Open-air cinemas!

“Let’s take this from the top” would be here the wrong expression to begin with. Because we are going to visit a place where on the top… there is no top, since in the open-air cinemas the sky is the limit.
If we go back into history, we will see one of the very first expressions of true civilization, which could be considered as modern open-air cinema’s ancestor. Ancient theaters!
They were open-aired too, and many of them still stand today, thousands of years later, and on occasion actually operate for concerts and plays. These theaters would come in all possible sizes, and some of them were able to accommodate the total number of the city’s inhabitants. And even at this size they had an exceptional good acoustic, a necessity for the performance of theatrical plays. In those large theaters citizens were gathering to discuss their problems, elect politicians, deal with a crisis, and generally meet to socialize.  
Still today, it is unthinkable to have a city that respects itself, without at least one theater, which of course… comes with a roof.

With the invention of the movies, movie theaters popped up all over the world, and that made it possible for more people to see a… play, since theater had gradually become an entertainment only for those who could afford it.

And then, out of the blue, some movie theaters took a turn. They became… convertible and were only to operate during the summer season. One could see a movie under the starry sky, much like as a theater play was watched in ancient times.     
Historically speaking, the first recorded year for the appearance of an open-air cinema, dates back to 1919, in the Northern part of Athens in Greece. Could this have anything to do with the fact that ancient theaters originated from this country?
After that first one, open-air cinemas did spread fast by the hundreds and despite difficulties and antagonism, they managed to survive to this day. On the contrary of what most believe, the biggest enemy for those movie theaters was not TV, video, modern multiplex cinemas, or anything of the kind. It was constructors, who did buy-out systematically, any possible piece of land, in order to build!
What beats me, is how this perfect idea of entertainment has not gone global, like so many other good ideas have gone. There are exceptions of course, but only as many as to confirm the rule.

With many variations (that makes them even more interesting) the usual décor of open-air cinemas is as follows.
You find yourself sitting in a lazy director’s chair, with white stoned gravel underfoot and the free sky above. Surrounded by a walled garden, with the typical choice of jasmine flowers, you face a simple wall that extends higher than the rest. This is where your movie is going to be projected. At one of the corners of the back, a small (sometimes tiny) bar will serve light drinks and snacks, during the short break that takes place when the movie reaches the middle of its play.
Open-air cinemas are not about a controlled surrounding, with high-tech sound, extra large screens and velvet armchairs. They are more about interacting and socializing with the people that you will meet and be crowded with, and enjoy a movie with all your senses open. You can smell the flowers from the garden, hear the wind in the trees, or be distracted by a persisting shooting star…
One must be… prepared for unexpected surprises too. Mosquitoes love open-air cinemas as well, and for some reason they don’t pay any ticket either! A small blanket as back up, is an excellent idea or you will be… sooooory!
One might ask, and what happens when it starts to rain? No problem, in an event like that you do the logical thing. You stand up, step on everybody else… panic and run! And your ticket stays valid for the next day.

A variation of these movie theaters came out with… retractable roofs, that could slide to open or close (can you believe it?) They could operate in the winter time as regular cinemas and in the summertime remained… panic-less, when a summer rain would break out. Of course they would not be as simple and romantic as the original ones, nevertheless one must say, they were an intelligent innovation.

If you have ever missed the summer in the middle of a cold winter, if you have come to… hate the gray and the rainy clouds, then you should go to an open-air cinema during the time when they are closed, slide your nose through any opening that you can find and look inside. The sight of an empty from chairs and people open-air cinema, during the wintertime, is truly a picture that matches a thousand sad feelings. 
Some time ago I did actually found a photo-book by a photographer, with that particular theme… 

One of the magic of these particular movie theaters is that they still find the time for reruns of great classics and there is no better place to do that. Old black and whites, shot practically with one camera and monophonic sound… but masterpieces nevertheless.

Try to picture this. As the all time classic movie “Yojimbo” is at its beginning, the lone no-name drifter Samurai arrives on foot at a crossroad. He now must choose his path, and you, as a spectator who has seen the film before, already know his “choice”. So as he stands about to size things, a breeze makes his clothing flatter. And at that exact moment, an equal breeze runs across your face while you are sitting there to see it all once more…
A coincidence like this, which takes place under a starry summer sky, is what open air-cinemas are all about…

November 24, 2007