The cinema is now a very popular form of entertainment, and even the smallest town has now its “picture-house”. In the old days (not so old, either) of the silent films, it did not seem at all likely that the cinema would be a serious rival of the theatre; but the modern “talkies”, with their splendid moving-pictures, their music, their light effects, and their good reproduction of the human voice, have been brought to such a pitch of perfection that they have become far more popular than the regular theatres.
The production of these films has now become a huge and lucrative business; and a great film costs thousands to produce. Take a Shakespearian play, or a story representing scenes in Africa, India, or the Wild West of America.
A company of actors and actresses has to be maintained to act the parts; the whole company may have to go to a foreign country, like Africa, so that they can play the piece in the actual surroundings. Weeks of practice and rehearsals have to be gone through before the piece is perfect. And then the whole has to be photographed as it is played, and the film developed. Cinema acting has now become a distinct profession; and film “stars” draws princely allowances.
It would, perhaps, be too much to say that the cinema has killed the theatre. There are still plenty of theatres running, and plenty of plays produced. But there is no doubt that the cinema has dealt the theatre a serious blow. For hundreds who go to the theatres to see plays, thousands attend the picture-houses daily to see “talky” films. In a medium-sized town there may be one theatre as against a dozen cinemas. Certainly the working classes prefer the moving-pictures, and leave the orthodox theatres to the high brows.
How can we account for this? Well, a film costs so much to produce, it can, if it takes on, bring in such large profits to the producers that they can afford to show it to the public in the various picture-houses at very cheap admission charges. Then the cinema has absorbed most of the best actors and actresses; and so anybody can see a play acted by the best talent in a film for a small charge, whereas it would be only very rarely he could see the same excellence of acting on the stage.