The experience of going to the cinema (movies for my American friends) has changed considerably since the first public showing in 1895 and audience behaviour has too. Now, when we go to the pictures, we expect people to be passive and we would be annoyed if someone shouted at the screen in response to the action. This wasn’t always the case.
Before cinema, the closest mass-media entertainment was ‘music hall’, which actively encouraged the participation of the audience, be it laughter, singing or heckling. Magic lantern shows were also rowdy at times as, in the dark, audiences would voice their displeasure if the show was dull or an inept projectionist put the slides in upside down or in the wrong order.
A visit to the ‘flicks’ was more than just watching a film or two and would often involve live variety acts and a sing-song. A band or theatre organist would play the music and the words of the songs were displayed on the screen. As well as providing entertainment for the audience, there was a commercial angle to this interlude, as it could increase record and sheet music sales.
Even in the 1950s, most cinemas had a magic lantern in the projection box, to show advertisements and song slides and today’s two slides are examples of the latter.
I suggest that we start a campaign to bring back community singing in cinemas. When I did this in my magic lantern shows, it always lifted the spirits of the audience and it’s simple, good, clean fun ….. remember that? So, who’s with me? Let’s raise the roof of our multiplexes with musical merriment. Well, actually, with British audiences, we would have to overcome our embarrassment first and compete with the noise of sweet and crisp packets and might not be able to see the words because of the glare from mobile phones, so perhaps it’s not a good idea.