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Rediscovering the Lost Picture Shows from 100 years ago… 

Picture this: Thousands of fellow pleasure-seekers traipse through a muddy field: finally a lush, sumptuous, dimly lit interior lures them in with the promise of wild, wonderful and astounding images… This could be you, intrepid Shambalans, entering The Lost Picture Show; but it could just as easily be a scene from any one of the showgrounds across Britain over a century ago.

Cinema was born as a fairground sideshow. From the very first moving pictures in 1896, travelling cinemas appeared at showgrounds, village halls, in wagons and train carriages. Although film shows could be found in big music halls in the cities, for those outside metropolitan areas the travelling show was the place to go to for big picture thrills.

Thousands of people of every age and walk of life would come together at these fairs. Over long weekends they’d experience the best of local and exotic foods, craft-making, rides, a variety of music and dance, circus acts, the latest technologies, cinema, and have their photos taken in all kinds of fanciful situations. Sound familiar?

The festivalgoers of the early 1900’s would have been watching silent, black and white film – images of travel and great train journeys, famous dancers, trick films, short comedies and melodramas. And some weren’t so silent or so monochrome! There would often be live music and the films would sometimes be hand-dyed, coloured or stencilled.

From 1906, cinemas as we know them began to take root in what had formerly been vaudeville
halls and theatre and by 1914, most of the travelling cinema shows fell away. The Lost Picture Show aims to bring back cinema as it was then. Sure, the films are different, but the essence is the same: a lavish space, a mix of fantastical film, music and family workshops. You may even glimpse a few gems from the dawn of cinema that would have screened a century ago.

But there’s a deeper continuity: It is as older than film itself for us to come together in sunny (or muddy) fields to celebrate and experience together. Cinema’s fundamental power comes from the simple and magical experience of sitting in a darkened room with a bunch of strangers – the projector beam cutting through dusty air – and going on a journey together. That’s the essence of cinema – a shared human experience. And that never gets old.

– Muffin Hix, The Lost Picture Show’s programmer