Electra Theatre 216 Dorset Road, Boronia, VIC - Greg Lynch interviews Celebrity Exhibitor Barrie Barkla

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Metro Cinemas Boronia

Metro Cinemas Boronia

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Electra Theatre 216 Dorset Road, Boronia, VIC - Greg Lynch interviews Celebrity Exhibitor Barrie Barkla

Barrie Barkla - Reflections on my time at the Electra Cinema, Boronia

Photo - Greg Lynch interviews Celebrity Exhibitor Barrie Barkla

I moved my family to a cottage we bought in Tecoma in the mid 1970s. This was while I was under contract to Crawford Productions for the TV serial “The Box”. Early in the piece I was invited by John Lowe the company director of the 1812 theatre (previously The Loyalty Theatre in Rose Street Upper Ferntree Gully) to run drama classes for his actors. I directed two productions there Black Swan Winter, and later The Lion in Winter. Both were very successful. As time went along we developed a friendship with Don & Elaine McWhirter who had re-opened and were reviving the Cameo Cinema in Belgrave. One wet Sunday night we were invited by Don to a special screening of the Fritz Lang classic Metropolis. It was a nitrate print, probably supplied by collector Harry Davidson. I had to smile when I discovered that the box was full of anxious projectionists with extinguishers at the ready.

Down the hill in Boronia was an old, timber-frame 1930s cinema called The Electra, which Don was programming for its owner Roy Farmer, who ran The Plaza Cinema at Chelsea. I met Roy on one occasion when Don took me down to his Chelsea theatre. He struck me as a quintessential gentle man who was very proud of his Cinemeccanica Vic-8 70mm installation. Roy was on his own then as his wife had passed away.

The Electra had by this time become a rather down-at-heel children’s house, opening Mon-Sat during school holidays with a policy of running 2nd-run movies on Friday and Saturday nights, with a separate children’s matinee on Saturdays. Don invited me to run it for him. The off-street auditorium behind a row of shops with a narrow entrance seated around 300 on a flat floor. There was a crying room upstairs next to the bio box. Toilets were located outside, behind the hall. It was all pretty basic. The shop in front of the cinema was empty and a candy bar had been run out of the back of it into the entrance hall.

When we started I worked the bio box. A couple of months into our tenure, to relieve the work load, I employed a young operator to help out. One night he arrived drunk and sometime during the show started kicking one of the projectors. When the picture disappeared off the screen I saw red, ran upstairs, and fired him on the spot and took over the operating.

My wife, Margaret looked after the box office and became theatre manager, and our very-young son and daughter spent Friday and Saturday nights sleeping in the crying room. During the first 3 months I spent countless hours scraping decades of discarded Sweeties off the floors, and scrubbing seats and armrests with turpentine to remove ancient layers of bubble-gum.

In the bio box there were two Simplex projectors on Westrex sound heads and Universal bases.

The Simplexes had been originally front-shutter machines, converted by Arthur Pyers to rear shutters back in the 1950s when CinemaScope arrived. We had a projector seizure late one Saturday evening which stripped every gear in the Simmie except the stripper gear! It was Arthur Pyers who diagnosed the fault on the phone and later repaired the head for us. I ran draw-cords for the front masking curtains back through the ceiling to the bio box to improve the presentation.

A pair of Bausch & Lomb CinemaScope lenses sat in front of the Simplexes.

Light was provided by two AC Transarcs, the drive pulleys on the Simplex heads had to be built up with tape to prevent strobing. Unfortunately the arc drive motors on the lamp houses were DC, so the machines could not be left for more than a few minutes at a time without losing light due to the carbon feeds being at the wrong speeds. An old Westrex 25-watt valve amp powered a single speaker behind the screen, as well as the monitor in the Box, while a speaker ran out to the street. Hardly an awesome auditory experience.

Experimenting I started running special screenings on Sunday nights of old classics and rock’n’roll films. We filled the house one Sunday night with Zulu. The Electra ran the first trial pairing of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with The Poseidon Adventure. We filled out both sessions. Around 3.00am on the Sunday morning I was awoken by a phone call from the police – the Electra was on fire. The fruit & vegie shop next door had been broken into and a fire set under the bio box. Fortunately, a late passer-by saw it and called the fieries. Our side walls got a bit singed, and we had a rat plague to contend with for weeks until the shop was demolished.

Boronia’s cinema was saved when we scored a spare print of the heavily-advertised Canadian movie Benji, Benji played day and date with cinemas all over Melbourne. At 10.00 am on the first day we had sold out, and a queue ran right down the street. After ringing John McKenzie at Filmways, I switched from running 10.00 am, 2.00 pm, and 7.30 pm to running continuously every day, with just 10 minutes between sessions for cleaning. It was exhausting, but we made a small fortune. Into the future and movies continued to run on that site until Village moved in and razed the Electra while putting up a new modern Cinema complex. Today the theatres are run by Tom and Ellie Schouten under the banner of Metro Theatres.

By Barrie Barkla, from an interview with Greg Lynch.

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