Academic research spawns recreation of 1960s cinema

Scholars take an audience back to the movie nights of 50 years ago

July 21, 2016
Actors performing in recreation of One Million Years B.C. movie

Grunting cavemen, cigar-chomping producers and aspiring starlets were out in force for a recreation of a 1960s cinema night inspired by a research project.

The event was the brainchild of Matthew Jones, senior lecturer in cinema and television history at De Montfort University. As a postdoc, he formed part of a team headed by Melvyn Stokes, professor of film history at University College London, which secured funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the period 2013 to 2016 to look at “Cultural Memory and British Cinema-Going of the 1960s”.

“We spoke to around 1,000 people”, he explained, “about where they went to the cinema, who they went with, how they behaved, what they ate and drank, what they did afterwards, the genres of films they watched, the stars they liked…”

As well as questionnaires addressing such factual issues, about 80 in-depth interviews explored the more emotional aspects of their experiences – splitting up with partners, escaping from their families, expressing a youthful spirit of rebellion – and what their memories of 1960s cinema-going meant for them now. The researchers also used focus groups to tap into the distinct experiences of gay and ethnic minority subcultures.

Although the project has led to a number of standard academic outputs, Dr Jones was interested in finding other ways of delivering impact.

Once he took up a position at DMU in 2014, he joined forces with Kelly Jordan, senior lecturer in drama, whose research examines immersive theatre. This led to the idea of “a reconstruction of a night of cinema in the 1960s, drawing on data from the research”.

They chose the film One Million Years B.C. partly because DMU holds the script archive of Hammer Films, which includes the company’s suggestions to cinema managers on how to publicise the film.

The “heightened version of a 1960s film night”, held at the Picturehouse Central near Piccadilly Circus recently, involved two directors, a costume designer and 30 actors.

The audience were met by the commissionaire at the door and, as they climbed the stairs to the box office, discovered an advertisement from ABC Cinemas, Hammer Films and Breck Hair Preparations looking for “ladies with star potential”.

They were given a brochure about the film, into which one subversive usherette had smuggled a leaflet about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They mingled with actors dressed as “swinging Londoners” and a producer who claimed to be on “a tireless search for beauty and talent”. The competition to find a future female star gave aspirants the chance to demonstrate their “red-carpet poise” but was interrupted by a feminist demonstration and cries of “She’s not a piece of meat!”

The evening ended with the audience ushered, past posters for films such as The Naked World of Harrison Marks and Revenge of the Blood Beast, into the auditorium for a supporting programme of Sixties shorts and adverts followed by the film itself. The whole event, said Dr Jones, was designed to strike “a balancing act between a piece of living history, a recreation of people’s memories and an enjoyable piece of entertainment”.

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