Directed by Jonathan Blagrove Starring John Hurt Indie Documentary Film Review by Phil Slatter
In this day and age we are surrounded by 24-hour entertainment. DVD’s and Blu-Rays, streaming services and hundreds of T.V. channels providing the latest entertainment shows and programmes with smartphones, tablets, laptops, macbooks and smart T.V.’s literally providing a world of entertainment at your fingertips to be enjoyed at home or on planes, trains and automobiles. So why is it that, despite all this, people are still willing to venture to the cinema and pay increasingly high entry fees to watch a two hour film? The answer lies in the opening line of Jonathan Blagrove’s wonderful documentary, when narrator John Hurt states simply but beautifully ‘Human beings are social creatures’.
For all that technology provides as far as entertainment, it is in our nature to want to share experiences with audiences, friends, loved ones and even strangers. Cinema as an entity not only provides an opportunity to do that, but also serves as an escape from one world and into another, like no other medium can.
The Final Reel examines the entire history of cinemas broadly in the U.K. but more specifically in East Anglia where they first truly arose. From the travelling cinemas of the early twentieth century to town halls and village halls to the elaborate picture houses, culminating in the modern multiplex, Blagrove covers an awful lot during the film’s 90-minute running time.
By localising the history to one area of the country, the film manages to keep its focus and subsequently personalises the story as well – we hear from the same projectionists, cinema workers and cinema goers regularly.
Much of what we do see may well be nothing overtly new. The invention of ‘talkies’, the introduction of colour, 3D and Cinemascope to combat the invention of television and the more recent projection switch from film to digital are all familiar. Yet the genius here is that it takes the angle of focusing on the buildings and the cinema going habits of individuals themselves as an entry point to the broader story.
A remarkable revelation is just how little has changed in some respects. Cinemas in the 1950’s offered a Saturday morning ‘kids club’ – something many chains provide now as a cheap morning out. There was a problem in 1927 with Hollywood films dominating the theatres. During times of hardship (most notably the Second World War) people would go to the cinema to escape, emotionally and mentally at least. Foreign films and Independent films struggled to get on the main circuits, both then and now.
It’s all interesting and involving but doesn’t rest with a nostalgic throw-back to the ‘good old days’. Instead, it remembers them fondly while at the same time acknowledging the need to move on. The positive aspects of switching to digital projection are discussed alongside the benefits of multi-screen cinemas and how they can offer more choice and equally less financial risk for the cinemas themselves.
Equally though, there is reference to more traditional yet equally progressive screenings that have become a part of modern culture – secret cinema and the live broadcasting of theatre into screens all tie in to our unified love of coming together to share stories, which is down to our sociable nature.
It all makes up for an entertaining, educational and important documentary film that evokes memories of why humankind first fell in love with the cinema and how that trend continues to this day. It also offers hope that it will continue for as Hurt says in his closing line – we are yet to reach the final reel.