Resilience in adversity.

Welcome to the past…the past of the Middle Park Picture Theatre, an obscure suburban cinema that screened “flickers” as early as 1909 and continued to do so until 1943. Its 34 years of history record the shift from silent films and hand-cranked oxyhydrogen gas illuminated projectors, to the later wonder of technology known as “talkies” and motor driven projectors. The theatre was known as the Hall for that is precisely what it was, a secluded brick hall at the back of the building that housed two shops at the street front. Without any external presence, its only link with the outside world was a narrow passage between the two shops. What is astonishing about this 300-seat suburban cinema is that this somewhat faceless annexe with its basic interior without much aesthetic appeal, managed to survive as an independent cinema for nearly three and a half decades, amongst a plenitude of larger purpose built cinemas nearby.

(Middle Park Picture Theatre c1920s. Image source: State Library of Victoria)

That being said it must be noted that the cinema in Middle Park was not completely a success story and that is most evident in the fact that the business often changed hands. Its first owner/operator Alfred King Smith sold the business in 1923, after the loss of a substantial number of the local audience who preferred the lavishness of the decorations and the cinema experience offered in those grandiose picture palaces. After Alfred, every new undertaking would only last for about three years until a new hopeful venture comes along to try its luck. But nevertheless, it did endure for nearly three and a half decades. Considering the circumstances, one is left to wonder how these ventures collectively managed to survive for so long. What is even more astonishing is that this small independent cinema managed to survive even the Great Depression amidst this great competition. Some of those purpose built cinemas were literary within a few minutes walking distance in the neighbouring suburbs, most notably Kinema (1920-1983) and The Park (1938-1962) in Albert Park, Eclipse (1924-1959) and Port (1913-1952) in Port Melbourne, as well as Victory (1921-1971) and Palais (1927-1970) in St Kilda.

(In October 1918, seven months after its New York premiere, the first Warner Brothers' film My four years in Germany (1918) reaches Middle Park Picture Theatre. Image source: The Argus, 11 October 1918, p. 12)

(Saturday night double feature. After the sound was installed in the early 1930s, talkies replaced silents at The Hall: One Hour Late (1934) with Helen Twelvetrees, & The Painted Veil (1934) with Greta Garbo. Image source: The Age, 29 June 1935, p. 30)

The Painted Veil ‎(1934)‎

(The Painted Veil (1934). Clip source: TCM)

This website is the product of the research undertaken as part of a Film Studies unit at Deakin University and its purpose is to account for the cinema’s extraordinary resilience. The information provided on this website is grouped around a research question devised for that purpose. Early in the research it was evident that the available information about this cinema often related to, what could be regarded as, the cinema’s “extracurricular activities”. Hence the question was posed: “What other purposes was the Middle Park Picture Theatre used for and how instrumental was that for the cinema’s survival?