In Bernardo Bertolucci’s 2003 film, The Dreamers, a group of attractive bright young things meet at a cinema housed inside a palace. It’s the late 60s in Paris, at a time when intellectualism, revolution and mini-skirts all combined at exactly the right moment. It was also a period when film really mattered to people. In The Dreamers, the hardcore cinephiles are the ones who sit down the front, in the very first rows, or even languidly draped across the floor. They do it because they want to receive the images before anyone else in the theatre, to be the first to claim them as their own. [fold]
You can’t lie languidly on the floor of a multiplex. It’s against the rules and probably sticky with things you’d prefer not to think about. If cinema is something you really care about – if you like old films, art house films, or films that require you to use your reading glasses – there are very few places to go in Sydney where you can sit in a theatre in the company of similarly enthusiastic people. Aside from the Cinémathèque at the Chauvel Cinema in Paddington.
Hosted every Monday night in the cinema that occupies the former ballroom of the Paddington Town Hall, Cinémathèque is Sydney’s only dedicated film society. Carefully curated to present a selection of rare and significant films, the Cinémathèque is Sydney’s answer to the phantasmagorical film world of The Dreamers. The Cinémathèque’s aim is to present films in the medium in which they were created, and also in the way they were intended to be viewed. That means DVD and video are frowned upon (and particularly the practice of downloading a poor-quality copy online to watch on a tiny laptop screen in your bedroom). With a four-week membership costing only $20, it’s also one of the cheapest movie-going options in Sydney.
This makes the Cinémathèque unique in a city where film culture is almost universally perceived to be on its deathbed. While in happier times, Sydney had a host of independent cinemas that could all choose what to screen and when, the major corporations now hold a monopoly, with the few remaining independent and art house theatres barely hanging on.
Last year, the Cinémathèque screened films made by the likes of Orson Welles, Elia Kazan, Roman Polanski and one spectacularly weird Werner Herzog film about a colony of dwarves who, among other things, crucify a monkey.
This year’s program kicked off with a slew of cult films including The Lady of Burlesque and The Passion of Joan of Arc, and screened the rarely seen Lonesome Cowboys, the last film directed by Andy Warhol. April will see Cinémathèque screen a double-bill from film noir director Anthony Mann, Harlan County USA, a documentary about a Kentucky miners strike, and 1944’s Dreams That Money Can Buy, a collective study of dreams favoured by David Lynch, which is just as bizarre as it sounds. It’s a program designed for cinephiles and for those who miss the experience of seeing something in the company of a room full of wonderful strangers.