Mine's smaller than yours
In my student days in Cape Town, I used to be a regular at the Three Arts Theatre in Plumstead, a place that proudly proclaimed itself as the biggest theatre/cinema in the southern hemisphere. There are lots of places in South Africa (I’m sure the same applies to Australia and Brazil) that have grand pretensions about their size. On a world scale, they don’t exactly measure up so they compare themselves to their ‘rivals’ in the southern Hemisphere, the less blessed hemisphere when it comes to matters of size. The Three Arts, now Ice Olympia, seated 2000 people and was a great place to see films long off the main circuit. Unlike the Labia, Cape Town’s independent ‘art’ cinema, it had no pretensions about its artiness but it was a good place to catch great films from the past.
I often saw films there with G. Unlike him, however, I didn’t go there on my own to see films while stoned off my head. He’d often fall asleep when watching films but was usually woken up by someone, probably the cleaners, before the cinema was closed. The Three Arts, being such a huge place and run on a shoestring budget, used to just shut for the night after the last patron was seen to go. There were a number of occasions when he woke up several hours after the place had closed to find himself in a huge, pitch-black auditorium, not knowing where he was until his stoned brain managed a clear thought or two. Getting out the first time wasn’t easy. He had to work his way to the stage, feel for light switches that weren’t easy to find and eventually break out through the fire escape. It got easier after that and he’d always leave with a great selection of movie posters that made wonderful wallpaper.
In the eighties, the Three Arts became a music venue for international artists whose careers were on the skids but who didn’t mind ignoring the boycott of South Africa if it meant lining their pockets and stretching their egos for a little bit longer. I saw Tina Turner there (before her subsequent re-ascent of Pop’s pinnacles), Chick Corea and The Temptations, amongst others. Despite the ‘international acts’, its glory days from the sixties and seventies were long gone and it was slowly decaying. By the time the Bolshoi Ballet performed there in the early nineties, soon after the lifting of the cultural boycott, it was plumbing new depths. One of Cape Town’s newspapers, reviewing the ballet, mentioned seeing rats running across the stage.
Newer theatre and music venues in more fashionable parts of the city dealt it its death blow and, as a cinema in a world of much smaller venues, its size counted against it. For a while it hosted evangelical Christian meetings until it resurrected itself as an ice rink.
I used to enjoy seeing films in that large, impersonal space but actually prefer smaller venues. There’s really no reason why I haven’t been to the Screenroom yet as it’s literally right on my doorstep. Perhaps, I lied when I asserted that I’m not a size queen?