Movie Theaters of Beyoğlu: A Historical Lookout

Cinema can be assumed as a logbook of social status and changes. Also it’s a reflector of social life, development in terms of modernization and urban life practices. Movies transfers values, role models, cases and chances which are occuring in time through the stories. In a way, when they are combined with the spaces that we called as movie theaters they became a concrete memory text in their existing environment. These places can be perceived as a compenent which allows us to read time, space, place, modernity and development notions in their context.

Cinema halls have been the places of cultural activity visited by Turkish audiences for a long period. Watching movies in the cinema hall has it’s own atmosphere and different culture that it constituted. The audience must go to cinema to watch movie, so people started to go outside. This has changed the situation and take the life out to the street level. It seems like an ordinary act in today’s dynamics but in 1900’s it was seen as a special activity, social interaction tool and even an event that people take care about their dressings before they participate. Also, cinema halls was the places that removes bottom-top separation and moreover the hiding places that allow people to detach themselves from society and troubles of outside world during the movie time. In these halls, according to it’s period; singers performed at some special nights or movies made their premiere. These above turned the cinema halls into the pioneer places of entertainment which contains various event/activities inside it.

During the twentieth century, movie theaters have been transformed into spatial and social memory elements for a long period of time but today we are still losing them one by one gradually especially in Beyoğlu region. They have lost their identity and characteristics of distinguished cultural holder in society during the time that they changed and transformed. Conservation and preservation approach to old cinema halls in our country is equal to keeping the building facade as it is and demolishing the whole history instead or changing their location to another place. Therefore that kind of applications are so far away from referring the old architectural and social memory. People, their memories and experiences throughout the time was embedded into these places and a century which we live our social dash from early republican period to second millenium. Our society tried to find their urban characteristics and about a century cinema halls were the top public spaces/places which have direct connection with street life and citizens. Beyoğlu was the cradle of cinema halls for a long time. Giovanni Scognamillo (2008) indicates that; in all countries, movie sector chooses a center for it. It was Beyoğlu in Turkey and the sector provided spaces to develop the cinema industry also it is commanded from that region but Beyoğlu lose it’s position in time. It fallen as a victim to a monotized mass culture under a guise of globalization and lose it’s popularity. Spatial changes affect collective memory of the place and society owing to that some values must be protected. Urban pattern, architectural attributes, spatial interfaces, public spaces, monuments and streets creates the imagery of place as a whole. Spaces are not only being perceived via their physical appearance but also with their cumulative memory values.

In the western countries, when cinema is compared with the performing arts like opera, theater and ballet; it was the entertainment activity of more ordinary and subordinary people howewer it is identified as rich and stylish kind of event in Istanbul. Maybe, because of that reason, at first movies are displayed at palaces and mansions then when they need a settled place to demonstrate, it branched and developed in Beyoğlu where rich minority ‘upper class’ located.In early times, cinemas take place in empty theater halls and then they turned into permanent settlement with the renovation of the old theaters into cinema halls. After that transition period, early cinema halls which will be built took theater type seating arrangement as an example. First buildings that constructed and designed as having solely a cinema function are Majik, Etual, Elektra, SinePalas and Elhamra Cinema Halls. In addition, after 1950’s theaters which couldn’t find any place to perform are ironically take place on the stage of cinema halls. In the beginning, people thought cinema as surprising/astonishing technique of representation, after they accept it as a contemporary type of visual/performing art and at last they embrace the cinema as stylish amusement activity. Thereby, in this layered transition periods, lots of movie theaters constructed with individual characteristics and distinctive interior designs up to their target audiences commentary have springed up.

Movie Theaters in Beyoğlu were the most prestigious urban public spaces of Istanbul since 1940s. After a small ten year period of stagnation, with the rise of Yeşilçam Cinema, Turkish Films are started to being displayed in the cinemas between 1950 and 1980. This situation has attracted the middle class people, mainstream consisting from families and cinema became their indispensible entertainment place. After 1980, the spread of television usage in Turkey has resulted a change in the middle class urban leisure activity concept and understanding. Afterwards, cinemas which wanted to make a new boom/rise started to display erotic films but this caused to get lost their middle class core family audience.  As a negative result, movie theaters turned into desolated and deserted places gradually. Just after that period Beyoğlu cinema halls started to close and turned into car parks or storage warehouses. Some of them transformed into the popular consumption culture places which we know as ‘Pasaj’. After 1990, cinema halls evolved to smaller cinema complexes and break their direct relationship/connection with streets. Then they located in the bigger multi- functional buildings, shopping malls. There were lots of arguments about the closing and demolishing of symbolic movie theaters like Emek, Saray, Majik but they can’t resist to the corrupted urbanization and high property value of the places they’re located. It is obvious that Beyoğlu lose it’s idiosyncratic identity and elements that was forming the old cultural axis.

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