Politics, Community & Society > The Regent's Last Picture Show.

The Regent's Last Picture Show.

By GREGG CALLOW
Published: August 10, 2009

The Regent in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall is a rare thing in the city. It is one of the last examples of a true, grand, old style movie theatre. It opened in November 1929, but The Regent is meeting the end of its run.

These beautiful old theatres were a meeting place on Friday and Saturday nights when people dressed up and went out for entertainment. In its halcyon days, The Regent boasted a massive auditorium with floor stalls and a massive dress circle up stairs. Its ornate foyer still survives, but is just a figment of its former self. Walking in and looking up you see high ceilings painted with golden friezes, marble columns, low hanging chandeliers and blood red velvet curtains draped around the dimly lit niches in the walls. It is a prime example of classic art deco design. It was built in a time when movie theatres used regal titles and names of monarchs to give them some class and distinction. The Regent was no different. Today movie goers are only given a glimpse of this time when ticket and candy counters were well staffed and your weekly movie was a major outing.

Now The Regent is competing with suburban cinemas, DVDs, movie downloads and shopping centres. Today dust and cobwebs hang on the velvet curtains, tickets and candy are bought from the same counter and patrons have a choice of four cinemas. These came about during the 1980s when The Hoyts group came in and ripped out the auditorium and turned it into four separate screens. Des Partridge, a movie writer for The Courier Mail reflects on The Regents grand era, "It was Brisbane's most popular and grandest picture palace, the place to be seen on Friday and Saturday nights to see the newest attractions."

Brisbane once had a long list of well loved picture theatres such as The Tivoli, Forum, George and Winter Garden. These independents could not compete and were bought out by the giants or closed down. Once people may only have a choice of one movie at a time, now consumers are spoilt for choice and can choose up to 12 different movies any time through out the day at massive cinemaplexes.

The decision by cinema giants Hoyts to cut the Regent into four cinemas was a move to maximise the number of seats sold instead of having half a cinema empty for just one screening. The Regent lost its dress circle up stairs and slowly became just like the other cinemaplexes found in the suburbs. Aesthetics went to the way side as profits were milked. This is a completely different mind set to the former independent cinemas owners. Partridge recently said of The Regent, "There is a noticeable lack of decor and the facilities are increasingly shabby. The Regent is a sad reminder of its glory days during World War Two when more than 1000 movie goers packed out four sessions a day." The independents once had pride and tried to outdo the competition by having the most extravagant decor and giving the audience an up market experience at an affordable price. The sentiment does not just stop at the foyer. It was the first picture outlet in Brisbane to have Cinema Scope. It provided audiences with flashy, colourful musicals like Oklahoma and South Pacific for viewers coming out of the drab war years.

As if the decline over the years was not enough it seems The Regent faces a dicey future. Birch, Carrol and Coyle currently have the lease but this will run out in mid 2010. After that its role as a theatre may come to an end. There are plans to turn it into The Queensland Film and Television Centre at a cost of up to 80 million dollars. The centre would have a 300 seat cinema and two 60 seat business meeting rooms. The public can still access the cinema but only for special events. The foyer would still be retained but there are fears it may not survive the refurbishment.

The Save The Regent Action Group is pushing to have it turn into a permanent live performance venue. This is what Melbourne and Sydney have done to old theatres and are now staging shows like Billy Elliot and Wicked. The action group believe the auditorium can be re-instated and seat between 1500 to 2000 patrons.

Brisbane may not have another chance to retain this grand lady and find it a new purpose in a city lacking venues for live theatre and trying to prove its appreciation for the arts.

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