Curtain falls on cinema career

BARBARA WITHINGTON
Last updated 05:05 01/01/2014
Doug Dance
BARBARA WITHINGTON/Fairfax NZ
Roxburgh projectionist Doug Dance shares his last threading of the reels with three of his grandchildren - Neeve Orchard, 7, Sienna Dance, 7, and Greer Orchard, 11.

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It can't be confirmed but it is believed that movies have been showing in Roxburgh's cinema for 115 years, making it the oldest-running cinema in the world. 

What's known for sure is Doug Dance has been part of the team threading the film around the projectors for more than half those years. 

There was a poignancy therefore as he threaded the reels for possibly the last time early in December last year to show Turbo to the Roxburgh Area School junior classes as an end-of-term treat.

It was a long way from the 13-year-old who took over as assistant projectionist in 1953 after projectionist Bill Compton was killed in an accident and Kevin Burton was promoted to his job.

''The assistant had the job of winding the reels and preparing the slides for advertising which would appear on the screen before the movie and at half-time,'' Mr Dance said. 

''Each ad was on for  nine seconds each and there would be 15 or 20 of them, advertising various  businesses around the valley, and then the council would type up what was happening in the district on to cellophane which would be pressed between two pieces of glass,'' he said.

After the playing of God Save the Queen,  for the first three quarters of an hour there would be cartoons, and newsreels of what was happening around the world, and travelogues from James T Fitzgerald would run. 

''Often this would mean changing from cinemascope to widescreen to standard and back again, juggling machines and lenses; things could get hectic at times.''

The early years for Mr Dance were also the days of the construction of the Roxburgh hydropower  dam and movies were shown two or three times a week.  

Buses would come from the hydro village to swell the audience, which would often fill the theatre, which at that time could seat 340 patrons.  

''I have actually seen it changed three or four times from side aisles to a single aisle to the raised seats we have today after the major upgrade 15 years ago.'' 

The theatre was originally a council-run operation and projectionists were paid  six shillings and  eight pence  a screening, sixpence of which went to union fees. 

''As kids we had half a crown (two shillings and sixpence) for the movies. That was one shilling for the movie, sixpence for lollies or an icecream at halftime and a shilling for fish and chips from the shop across the road from the theatre on the way home.'' 

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Mr Dance was struck by how everything was relative as now the price of the movie ticket ($8 to $10) was still the same as the price of a piece of fish and chips.

As the lights went up at the end of Turbo, Mr Dance found himself watching the credits to the bottom, realising it could well be the last time -  unless he is called on to show another before January 5 which will be the last movie promised on 35mm reels.  

Technology has advanced more quickly than the committee had planned and digital format will be the only one available for new movies, but progress with fundraising and grants mean that is still several months away for Roxburgh.

''What I would like to see, if possible, is reruns of some of the classics -  Grease, Star Wars, The Guns of Navarone, The Dam Busters, and even Three Coins in a Fountain, which was the first film I ever showed solo. 

''We have a generation or more who have not seen those greats on the big screen and there is no comparing them with  DVD on the small screen. It could be a great fundraiser if the copies were still available.''

- The Mirror

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