HISTORY, The Electric Cinema
The Electric Cinema opened on the 27th of December 1909. It was Birmingham’s first cinema and predated the introduction of the 1909 Cinematograph Act that commenced in January 1910.
Back then the word electric conjured up images of Van-de-Graf generators and Tesla Coils. To the vast majority of the population still without electricity in their homes, the mysterious invisible power source was verging on black magic.
Much like the word digital is ubiquitous today, Electric became a common name for film theatres with Electric Cinemas and Electric Picture Palaces springing up all over the country.
The Cinema showed silent films with piano backing. They were mostly American and mostly short just one or two reels in length.
In 1920 the cinema was bought out and underwent the first of many name changes becoming known as The Select. After continuing to show silent movies during the 1920s the cinema added sound in 1930. The first film was from the popular detective series Bulldog Drummond, however The Select was not to last and the cinema was closed just a year later.
Although the Electric is the oldest working cinema in the UK it is not the best example of an Edwardian Picture house as there’s not a great deal left of the original building due to a rebuild in 1937.
In 1931 Joseph Cohen bought The Select and for a few months showed rep films before closing the cinema in 1932 with a view to a complete refit. His plan was to obtain the uppers floors then create a balcony and changing rooms for the staff.
After a period of closure, work commenced on the upper floors of the cinema in 1936. A year later the cinema reopened as Birmingham's second news theatre, The Tatler. The cinema showed rolling news reels from Pathe and British Movietone along with short films and cartoons.
Cohen was a highly successful Birmingham businessman and owned 50 cinemas at the height of the Jacey Cinema chain. Along with being friends with Walt Disney, he also knew Oscar Deutsch the Birmingham entrepreneur behind the Odeon chain, the first of which was built in Perry Bar in 1933.
The cinema was unusual as it shot and edited its own regional news some of which remains today.
News and cartoons were shown until the late 1960s when the advent of TV removed the need for current affairs programming in cinemas.
With the onward march of technology, it was not just screens that changed but also the viewing habits of the audience. Television became commonplace and the demand for news reels in theatres disappeared. In an effort to fight back, the cinema was rebranded after the initials of its namesake and became known as The Jacey, mostly showing cartoons.
By the end of the 1960s the Jacey began to show adult films to combat declining audiences. But it was not just TV keeping people away, The Films Act in 1960 intensified an already failing quota system meaning cinemas were forced to play a minimum number of British Films.
The Classic 1980A new decade and yet another new name. The classic cinema chain, nicknamed by some in the cinema business as the butchers, destroyed many of the 1930s Art Deco features when they added this second screen.
The Classic only lasted four years, the cinema being renamed in 1984 to The Tivoli by local theatre owner Brian Saunders. By 1988 the cinema was sold again this time to adult film producer Barry Jacobs. Jacobs had produced a whole host of soft porn films during the 1960s and 70s many of which still reside in the basement of the cinema to this day.
The programme during this time was curious mix of off-date commercial films in one screen and porn in the other. It did not work out and the cinema closed in a cloud of debt just a few years later.
1993 the cinema was bought by cinema entrepreneur and radio presenter Bill Heine. The name was reverted back to The Electric and managed by Steven Metcalf.
A contemporary work of art called Thatcher's Children was installed in the windows on the front of the building with the intent to shock and attract publicity to the opening of an art cinema in Birmingham. Unfortunately, the cinema already had a seedy reputation and the placement of naked statues outside the building did nothing to allay those fears to the local population.
The cinema was reasonably popular for a while catering to around 600 customers per week but after a while the building deteriorated into an unfit state.
At the end of 2003 the Electric closed showing the Kill Bill for the final screening. A few months later the cinema was bought by film maker Tom Lawes who intended to run a recording studio upstairs and reopen the main screen to the public.
Electric Flix (previously Thomas Lawes Media Ltd) has operated the cinema since its reopening Christmas 2004/5. After a difficult first year in which attendances were low, audiences doubled in 2006. Further growth in 2007 made clear the demand for a second screen, especially during the awards season when so many good quality films are released.
Extensive tests and modifications were made to improve soundproofing between the two screens. Once satisfied that the isolation was good enough for contemporary cinema’s loud sound levels, the basement was cleared and a new space for the recording studio was created.
The studio was re-housed in the basement in early summer 2008 and a state-of-the-art digital projector system was installed in Screen 2.
The reopening of Screen 2 to the public in July 2008 meant the cinema could be much more flexible in its programming policy with the aim to provide mainstream films in one screen and independent movies in the other.