When I arrived outside the Cinerama in Rotterdam this morning, I was up against pouring rain and howling winds. After my screening I was met by sunshine and a gentle bluster. I couldn’t help but think of Melbourne.
That’s pretty much it for similarities between Rotterdam and Melbourne, but it did give me pause for thought – what cinematic rituals have changed on my travels and what’s distinctly Australian, Melburnian – Astorian?
Let’s start with the screen. In Melbourne and across Australia there are varying sizes and materials but, for the most part, in my personal cinema-going experience, the screens are only ever slightly curved (or flat). The main auditorium at the Cinerama, however, is noticeably curved. I found this jarring at first, but soon got used to it, warming to my expectation that of the edges of the frame would try to wrap me up and bring me into the onscreen world. In the absence of the Astor while overseas, this auditorium has welcomed me.
When it comes to masking, it’s pretty much like it is everywhere – well, everywhere that isn’t the Astor – mission aborted. But the (digital) projection has been without a hitch. And, much to my pleasure, house lights go up at the end of the credits, never a moment before. There’s even an auditorium here that has similar vintage wall feature panelling to the now lost-to-time Greater Union cinemas, formerly of Russell Street.
But the most striking difference concerns the concessions stand (candy bar). Australians love popcorn and they love a choc top – or, at the Astor, what we call a traditional Choc-Ice – but, here in Holland, it’s all about nachos. Yes, NACHOS. They come with a melted cheese ramekin, one for salsa, and one for guacamole. The auditorium retains a salty, corn-related snack smell, but, to a connoisseur nose, is distinctly different.
As someone who rarely snacks in the cinema, but often has ‘candy bar dinners’, and who’s spent more than enough time in UK multiplexes to think of both nachos and ‘sweet and salty’ popcorn as (relatively) normal candy bar options, I began to wonder how much the familiarity of elements like cinema snacks – key to the ritual of cinema-going – would disorient cinema-goers from my home town…
I know, for example, that there are people who visit the Astor purely to buy a Choc-Ice, when they’re not seeing a movie. There are also people who tweet ahead of time to check in on the availability of their favourite flavours – running out of Arctic Banana has consequences, my friend! So, my question is, could you watch Blues Brothers or Grindhouse with dip accompanied nachos instead of a bucket of buttered popcorn and an Astor Choc-Ice? Just how important are movie snacks to you? And which snacks do you want/need/expect us to have at the ready?
Peculiarities from distant cinemas penned by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.