As Dead As A Silent Movie

Silent Movie
6 Jan 2010

This is a tale of two movies. Both outstanding in their own way. Both with lessons for businesses that care to listen.

The first movie is Avatar. Last week ourselves and a good proportion of the world decided that Avatar in 3D was a must see movie. If you haven’t yet seen it the whizz-bang special effects are truly mindblowing. And the massive investment by James Cameron and his backers have been handsomely returned as a result.

Avatar demonstrates the future of film – with exceptional CGI, sound and blended human acting throughout. From a business perspective, Avatar demonstrates that there is always a market for the “next big thing” – for new ideas flawlessly executed.

But today we went to the other extreme. We visited an ancient picture theatre in the middle of rural Queensland – the Majestic Theatre in Pomona.

When you walk into the cinema, you step back nearly 100 years of film. To a time when going to the pictures was an event you dressed up for. To a cinema with rich red velvet curtain walls, candelabra lights and a painted proscenium arch.

In the early days of movies, the film was in black and white and without sound. The plot was moved along by appropriate text slides and the musical stylings of the local muso who played the organ, changing tunes as the action shifted. CGI was not even a dream in the wildest imaginings.

The Majestic is the only cinema in Australia to still regularly show silent movies, complete with organ accompaniment by Ron West.

Recently when we were helping mum clear the effects of one of her friends who had passed, we discovered a stunning photo album filled with postcards of the silent movie stars of the 1920’s and 30’s. We knew the collection had to go to a deserving home, so donated it to The Majestic Theatre. We organised our holiday to coincide with visiting the theatre.

As thanks, we were treated to a private screening of the 1920’s film “The Haunted House”, with Ron on organ.

To be honest, the kids were initially very sceptical – after all, Avatar was their most recent movie. But within a few minutes when the candelabras had dimmed, the curtains opened, and the music started to play the kids were lost in the movie. They laughed until tears formed in their eyes. The story was universal, and the humour spanned the generations.

It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in a long time. Sitting in a darkened theatre, bathed in the warmth of Ron’s hospitality and listening to the magic of my kid’s laughter.

As any parent would know, the sign of a good movie is the car ride home – the kids couldn’t stop talking about what they had seen.  We talked about my kid’s grandparents and great grandparents. We talked about the cars, the kitchens and the portrayal of African-Americans they saw in the movies. We talked about the universality of slapstick humour no matter the nationality … we just talked. The silence of the movie triggered an avalanche of conversation – given my kids are teens this was a miracle!

Now, silent movies will never make The Majestic buckets of money. But The Majestic in Pomona is the hub of the local community. People travel for hours to attend one of their silent films. And the richness of the experience they offer cannot be priced.

The Majestic shows the value of a good business, doing what it does best consistently and continuously. It does not want to be mainstream – it is the ultimate niche business, and everyone is the better for it being there.

So, if you ever are north of Brisbane, take the exit to Pomona and take in a silent movie at the Majestic. Sure, enjoy the next blockbuster at your local cinema, but enjoy the living history of The Majestic at Pomona.

About the Author

Ingrid Moyle

Ingrid Moyle is a self-confessed multipotentialite. While she is now retired from the corporate rat race, she still shamelessly dallies in her latest topics of fascination. When not hardwired to her computer, she quests for the perfect decaf coffee while chasing virtual reality creatures across the backstreets of Brisbane.

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