There are few things sadder in the landscape of a city than a blank movie marquee.
A closed cinema is a haunting reminder of what once was and is no longer.
Movie-going can be transformative. Some of my fondest memories as a child are of going to the movies with my parents.
When I was older, my first date with the man who became my husband was at the movies.
He and I now run a part-time cinema ourselves. We see life-long memories being made every weekend.
Recently, a friend from Sydney congratulated me, as a cinema operator, on the closing of the Tower Cinemas in Newcastle.
She meant well. Running one of the two remaining cinemas in the municipality, the friend reasoned that some Tower audiences will soon become ours.
Quite likely. But no cinema likes to hear about another one closing.
To illustrate how connected cinemas in the area are, we got the news of the Tower closure from a fellow exhibitor, Bob Mason from Lake Cinema at Boolaroo.
As Lake Macquarie residents, Lake Cinema is our local.
But we share another tie.
While my husband and I run the last single-screen cinema in Newcastle (The Regal Cinema in Birmingham Gardens), Bob is the proprietor of the last single-screen cinema in Lake Macquarie.
With over 50 years of experience, Bob was a mentor to us when we re-opened the Regal in 2014.
He remains a friend and mentor to this day.
We talked about what will happen to the Tower audiences in town. Some might make the trip to the single-screen in the suburbs. Some will shift to the mall.
But others are likely to take a more common path by having the films come to them through streaming services on a variety of devices.
Cinema will have lost another cinema-goer.
Canadian director David Cronenberg (whose films The Fly and Crash I saw at the Tower) describes the trend of watching movies on mobile devices as “the big screen experience shattering into a million small screens.”
He says watching a movie on an iPad is like reading a book. A solitary exercise.
The beauty of the cinema is that it’s a shared experience. Friends and family bond.
Strangers find common ground.
Cronenberg continues to make films for cinematic release but ironically no longer goes to the movies himself.
The reason? You won’t believe it – or maybe you will, because it could be the same reason you didn’t go to the Tower as often as you would have liked.
The beauty of the cinema is that it’s a shared experience. Friends and family bond. Strangers find common ground.
The reason a man who makes movies for a living no longer goes to them is because of the parking.
No doubt the parking problem contributed to the Tower’s demise. But like any good Hollywood thriller, you wish they could hang on for just that little bit longer.
Salvation is on the way.
Once building in town is finished and all the new accommodation is occupied, the Tower will have a captive audience at its doorstep – an audience that doesn’t need to drive.
Personally, I’m still hoping for a Hollywood ending.
The cinema itself has signalled as much by its choice of final film. The last screening as the Tower closed its doors on Wednesday night was Die Hard. That’s the only sign I needed.
The Regal has shared the petition on our Facebook page asking Regal supporters to help save the Tower. The post has reached more than 10,000 people.
I’ve also contacted a local exhibitor, another on the Central Coast and a top executive of a distribution company that runs a chain of boutique cinemas across Australia.
They are all now aware of the golden opportunity sitting at the centre of a burgeoning global city.
Full disclosure: as an exhibitor, I have a vested interest in the success of cinema.
But who doesn’t?
If a rising tide lifts all boats, a falling tide – or Tower – is a fall for all.