Movies

 

Our family from way back had been in the Movie Business. Not the production side, but in a small way as an independent exhibitor. Naturally as we grew up, we all contributed to film industry one way or another. We learnt I suppose by osmosis. How to work the projectors to give the best possible performance, sell tickets, usher, and control the front of house. There were a lot tricks to pick up, from how to bargain with the salesmen from MGM, Warner Brothers, and all the others that were constantly knocking at you door, all trying to sell you their product. The price or hire of a movie was one thing, but it was just as important to schedule your screening with someone else close by, as freight at times was equal to a hire cost. You never wanted to get stuck with a double freight, by having to pay freight both ways, or being stuck with the film at the end of the circuit, then have to return the film to the exchange which was in Wellington. The sales teams used many tricks, even to bundling not such good movies, with ‘Road Shows’ to shift product. The Big Chains of the City theatres had tricks of their own. If a money spinner they were screening was being held over for another week, and the movie you had booked hadn’t yet been to the City, it could just disappear in transit. Now who would do something mean like that?

 

My memory even goes back to the silent days when the ‘sceening’ only had sub titles. Mood music was then provided by a pianist. In the early days this was my mother, or Chris Pike. One thing that stands out was the noise and stamping of feet when the pianist walked down to where the piano was situated below the screen, the young fry then knew the movie was about to start.

 

The projectionist was licensed, and his job was under the control of the Government Department of Internal Affairs. You were required to sit exams for this vocation, as the film was considered very dangerous, being made of Nitrate. Later film stock was all Safety Film, and then the controls were relaxed. That was the reason that the film in the projectors or while in storage the containers were all called magazines, a name that came from explosive world. One thing, with the licensing system it ensured was that all projectionists were well trained, and capable of giving a excellent performance. Ticket prices compared to today’s was very reasonable. 1/6 for downstairs stalls plus 3’pence tax (Today’s money fifteen cents ) Upstairs 2/3 plus 3’ tax (that’s 25 cents). As an aside I went this week to a sceening of ‘Avatar’. Admittedly it was in 3D, but in my mind the $18 charged was prohibitive. The eight of us who watched the screening all enjoyed the performance. Perhaps the message would get through that it was overpriced. However for me there was a bad downside. I have suffered from vertigo ever since, and I am blaming the 3D projection. I won’t be going back.

 

There were many films that were ‘Old’ available for a ‘Song’, and often the exchange was unaware of their pulling power. One was Margaret Mitchell’s, ‘Gone with the Wind’. We brought it back every year, and we knew it would always play to a Full House. But it would seem that Wellington didn’t a clue. Whenever we called it back, my father was like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, until it was safely back in it’s container, and off again back to Wellington. This print was a ‘Nitrate’ copy being so old, but it was still a money spinner and guaranteed full houses.

 

During a performance there were always unforseen incidents happening, just to keep us on our toes. One pregnant woman sitting upstairs decided half through a screening that her time was near, decided to depart immediately, she only got as far the stairs where she collapsed. As luck would have it my wife who was a maternity nurse, and she was called on. It took time to get her attention as we were screening ‘The Third Man’ and she was totally engrossed in the film.. We were lucky as we were able to bundle the new mother and my wife off to the Maternity Home and the audience were unaware of what was happening in real life. I don’t think Laura ever saw the end of this film, and what happened to Harry Lime Another time while cleaning up at close to midnight. (We always did this after every performance to discourage rodents) we discovered a six year old sound asleep in the front row. Even back then some parents were using us as a baby sitting service. Another time I remember well when selling tickets. A drunken seaman got in behind me armed with a knife. There wasn’t a lot of room in the ticket booth for the both of us and to the best of my ability I ignored him. My son Rod saw what was happening and he said ‘Are you in trouble Dad?’. I replied would you go and get Mr Plod? He ran into a policeman outside the theatre, this policeman was a quick witted thinker, he grabbed an Alsatian Dog from a passer by, and they both came into the vestibule. The dog did the trick and the man was led away. Something that escaped everyone’s attention was, with our polished floors the dog couldn’t keep it’s feet and kept falling over.

 

Another source of revenue was advertising still slides. these were screened before the performance and during intermission, advertising local and National material. I got to know the girl from Dunedin who looked after all slides for all cinema’s. I enjoyed a great relationship, while we were going out together, all our entertainment was free, as she had a purse full of theatre tickets.

 

After the war when living space was just unavailable, we set up a makeshift flat in the void under the upstairs area. Sure, the walls were only tar paper made use of this space. They even looked solid unless you touched them.

 

 

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