I have always been close to and enjoyed the Movie World. We were lucky as a family as our parents owned and operated a Cinema dating right back to the days of silent movies. My father actually closed his first theatre which he ‘Moth Balled’ so he could volunteer for Military Service in World War One. After he returned from the War, he resumed his business and then he constructed a purpose built theatre. The movie business over the years changed greatly with innovations, yet many of its standards have remained constant to what had been set initially. These were still in use until recently. The frame speed of 24 frames per second, are still the same today. Also the Film stock that is still being used, is 35 Millimetres, although some electronic mediums are creeping in. Just take for instant what has happening to the families cameras, starting from the Box Brownie. The photographic technical leap forward into electronics is mind boggling.


In many theatres the light source was created by carbon arcs. This was always a worry as the early film stock was Nitrate film, this was also the reason for many of the regulations as this type of material was very dangerous, even more so when used close to the intense heat of the Arcs. Most of the early projectors were German precision machines, actually dating back to the ‘Silent Days’, but they were easily converted to ‘Sound’ when it arrived. In the ‘Silent days a film performance was enhanced by a pianist whose playing followed the action on the screen. My mother was one of these pianists. She was a very accomplished musician and had a large repertoire of ‘mood’ music. This ability carried over to later in her life, and we enjoyed listening to her at home before wireless sets arrived and everyone became fascinated with the new household toy.


The initial ‘Talkie’ set up was very similar to a gramophone except the disk employed was much larger. This was difficult to keep in synchronisation because there was nothing to tie the two mediums together, but it didn’t really matter as it was soon superseded by an optical strip down the side of the film.


Firemen were always in attendance for every performance and manned the doors. In our town, similar to many others we had a Volunteer Fire Service, although they didn’t get paid, we did give their brigade a donation and they saw all the movies for free. They were worth their weight in gold, and easily controlled any unruly element. Some patrons were regular attendees and in spite of some 600 seats being on offer, if they didn’t get their Special Seat they preferred to go home, or wait until we shifted out the claim jumper. For these people, and there were more than you would suspect, we kept permanent ‘reserved’ labels on their seats.


On Sundays we screened Chinese films which were supplied by the local Chinese community in Dunedin. These could be films sourced from China, Japan, India, in fact anywhere in Asia but to make it ‘watchable’ some enterprising chaps had dubbed Cantonese dialect onto them. Patrons too travelled long distances for the screenings. Some as far South as Gore, and Oamaru in the North. One very amusing episode happened once when I was screening a film for the Chinese Community. An Uncle and the Chinese official were talking in the Projection Box about the current film I was showing. I overheard the Chinese mention to my Uncle that this film was an old ‘Chinese classic’, many hundred years or so old. However after some time, I recognised that this was no Chinese Classic, but an adaptation of the English Classic ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott. It as too good a chance to give a leg pull to my guests in the projection box. Immediately proceeded to pre-empt everything that was being disclosed on the screen much to the astonishment of my captive audience. My Uncle went home and told everyone in the family what a wonderful grasp of the Chinese language I had obtained just by screening their films. It was good to put one over my uncle as he himself was an inveterate practical joker. He never stopped playing tricks on all his nieces and nephews during our growing years, but we all adored him. I have no idea what the Chinese fellow made of my ability to preview his Chinese Classic accurately as I never disclosed my secret.










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