News Column

Those were the days, my friend...

June 9, 2014

Before people could download movies on their cellphones, long before you could go to the corner shop and rent a movie, and even before television came to South Africa, going to the cinema or a theatre was the epitome of entertainment.

Many Capetonians will remember the glory days of movie theatres when huge screens played to up to 1 000-strong audiences on weekends. Of course, no screenings were allowed on Sundays. That was unheard of.

Present day cinemas accommodate between 200 and 400 people, on average. In the past, the smallest cinemas housed about 450 patrons.

The Olympia in the Kalk Bay of the 1960s was a two-level cinema that played to audiences of 450. White patrons would sit downstairs, with coloured moviegoers upstairs.

According to the Kalk Bay Vineyard website, after the cinema closed, the building was transformed into a disco.

The cinema is long gone, but Olympia CafÉ at 134 Main Road, has lived in the cinema building for the past 16 years. The Kalk Bay Modern art gallery is upstairs, and the area is famously populated by hippies.

In Wynberg, the Luxurama now bears scant resemblance to what it once was. Opened in 1964, it had a seating capacity of 1 300 and according to old patrons, boasted one of the biggest screens of its time and a rotating stage.

Ronnie Quibell, who owned the building, as well as the 3 Arts in Plumstead, ran it as an "open" entertainment venue, in a time when apartheid legislation demanded segregated audiences. International artists such as Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck performed there before it was forced to conform to the law in 1967.

The Luxurama hosted concerts, stage productions, and movie screenings and was an important space for many local artists.

Performer Emo Adams, who last year opened The Star Theatre in Brackenfell, spent a great deal of his career on that stage. In an earlier interview with Cape Argus, Adams said: "If you passed your audition on the Luxurama stage, then you're the ou."

Artists, including Taliep Petersen, Ronnie Joyce and The Rockets regularly took to the Luxurama stage.

It was also the last place Petersen performed. He was murdered on December 16, 2006, but the night before he shared the Luxurama stage with his son Ashur for the first time. The boy was 14 years old at the time, and they performed Moon River.

Last year, the building was to be auctioned, with the asking price at R7 million. It, however, still remains for sale.

Not many would remember the Alhambra Theatre, which opened in 1929 and could seat 1 931 people. Like many others of the time, it presented stage shows along with films. It closed down in January 1972, and was demolished two years later. The Nico Malan, today known as the Artscape Theatre Complex, would later be built on the site.

Among the city's older cinemas was the Kismet, opened in 1958 by Shiba Jeram-Patel. It was built on Klipfontein Road in Athlone, and had a 13 00 capacity.

His son, Kantielal Jeram-Patel, was five years old at the time but he remembers the excitement.

"Cinema was part of people's diet and there was nothing else to do for entertainment. During apartheid, we couldn't really go anywhere else," says Jeram-Patel.

The Kismet was always a part of his life. After school, he would help out at the shop, and once he completed his schooling, Jeram-Patel worked there full time. He managed the business from 1971.

There were three other smaller cinemas in the area, The Athlone, Empire and Regent.

"Cinemas kept Athlone busy. It brought thousands of people to the CBD," he says. On weekends, the Kismet would draw 1 000 people to the area per show. But as the world modernised, cinemas started emptying. The main culprit, says Jeram-Patel, was the advent of television and video rentals.

In 2007, the Kismet cinema played its last shows, and was the last of the four Athlone cinemas to close. He says the closing of the cinemas coincided with the emptying of the Athlone CBD. It's completely dead now, he says.

The Kismet complex now consists of offices. "It was quite sad. The best part of my life," he says.

Cape Argus

For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel

Source: Cape Argus (South Africa)

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