Back in the 1950s the most exciting thing about your cinema seat was when you flipped it up at a Saturday Matinee to discover a lucky number, redeeming it for an icy pole at the candy bar. These days things are much more sophisticated and the modern movie patron is now wooed with not only a luxurious lounge style theatre seat but a range of extras that almost overshadow the on screen entertainment.
New cinema complexes like the Palace Central Cinemas on Broadway offer previously unheard of levels of viewing luxury in their Platinum Lounges, with all variety of gourmet food on hand and cinemas seats that would not be out of place in the first class section of an Emirates flight to Dubai. It’s all designed to enhance the movie going experience but is it really all that innovative?
In the late 1950s the wonderfully eccentric American film director and producer William Castle was always looking at radical and enticing ways of putting bums of seats. For his 1959 production The Tingler starring Vincent Price (incidentally one of the best ever B grade horror pics), he went to extraordinary lengths to ‘livenup’ cinema goers.
He obtained a number of ex-military wing de-icers and attached their vibrating motors to a select number of seats in the cinemas where The Tingler was screening. In the movie’s final sequence Vincent Price actually warns the audience that the worm like tingler has escaped into the audience just as the selected seats began to vibrate. The screams of half a dozen patrons were enough to create total frenzy amongst the entire audience as Price instructed all patrons to “scream for your lives.”
This was just one of a number of highly creative gimmicks that Castle employed during his career. Whether it was a skeleton hovering above the audience in House On Haunted Hill or a 45 second fright break in Homicidal (where patrons could get a full refund if they were too terrified to watch the rest of the movie), Castle’s furtive imagination knew few boundaries.
Slightly more salacious was the friendly relationship between Sydney’s notorious Town Cinema and an adjoining premises in the heart of the CBD near Town Hall, which I vaguely remember from the 70s or was it the 80s? The theatre screened almost non stop sessions of softcore R rated ‘erotic’ movies, attracting a diverse range of patrons, albeit almost exclusively men. Whilst ‘enhancement’ did not occur in the actual cinema, a brothel directly on top allowed overly aroused patrons to relieve their tension before returning to their mundane office jobs – following a slightly extended lunchtime!
As more and more upmarket cinema lounges appear in an increasingly competitive market what can we expect? Whilst easy access to a neighbouring knock shop is certainly out of the question a mid-movie, purely therapeutic Thai style massage could be a welcome addition to relax the neck and shoulder muscles during a rambunctious blockbuster. A good old foot massage would also not go astray.
Most of the ‘platinum’ action seems to be directed at adults but what about some gold class pampering for the kids. An in movie petting zoo would be a great attraction whereby youngsters could cuddle fluffy bunny rabbits and other docile creatures during the latest Disney or Pixar flick. The possibilities are virtually unlimited and in a few years’ time we could reach the situation where the actual movie becomes almost extraneous. After all, it’s all about the cinema ‘experience’. Another mocktail please!