Take me to the stars
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.