Jay Rayner is knee-deep in the staging and wiring of a projector installation when we meet on a recent summer’s morning. The air is thick with humidity and the light rain is a fitting backdrop for the creepy yet serene Abbotsford Convent courtyard that will play host to his upcoming Shadow Electric bar and cinema.
Rayner, however, has a surprising presence of calm and collectiveness when we sit down over coffee inside the Shadow Electric bar to talk more about the upcoming summer season.
The space is littered with a haze of sawdust, the sweet sounds of vinyl, vintage Polish film posters and an intoxicating sense of optimism. Maybe he’s watched too much Terry Gilliam, as he tells the story of how their screen almost didn’t make it for opening day last year – yep, definitely too much Gilliam.
Nestled into the confines of the Convent’s stoic walls, Rayner’s utilitarian assault on modern cinema is something more than just another outdoor movie night. Rather, it’s a modern take on a project and idea that’s been in the works for a very long time.
“I grew up northside, so I’ve always been fixated on the Convent space,” admits Rayner, as he explains the trials of finding just the right space (one of which included a troubled proposition to show films on the banks of the Yarra). And the name? “In Canberra, there was a really great twin cinema – one of the last of its kind – called the Electric Shadows. Sadly it closed when I was about 15,” says Rayner. “The Shadow Electric name pays a bit of homage to that great little cinema.”
Now in its fourth year, the Shadow Electric has evolved into a full-scale production that caters to even the biggest cinefile. “The convent is a spectacular location for our cinema and sound,” says Rayner. Gone are the cheap projectors and their pixellated, warped image. Gone are the canvas screens that act as glorified sails in Melbourne’s winds. Enter DCP equipment (digital cinema protection), a nine–metre, glass-beaded cinema screen, a fully stocked bar, herb gardens, two ping-pong tables and a program that even Tarantino would go slightly Strangelove over.
If that’s not enough, the film sound will be pumped through the 15,000-watt sound system. The screening of LCD Soundsystem’s Shut Up and Play the Hits may have enough pulse to wash you of any sinful cinematic gestures toward Robocop and Bruce Campbell. The film list is quite exhaustive, but painstakingly curated, so there’s something for everyone each night of the week.
Along with all the features, Rayner sees the evolution of the space and concept into that of a more cultural hub, whether that be via short film showcases, storyteller’s series, drinks, art or “amateur sport”. He elaborates: “We want to be the different option for people to go hang out with their friends, as opposed to regular events like dinner, plays, concerts…
“The Convent needs more nightlife…and it is quickly growing into what will one day be one of Melbourne's most important social and artistic hubs. We want to be a big part of that.”
Rayner is no stranger to the feeding and feasting of the cultural senses. He’s worked in everything from music video production and photography to getting a coffee brand up and running. Rayner and his team, however, are true cinema junkies, and it’s their last few years at Cinema Nova that most certainly sharpened their celluloid teeth. “We’re all just a bunch of refugees from Nova,” he says.
In the end, for Rayner and his crew, it’s all about creating a space where ideas can flourish and new friends can meet over the common ground of cinema. And while he refuses to give an answer to the question of his favourite film, he drops a rather interesting pick as to what he’s most the eager to see this season. “I’m very excited about the Fisher King,” he admits. “It’s just a really cool tale…and we’re lucky to have it.” Never enough Gilliam.