Take me to the stars

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GRA­HAM ERBACHER

In Deep­wa­ter, a tiny town on the New Eng­land High­way in NSW, there is a theatre, now dis­used and for­lorn, that looks right out of The Last Pic­ture Show. I travel on this in­land route to Queens­land reg­u­larly and each time I pass the Eclipse like to vi­su­alise it in its hey­day when it was the “de­par­ture lounge” for towns­folk — “those won­der­ful peo­ple out there in the dark”, to quote Sun­set Boule­vard — to ven­ture to the world out­side.

The pic­tures, movies, films, flicks or, in more ex­alted com­pany, cin­ema were usu­ally our first flights of imag­i­na­tion, lift­ing us above more hum­drum con­fines. They still are, al­though the dream des­ti­na­tions to­day are more likely to be in­ter­plan­e­tary. Sure, we had TV, but the screens were small and the images black and white.

The Eclipse is in mod­est art deco style, com­mon for the­atres built in the 1930s and 40s. In the big­ger cities, the the­atres were grander. There was no hold­ing back on or­na­men­ta­tion — a starry sky over­head, a touch of Egypt (for which there was a thirst af­ter the dis­cov­ery of Tu­tankhamun’s tomb), ever-ex­otic China, and some an­cient Rome and Greece for the pot­pourri. We’ve lost most of these mar­vels, but how good it does the heart to read about the restora­tion of the ma­jes­tic Kings in Brook­lyn, New York, derelict for al­most 40 years. And how won­der­ful to note on a re­cent visit to Na­rooma on the NSW south coast that its Kinema is still screen­ing films, as it has since 1928, and stag­ing live per­for­mances (the win­ning mix of my lo­cal Avoca Beach Pic­ture Theatre). The show­case Em­pire in Toowoomba this year cel­e­brates its 20th an­niver­sary of restora­tion.

My pass­port to ad­ven­ture in youth was the Kings Theatre in War­wick, Queens­land. It was presided over by a Mr Honey, who wore a bow-tie to ev­ery ses­sion and was as busy as a bee with his torch en­sur­ing pa­trons stood for God Save the Queen (yes, re­ally).

I was a devo­tee of the Satur­day mati­nee and in sev­enth heaven when the screen wi­dened to Cine­mas­cope and, in glo­ri­ous Tech­ni­color, Elvis whisked us off to blue Hawaii, or we’d go west with John Wayne and then north to Alaska, or revel in smart pil­low talk be­tween Doris and Rock in New York. I was less keen on Bri­tish fare (un­less it was James Bond or a Carry On); it was of­ten kitchensink gritty and I was too young to look back in anger.

I have a vivid rec­ol­lec­tion of one ad­ven­ture, World by Night, an un­usual-for-the-time doc­u­men­tary. Af­ter a quick round-up of city lights, a ma­gi­cian’s cabaret act and some per­form­ing dogs, the movie got down to busi­ness — the art of strip­tease. As the first glove was sug­ges­tively peeled off (it didn’t get much raunchier than this), the mati­nee kids raised the roof of the old Kings with laugh­ter. Some­one hadn’t vet­ted this af­ter­noon’s pre­sen­ta­tion too closely. I thought it was the most hi­lar­i­ous thing in the world to pay money to go to a theatre to see some­one take their clothes off. Fun­nily enough, I still do.

Su­san Kuro­sawa is on leave.

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