In East Hills, an unfinished unfinished thought drifts across the side of an otherwise unremarkable little building. If you wanted to nitpick (and if you don’t, why are you here), you could argue that today’s East Hills Take Away & Bakery doesn’t actually offer any videos, and the sort-of mural outside is nothing but elegantly inscribed false advertising.
You’d be right.
But ask yourself this: do you actually want a video? Because if you do, go across the road.
This shop, or Fred’s, as it’s known to the locals, is the video headquarters of East Hills. If you want 1988’s Black Eagle, 1989’s The Experts, or the double cassette Malcolm X from 1992, and you only want them for up to three nights, you come here.
I can’t help but ask. “So…does anyone actually still rent these videos?” I did it for you.
Fred doesn’t miss a beat.
“Mate, all the time! I had a few come in ‘ere this week even.” He gestures to the videos lining the walls. “They come in, they borrow them, and they bring ‘em back.”
But do they rewind them, Fred?
Fred is 79, and fresh out of hospital. I’d come by the week before and found a sign on the locked door: ‘Closed Tuesday, maybe Wednesday’. It was Thursday.
But now it’s Saturday, and here but for the grace of the video gods is Fred, ready to vend Mr. Bean Volume 1 to whoever hasn’t upgraded to DVD yet. Behind the counter is a menagerie of ancient video posters and promo items, and most startling of all, a dedicated rewinding machine. Be kind, eh?
“But they’re not as popular as the games,” Fred continues with a hint of pride. I think he might be referring to the arcade games in the room next door, standing like terracotta warriors amid piles of random junk, but no. He’s talking about the Sega games.
On the wall are dozens of games for Sega’s Master System console. For those of you unfamiliar, the Master System was released in 1987. Sega exited the home video game console business entirely in 2001. Fred could be the only one in the country still renting these games out, and he seems to know it. When I ask if the games are for sale, he snorts.
“Gotta be joking, mate.”
Uh, which one of us?
Inevitably, I ask about the shop across the road, hoping for a story of bitter rivalry between two video shops during the golden years of the format, something in the vein of Used Cars (available at Fred’s for $3 a night). Not for the first time in his life, Fred disappoints.
“That other shop used to be mine, I moved here about 25 years ago.”
Oh. So what had this been?
“It was a hardware shop, and next door was a newsagent. I got that not long after, and painted it up with me murals…”
He sure had. I’m not sure if decorating is the right word, but his tributes to the Sydney 2000 Olympics…stained the walls of the arcade next door. The piles of junk did their best to cover them, but the damage was done.
Why had he left the neat, compact comforts of the shop across the road?
“The video business just got too big,”
Stifling laughter, I nodded.
“What I don’t get,” he started. Oh, this ought to be good. “is why they left the sign up. Let me tell you, mate, I put the word out at the local school that I wanted a sign painted. A little girl offered to do it and I said righto, she done it, and after she goes, ‘I want three shillings,’.”
Hold on. Shillings? VHS became a viable home entertainment format in 1976, ten years after shillings got the heave-ho. Suddenly, Fred had become an unreliable narrator. Nothing could be trusted. Even my eyes could be deceiving me, I thought, as I eyed the can of creaming soda I’d bought. What had the expiry date been?
I left the shop, knowing there was nothing more to glean from old Fred. I probably couldn’t even get an article out of it. I squinted in the afternoon sun as my eyes adjusted from the dark of the shop, and that’s when I saw it. Just up there, on the pub side of Fred’s building. The remains of a painted sign.
It said ‘HARDWARE SHOP’.
Across the road, the undeniably handsome three shilling work of the little girl caught the sun. I’d been pondering the ellipses following the word. Had it been Fred’s direction, or the girl’s own flourish? Had she even known what a video was?
In the time of shillings, this word brought the promise of a high-tech future to the backwater East Hills, and Fred delivered it. And now, in that very future, he still does.
As the sun sets on another wonderful year of staring longingly back into the past and more often than not wondering “why?”, it’s time to turn our attention to some of the places previously featured on PLOTNF. In the twilight of 2015, this terrible trio (or terrific trio, if you work there :D) are of interest entirely because they’ve all lost reason for being interesting.
Yes, if they’d have made these changes from day one, we might never have known the surprisingly philanthropic tale of Australian Plastic Fabricators…
We were attracted by its charitable red nose, and certainly not by its colour scheme. Perhaps sensing this, the APF crew sent around a collection jar of their own and coughed up for a new coat of paint.
They’re really married to that colour pairing, aren’t they? I wonder how it went down as they rediscovered the red nose during the painting. Did someone recognise it? Was there anyone left from 1995’s management team to say “Oh, that bloody thing’s still up there”? Did anyone make a joke about the boss having a redder nose than the building? Only the building knows for sure, and walls can’t talk – especially when they’re covered in a new coat of paint.
We might never have gone from A to…A with A Helen and her Pavalova Palalice…
Helen bought too many vowels.
For reasons we may never know, although perhaps tied to some kind of customer service trouble, Helen has decided to call it a day. Well, actually, if Helen was calling it, it’d be A A Day, wouldn’t it? Or A Aday. Or Daay. Hee hee, I could milk this all daay.
Props to you for finally showing some restraint, Helen, but alas, it’s too little too laate.
And perhaps saddest of all, we may never have known the story of the suburban movie house that became a…suburban movie house.
Formerly the Padstow Star, a cinema dating back to the early 1950s, Civic Padstow and its team of minimum wage teens serviced the entertainment needs of the area for over 30 years before finally shutting its doors last month.
The closing down sale was so drastic that even the shelves were cleared out.
Seeing this sad, empty lobby makes you wonder about the thousands of people who would have made their way up those steps over the decades, eagerly anticipating a few hours lost in a celluloid world of fun and excitement. And now that feeling will never exist there again.
Put your hand up if you’re the reason they had to add those disclaimers down the bottom. C’mon, you know who you are. Oh yes? You? Congratulations, you’re an idiot.
The light’s off, the plug’s been pulled, the register’s empty and overdue fees will be waived.
Goodbye 2015, hello 2016 and all the wondrous stories of past livin’ ahead of us. Happy new year, folks.
Original article: The Marina Picture Palace/Videomania/For Lease – Rosebery, NSW
Sometimes revisiting a place can reveal secrets you missed the first time. Case in point, the rotting behemoth on the side of Gardeners Road formerly known as Videomania. In its glory days this was the grand Marina picture palace, which operated until 1984 – a time when video killed the theatre star.
Another place for which time seems to stand still, Videomania remains relatively unchanged since last year. Sure, there are some new posters up along its face and there’s a new cupcake shop in the old bank next door, but the building itself is no different.
We can only speculate as to how long those promo guys were waiting, longing to plaster the front of the place with their posters. I suppose the temptation became too much at some point, much to Jack Dee’s benefit.
Even Leonardo is still there, ever vigilant. And he’d want to be, given the former theatre’s seedy surroundings…
Out the back, I encounter some inspiring graffiti and little else. The place may still be for lease, but they certainly haven’t expended any effort making it presentable.
I’m guessing that vacuum doesn’t work.
Just when I was thinking to myself that there was nothing left to discover here, I found it. It’s something that was probably there last time, but I just happened to miss in the excitement of seeing a Ninja Turtle in the last place you’d expect to see one. See? The gluey remnants still attached to the side appear to vaguely form the word ‘Roxy’, another name this theatre went by at some point in its illustrious life. But that was just the primer. Have a look at this:
Can you see it? Look really closely, and maybe try squinting. Still no good? Okay, let’s get a bit closer…
How about now? The ‘R’ or maybe the ‘N’ should hit you first, and then from there it’s easy. Yes, amazingly, the awning’s decorative ‘MARINA’ lettering has somehow survived, allowing us an even deeper glimpse into the past than it was thought possible. Now all we need to do is arrange a screening of ‘Puddin’ Head’ inside. Maybe we should get in touch with the owners?
We’re in the home stretch now, only three to go. Here’s a clue for the next entry: it’s another theatre.
ROCKIN’ UPDATE: The development-minded Vlattas family, owners of the Cleveland Street Theatre and the Newtown Hub, are currently renovating the Marina with the aim of turning it into a live music venue. My suggestion: keep Leonardo as your bouncer. Thanks, reader Rozie!
I love it when they do my job for me.
Of course, what the sign doesn’t say is that between being the old bank and a surveyor with a strong track record of customer satisfaction, it was a video shop. A video shop filled with Street Fighter II Champion Edition arcade machines. Are you telling me there wasn’t room in the above space to paint that bit of history in too?
MANIC UPDATE: Reader Robbo insists that the video shop was a Videomania, whose ilk we’ve encountered before.