by Gareth Negus
Unless your first trip to the cinema was post-1990, it’s a reasonable bet that some of the buildings where your formative moviegoing experiences took place no longer exist, at least in their original form. That’s certainly true of me. The local three screen Cannon where I spent many Friday evenings in my late teens long ago became a Wetherspoons; the Manchester Odeon, where I saw Pulp Fiction among others, is derelict. The ABC in Hull, which I frequented as a student, is also consigned to history. And those buildings were arguably well past their prime when I was visiting them, soon to be crushed by the rise of the multiplexes.
I have nothing against multiplexes as such; anyone who recalls the sorry state so many UK cinemas had reached by the early 80s will understand why they were welcomed by so many. But there is a wealth of history to cinemagoing in this country that pre-dates their corporate approach, much of which is gone, if not forgotten.
Late last month, I attended the launch of a new heritage app for mobile phones called Lost Cinemas of Castle Park. The app was developed by a team headed by Dr Charlotte Crofts of the University of West of England, and is part of the Cinemapping project that draws on Bristol City Council’s Know Your Place. The team previously created a heritage app specific to the Curzon Community Cinema, which celebrated its centenary last year. The app mixed historical information with the stories and memories of those who knew the building, and The Lost Cinemas of Castle Park takes a similar approach.
Castle Park was once a major commercial centre of Bristol, before it was devastated during World War II. It included a remarkable 15 cinemas, of which only one, the Odeon, is still in existence, albeit in reduced circumstances (the ground floor is now a branch of H&M). The idea is for the app to be used while wandering around the Castle Park area, though if you aren’t in the area, it can also be operated manually.