Magic and the silver screen

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

  • Everyone has a movie story, right? Perhaps a tale of when your Dad took you to see some old film way back when you were a kid, or maybe a first date when you tried to work out how you could put your arm around that girl who you took to the cinema hoping for a back row seat. Movies are great on their own, and with todays big screen HD TV’s they can be very enjoyable at home. But regardless of the special effects, the big name actors, or the amazing cinematography, the real magic of the movies is surely found in the cinema itself.

    When I was a kid there was a big cinema in my town called the Odeon. It had a single huge curtained screen, a balcony, and people who would show you to your fold-down seat with a flashlight. There were often lines to see films there, and sometimes those lines would wind their way around the side of the building long before the movie was due to start.

    These days that old movie going experience has changed. Those huge old theatres have been lost, they’ve been demolished to make way for multiplexes, malls, and municipal car parks. The movie experience has been downscaled to smaller screens; Blueray, iPads and laptops. In some ways that’s an improvement, but in many ways it’s lost some of the magic.

    Maybe my memory is applying the kind of warmth only nostalgia can apply to an otherwise mundane and tiresome thing, but I’m not so sure. I think that back then going to the movies was an event, it was something special. So when the lights dimmed and the film started you were quickly lost in the story you’d been keenly anticipating, chattering about in the line that had nearly gone around the block.

    There are a few old cinemas that are saving that experience and preserving the magic. The Astor on Chapel Street in Melbourne is one such place. From the outside the cinema doesn’t look all that much, but as soon as you step through the doors into the magnificent foyer you’re transported to a place that is all but extinct in the world of the silver screen.

    Built in the 1930s, the single screen venue has traditional balcony seating that looks upon an immense screen that disappears behind vast curtains at the end of each feature. Staff wear red waistcoats and there is even a resident calico cat called Marzipan.

    Showing an eclectic mix of old classics and new releases, a night at the Astor is always enjoyable when you sit among the old fold-down seats in the dim atmospheric light of the chandeliers above. Today I visited the Astor for what is likely to be my final time. I sat there watching the movie drinking a beer and soaking up the atmosphere that always takes me back to the old days of the Odeon cinema when I was a kid. As good as your big screen TV will ever be, as comfortable as any modern cinema will ever make you, you’ll be hard pushed to find any movie going experience that can rival a trip to the Astor.