Early Cinema: As Told By Mi Abuela

A 50-year-old cinema ticket from The Cine Cristal in Madrid, Spain. Source: www.todocolleccion.net
A 50-year-old cinema ticket from The Cine Cristal in Madrid, Spain. Source: http://www.todocolleccion.net

“I was never very keen in going to cinemas, but what I remember most was the smoke. Smoking was allowed and most men did in those days. The whole of the cinema was inundated with fumes and one could hardly open their eyes.”

This is the story of my Grandmother’s early experiences of cinema spaces. I asked her specifically because she grew up in Spain and I was interested to hear whether Spain’s cinemas were any different to ours now or back in the day. I learnt quickly that some things stay the same:

“If you had a boyfriend/girlfriend you would try towards the back so that you could have a cuddle. In Spain it was not allowed to kiss in the streets so most couples went to the pictures mainly for that. The entrance was quite affordable even to lower class people so it was the main means of passing Sundays.

“There was no television so it was the only way to watch films. There were many types of cinemas. The ones in the centre of the city were very expensive and where the best films were shown first. After a while the same films were shown in cinemas of less prestige. I lived in Madrid so my experience is good. I remember seeing “Gone with the Wind” in one of the best cinemas in Madrid. There used to be three sessions, starting at 3 P.M and the last session would finish at the early hours in the morning. Young girls went normally to either the first or second session as most of us had to be home before 10 in the winter and maybe 11 in the summer. I can’t remember whether there was any air condition but I presume there must have been in Madrid during the summer.”

I found this assignment quite interesting, as I not only enjoyed getting to hear about my Grandmother’s life but it was cool to find out more about how the early cinema experience differed from the one today. And I was surprised with some similarities too (let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good cuddle in the back row). The fact that the entry fee was fairly cheap early on was quite interesting, considering how ridiculous it is now. Although there were more expensive cinemas to which not everyone could go, most people had access to the cheaper cinemas. This reminded me of the fact that during a time of segregation, early cinema was a place where people of all races could attend. My point is, both the semi-integration and low price of early cinema encouraged a huge number of people to attend, despite different social class or race. By trying to gain more revenue, cinemas had to understand the viewers as individuals in order to attract them. For me, this was an interesting link between cinema spaces and audiences.

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