Category Archives: Forgotten Melbourne

Not so black & white: the exhibition of classical film noir in Melbourne

Today I’m celebrating Noirvember with a terrific guest post by my friend Dean Brandum, film scholar and the man behind the wonderful site, Technicolour Yawn: Melbourne cinemas of the happening years: 1960 – 84. Dean looks at the myths and realities around the exhibition of classical film noir in forties and fifties Melbourne. Film noir is often seen as mainly comprising B-movies that would never have graced the screens of reputable Melbourne cinemas. But, as Dean makes clear, for the most part this was not the case.

Gun Crazy“You could always find me in the theatre round the corner. People like me liked our pictures dark and mysterious. Most were B-movies made on the cheap, others were classy models with A-talent, but they all had one thing in common, they lived on the edge. They told stories about life on the streets, shady characters, crooked cops, twisted love and bad luck. The French invented a name for these pictures – Film Noir.”

Richard Widmark narrating The American Cinema’s episode ‘Film Noir’

Whilst this TV overview of film noir was an excellent production and was immeasurably aided by the gravitas of the (then otherwise retired) voice of Richard Widmark’s narration, his opening introduction has always rankled with me, for it perpetuates a myth about film noir, one which has been developed to be shoe-horned into a narrative – that film noir was not a mainstream commodity.… Read more

Damned to literary obscurity: June Wright and Murder In the Telephone Exchange

JUNE_WRIGHT-author-picAs a seasoned habitué of second hand bookshops, and what is known in some quarters as ‘an early career author’, I often ponder the reality of literary obscurity.

It takes stern stuff (or huge sales) to go into a large second hand bookshop and not feel humbled by the sight of shelf upon shelf of old books. All those hours, days, weeks, years of literary labour selling cheap, if they sell at all.

What makes a particular book or author famous, while the majority are forgotten – the vagaries of history or the market, luck or accident? Equally fascinating is the process by which some authors are plucked from historical obscurity and given a second chance.

I thought about this most recently while reading Murder in The Telephone Exchange, a murder mystery set in late forties Melbourne by June Wright, recently re-released by US-based publisher, Verse Chorus Press.

You can read the rest of this piece here on the Overland Magazine blog.

Screen memories & changing cinema culture

photo-1It wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but I loved the former Greater Union Cinema on Russell Street in Melbourne’s CBD.

The large screens and cavernous interior, the way the floor sloped so no one was directly in front of you, the seventies décor including the burnt orange colouring. Whenever possible, I’d avoid the other city multiplex cinemas and head to Greater Union where I could be assured of getting the place largely to myself.

Which is why its closure last year and looming demolition and replacement with a hotel and apartment complex, while incredibly sad, is no surprise.

Except for during the Melbourne International Film Festival, the Greater Union was nearly always empty. It lacked the passing traffic you got in a shopping complex and looked old and tired, retro but not quite retro enough. It was certainly no Emek, the historic Turkish cinema in Istanbul, which has been the subject of an ongoing local and international campaign ever since plans to demolish it were unveiled in 2012.

As friend and Melbourne film historian Dean Brandum puts it: “I’ll miss Greater Union but what’s amazing is that it held on so long. It used to be hugely popular. When I saw Can’t Stop the Music there in 1980 the queue stretched down Russell Street, into Bourke Street, all the way to Swanston.… Read more

The death of a bookshop: a tribute to Melbourne’s Kill City Books

KC 4

I love poking around in second-hand bookshops. The more disorganised and dishevelled, the better. I can’t remember the last time I found one with a curtained off section where they stashed the adult stuff, the pulp fiction and true crime, but those ones were best of all.

It’s always sad to hear about the closure of a second handbook shop and they’ve been closing with alarming frequency in Melbourne over the last few years.

The latest casualty is Flinders Books, which had operated out of the basement at 119 Swanston Street, for 18 years. Before that it had reportedly been a trading card shop, and going back even further, a rest and recreation area for military personnel after World War II.

Basement Books, located at 342 Flinders Street is, as far as I know, the last second-hand bookshop in the Melbourne CBD.

The reasons behind the closure are nothing new: changing book buying habits, including the rise of e-books, coupled with a massive rent increase, all of which, according to the owner, made the business impossible to sustain at its current location.

As if the end of a good second-hand bookstore is not sad enough, the passing of Flinders Books has a wider historical significance. For the last eight years of its existence it also hosted the remnants of Kill City Books, once Melbourne’s premier bookshop specialising in crime fiction and true crime.… Read more