The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

A free museum at the University of Exeter, The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, is delightful, educational and inspirational. It brought back memories for me of cinemas of the like I attended as a child on Saturday mornings as well as developments in film from the later half of last century. Named after the film-maker Bill Douglas (1934-1991) who put together the collection with Peter Jewell, the collection goes right back to the beginnings from the 17th century. Additional items have been collected and donated in recent times. There is even an online catalogue where you can indicate what you want to see, the items being ready for you to look at, via a booked appointment, in the reading room.

An excellent and thoroughly detailed guided tour provided a tsunami of historical information which was fascinating and illuminating. I wish I could have recorded what was said as there was so much of interest to suit all ages and tastes. For me, seeing beautiful shadow puppets, intricately made magic lanterns, stereoscopes, and a camera (Moy-Bastie cinematograph camera, patent no. 4534 of 1909; serial no. 376) thought to have been used by J.B McDowell to record battlefield images in the first world war ( and the use of light with conical polyorama panoptiques to radically change what the eye was seeing (e.g. from day to night, calm to disaster, neutral to political) as well as the photographs of the old cinema brands and buildings (Astoria, Gaumont and Odeon), was exciting. The architecture of these cinema houses, the grand and sumptuous interiors the fabulously smart uniforms of the staff were all designed to make film goers feel special and aspire to greater things in life.

Learning how the first panoramas and dioramas were made, the transition from silent movies to sound and colour, the production of record discs to be played alongside the running of the films were all worthy of extended periods of study in their own right. Seeing an original Mickey Mouse puppet and learning why his image was altered to look less rat-like and fearsome, becoming aware that films initially were targeted at female audiences who had time on their hands (accompanied by a plethora or female oriented film magazines adorned by the glamorous female stars of the time) with the advent of modern appliances in the home and why this focus has had to switch to a male and female younger generation were fascinating facts. The switch was made initially to compete with television and more recently current personally owned digital technology to combat the effects of a dwindling cinema audiences. Cinematic films are now marketed as having special sound and visual effects that cannot be experienced in the same way on television or hand held devices.

I apologise in advance for the poor quality of my snaps mainly taken through glass and encourage you to visit the site, view the beautifully photographed objects and listen to the podcasts about the collection. Do not miss out on applying for the available stipends to study specific aspects of cinematic history (deadline 04-05-2018).

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