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History of the Regent Theatre: 1976

By Allan Webb Prev | Next

In 1976, I purchased some high-class projectors that were from the just closed Central Theatre in Papatoetoe. The pair of Ernemann 8's were in excellent condition although the genuine Zeiss lamphouses gave us a lot of trouble and they were eventually replaced with Hi Central arcs from the Bridgeway Theatre, Northcote. These were very good and were a replica of the very popular Peerless Magnarcs.

The upstairs floor was lifted and re-floored with eight rows, down from the original eleven rows, to make for good leg-room at 3' 3” and better comfort, increasing the circle seating which had been previously reduced. There just were not enough seats in the prime seating area when the houses started to improve. Lounge chairs from the Majestic Theatre in Wellington were purchased and recovered. They were not a great success because people kept moving them out of their set position and as they were old, the legs were brittle and often snapped off. They were fine as far as width goes and each patron had their own two arm-rests. These seats were replaced by some new, deep-sprung back seats, utilizing the castings from the Theatre Chairs. They were covered in red vinyl and eventually recovered in an extremely good orange nylon fabric, which was everlasting. A further two changes of seating ensued from 1975 until 1999.

Had the Empire remained open for another six months they would have had two very big films that were shown here instead. Cinema International came up with the huge hit, Jaws, which filled the Theatre most nights and got a total of 2,567 admits in six days. I can remember that on the Friday night there were so many people trying to get in before the doors were opened, they were pushing so hard that the doors were actually bending inwards. We had to open them in case they were broken. We did not screen films with a 50% of the box office film hire on a Sunday and instead showed cheaper films. On that particular Sunday night, two films associated with music, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd were shown and 179 people attended. Why put on a 50% films when you could get that many people with films that had a low flat film hire on them.

The next month we had their other very big hit, Earthquake, which came out in the cities with Sensurround sound. We had 1,386 people in six days. Sensurround was played at a few cinemas such as the Cinerama in Auckland. At certain places during the film, a trigger on the film stock would set off some huge bass speakers sitting on the floor at the front of the Theatre. They were set at such a low frequency that they would vibrate the floor and even the light fittings rattled. It was particularly effective as you watched the actual earthquake scenes and felt everything moving. As a forerunner to Stereophonic sound, we had speakers arranged around the theatre, which could be manually operated by the projectionist when a suitable scene took place. It was quite effective and we called it Surround Sound. Films like Jesus Christ Superstar, Aloha, Bobby and Rose and Earthquake were advertised “with SURROUND SOUND”. When Rollercoaster came to Te Awamutu and Te Kuiti, Roy Neale installed a couple of bass speakers under the floor of each theatre and linked them with the other surround speakers we had. During these films the projectionist could manually operate all of these speakers from the projection room. The effect was very good, as you could hear the noises around the theatre, plus in certain areas of the theatre you could feel a vibration under your feet. We advertised this as being in “Sensurrama”. We could not use the same trade name as the genuine system. Rollercoaster was very good and later on a less effective and final film came out in Sensurround, being The Battle of Midway. Those were the only films in Sensurround and afterwards we disconnected the underfloor speakers but continued to use the wall speakers until we put in proper Sterophonic Sound.

Staff can sometimes do things that are an embarrassment and projectionists can make mistakes that are unacceptable to patrons. I can remember that at this time, we had a double feature on a Sunday of The Sweet Ride and Mash. There were 174 people and after an hour the film stopped and we had an interval. On checking upstairs I found that the projectionist had only screened three reels of the first film and was going to start on the second feature after interval. I had to sort it out and have the second half of the first film played through before the main one was to be shown. We had two intervals that night. Because he had made a mistake and had forgotten to screen all of the first film he decided not to bother about it and miss the rest all together. Another that comes to mind was when a trailer was played upside-down at the beginning of the show. I told (a different) projectionist to play it again after interval the right way up. He showed it again upside-down. After I had told him off I said he was to get it right before the next night and to screen it again after the show and make sure it was up the right way. For the third time he had it upside-down and said that according to the leader, that should have been correct even though the previous projectionist had put it on the wrong end. I couldn't believe it! There have been the odd instances whereby the reels have been mixed up or the wrong film has started off being played. Generally speaking, the theatre has maintained a very good standard of projection but there were times when the operator left a lot to be desired. Good projectionists in those days were always hard to come by as they were an odd breed of person, being left alone in a room every night.

This year saw the first of the Confessions sex comedies and Confessions of a Window Cleaner had 655 in 4 nights including a full house on the Sunday night when it was doubled with Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.

Colour television was to have an instant detrimental affect on business and later on, extra channels would also tend to keep people home, especially in winter. The Man Who Would Be King collapsed the first Saturday that television was in colour. Feature length films playing on Television on Sunday nights would also take a heavy toll on attendances.

At the end of 1976 we played a film called Survive, which did very well. It was a true story about people eating other humans to survive. The projectionist at the time went rushing out of the Theatre in the middle of the film without telling anybody and someone else had to finish off the show. He was a vegetarian and couldn't take the content.

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