The Sydney Film Festival starts tonight so I thought we’d talk about recreating an authentic early cinema experience!

Frontage to Market Street of the State Theatre and shopping block, Sydney, Australia, c1929 Courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (PXA 348, 1)

Frontage to Market Street of the State Theatre and shopping block, Sydney, Australia, c1929 Courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (PXA 348, 1)

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Sydney Film Festival comes just once a year and its a great opportunity to see some great new films, and to visit Sydney’s magnificent State Theatre.

The State Theatre is one of the great cinemas that still survives in Sydney. It was designed by Eli White, a New Zealander who was inspired by the American fashion for ‘atmospheric theatres’. This influence can also be seen in the beautiful Capitol Theatre, which White also designed.

Think about the State Theatre. From the outside it’s a Gothic skyscraper, but as soon as you walk into the lobby area, you’re completely immersed in the intense baroque interior that follows throughout the cinema. Today it functions as a lyric theatre, where you can see everything from comedy to bands, but it was designed for film.

State Theatre and shopping block, Sydney, Australia, ca. 1929 Courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (PXA 348, 3)

Side Wall of Gothic Hall, from State Theatre and shopping block, Sydney, Australia, c1929 Courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (PXA 348, 3)

The State Theatre was built in 1929 and was the last of the big cinemas to be built before the stock market crash that triggered the 1930s depression.

It is such a joy to watch films in this old theatre – just what it was originally designed for!

The growth of Hollywood and the popularity of the talkies triggered other popular culture developments of course, and you can still experience some of those today as well.

The “talkies” and American film stars of the 1930s inspired a new sweet that was invented and manufactured right here in Sydney at confectionary makers Stedman Henderson’s beautifully named Sweetacres factory at Rosebery. The Sweetacres marketing people had noticed cinema’s popularity and suggested repackaging one of their existing chocolate covered caramels as Fantales, so you could read about your favourite glamorous American film stars and munch on your lollies when the movie started.

Good Taste Perfectly Expressed, Sydney Morning Herald, November 18 1939, p19

Good Taste Perfectly Expressed, Sydney Morning Herald, November 18 1939, p19

State Theatre and shopping block, Sydney, Australia, ca. 1929 Courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (PXA 348,9)

State Theatre and shopping block, Sydney, Australia, ca. 1929 Courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (PXA 348,9)

Stedman-Henderson came up with lots of Australia’s iconic sweets. They also made Minties and in the early 1930s developed another cinema favourite, Jaffas.

So to have an immersive historical cinema-going experience, get some Jaffas and Fantales and head off to the State Theatre!

If you finish reading your Fantales wrappers while you’re waiting for your movie to start, you can also read the great Dictionary entries on  the State Theatre, the Capitol Theatre and the history of film in Sydney, which gives some great background in the development of the film industry and the film festival here in Sydney.

You can find the Sydney Film Festival program here so you can start planning your visit.

 

Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and the former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity.

Listen to the podcast with Lisa & Nic here, and tune in to 2SER Breakfast with Nic Healey on 107.3 every Wednesday morning at 8:15-8:20 am to hear more from the Dictionary of Sydney.

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