In 1894, if you wanted to go see the latest in motion picture technology, you went to the penny arcade. People lined up to stare into the Kinetoscope, a slot machine with a tiny screen you gazed into.
Soon afterward, big screen projection came into being in 1905 at The Nickelodeon in Pittsburgh. For five cents the masses had affordable entertainment, previously reserved for the affluent, who could afford to go to see live theatre.
Unlike the staid environment of live theatre, and after sound arrived in “talkies” around 1927, the movie house became a more lively place where literacy was no longer required to enjoy a film. By 1930 attendance boomed, the escapism of the medium during The Great Depression was accompanied by a bag of popcorn for about 10 cents.
Hollywood really plugged into the public’s need to get away from their troubles. The therapeutic qualities of film gave millions of Americans the crucial release they desired. This period began the incredible growth of the influence of the US movie industry. Whether you were enthralled by the poise and style of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire on the dance floor, or splitting a gut with the Marx Brothers, the cinema of the time provided an opportunity to gaze at high society and either lust after or laugh about it.
California-based therapist Birgit Wolz, PhD, author of The Cinema Therapy Workbook: A Self-Help Guide to Using Movies for Healing and Growth, advises patients on “popcorn cinema therapy,” which although light on therapy and heavy on cinema, does help people learn about how they respond to different characters and themes.
There is more good health news associated with going to the movies. According to a recent study by the University College of London, going to watch a movie at the theatre can be as good for your heart as going to the gym. The academic case study of 77 people discovered that the heart rates of viewers watching a two-hour movie were in the same zone as those doing light exercise at the gym.
The study was titled “The Benefits of Getting Lost” and it summarized our current condition as a state of permanent distraction where work and personal lives are blended, while being bombarded with information. Going to the movie theatre provides a unique opportunity to unplug from reality and plug into the cinematic experience. Switching off your phone and gathering with people amplifies cardiovascular benefits and can enhance memory, creativity and our bonds with others.
Technology has come full circle, and watching films on your smartphone is a similar experience to the Kinetoscope more than 100 years ago. David Lynch, best known for writing and directing films such as Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986), and Mulholland Drive (2001), isn’t a fan of people watching his films on the phones.
“If you’re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film,” he says.
Following Mr. Lynch’s lead, I would like to suggest coming to the Patricia Theatre, turning off your phone, buying a bucket of popcorn and joining in the collective experience of a little light exercise and popcorn therapy at Powell River Film Festival.
Gary Shilling is executive director of Powell River Film Society.