Barely more than half a century after its invention, the whole of world cinema was spiralling dangerously downward. In America at first, but closely followed by Europe, the cinema industry from production to end use in cinemas was deeply stricken by a crisis that many commentators, including the most authoritative experts, saw as irreversible: the cinema was dying.
The reasons behind the slump were certainly various. Structural shortcomings were compounded by social and cultural change on a vaster scale. The exhibition industry was certainly slow to see the need for structural renewal, while producers were guilty of insisting on the reiteration of certain models, ignoring increasing audience demand for more diversified product; but there were also technological changes under way which altered social dynamics and affected the entire collectivity. Labour procedures changed in a matter of years and the make-up of society was traumatically transformed. Leisure time and money could now be spent on many things besides going to the movies, while domestic habits changed utterly: consumption of images became more private, achieved increasingly via the electronic reproduction of television and the new technologies available for use in the home. All of this inevitably reduced public consumption in the cinema.
So the cinema certainly underwent a crisis, but now more than ever the term needs to be applied to socio-cultural processes and phenomena which go far beyond the specifics of one industry; and since many of the causes were in fact external, the ground lost is all the harder to make up.
The effects produced by the crisis were of an equally varied nature, and affected the cinema in different ways. The pulverization of a once top-heavy structure became acute: the production areas that previously followed well-codified patterns and gave an added dimension to any new product have today, with the exception of the U.S. majors, lost their way and their confidence. The language of the cinema itself, once unique and universal, has fragmented into a babel of languages reaching widely disparate audiences. As a result, the collective knowledge and imagination - previously carried by strong traditional elements such as film genres - has also been split into a variety of image stocks, each registered by its own separate following. This "Copernican" revolution brought benefits to the cinema, making the market more flexible and easier to break into for new talent, but also caused serious losses, felt most severely by exhibitors. Cinema closures were numerous, especially in small towns and the suburbs of big cities. In the space of a few years large tracts of every country became exhibition deserts, with the remaining cinemas concentrated only in the oases of major urban centres. The process damaged the vulnerable part of urban life by destroying the spaces for social interaction which cinemas had provided. Many a converted garage, office, disco or bank, or simply decaying building, may be identified at a closer look as a former cinema, a monument to the sudden transformations of our time.

Matteo Pavesi