Saturday night at the movies

When television arrived in the 1960s, the old picture theatres began closing down or ran at a loss to small audiences. And before “talkies” there were silent films shown by itinerant “picture men” with their projectors and screens, who visited small towns and rented local halls.

A pianist enhanced the action by matching the music to the suspense, romance, happiness, calamity or comedy, whatever the mood.

The Majestic Theatre at Pomona opened in 1921 and is promoted as the oldest authentic silent movie theatre in the world, and the longest continually operating movie theatre in Australia.

It began life  as a country hall and was converted to a picture theatre.

In 1931, the Majestic made the big move from silent films to the magical  talkies but as the years passed, it couldn’t compete with the big, new cinemas.  In the 1980s, it reverted to silent films. It had found its niche.

The Son of the Sheik starring Rudolf Valentino with owner Ron West’s accompaniment  on his restored Wurlitzer Pipe Organ proved very popular . This year, a 1937 Compton Pipe Organ is being installed and Chris Rose will play it.

Patrons love the organ music and the old silent film comedians, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Harry Langdon and Charlie Chaplin.

In April 1929, the Wintergarden Theatre in Brisbane pioneered talkies with The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson, “the singer with a tear in his voice”.

Newspaper advertisements encouraged residents to visit Brisbane and be among the first to see “the talkies”.   My parents, Ted and Alma Low were on their honeymoon in Brisbane in April 1929 and went along. They never forgot the excitement and glamour of the occasion.

The film was so successful that filmmakers around the world realised that talkies were the future of entertainment.

Talkies came to the Nambour Town Hall in May 1931 and were so innovative that the shire chairman officiated.
Maleny and Eumundi followed and Maroochydore opened in time for Christmas the same year.  

They were so popular with holidaymakers that in 1935, a new theatre opened in Maroochydore, with a capacity for 800 people.

The program represented good value. First of all, the audience stood for the national anthem, God Save the King. There was Cinesound News and perhaps one or two of the following shorts - an episode of Perils of Pauline, a Tom & Jerry cartoon, a travelogue, or even a sing-along .

Two feature films followed with an interval of about 15 minutes. Who could forget great films such as Casablanca, Rebecca or The Great Years of our Lives?

The Etheridge Brothers operated the two picture shows in local halls at Eumundi and Yandina.  They would sometimes show the same two films on the same evening. One night, the fog was so bad on the road between the two towns they missed each other to exchange the films halfway.

This new technology from Hollywood was not without its critics.

With big attendances, people feared that Australians would soon be speaking with American accents and, even worse, using American slang.

One patron wrote to the Nambour Chronicle complaining that he had attended the talkies and watched through a smoke screen as so many people continued smoking.

Some people believed that talkies would never become popular.

It is not the end of the story yet as filmmakers still vie for our attention.

Image: Pomona’s famous Majestic Theatre.