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A Cinematic Experience

February 27 2012

As soon as you set eyes upon the Rivoli Cinemas in the Melbourne district of Camberwell you know that you are in a special place. It might only have eight screens, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in impact: the classy red brick /white and orange tile exterior blends favourably with the elegant Art Deco interior. Guided through the chrome doors by a trouser-suited doorwoman, you are greeted by a magnificent foyer, complete with black and white icon portraits and a curved split staircase oozing class and luxury. This is the Harrods of cinemas.

Aside from the obvious aesthetical differences to my normal cinematic haunt (the Cardiff Cineworld branch – *other cinemas are available), and the ridiculous Aussie accents filling the air, it is very apparent that this is not the UK. It’s a Monday afternoon and the place is heaving. Perhaps it’s just the first opportunity to spend those Christmas gift vouchers, but it seems that the Australian Cinema industry is in a much better state than the UK, Orange Wednesday excepted.

Our tickets were in the not-so-exclusive but still VIP section known as ‘Gold Class’. It’s about twice the price of standard seating but I’m assured it’s worth it. The initial experience doesn’t bode well, however, as we are forced to wait awkwardly as staff scramble to find space for us in a packed bar that feels more like The Ivy than the fast-food checkouts I’m used to back home. I don’t mind waiting in the front and centre though as I have an opportunity to observe the clientele. It’s mainly couples, ranging from their late-twenties to the very depths of retirement, but all sporting the same sartorial code: smart. Not shirt and jeans, proper smart, the full suit jacket and pearls deal. If this was Ascot, and it could well have been, my shorts and Jumping Ships band-tee would’ve been outside before the first race. Thankfully my ex-pat uncle would’ve been right behind me so we could laugh it off with a ‘sorry we’re Poms’ smile.

In the bar we were given waitress service and offered the chance to order wines, iced chocolates, pizzas, and other food from whatever the cinema equivalent of a Michelin star menu is. The best thing was the flexibility of delivery time: you can order a coffee to be delivered to you after an hour of the film, or a magnum of champagne for the finale. We were low-key and just ordered milkshakes and water for immediate thirst quenching, and hot dogs for the end of the first act. This was probably a wasted opportunity.

Before you get the impression that this was a flawless afternoon and plan your emigration, heed this warning: the ushers were awful. Now it may’ve been punishment for my shorts or my pommy accent but we were directed to the wrong screen (and now I know how Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy ends), which is unbelievable when the ticket clearly says Screen 4. I guess we can only blame ourselves for not paying enough attention.

My mild irritation was swiftly appeased when we did emerge, correctly, into Screen 4 and its South Kensington furniture store. Thirty HUGE armchairs were lined up in pairs, with a small table, soft personal lighting, a foot rest and enough leg room to make Wembley’s Royal Box seemed like cattle class on a 747. Stylish, practicable and most importantly, unbelievably comfortable; it was like being in your local pub on a cold winters night with a mug of mulled wine, except it was 40 degrees outside and I had a milkshake. Each chair had enough buttons and levers to keep a fighter pilot entertained through the ads, except there weren’t any. And there was just the one trailer, for The Artist. For someone who often finds the trailers more noteworthy than the feature film, this was disappointing, but at least it was the extended version.

I was so relaxed that I could have easily fallen asleep; however the enthralling and thoroughly entertaining Midnight in Paris (deserved Original Screenplay winner at the recent WGA awards) kept my attention so well that my hot dog went cold. I still enjoyed it and its surprisingly generous portion of chips with mustard and tomato relish dips – and it came pre-sliced in two, no risk of a ketchup spillage! Possibly the best food ever eaten in a room with a projector. Actually, second best: I stole a hot churro dipped in chilli-choc sauce from my Auntie.

It was a genuine disappointment when the credits rolled, not just because it brought a charming film to a close, but it signalled the end of my Australian Cinema experience. I got up to find ketchup down my shirt. Double disappointment. But it had been a great afternoon; it’s expensive, for sure, too expensive for a backpackers budget, but that’s not the point. It’s Christmas, I’m on the other side of the world and a 4,000 mile charity bike ride is looming large on the horizon. Why not treat myself to three hours of luxury?

This probably hasn’t yet been featured on The Whiteboard Project: Film.


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