move to the suburbs, the growth of home entertainment, and the ebb and flow of the economy.
From the 1900s, when there were just three movie houses in Leicester, the industry boomed to 25 cinemas in the 1920s, reaching its heights during the 1930s with 43 cinemas spreading out into the suburbs. During this time much of the growth of cinemas related to Leicester’s tram system, as people went to the movies after work or on their way home.
After the Second World War, with the decline of the tramway system in the ’50s and other factors such as the population moving to the suburbs, cinemas went into a slow decline.
It wasn’t until the 1990s, with the advent of the multiplex, that it enjoyed a resurgence. These days there are more screens than ever before in the city, but they are shared between just a handful of cinemas, including Phoenix.
The History of Cinema-going in Leicester will screen on Fri 9 Sep (7pm & 7.30pm) and Sat 10 Sep (11.30am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm & 3.30pm) as part of Phoenix’s Heritage Open Days programme. Screenings will take place in our 30-seater Screen Room. Entry is free, but booking is advised.