It will be very difficult to forget the first time I saw The battleship Potemkin, the film directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein in 1925, was at the end of the seventies in a party organized by the newly legalized Communist Party of Spain, inside the Castle of La Luz, in what is now the Martín Chirino Art and Thought Foundation. It is difficult to forget it, because at that time an audiovisual document fundamental for the culture of humanity was related, with a building that is an important part of the building heritage of the country, two patrimonies apparently unrelated, but which have always been united.
But the best thing is to start at the beginning. In its origins, the cinema was shown in cafes, fairgrounds and other premises that were enabled to place a projector, chairs and a screen, but soon began to use theaters and, above all, to build specific buildings for these projections, in all the big cities around the planet; these buildings, which in Spanish were called cinemas, assimilating their name to the one of the spectacle, typologically they were very similar to the theaters, but ignoring their stage, a great room with the seats arranged looking towards a single screen, that in some cases thanks to their size and decoration became palaces, where citizens came frequently, being able to relate to each other.
The cinemas are the buildings related to the best-known film show in general, but they were not the only ones. Studios were also built soon where the films were filmed, which in many cases due to their infrastructures and facilities, were almost like independent cities within the populations where they were. These facilities were the first to be disappearing, due to the commercialization of more sensitive emulsions that allowed to roll abroad and, above all, for an urban issue, because although in their origins they were located on the outskirts of cities on rustic land, when these grew and reached them they became bags of urban land whose value increased exponentially being devoured by real estate speculation. Some studios turned into theme parks about the films that were shot in their facilities, although most of their heritage formed by the sets was destroyed or recycled, so what was shown in these parks had to be built again, losing its Authenticity, which does not seem to matter to the thousands of tourists who visit them every year.
The large cinemas have also been disappearing, first fragmented into multiplexes, then were included in new shopping centers, taking away their importance to transform them into another of the commercial premises they housed and recently even these latter have been losing viewers, due to the popularization of the multimedia contents served by streaming on computers and televisions, which penetrate directly into homes.
The moving image has also served to document the existence of buildings that have already disappeared, but which can still be seen on the screens, although they were also often transformed to serve the cinematographic arguments. The funny thing is that nowadays there are buildings that have sometimes appeared in a single movie or in a television series, are visited by tourists making, by this fact sometimes casual, are even better preserved than other buildings more interesting architecturally , but who were not lucky enough to be linked to a popular audiovisual fiction.
The cinematographic heritage is very delicate, because of the fragility of the support of the films, the cellulose nitrate that was used from the nineties of the nineteenth century until the first fifties of the last century, burns by spontaneous combustion at the temperature environment of forty degrees Celsius, and the cellulose triacetate used then, from the early fifties to the eighties was drying out so degraded that it could not be projected; Digitization has improved these problems, but it is still early to know what can happen with this support.
We must also bear in mind that much of the silent film has disappeared, not only because of the fires, but also because it was considered that those innovative films at the time, had already become obsolete and had no interest, as if they had destroyed pictures of “primitive” painters for not knowing the rules of perspective; in addition, the cellulose from the tapes could be recycled into combs and other domestic objects; that today they have no interest whatsoever, having lost forever images of a vanished world and stories that told the problems and expectations of generations, who can no longer narrate them and we can never know what they were like.
For a long time, serious film libraries have adopted the criterion of recovering and preserving all audiovisual content, from a familiar tape to an overproduction, because any of them, no matter how uninteresting it may seem at a given historical moment, is an essential document for Know and analyze the story. Obviously it is impossible to keep all the buildings, since the new ones are usually built in the lots where the old ones were, it is inevitable that the cities are transformed and developed, while human needs continue to evolve, the sad thing is that many times that transformation and development , which causes the disappearance of the architectural heritage, occurs more because of economic needs than for the welfare of citizens.
Jorge Gorostiza, PhD architect.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, september 2018
Author of the blog Arquitectura+Cine+Ciudad
Note: On Monday, October 1, 2018, I gave a lecture entitled «Cinema and Architectural Heritage» at the Martín Chirino Art and Thought Foundation, as part of the IV Architecture Week, organized by the College of Architects of Gran Canaria. together with that Foundation. As a result of the conference, I was asked to write a text for La Gran Canaria newspaper La Provincia, which was published in its great culture supplement.
Doctor arquitecto, proyecta y construye edificios y desarrolla trabajos de urbanismo. Desde 1990, publica numerosos artículos sobre cine y arquitectura en medios de su localidad, revistas como Nosferatu, Nickleodeon, Academia, Lateral, Cahiers du Cinema… y en varios volúmenes colectivos. Entre el 2000 y el 2005 dirige la Filmoteca Canaria. Imparte conferencias sobre arquitectura y cine en instituciones como el CAAM en Gran Canaria, la UIMP, el CENDEAC en Murcia, INCUNA en Gijón, Fundación Telefónica, la ETS de Arquitectura y el CCCB de Barcelona, las ETS de Arquitectura de La Coruña, Sevilla, Valencia y SEU madrileña, La Ciudad de la Luz en Alicante, la UNED en Pamplona, en varios colegios de arquitectos, así como en las universidades del País Vasco, Gerona, Valladolid, Málaga, Granada, SEK en Segovia y CEES de Madrid. Jurado en varios festivales cinematográficos, como los de Alcalá de Henares (2001), San Sebastián (2002), Sitges (2003), Las Palmas (2005) y Documentamadrid (2005), y comisario de las exposiciones Constructores de quimeras. (Centro Conde Duque, Madrid, 1999) y La arquitectura de los sueños (Capilla del Oidor, Alcalá de Henares, 2001).
He publicado bastantes libros y muchos artículos, he impartido conferencias, he sido comisario de exposiciones y jurado en muchísmos festivales. Si quieren saber más no duden en consultar mi blog ARQUITECTURA + CINE + CIUDAD.