This is where I spent my Saturday afternoons during my childhood in St Kilda, a Melbourne beachside suburb.The photo was found on a Yahoo discussion group on trams, hope they don't mind. It's just that all the other photos I could find were of the current building, which is now the National Theatre. So, imagine this by daylight. In those days it was a Hoyt's cinema called the Victory. The actual building, though not the Hoyt's, goes back to about the 1930s and is gorgeous. The place had a dress circle and stalls. Now they have built over the stalls, which have become workshops and schools for the National Theatre and the former dress circle is the auditorium, where you can see anything from ballet to amateur musicals. I've seen live theatre there - Camelot, Showboat, The Lion In Winter, even a performance of Jon English's Trojan War rock opera Paris, with the composer in the foyer beaming from ear to ear; it had been written only for recording and who would have thought a small theatre company would turn it into a live show?
So, wonderful, yes, but ... not the same.
I used to meet my friend Denise and her sisters Irene and Angela on time for the two p.m matinee. There were only two sessions a day, for good reason. You could see a double feature, a newsreel and a cartoon back then, and those took a while to show. I remember that when I was a bit late for a film, I'd say, "Oh, well, I'll just miss the news." These days, of course, I say, "Oh, well, I'll just miss the ads and maybe a trailer." You can, of course, still see a double feature at special cinemas like the Astor Theatre in Windsor. But that's something else.
The other cinema in the area was The Palais. Well, the Palais is still there - I remember going to see Mary Poppins with my parents there - but only does live shows now, mostly concerts. It was doing live theatre then too. Musicals, operettas, the Australian Opera, ballet. But it no longer does movies.
The Palais auditorium in the old days.
Still, most of our Saturdays were spent at the Victory. The Victory had a candy bar, where we mostly bought ice cream and popcorn. I loved the popcorn, which had, if you were lucky, a plastic figure of a cowboy or Indian on horseback. I didn't care about the riders, just the horses. I wish I knew where I put my collection. Across the road was a milk bar, where we sometimes went at intermission to buy more goodies, including a White Knight nougat bar. There is still a food shop there, more takeaway, though, than milk bar.
I saw some classic films there. Planet Of The Apes. A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. An odd little film called The Magic Sword, which I've since acquired on DVD. It has some big name actors for a film most people haven't heard of. We're talking here about Basil Rathbone, as the villain. The young knight George was Gary Lockwood, whom you may have seen as Frank Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Gary Mitchell in the Star Trek episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before". His guardian, an elderly sorceress, was played by comedienne Estelle Winwood, who had a tendency to play duenna roles in old movies, but you may have seen her chasing Zero Mostel around his office in The Producers, as a character known only as "Hold me, touch me." I think I went to see that by myself one Saturday when Denise and her sisters couldn't make it. For a child, it was scary, though it had a happy ending.
I remember in my teens going there to see Gone With The Wind. I'd read the book which I considered a thousand page Mills and Boon, but Denise wanted to go. I even ended up seeing it twice. I did appreciate the casting, which showed the characters the way I had imagined them. And a young George Reeves appeared briefly as one of the Tarleton twins, Scarlett's suitors. I had seen him as Superman. Spectacle or not, classic or not, I haven't been able to watch it since. Sorry!
Eventually the cinema was closed down but fortunately replaced by a theatre which is still there. No more stalls, but the foyer still has the same 1930s glamour I remember, and the upstairs foyer even more beautiful.
Somehow today's cineplexes are just not the same. And when they're finally replaced by streaming and downloads they won't be likely to survive as something equally delightful.
I'm glad I have those memories!