Humankind has been raised on a steady diet of stories. The impressive amount of resources and ingenuity that civilizations have devoted to storytelling attests to the fact that it is as important to feed one’s imagination, as it is to eat.
Like the Native American kiva, the great gothic cathedrals of Europe are early movie theater prototypes. The sophistication of both examples attests to the high priority with which folklore and mythology were endowed in earlier societies. The sacred kiva’s dim interior instills an attitude of silence and listening in its occupants. Burrowing into the earth, and enclosing it in darkness, brings its congregation’s attention to the central focus of drums, chants and stories.
The Cathedral owes its majesty to a skyward reach, developing visual and acoustic dynamics to new heights. Choirs resonating in those magnificent vaulted chambers sent the medieval imagination soaring in the same way that the soundtracks of today’s films influence our own. Meanwhile, the cathedral’s stained glass window was a proto-movie screen containing story frames of proto-celluloid, awaiting animation.
The modern movie theater is the next logical leap of imagination. The grandiose physical surroundings of cathedral are less essential now. The virtual reality inside liberates the audience from physical limits. Darkness and the code of silence have carried over from their primitive counterparts to the movie theater, as has the traditional focus on story and song.
Cathedrals took many years to build and generations of crafts persons working within a network of specialized guilds in order to bring about their realization. Modern movie-making methods make use of this same organization. Gothic artisans that provided ornate alters for the great cathedrals, had offspring who adapted the same skills in later periods to provide scenic backdrops for opulent operas and romance plays. The legacy continues in the artists, craftsmen and tradespersons working on location and in sound stages for our limit-pushing entertainments of today.