Say what you will, there’s no doubting the film industry will ever become outdated. It has been said that the motion picture is the most magical expression of art out of all the others, simply because of its effectiveness in convincing its audience of an experience different to that of their own lives.
And it seems we fair citizens of Melbourne couldn’t agree more with that, judging from the amount of wonderful cinemas peppered throughout the city that make the experience of going to the movies all the more memorable. So let’s put down these 3D glasses for a second and take a look at some of the hidden gems that Melbourne has to offer.
Do you remember those days when a film used to be a theatre’s single-feature presentation for a few nights only? Well, neither do we, but if that sort of thing tickles your fancy, Windsor’s Astor Theatre is just the destination for you. Keeping the way the building has looked since it first opened for business in the 1930s, the Astor may be a single-screen theatre but it boasts a breathtakingly large screen that could almost put the IMAX to shame, housed in a lavish art deco style of auditorium.
Their program of films is not so old, though – ranging from recent releases, timeless classics to the downright bizarre cult favourites, there is literally something for everyone. Most nights they also run double feature, which means back-to-back films for the price of one film! And while we’re talking about pricing, the Astor regularly hosts Wicked Wednesdays, where tickets are only $9, even if it is a double feature night.
Palace Westgarth is another wonderful theatre with comforting old-world charm. It is the oldest operating cinema in Melbourne, having been first established in the 1920s, and went through a massive refurbishment in 2006, reportedly costing a cool $4 million. It’s good to know, though, all that money has actually gone to restoring the building’s original art deco interior designing so patrons can enjoy an authentic cinema-going experience like the good old days. As it is owned by the Palace Cinema franchise, films offered at the Palace Westgarth are usually the independent, arthouse kind.
On the other side of the city, the Sun Theatre in Yarraville is another theatre decked out in beautiful art deco style of interiors. Originally opened in 1938, the theatre went through several transformations, starting from a single-screen theatre to being abandoned for almost 20 years before finally being bought by its current owner in 1995 and eventually turned to the six-cinema theatre that it is today, with an individual name for each of their cinemas.
For those of you who are self-confessed outdoor junkies, you can still get your film fix without being stuck indoors. Just drive on over to these two cinema drive-ins in Melbourne – the Coburg Drive-In and the Lunar Drive-In Theatre Dandenong. While Coburg Drive-In is now maintained by Village Cinemas, the Lunar Drive-In has been a privately-owned business since it first opened in 1956. These two cinemas tick all the right boxes - both keep with the tradition of any good old-fashioned drive-in where you access the film’s audio via your own car’s FM stereo. And both cinemas show the latest movie releases, although the Lunar Drive-In does so for a relatively lower price, which is lucky, ‘cos you need the spare change for the petrol to get there.
And if that’s not nearly enough to get you there, every once in a while, the Lunar Drive-In would also host a movie marathon, a dusk-till-dawn movies extravaganza for the flat rate of $18 per person. At least you’ll have the comfort of sleeping in your own car if your eyelids are drooping halfway through the third film.
Any doubts about having that genuine 1950s movie drive-in experience at the Coburg Drive-In are quickly banished, with an American-style diner located at the premises to get your hot food from, complete with the checkered tile flooring and the jukebox churning out classic beats from the yesteryear.
If cars aren’t your thing but you still appreciate the outdoors, then the summer season will be particularly exciting times for you as two well-known film events descend upon Melbourne. The first, the Rooftop Cinema, is somewhat of a treat for those city-dwellers looking to combine open sky and quality films. Perched atop the Curtin House in the heart of Melbourne, it is an annual film festival typically held between the months of November and March, with each film starting at dusk and movie-goers relax on the deck chairs provided, while we refreshed by the Rooftop Bar.
But for something planted more firmly on solid ground is the The Moonlight Cinema. The pioneer in outdoor cinema, it’s hard to resist its charm, no matter how many times one has been to it. Located in a sweet little spot in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Moonlight Cinema boasts the experience of watching movies at the park surrounded lush gardens, the stars in the sky and maybe the occasional bats flying overhead. Staff and volunteers scatter around the Central Lawn of the Botanical Gardens – where the screen is set up – to ensure no one gets lost. A refreshments van is conspicuously parked behind said lawn so you won’t have to worry about snacking on leaves when feeling peckish midway through the film.
So sit back with your bucket of popcorn and enjoy the movies.
Level 6, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Tickets $20 plus booking fee, Cheap Tuesdays $16 plus booking fee