Thursday, June 25, 2020

Aldeburgh, Suffolk


What does a cinema look like? If you have an image of a ‘typical’ cinema in your mind’s eye, it might look like something from the interwar period, maybe an Art Deco monster cinema like the one in Balham that I posted not long ago, or a structure adorned with decoration evocation the glamour of the cinema, such as the pair of naked women circled in strips of celluloid that once signposted a cinema in Cheltenham. Or, these days, it might be one of the anonymous town centre multiplexes of which only the front door and a panel of posters is visible.

But there is no ‘standard’ cinema design. People project films in all kinds of settings. In the small Cotswold town where I live, there was once a cinema in the Town Hall, whereas Woodhall Spa, a small town in Lincolnshire, is home to the Kiinema in the Woods, a surprising and picturesque former sports pavilion. The cinema in Aldeburgh is similarly surprising, a half-timbered building, small enough not to look at all out of scale in the town’s lovely main street. But it’s not exactly discreet – the half-timbering means it’s easy to find and gives it that touch of whimsy that has seen its larger cousins dressed up in a 1930s version of ancient Egyptian or Grecian garb.

The building is also one of the oldest cinemas in continuous operation. It began in 1919,* when an existing shop was extended to house the auditorium, and, like many an early cinema, has also hosted live theatre shows. The cinema has kept going with a mix of feature films, ‘art house’ screenings, and even, recently, a documentary festival. It also caught on early to the recent trend for offering ‘live’ screenings of major theatre and opera productions. So, what do you think of when someone mentions Aldeburgh? Benjamin Britten? Maggi Hambling? Fish and chips? Festivals of music or poetry or comedy? Perhaps film should be on the list too. Although I didn’t make it inside when I visited Aldeburgh late last year, the cinema still seemed to be thriving, with the very active support of the local community. And I hope, when normal conditions eventually resume, it will thrive again.

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* The Lumières’ first public screening was in 1895.


bazza said...

So presumably The Lumières was a film about film! I believe many early cinemas were in village halls, private houses and other small buildings. It's rather nice that this one has survived.
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Philip Wilkinson said...

The Lumière brothers were the first people to screen films publicly, in Paris, in the late-19th century. I think their first film showed a group of workers leaving a factory – but they were MOVING, so sensational back then..

Brian Harris said...

See also the Leiston Film Theatre, just a few miles away, "Suffolk's oldest purpose-built cinema, established 1914", which also has a half-timbered frontage.