How DVD and the internet killed the porno theater star

3rd March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Rafael Sánchez has been the projectionist at the Sala Alba, one of the three remaining x-rated movie houses in the Spanish capital, for the last 30 years. But he knows the cinema's days are numbered.

3 March 2008

MADRID - Rafael Sánchez has been the projectionist at the Sala Alba, one of the three remaining x-rated movie houses in the Spanish capital, for the last 30 years. But he knows the cinema's days are numbered. Behind him a huge projector stands idle. "It's all done with DVDs now, and it's not the same," he sighs.

Spain's porn cinemas were officially legalised in 1984, although many began operating within a couple of years of General Franco's death in late 1975. By 1985, there were 85 throughout Spain; today, there are just nine left. According to the Culture Ministry, in 2007, some 300,000 people visited them, 20,000 less than in 2002, when 13 such cinemas were still in operation.

Porn cinemas face the same problem as the movie industry in general: between 1999 and 2006, Spanish cinema audiences fell by 10 million. The culprits are the internet, television, and DVDs. But in the case of the porn industry there is a curious paradox, as the sector itself has never been healthier: in 2006, the US porn industry - the world's largest - produced 13,600 films, 10 times the amount in 1988.

The Alba started life as a neighbourhood movie theatre, switching to porn in 1986. Rafael says that around 300 mainly male viewers visit the cinema each day, paying EUR 6.50 for a continuous session between 10am and 11pm.

"Some stay for a short while, and then they leave," explains the ticket seller at the Postas, another of Madrid's classic porn theatres, adding: "But the majority are in here all day." She says that most of the men are aged around 50, and are regulars. The Cuenca 64 in Valencia even has a special rate for pensioners on Thursday.

Women and young people make up barely 2 percent of attendees, says Adam, the ticket seller in the last surviving x-cinema in Las Palmas. He says that while there are a few married men, the typical viewer is "a middle-aged homosexual looking for a quick encounter." He adds that some prostitutes also do the rounds of the cinema, while for some, the theatre is a kind of social club. "Some lonely souls come here just to hang out. At Christmas we even give away presents: a watch or something."

[Copyright EL PAÍS / JERÓNIMO ANDREU 2008]

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