After-Party Mallow Puffs
By Andrew Frame
With the weather finally turning winter-like there is a tendency to look for more indoor things to do.
One of my favourite inside activities has always been going to the movies. But not at your typical multiplex movie, where a second mortgage gets you a ticket and some popcorn in a living room-sized theatre with small, uncomfortable seats, postage stamp-sized screen, the rumble of the latest pyrotechnic spectacular — Dude, Where’s My Brain? — coming through the wall from the next cinema, and an unidentifiable stickiness to the seats and carpet that is probably best not to think about too much or touch.
I prefer something bigger, more sophisticated. Napier’s Century Cinema fits the bill nicely.
Growing up in Napier twenty-something years ago, you had two choices for your movie viewing pleasure. The State, on the corner of Dalton and Dickens Streets, with its huge screen, balcony and giant Tangy Fruit like bubbles coming out of the walls … and Hastings Street’s Odeon, with stalls directly in front of the screen, comfier seating up the back and every young boy’s dream — Napier’s largest video game parlour in the lobby.
Neither of these places remain as theatres, sadly. The State is now an office products store with quite possibly the office product world’s highest storeroom ceiling, and The Odeon was a youth venue for a while, but is now mostly vacant.
Century Cinema celebrated its 20th anniversary recently. But, as a theatre, it has been around since 1977, staging conferences, lectures, music, drama and dance performances. The Napier City Council of the day made it their “Centennial Project” to celebrate 100 years of local government … hence “Century Theatre”. It was designed by Napier architects Natusch, Shattkey & Co. and its celebrated acoustics were designed by Professor H Marshall of the Auckland School of Architecture.
I have very fond memories of the Century Theatre in the 1980s from performing there in Tamatea Primary School’s end of year shows … although the stage seemed bigger back then (the fact I was about a cubic meter smaller than I am now was probably a biasing factor).
What was even more enjoyable than the performances (aside from getting to start school late the next day) was scampering through the corridors and stairwells that snake around the theatre and lead to the Founders Room below — the staging area for the choir, dancers, orchestra and site of the after-party Mallow Puffs, Twisties and Fanta for everyone! With a multi-level labyrinth (and hyped-up on the kiddie rocket fuel of additives, preservatives and colourings), I was happier than a ferret up a trouser leg.
Century Cinema is officially classified as Art House. This means rolling jaffas down the aisle is more strictly frowned upon, despite the theatre’s plywood floors making it a far better and acoustically pleasing base than multiplex shagpile. The Cinema has established itself by specialising in films you wouldn’t normally see in your average multiplex. Foreign language films and period pieces — the choice of the multi-lingual, historically-educated, or those trying to impress a date by pretending they are either of those things — and classic silent movies, often with a live piano accompaniment have become popular choices that would not otherwise be an option.
Since Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me brought their genre back to the big screen, documentaries have also become a popular feature and we can’t forget, of course, the Italian and New Zealand International Film Festivals, which have become essential events on Hawke’s Bay’s cultural calendar.
Entering its 21st year, and with the Museum about to receive a major makeover, it is comforting to see that the Century Theatre will remain basically untouched … essentially being built around. Meaning that the festivals and suave cinema-like fashion designer Tom Ford’s upcoming Single Man look to be secured for the region in years to come.