Bowral’s Empire Cinema

Film-going in Australia from December 26 (Boxing Day) happens like a gun going off at the start of a race:  all of a sudden everyone goes.  This year, reportedly cinema admissions in Australia were up three percent on the previous Boxing Day:  good news for film distributors and for the cinemas.

I celebrated Boxing Day by going to see Les Miserables at Bowral’s Empire Cinema.  If you don’t know Bowral, it’s a country town about 100 kilometers southwest of Sydney on the way to Canberra in the NSW “Southern Highlands”.  Bowral is, by all accounts, a “classy” town – lots of wealthy people, nice shops.  And the Empire Cinema is a real survivor.

Every session of Les Miserables was sold out at the Empire Cinema that day.  Empire is a four-plex, and the cinema we were in held about 150 people, the second largest (I believe):  I suspect The Hobbit grabbed the largest cinema.

Empire has been operating pretty much continuously since the 1920s.  As the historical sign (see below) indicates, it showed its first “talkie” on 15 October 1930.  The film The Jazz Singer (the original with Al Jolson) is pretty much recognised to be the first talkie, and opened in the USA in October 1927, then had its Australia premiere in December 1928.  In other words, The Jazz Singer took fourteen months to make it from the USA to Australia … and then appeared to take another 22 months (almost two years) to make it the 100 kilometers down to Bowral.  Part of it was the sound equipment, of course.   But still, that does mean that The Jazz Singer kept playing in Australian cinemas for two years or more.  A big difference from the “fast in, fast out” cinema releases we see these days.

As for Les Miserables, very enjoyable.  Hugh Jackman does a great job, although I don’t see his getting the Oscar this year (nominated, probably, but not winning).  Anne Hathaway has a much better chance and surely it was a “supporting” role.  Fabulous fun provided by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, in slapstick style roles.  The oddest thing about the film:  it is supposedly set in France, but feels like it was really set in the East End of London.  Purposeful to be certain, but I must check to see if the original stage musical also presented that way.

Empire Cinema Bowral History Dec2012


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