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Cinema is on the brink of collapse - here's why we should care

Paul Whitington



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Jump-out-your-seat moments: Chief Brody in his battle with Jaws

Jump-out-your-seat moments: Chief Brody in his battle with Jaws

Nightmares: the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Nightmares: the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

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Jump-out-your-seat moments: Chief Brody in his battle with Jaws

Cinemas, it seems, are on the endangered list. Undercut in recent years by online streamers such as Netflix, they have been dealt a heavy body blow by Covid-19, which has closed multiplexes across the globe and may yet prove their undoing. This week, the World Health Organisation said that the coronavirus may be with us for good, and even if social distancing only lasts another year or two, that might be enough to fatally undermine the basic cinema distribution model. Playing films in quarter-full auditoriums doesn't make economic sense.

So what, you might say. TVs are getting bigger and bigger, and if we're still getting to see new films, does it matter how we do it? Well, think back to your earliest experiences in a cinema, the joy, fear and awe the five or six-year-old you felt the first time the lights went down and technicolour images flickered to life on the screen. Watching TV is nothing compared to the communal power of experiencing a film in a cinema, where seeing the right movie at the right time can overwhelm you and change your life.

Most people vividly recall their first visit to the cinema: the first film I can remember seeing was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, one of the big kids' films of 1969. Dick Van Dyke played Caractacus Potts, a crackpot English inventor who ends up in a chocolate box middle-European kingdom presided over by a portly, tyrannical king. In one famous scene, the Child Catcher - a sinister, black-clad man played by the dancer Robert Helpmann - entices children into cages. I was very young, and had nightmares.