Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Night at the Theatre

On the 8th of March 1929, for the first time a movie with a soundtrack was shown in New Zealand, at the Paramount Theatre in Wellington. The movie, "Street Angel", wasn't a true "talkie", but a silent movie with a recorded musical soundtrack.

Silent movies had been popular in New Zealand for many years, ever since the first film was screened in 1896 (in Christchurch). In the early years, they were short films usually shown as part of a vaudeville-style performance. In A Second Chance, I have two of my characters attend such a presentation in 1906. I've taken the details from newspaper reports of an actual show in Auckland.

(Note: I've changed character names to avoid spoilers.)

... a performance one evening by a Mr R. G. Knowles offered real novelty. Mr Knowles, a music hall artiste, presented a series of comical talks, interspersed with songs and dancing, accompanied on the piano by Mrs Knowles, who also performed several items on the banjo. The items were amusing enough, but what truly caught Anna’s imagination were the moving pictures, projected by a machine called a Bioscope, with which Mr Knowles illustrated his songs. It was Anna’s first experience of moving pictures, and she was fascinated by the images, which included an exciting trip by motorcar and scenes of the King and Queen walking about.

‘There’s talk of making moving pictures of entire plays eventually,’ Sophie remarked when the two of them were discussing the show late that evening. ‘Though not being able to actually hear the actors speak would be rather limiting.’

Interesting as the moving pictures had been, Anna agreed with Sophie that such entertainments seemed unlikely to displace live performances.

My apologies to any banjo fans reading this, but I'm afraid I find something irresistably comical in the image of this redoubtable Edwardian lady wielding her banjo on stage.

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