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History of the Regent Theatre: 1983

By Allan Webb Prev | Next

1983 started off with a hiss and a roar. A “little” unknown Australian film, The Man from Snowy River, was put into Te Awamutu before Hamilton. Independent exhibitors had long complained of the monopolistic practices of the two major chains, Kerridge Odeon and Amalgamated Theatres, who were able to control the New Zealand release pattern. We, the independents, could not get a film until it had finished in the Majors' city and provincial situations, apart from an occasional school holiday splash release over the few years prior. No others had been allowed. Even this, less than handful of films, were from “cowboy” independent distributors who eventually were leaned on to conform. A few exhibitors with some clout rallied together and obtained the services of a lawyer and had a case to take to the authorities. The independents were then offered Snowy River to suggest that the hard line approach was being softened and to ruin our arguments against the Majors that we were not being offered any first release films. This film took off and attained 2,047 admissions in four days and we managed to get 246 in two extra shows at odd times the next week.

Unfortunately those independents mentioned did not continue with the investigation as two of the main ones (Chris Powell and Allan Meekings) were incorporated into the major chains and those in a similar situation to us were not offered the like releases again for most of that decade.

World Safari was a poorly made (16mm) documentary released in New Zealand in 35mm by its Australian makers with a large number of prints splashed throughout New Zealand over a short period, with short seasons at each location, backed by a very big and aggressive publicity campaign. We were astounded with the success of this very amateurish production as 1905 attended in six days. It reminded me of another Australian production called Northern Safari which Colin Greenslade had introduced, by bringing in a 35mm projector and showing it to schools. That was a tremendous success also but had only a few public sessions which were not highly attended. The only other huge film attended by schools was Beautiful People.

ET came next with 3,166 admissions over a fortnight.

Geoff Murphy who had made Good-bye Pork Pie, had wanted to make a picture about the Maori Wars and eventually had Utu filmed. It was a passion for him and he did not expect to make any money with it. Not only was it a very good movie, but it was a great success. We had 827 admits over five days. It did very well in the King Country.

Porky's, a rather crude age-restricted comedy, was also popular amongst adults and took $6,000 in under a fortnight. Tootsie, the famous film starring Dustin Hoffman playing a woman, was also popular having 1,221 people in a week. The year remained very steady and a few major films like Gandhi (985), An Officer and a Gentleman (2,477), The High Road to China (1,999), Flash Dance (1,001) made it a good year. An Officer took $7,436 at the box office. The High Road to China played at Hamilton for a week in the August school holidays and had to be taken off because they had other commitments and obviously did not think that the film would be so popular. Murray Pawson of Twentieth Century Fox offered it to us and it was hugely successful. This was exactly the same scenario as for I Am For the Hippopotamus, which was mentioned earlier. These were two of the very few films we managed to get much out of after Hamilton had finished the holidays with them. The Regent, in particular, really flogged the holiday films and there was not much money left for us by the time they had finished with them as all the children went with their mothers over to Hamilton once or twice in the holidays, as a special treat and went to the first run movies.

At the end of the year I reluctantly supervised the Regent Theatre at Matamata while the owner went on holiday for a month. I had to go over and do the projecting for some of the sessions. The last week they had the same film as us, Hot Bubblegum. It performed better at Matamata than it did here. I decided to try an extra night on the Monday at Matamata and arranged staff and advertising for it and about 180 people turned up. I didn't get any thanks for doing it either. I was running three of my own theatres at that time.

It was about this time that a new screen was installed plus a plum coloured curtain with red lighting. The effect was very striking. This curtain gave trouble over a period of time, even though it had a new track and stainless steel wiring. In August school holidays in 1988 when we were screening Beetlejuice, it jammed and wouldn't open. I had to go down and pull the wires as hard as I could to open them. I decided that it would be used no more. I had the existing screen moved forward and by using more of this screen (it was bigger than the portion used) had the picture enlarged.

We had a very good air flow system, which has been mentioned, but it was only bringing uncooled air from outside. The higher the outside temperature, the warmer the air that came inside. I wanted a better system that would actually cool the air rather than just move it so I had an Alaskon Cooling (water) unit placed on the roof with huge ducting inside the ceiling which brought in cool air, while the big fan at the rear was reversed to take out the stale air. It was a much better system and was well accepted in those days. It was to be used for 18 years.

A new ceiling was placed under the existing one and sprayed with a 'fleco'-type surface taking away the old unattractive softboard effect. Not only did it look superior, but it was also a lot safer because of its fire-resistant qualities.

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