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18 March, 2004

Big screen

I'm just back from the cinema, having seen 'Cold Mountain'.  I haven't written a review of that (yet) [update: it's here], but wanted to comment on the experience itself.

The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster, UK.
The Dukes is Lancaster's arts cinema, and the best I've known.  The screen is advertised as the largest north of Manchester.  Realistically, that probably means west of the Pennines and south of the Scottish border - Newcastle, Edinburgh or Glasgow might have something larger.  Maybe not, as the trend is for multiplexes with multiple (no, really?) smaller screens rather than one huge one, as at The Dukes.  The auditorium is that of a theatre, and the screen fills the stage; whenever the main stage is in use for plays (I'd guess that's 6-8 weeks spread throughout the year) the screen has to be removed.
The atmosphere is good; professional but not 'slick', and very much that of a theatre rather than a cinema.  Three minutes before the film begins, an announcement invites people in the foyer to go through to their seats.
Thankfully, typical cinema soft drinks, popcorn, ice cream or sweets are not offered for sale, but drinks from the foyer bar are welcome in the cinema itself, in plastic, er, glasses.  There's never a problem of litter being left afterwards - the audience are trusted to behave reasonably, and that respect is returned.

When I first moved to Lancaster a decade ago, the cinema's programme warned viewers to dress warmly, as the auditorium wasn't heated. Funding later added heating, but I doubt that came from ticket sales - one of the best aspects is that one can occasionally watch a film on a huge screen with as few distractions as in a darkened living room, with under ten people in the auditorium.

In fact, it was rather surprising to find that about ¾ of the seats were filled for 'Cold Mountain'. From a quick glance around the room, I was a little dismayed to see that the vast majority were around 60 years old. That's not really ageism, merely an indication that this wasn't a typical Dukes audience, and was likely to be of a type I've occasionally encountered there before: very infrequent cinema goers, who simply don't know how to behave. Rustling sweet wrappers might be common in most cinemas, but are so rare at The Dukes as to be particularly noticeable. Full-volume conversations in the middle of a film wouldn't be acceptable in any cinema, but as I said, these are people unaccustomed to cinema etiquette.
Luckily, it was a false alarm, and the audience were unobtrusive throughout, only betraying their inexperience of Dukes custom by leaving the moment the credits began - the regulars stayed to the end of the credits, as usual ;)

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