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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

'Saturday Night at the Movies' DVD: Comprehensive Three-Part Ode to Australian Movie Palaces


[EDITOR'S NOTE: This Region-Four DVD from Australia will not play in a standard U.S. player; watching it requires an international player.]

The Madman Entertainment DVD of the PBS-quality three-part series "Saturday Night at the Movies" is one of the best examples of the awesome benefits of this Australian company including very U.S.-friendly international shipping policies. This documentary, along with the recently reviewed Gerry Anderson documentary "Filmed in Supermarionation," demonstrates the broad range of high-quality educational video fare that American audiences would otherwise largely be deprived. The title of "Movies" comes from a very catchy 1964 song of the same name by The Drifters.

The numerous talking heads in "Movies" include "Red Curtain Trilogy" auteur Baz Luhrmann and other notable members of the Australian arts community discussing their early experiences in the landmark theaters that provide the base material for the film. We also hear from theater owners, managers, and projectionists from the golden days of Australian movie watching,

"Movies" starts with the aptly titled "The Golden Era and the Empire Builders" episode. The focus (no pun intended) is divided between the grandeur of the movie houses of the '20s and the contrasts between movie audiences. Topics regarding the former include the elegance of both the buildings and the theater employees.

The segments that focus on the audience start with covering the Saturday afternoon kiddie matinees and all the chaos that accompany them. The photos of the crowds of toddlers provide good visual images of the mayhem; the former children reminiscing about ushers using flashlight beams (as opposed to the heavier objects that provide that illumination) as discipline tools provide amusing anecdotes. An awesome personal aspect of this is the viewing of "Movies" roughly coinciding with a conversation with a Baby Boomer about strict matrons keeping order in the Bronx movie theaters in the '50s.

The focus of "Movies" then shifts to adults donning their finest apparel to go to the movies on Saturday nights; the vintage photos confirm that this group seems more dressed to attend a Broadway premiere than the latest Hollywood fare. Stories of women with large hats blocking the screen provide terrific humor in this portion of this episode.

Middle child "The Theatre Beautiful, Drive-Ins and Flicks in the Sticks" augments the continuing coverage of the grand movie palaces with segments on the titular open-air and/or rural viewing venues. Fascinating tidbits regarding the latter include tales of the films literally riding the rails to get to less populated areas of the country/continent.

This episode additionally follows up on the discussion in the first episode regarding the transition from silents films to "talkies" with segments on the technological advancements that play a role in the movie-going experience being particularly spectacular.

This trifecta of a series brings things up to date with "The Coming of Television, Survival, and Restoration." The scope this time encompasses the creation of the multiplex, the mixed success regarding efforts to save movie palaces from destruction or conversion into grocery stores and similar businesses, and the threat that television and developments in home video present.

The technological advancement this time is the conversion to digital with the accompanying cost that is threatening the continued existence of theaters both in Australia and the United States. The trickle down of the enormous cost of the required conversion personally is prompting asking whether every film in which some interest exist is a "$10 movie;" the response most of the time is "no."

Bomus elements of each episode include discussion of the creation of the Australian film company Village Roadshow and other topics regarding the movie industry in that country.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Movies" is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.