Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Sunshine Coast was

You know you're in Australia when the main highway is called Bruce and before long you are being passed by four wheel drive vehicles with snorkels mounted at the front, very handy for crossing crocodile infested rivers!  I was on a short trip to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.  This was my first trip to the area and I was lucky enough to choose New Zealand's coldest week in decades to be away, so while everyone was shivering back home I was basking in warm, balmy, perfect weather and feeling kind of smug.

View of Mooloolaba Marina from my hotel
I flew into Brisbane, was through the airport in less than ten minutes and then onto a shuttle bus to take me to my destination, Mooloolaba, to the north. Throughout the journey of about 1 hour 20 minutes there was a running commentary.  Not from the driver but from the woman behind me talking to the person beside her.  She told tales of camping in the outback, riding trains across the desert, climbing Uluru (Ayres Rock) being trapped by snakes in a canyon, trips on the Murray River in a house boat...on and on and on. Boy could she talk! but it was fascinating. She was returning from her latest exploit... kayaking down a river in the Northern Territories.  She clearly had a life full of adventure.  I was flabbergasted when she told her companion that it would have been her 58th wedding anniversary that day if her husband was alive and her great grandchildren were coming to see her.  What a woman!! A real Aussie adventurer.  I felt a bit shamefaced and wimpy when the shuttle dropped me at my very attractive beachside resort accommodation.

 Mooloolaba is the archetypal Australian picture postcard beach resort.  The fine golden sand stretches as far as the eye can see with glossy green breakers sssshing onto the beach and throwing up fluffy, snow white plumes on the rocky outcrops.  The beachfront is lined with cafes, restaurants and shops and is blessed with a relaxed, laid back atmosphere.  The seaside walk between Mooloolaba and Maroochydore to the north is about 6 kilometers long and very scenic.  I loved this walk, walking it several times during my stay, mainly to spend time with my friends, Juleen and Brian.  Longtime friends, (Juleen and I were at High School together), they live a life of endless summer.....summer in New Zealand and winter in Maroochydore.  Fantastic hosts, they were so good to me, taking me on several day tours of the region.
Mooloolaba at sunset

My friend, Juleen, in Montville
 One day they took me up into the hinterland behind the Sunshine Coast to a town called Montville. Montville is leafy and cool and as pretty as a picture with stunning views to the coast and picturesque old buildings now restored and housing crafts people and artists, shops and galleries.  We spent some time picking and poking around and enjoying a leisurely lunch in a delightful tree shaded courtyard serenaded by the songs of native birds.  Another day we went to Noosa, a little more to the north.  Noosa is a long time favourite with New Zealand retirees and I can see why.  There is a bylaw banning any buildings more that 3 stories high which ensures a low key, laid back appearance to the town.

Yours truly (right) with Juleen in Noosa
  The main street, lined with palm trees, smart shops and restaurants runs parallel to the beach making everything easy and accessible. We had a genuine Aussie experience here, lunch at the Noosa Surf Club, inexpensive, excellent and with fine views over the beach. One afternoon Juleen and I had a "girly" day and went to the Sunshine Plaza, a large modern, vibrant, shopping centre in Maroochydore which spans the Maroochy River and reminded me a little of shopping centres I have been to in Japan. Other times we hung out at their beautiful apartment, catching up on news, eating Juleen's delicious food and enjoying the stunning views up and down the coast line.  A big thank you to Juleen and made my trip.
View from my friends' apartment, Maroochydore
When I go somewhere new it doesn't take me long to find a favourite cafe.  In Mooloolaba it was Jamaica Blue, right on the waterfront with a good view of the sea, morning papers and excellent coffee.  Every morning I made my way there to enjoy a flat white, catch up on news and watch the world go by.  In the evenings I sat on my terrace with a narrow view of the sea  basking in the evening sun and sipping on a glass of bubbly.  Life doesn't get much better than that! 
Jamaica Blue, Mooloolaba
My morning coffee and the paper
Evening bubbly in the sun...shame there is only one glass,but that's how it is...otherwise life doesn't get better than this

I found  the locals to be happy, cheerful and friendly.  Like anywhere, of course, they have their issues concerns and problems, parts of Queensland had devastating floods recently,  but the wide blue skies, long pristine beaches and clean blue ocean must make those problems a little easier to bear. Beach culture is alive and well with surf lifesavers dotted along the coast in their bright red and yellow uniforms and surfers, like so many sleek seals bobbing along the shore, looking out to sea, waiting for that extra special wave.  Here Australia does look like the "lucky country". This was my first trip to the Sunshine Coast but it certainly won't be my last.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A Tale of Two Cinemas

I reckon a lot of us walk around with our eyes shut most of the time oblivious to the rich architecture that surrounds us. I am as guilty as anyone so today, to make amends,  I am rehashing an essay I wrote for an Art History paper at university.  The paper was called Ways of Seeing and I took as my topic a comparison of two iconic cinemas on Auckland's main street, Queen Street.  The two cinemas are in the same block and less than 100 metres apart but, while both aptly reflect the cinema experience of their era they could not be more different.

The Civic Theatre was built in 1929 and is a superb example of an atmospheric cinema.  This style of architecture was developed by the Austrian/American architect, Eberson, during the period known as the "golden age of hollywood", a time when cinema, while still a novel experience, was reaching out to a mass audience.  The idea behind an atmospheric cinema was to transport the audience to a world of exoticism and romance and to give them a more complete sensory experience at a time when most films were still silent.

The Civic Theatre, Auckland. In the lower left hand corner you can see The Force Cinema Complex
The exterior of The Civic gives clues to the opulence of the interior.  In order to create interest on a facade which has no need of windows, ornate panels, reminiscent of the screens used in eastern palaces, have been used.  Friezes of cherubs and garlands of fruit and flowers run around the top of the exterior walls adding an air of luxury and romance to the design.  The entrance on the corner of the building, squared off in a typically Art Deco style, commands attention with a towering clock tower and a canopy arch which echos the proscenium arch over the stage and screen inside. There is an immediate sense of grandeur in the foyer with its opulent sweeping staircase and elaborate decorations including seated buddahs, elephants and panthers with glowing red eyes, which leads to the upper level of the cinema proper. The interior of the theatre is a romantic recreation of the dream landscape of an Indian temple courtyard.  The whole auditorium is a rich and elaborate spectacle and over all is the ceiling with its sparkling night sky stars complete with drifting clouds and the occasional shooting star.  During the silent movie era an orchestra would accompany the film and it is not very many years ago that audiences enjoyed the music of a wurlitzer as they waited for the film to start.

The Civic is still a busy working cinema and theatre and as it is a home to the New Zealand  International Film Festival I still go there regularly.  I never fail to delight in it and tilt my head back before the film starts to make sure I see at least one shooting star cross the sky.

Is it a castle?
Less than 100 metres up the road is the Force Imax Cinema complex built in the 1990's.  While the Civic was designed with the idea of transporting the audience to an exotic location the architects for the Force complex used the theme of the block buster movie for their design. The building exterior, therefore, is complex and interesting and like the plot of a block buster movie has many twists, turns and unexpected developments.  From every angle of the building there is a different picture.  Is it a space ship? It is if viewed from Aotea Square. Is it a bricked castle turret?  It is if viewed from Queen Street. From another angle it is a ship and the Imax Theatre itself rises phoenix like from the facade of an old building as a highly symbolic image of a new culture rising from the old. Where the exterior of the Civic is clad in uniformly coloured stone and plaster the Force Centre makes use of a wide variety of materials including stone, glass, aluminium and steel.  Perhaps this is a reflection of the complexity of modern life.  The interior clearly reflects major changes in popular culture.  Whilst in the 1930's cinema was a new and exciting activity, today it is only part of a wide variety of leisure pursuits available and this is reflected in the diversity of activities found within the complex.  Apart from the several cinemas there are many different food outlets, a games parlour, an internet cafe, a florist and a large bookstore.

Or a ship?
Visually the interior of the building gives the impression of the giant set of a space adventure movie.  It is an exciting mix of light, colour and movement with a great attention to detail.  The interior of the Imax cinema itself, however, is austere, prosaic and functional.  The massive screen dominates the theatre and there is no ornamentation to distract the audience from the main purpose of the theatre which is to watch film.

Much has changed in the movie industry in the more than 80 years since the Civic Theatre was built.  The improvement in sound technology, in cinematography, in acting and the use of music have all led to film itself becoming a more sensory experience.  There is, therefore, no need to distract the audience and/or enhance the film with elaborate surroundings.  The philosophies behind the designs of the CivicTheatre and the Force Imax Centre are quite different and provide us with an apt commentary on the history of cinema.  On the one hand we have the Civic which seeks to transport its audience to a magical and exotic world through the architecture of the building and on the other hand we have the Imax Theatre which is at pains not to distract the audience from the magical and exotic world portrayed in the films themselves.  Both buildings are, in  my opinion, architectural treasures.

footnote:  the Force cinema complex has changed hands and is now known as Event Cinemas and, sadly, the large book shop is now a bowling alley.