Going to the pictures

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Regent Cafe

Remember the days of Saturday matinees and rolling jaffas? Part of the joy of the movies is the otherness of being in a cinema. For years, picture theatres have been like a big community lounge – where kids romp, couples court and friends meet up.

Most of us have a databank of movie memories. I can remember the first movie I saw at the cinema (The Towering Inferno) – and the movie that was playing at the Gore picture theatre in the floods of 1978 (Can’t stop the music … or was it Thank God it’s Friday? Either way it was disco).

We’ve brought together some photos of Christchurch movie theatres from our collection. George Arliss was appearing in The Millionaire at The Plaza in 1932.

Papers Past, the essential resource of digitised New Zealand newspapers, has lots of great information on movies and picture theatres. How about what was on at The Colosseum in 1908:

The new programme of pictures presented at the Colosseum last night by the Royal Pictures Company comprises a large variety of interesting and amusing films, and the large building was again packed in all parts. The films shown covered a diversity of subjects, and included some of the best motion pictures yet shown in Christchurch. “The Enchanted Guitar”,” The Pumpkin Race”,” Timid Lovers”, “Baffled Boobies” and the other humorous pictures raised unbounded merriment, while such films as “Rodents and their ways”, and “Dumb Sagacity”, afforded valuable object lessons on the matters with which they dealt.

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Plaza Theatre

If you want to go further down the rabbit hole, the Canterbury Film Society has excellent information on the history of Christchurch cinemas. It includes a chronological list of cinemaswith photos.

Digital NZ has a set of images related to Going to the movies (there are some rather lovely shots of a Wellington audience watching Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights).

An earlier blog post here The ghosts of cinemas past has lots of Christchurch movie theatre memories in the comments. The Tivoli, The Barclay, Cinerama …

Dead dames – Elizabeth von Arnim 1866-1941

Back in the 1980s I used to like watching a TV theatre-sports programme called Whose line is it anyway?  It has reappeared recently and is still just as enjoyable. One of the actors I always admired from it was Josie Lawrence (the woman who makes up songs on the fly).

This reminded me about a film called Enchanted April which came out in 1992. Josie appeared in it with Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent and Alfred Molina. The story it was based on was by one of my favourite authors Elizabeth von Arnim.

The film featured Josie as the wife of a stiff-necked conservative husband in the years before WW1. She wanted to go on holiday but he was uncooperative, so she advertised for other women who would like to rent a villa in Italy. The disparate group thus formed ventured into the unknown with some trepidation and the sharp edges of their personalities initially made for some discomfort, until the magic of  of Italy began its work. As with von Armin’s books, her film characters are so clearly and sardonically observed that they made me gurgle with delight.

Elizabeth von Arnim is herself rather remarkable. A relation of Katherine Mansfield, she married a Prussian count and whilst married to him wrote a book called Elizabeth and her German Garden, which was a bestseller at the time ( I noted that it was even mentioned in the series Downton Abbey when Mathew Crawley’s valet gave it to fellow servant Anna).

Her marriage was not happy and she left the count and went back to England where she eventually married George Bernard Shaw’s older brother who was an Earl. This marriage was even worse and she accused Shaw of being abusive. She ran away to America and got her revenge by writing a book called Vera. This book managed the oxymoron of being both very funny and an account of an abusive marriage. It left her husband looking such a prat that its publication is supposed to have led George to comment “never marry a writer”.

Perhaps inevitably, her wicked sense of humour saves its sharpest barbs for men and Germans, so if you are sensitive to the unfair treatment of these groups leave her books on the shelf. Otherwise I guarantee they will brighten up the darkest winter day.