IT can be easy to write off a trip to the movies as an anachronism, a quaint nod to a past when films could not be conjured into our living rooms by remote.
The Australian film industry’s numbers simply do not bear that out.
Screen Australia’s national attendance figures identified a drop in attendance rates and frequency in the early 1980s, when video hire surged nationally. But by 1996, both metrics were again higher than previously.
Screen Australia estimates almost 70 per cent of Australians go to the movies at least once a year, an average sustained since 2000. Given online streaming’s emergence in recent years and the era of internet privacy, that is a remarkably stable figure.
Cinemas offer a silent sense of community, a chance to be alone in a large group of people. Beyond blockbuster bluster, auteurs use the medium to share unique views of the world. That last point is part of the city’s grief over Tower Cinemas. While shopping centre cinemas were built, it delivered an esoteric collection of award winners, film festivals and more to a grateful region.
Those artful tales have faded to black in Newcastle’s inner city from today. Die Hard crawled its way back onto the big screen at King Street’s Tower Cinemas as the credits flickered for what is likely the final time. The site’s future is yet to be revealed after owner Event Cinemas’ blunt declaration last month that the popcorn would stop. Some have expressed fears the King Street land could join the apartment boom across the CBD, while others bear a new hope that a rival cinema operator may swoop in to save the site in its present use.
Time will tell. But time has already told us that cinemas in the city were a dying breed given the loss of the Lyrique, the Showcase and the Kensington.
As that area transforms, residents are wondering what it may have become if a long-lived cultural institution like the cinema is no longer viable for a commercial operator. Clearly, there was a reasoning behind Event Cinemas’ decision to turn off the projector but they remain tight-lipped.
As Birmingham Gardens’ Regal Cinema has proven, there is a desire in this region for a variety of films. In the digital era, it seems remarkable that movie-goers may have to trek to Sydney for some sessions. That committed group will be eager for a dramatic sequel, remake or tribute to the Tower Cinema’s lengthy tenure to grace the city.