Cur­tain falls on long cin­ema ca­reer

Central Otago Mirror - - NEWS - By BAR­BARA WITHING­TON

It can’t be con­firmed but it is be­lieved that movies have been show­ing in Roxburgh’s cin­ema for 115 years, mak­ing it the old­est-run­ning cin­ema in the world.

What’s known for sure is Doug Dance has been part of the team thread­ing the film around the pro­jec­tors for more than half those years.

There was a poignancy there­fore as he threaded the reels for pos­si­bly the last time early in De­cem­ber to show Turbo to the Roxburgh Area School ju­nior classes as an end-of-term treat.

It was a long way from the 13-year-old who took over as as­sis­tant pro­jec­tion­ist in 1953 af­ter pro­jec­tion­ist Bill Comp­ton was killed in an ac­ci­dent and Kevin Bur­ton was pro­moted to his job.

‘‘The as­sis­tant had the job of wind­ing the reels and pre­par­ing the slides for ad­ver­tis­ing which would ap­pear on the screen be­fore the movie and at half­time.

‘‘Each ad was on for nine sec­onds each and there would be 15 or 20 of them, ad­ver­tis­ing var­i­ous busi­nesses around the val­ley, and then the bor­ough coun­cil would type up what was hap­pen­ing in the dis­trict on to cel­lo­phane which would be pressed be­tween two pieces of glass,’’ he said.

Af­ter the play­ing of God Save the Queen, for the first three quar­ters of an hour car­toons, news­reels of what was hap­pen­ing around the world, and trav­el­ogues from James T Fitzger­ald would run.

‘‘Of­ten this would mean chang­ing from cin­e­mas­cope to widescreen to stan­dard and back again, jug­gling ma­chines and lenses; things could get hec­tic at times.’’

The early years for Mr Dance were also the days of the con­struc­tion of the Roxburgh hy­dropower dam and movies were shown two or three times a week. Buses would come from the hy­dro vil­lage to swell the au­di­ence, of­ten fill­ing the the­atre, which at that time could seat 340 pa­trons.

‘‘I have ac­tu­ally seen it changed three or four times from side aisles to a sin­gle aisle to the raised seats we have to­day af­ter the ma­jor up­grade 15 years ago.’’

The the­atre was orig­i­nally a coun­cil-run op­er­a­tion and pro­jec­tion­ists were paid six shillings and eight pence a screen­ing, six­pence of which went to union fees.

‘‘As kids we had half a crown (two shillings and six­pence) for the movies. That was one shilling for the movie, six­pence for lol­lies or an ice­cream at half­time and a shilling for fish and chips from the shop across the road from the the­atre on the way home.’’

Mr Dance was struck by how ev­ery­thing was rel­a­tive as now the price of the movie ticket ($8 to $10) was still the same as the price of a piece of fish and chips.

As the lights went up at the end of Turbo, Mr Dance found him­self watch­ing the cred­its to the bot­tom, re­al­is­ing it could well be the last time – un­less he is called on to show another be­fore Jan­uary 5 which will be the last movie promised on 35mm reels.

Tech­nol­ogy has ad­vanced more quickly than the com­mit­tee had planned and dig­i­tal for­mat will be the only one avail­able for new movies, but progress with fundrais­ing and grants mean that is still sev­eral months away for Roxburgh.

‘‘What I would like to see, if pos­si­ble, is re­runs of some of the clas­sics – Grease, ET, Star Wars, The Guns of Navarone, The Dam Busters, and even Three Coins in a Foun­tain, which was the first film I ever showed solo.

‘‘We have a gen­er­a­tion or more who have not seen those greats on the big screen and there is no com­par­ing them with DVD on the small screen. It could be a great fundraiser if the copies were still avail­able.’’


Cred­its roll: Roxburgh pro­jec­tion­ist Doug Dance shares his last thread­ing of the reels with three of his grand­chil­dren – Neeve Or­chard, 7, Si­enna Dance, 7, and Greer Or­chard, 11.

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