McCulloch, Richard and Crisp, Virginia (2016) 'Watch like a grown up ... Enjoy like a child': Exhibition, authenticity, and film audiences at the Prince Charles Cinema. Participations: journal of audience & reception studies, 13 (1). pp. 188-217. ISSN 1749-8716

It is tempting to view the rise of event-led cinema as a symptom of shifting audience preferences – the inevitable result of cinemagoers increasingly seeking out ‘immersive’, ‘participatory’ and ‘experiential’ film screenings. The research presented within this particular article aimed to explore the appeal of such screenings by focusing on audiences at the Prince Charles Cinema (PCC) in London – a venue that is widely known for hosting sing-alongs, quote-alongs, and other participatory events.

Our results, however, were surprising. Respondents to our questionnaire readily subscribed to a form of cinephilia that embraces a wide variety of tastes, but largely rejects participatory aspects of event-led cinema in favour of what they deemed to be a more authentic cinematic experience. Audiences repeatedly emphasised the superiority of the silent, reverential film screening, and many felt that the PCC’s greatest quality was the way in which it reminded them of how cinemas used to be, not what they might one day become. Ultimately, the article demonstrates that cinematic events are by no means the only option available to audiences who crave alternatives to ‘mainstream’ cinemas.

We call for a reconsideration of the immersive and experiential dimensions of traditional cinemagoing, and a greater emphasis on the viewing conditions that facilitate an affective bond between audience and film. To us, the search for alternative cinema experiences seems to be more about the desire for cinema to get better at what it already does, not for it to change into something entirely different.

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