Regent Street Cinema became the birthplace of cinema in the UK in 1848 when the Lumière brothers’ Cinématographe machine was demonstrated to the press and these earliest of moving images given their first presentation to a paying audience the following day. The theatre was purpose-built for the ‘optical exhibitions’ for which the institution had become famous. Early shows included demonstrations of the latest scientific and technological innovations, lantern slides as a backdrop to live music and drama, and full theatrical performances.
The Georgian building, acquired by the Bangladeshi community in 1976, was built as a Huguenot church in 1743, and was then converted to a Methodist chapel, then a synagogue, before its current use as a mosque.
Cinema is an industry under threat in the time of Covid-19 and many are questioning whether the culture of cinemagoing will resume in the same way once the pandemic abates. Curzon CEO Philip Knatchbull states “Cinema has survived wars, pandemics and a host of technological changes. There is something elemental about gathering together in a dark room to watch a great film”.
Siting cinema celebrates this ‘social practice’ by drawing the audience’s attention to the physical space in which they are seated. The cinema audience is forced to actively look, engage and experience the site. Siting cinema attempts to interrogate the physical and perceptual relationship to the cinema as site, where the cinema screen, the mechanical rig and by extension the position of the viewer are all part of that equation. As such, the audience is reflexively engaged in the production of meaning.