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Celluloid Circus: the Heyday of the New Zealand Picture Theatre

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"Superb Kiwi History"
4 stars"
Purchased on Mighty Ape

This is a fascinating look at the early days of the cinema industry in New Zealand. I highly recommend it to film buffs.

It makes a wonderful conversation starter as the pictures of all of the old cinemas are sure to get the memories flooding back to a time of intermissions, choc-bombs and matinee showings.

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.
"A Veritable Blockbuster!"
5 stars"

In 1952, movie mogul, Cecil B deMille won the Oscar for Best Picture with his spectacular production “The Greatest Show On Earth” – a multi-star studded saga of a great Circus.

Now comes “The Celluloid Circus”- another veritable blockbuster with even more stars than even de Mille could muster!

This living publication resounds with wonderful wall-to-wall info – fascinating detail, entertainingly presented and screened from page to page under the skilful direction of Wayne Brittenden (himself no stranger to Hollywood awards) whose written narrative grips your interest because of its ease and comfortable readability. The never-ending photo "stills” are stunning and say so much. The priceless collection of movie posters – all in glorious colour – are breathtaking as they bring back many happy memories. There are plenty of personal tales with amusing and even risky anecdotes from and about the talented theatre teams who screened the movies in the many picture houses of New Zealand.

“Celluloid Circus” is not just a wonderful reference book. It's a permanent “Pass Out” ticket (see page 23) to an entertainment that will thrill all who still remember the golden era – before TV and DVDs. It's also a must for all those who continue to dream about being somewhere over that rainbow. This inspired printed production will make Movie Magic Make Believe come true for you!

It has 304 action-packed pages of sheer enjoyment, brilliantly displaying movie Show Business in New Zealand – the country that came 2nd only to the USA as cinemagoers pro rata during those years when movie stars were real stars – at the time when American and British studios delivered the goods and New Zealand showmen (theatre managers) and their ace projectionists planned how to present the films with a real sense of occasion – attracting audiences to each packed venue that seemed to have its own personality. The fascinating saga is all here in “Celluloid Circus” a golden era captured forever in a highly entertaining and vibrant manner.

Don't just take it from me – watch out for “Celluloid Circus” Coming Soon to a Coffee Table near you!

Book your copy now and avoid disappointment.

(Reviewed by Iain Kerr, who – as Cinema Organist for Kerridge-Odeon Theatres – was a “hands-on”, eye-witness during the 40s and 50s in N.Z.)

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.
"The splendour, the fun and the characters of NZ cinema"
5 stars"

The raggedy bunch of primary school children leapt, or fell, out of the old Howick bus. They charged at the doors of the Civic, Auckland, their teacher desperately trying to keep control. In front and behind were hundreds more children, all attempting to enter the cinema at once. They dashed up the stairs to the very top and entered another world. There before them was a magical scene, the night sky above with stars flickering, and before them, forever etched into their memories, were the two lions on either side of the curtain, their red eyes flashing. They were shown to their seats, just as the curtains opened to reveal the screen far, far below.

The Monterey Cinema in Howick, Auckland was where a group from school went to watch an altogether dubious movie as a reward for winning a House competition. The highlights of the afternoon were not just the rustling of rats, the jaffas being thrown, the dreadful jokes being told by the students in between the awful jokes on the screen, but the collapsing of a seat as a student sat down. The chair gave no warning, the whole thing completely gave way and he was left sprawling on the ground.

Such are just two of my first memories of movies. Others spring to mind when I was young: the showing of Star Wars at the massive screen at Cinerama, a double feature of Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Classic before it became a porn cinema, wonderful times at Charley Gray's and The Academy, the Film Festival at St James', the list goes on and on.

Cinemas form such an important part of our country's social past. Wayne Brittenden brilliantly captures these magical memories encountered throughout New Zealand prior to the arrival of the multiplexes. The Celluloid Circus lives and breathes the splendour and personalities of the cinemas of yesteryear, many of which no longer survive in New Zealand today.

What makes this book particularly special, even above and beyond the meticulous research and fascinating detail of the buildings themselves, are the personal stories and photographs of the personalities from the heyday of cinema. Brittenden has searched out the quirky and untold stories behind the cinemas throughout New Zealand; the managers, the ushers, the projectionists and others who made these buildings living, breathing entities. There are hilarious stories of managers trying to outdo other local managers, of feuds between cleaners, of projectionists and what occurred in their booths, and what illicit frames of film were cut out from R rated movies.

This book is a treasure: it captures in both words and images a vitally important part of New Zealand culture over the past century. It is a book to enjoy, to treasure, to discuss and reminisce. And for the younger reader, it is an opportunity to discover why their parents and grandparents mention the movies with a sparkle in their eye.

Wheldon Curzon-Hobson


Long before DVDs, long before plasma screen TVs and home theatres, New Zealanders went out to escape and be entertained. In an often stuffily suburban little country at the bottom of the world, the local picture theatres were their places of dreams, where they went to see Garbo and Gable, Monroe and Hayworth. The movie theatre impresarios who ran Kerridge Odeon and Amalgamated knew all about romance and fantasy, building ever more grand picture houses, decking them out like the grand buildings of Europe, Moorish palaces and rococo shrines. It was all fakery, of course, but the crowds who lined up for the matinee screenings loved every contrived and elaborate inch of them. Today most of those great places have gone, but for a generation of New Zealand memories remain of the velvet curtains, the ice cream boy at half time, standing to sing the National Anthem before each screening, the cartoons and more. Wayne Brittenden is the son of a movie theatre manager and grew up in Christchurch in the 1960s, when the picture theatres were reaching their apogee. It would not be long before TV knocked them for six.In this lively social history he talks to the few surviving projectionists and brings together a marvellous collection of over 150 images and pieces of ephemera such as movie posters and newspaper advertisements to take the reader back to that fantastical time. Such a history has never before been published and it is sure to appeal to movie buffs and nostalgia fans alike.

Author Biography

Wayne Brittenden is a New Zealand journalist who has worked overseas for most of his career. A former National Radio correspondent in Tokyo, he later worked for the BBC and now works as an independent documentary maker, based in London. He has done extensive research in New Zealand for this book.
Release date NZ
November 7th, 2008
  • General (US: Trade)
Country of Publication
New Zealand
Random House New Zealand Ltd
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