The Grand Old Dame of Cinema

There are few things that evoke true Hollywood glamour more than the return of a reclusive old movie star. The mystery, the anticipation, the whispers and rumours of their eccentricities and what drove them to leave the spotlight. The “I want to be alone” of it all.

For the last thirteen years New Farm has been waiting impatiently for the grand dame of Brisbane cinema to reappear from behind her heritage listed facade and show us she’s still worthy of the spotlight. On Thursday night, that wait finally came to an end. Encased in a purple glow, the showgirl reemerged from the shadows of a building left derelict for more than a decade. It’s an incredible transformation given she was still a dusty building site just a few weeks ago. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek back then, and the work that has gone since is nothing short of incredible. She is now a thoroughly modern cinema complex, with brand new seating, state of the art sound, and gleaming fittings. Most importantly, her glamorous past has not been ignored. It’s there in the 70s timber paneling, the original brass signage, the carpeting and the glass chandelier than somehow survived the neglect. 

There was a time, not too long ago, when being an old building meant certain death in Brisbane. The mindset was ruination over preservation when it came to architectural history. Knock down the old to make way for the new – even if new meant the ugly brown boxes that clog so many of Brisbane’s streets now. But occasionally the odd gem would avoid the wrecking ball’s swing, and these little pockets of history are slowly being restored. Brisbane is finally growing up and making amends, reclaiming a layer of history we forgot we had. The grand dame of Brunswick Street is just the latest.

One of the oldest cinemas in Australia, she’s had a few name changes over the years. In the 20s she was the Merthyr Picture Palace, in the 50s the Astor Theatre. Most remember her as the Village Twin throughout the 70s, but the name now on the theatre marquee is New Farm Six Cinemas. It’s a name that looks good up in lights.

At Thursday night’s Grand Opening, in a room full of nostalgia and good will, I was reminded of a scene from the ultimate story of a Hollywood comeback, Sunset Boulevard:

Joe Gillis: You used to be big.
Norma Desmond: I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.

She is big, and she’s back at last.

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