new models for contemporary cinema olwen christine mears   I  gorka alberdi As silent movie The Artist sweeps the board at this year’s Oscars, it begs a moment’s reflection on the state of modern cinema. Such are the enormous advances in special effects, it is sobering to see a film that lacks the most up-to-date technology run home with five academy awards, including Best Picture.

There is little one can say about the ‘Artist’ phenomenon that has not been said before, except to reflect on how cinema-going habits have changed over the years. As a case in point, Zarautz’s local Cine Modelo has, after struggling to stay afloat, finally been shut down pending further negotiations between its private
owners and the town council.

Majestically tucked away in Zarautz’s old quarter, Cine Modelo’s elegant and stylish building has survived flooding, civil war and censorship. But broken down heating in the middle of winter was the last straw.

Like many local picture houses the world over, competition from nearby cinema complexes has made it a non-profitable venture.
Funnily enough, shortly before it closed down Cine Modelo announced it would be showing The Artist, one film this retro movie theatre was surely destined to screen. What better place to watch a 1920s-style film than in a cinema dating back to 1917?

As it happens, I saw Michel Hazanavicius’s delightful film at an English cinema even more basic than Cine Modelo. Sitting near the front and without the benefit of multilayered seating, I was obliged to bob, duck, laugh and sigh along with the rows of heads in front of me, reminiscent of scenes in the film.

Compared to the full-on cinematic adventure that is Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, complete with giant screen and, yes, multilayered seating, it was a different experience entirely. But then surround sound is rather out of place in a film like The Artist.

Being on the cutting edge of technology, however, large commercial cinemas have one major advantage, namely
that an increasing number now offer services to blind and deaf people. I saw War Horse with my partially blind father whose appreciation for this stunningly visual film was greatly enhanced thanks to headphones providing audio description. Something that is not on offer at his, or indeed most local cinemas.

If these two very different films –seen in such contrasting circumstances– confirm anything, it is that there is more than one way to enjoy movies these days. While it harks back to an earlier cinematic age, The Artist is proof that the future of cinema does not reside purely in 3D or HD.

In cities like London, with a plethora of independent cinemas having to reinvent themselves, film buffs in Notting Hill can enjoy movies from the comfort of leather armchairs, complete with side tables and bar service. Alternatively, at another cinema in Leicester Square audiences are encouraged to sing along to old musical greats.

So what better time than now for local cinemas like Cine Modelo to claim back the crown from more sterile pretenders and follow the example of films like The Artist which show us that, when it comes to modern cinema, the watchword of choice is: IN with the new and IN with the old.