Going to the movies in Adelaide

Adelaide movie buffs have alternatives to the multiplexes where most of us sit in one of ten or more small boxes, watching films that are hugely expensive to make but often mediocre. The two below are not the only off-beat options, just those we’ve been lucky enough to find.

Ingle Theatre

Nigel Dear lost his wife fifteen years ago. After a career as a movie projectionist, he found himself with a large collection of old films and no one to share them. So he built a theatre in his own home.

The suburban house looks like any other from the street. Open the door and enter an old-time movie house, complete with lobby, film posters, ticket counter, and seats for waiting.

Push back the red plush curtain separating the lobby from the theatre, and rows of seats rise at an angle that gives every audience member clear view of the screen. To one side of the screen is an organ, which occasionally someone plays. To the other side is a piano. On the day we went with David’s Probus Club, Robin and David gravitated to the piano and played “Tea for Two” while we waited for the film to start.

The pattern is always the same, though the specific films vary. On this day we watched a 1952 news reel and then a 1950s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl. After a modern travel film we had a break for tea, coffee, biscuits (aka cookies) and conversation.

Then came the feature film, In Old Kentucky. The 1935 story of greedy land baron versus imperiled but gutsy young woman starred Will Rogers and Dorothy Wilson. Nigel told us that Rogers was known for improvising lines during filming and that this young woman was one of the few who could throw something equally off-the-cuff right back at him. Some scenes were grating for 2009 sensibilities, but Rogers is still impressive as a low-key, folksy actor, and watching the legendary Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was a treat.

If you’re traveling to Adelaide and belong to some group with a chapter here, try to persuade them to rent Ingle Theatre. Ten dollars a head buys several hours of nostalgia and good fun.

Windsor Theatre

Built in 1925, the Windsor Theatre became a two-story moviehouse in 1934.
Built in 1925, the Windsor Theatre became a two-story moviehouse in 1934.

We stumbled onto the Windsor Theatre when we checked out an open house on Commercial Street. I’d been wanting to see Clint Eastwood’s latest, Gran Torino. When I saw it was showing a half hour after we toured the house, I proposed an afternoon at the movies.

Robin was willing so we had a bite to eat at The Edge, on nearby Jetty Road, and arrived in time to find our way to a seat in the darkened theatre. Within five minutes I was nudging Robin. “This is the wrong movie,” I said. An explosion, scattered wreckage of an airliner spread across a beach, dazed survivors? None of that would fit into Gran T0rino’s plot.

The movie, The Passengers, was mildly interesting. True to the fabled politeness of Canadians, we stayed in our seats and kept hoping in vain the plot would improve with time. It didn’t.

When it ended, we wandered out to the lobby, where a long line of people was queuing for tea and treats. Curiously, they were hanging around instead of leaving. Then it hit me. This was a double feature, with Passengers as the warm-up and Gran Torino as the main attraction.

After chatting with some of the folks hanging around for the “real” movie and a brief conversation with Peter, the ex-movie projectionist turned theatre owner, we decided to take full advantage of the $8 we’d paid. We were glad we did. Eastwood’s latest movie shows the old warhorse struggling with prejudice against the Hmong people who have moved into his neighbourhood.

Though I’ve never been a fan of the silent, macho male Eastwood generally plays, I found this performance nuanced enough, the premise engrossing enough, to keep me engaged.

So there it is. Two options for movie buffs who find themselves in Adelaide.

It happens.

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