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AFI research collection
Reference Type book
Title Picture Palaces and Flea-Pits: Eighty Years of Australians at the Pictures
Author(s)Simon Brand
Town Sydney
State NSW
Country Australia
Publication Date 00-00-1983
Citation Date
Comments An extremely detailed look at Australian cinema history, its venues and most importantly its audience.


This book is intended for an audience who is interested in the history of Australian cinema, and who want an intriguing insight into what the picture theatres of Australia were once like. The information provided in the book is a vital source that has the potential to be used for historians, film and cinema studies, as well as architectural research. This book is particularly significant as it provides a historical perspective of Australia’s cinema culture, and what it used to be like to go to see a film in Australia between the 1920s and 1970s. Using a combination of text and imagery, the book demonstrates the grandness of what it was once like to visit the cinema. It also features photographs of the original and lavish interiors and exteriors of the buildings, and gives a clear and excellent historical insight into the once magnificent and grand days of cinema. This book is an original and thoroughly researched source, as well as being a rare and historical artefact, in which not many copies of the book are available. (Alexandra Aaron)

This text is an overwhelming source looking back at the history of cinema in Australia. It is filled to capacity with excellent quality imagery and information that is hugely accessible by film students, historians, educators, enthusiasts and the general public. This is due to its frequent use of photographs and illustrations which are engaging for all. It successfully captures the greatness and beauty of the way many theatres stood in their day going back as far as the 20s to the early 70s and 80s.

On p.184 a magnificent image of the once breath taking Empire Theatre fills the entire page and allows the reader to see the beauty of its architecture, that most other literature looking at the Empire, does not.

A book of this quality however, is rare to find and near impossible to own a personal copy of. It is a rare archival piece and because of this must be sought out in film and cinema specific establishments, and the Australian Film Institute at Melbourne’s RMIT is such a place. Not particular heavy in written text, what it lacks there, it makes up for in a plethora of unbelievable imagery.

Synopsis The book commemorates the history of Australia’s pictures, honouring the days in which an outing to the cinemas was once the highlight of one’s week. Between the 1920s and 1960s, a visit to the cinema was a common and pleasurable event, a place that people visited for comfort and entertainment. Throughout the book are illustrations with black and white photographs that portray the gothic and art deco architecture of many of Australia’s cinemas. (Alexandra Aaron)
tags: 70s and 80s AFI Research Collection architecture  Australian cinema Empire Forum Theatre Historical photographs picture palace Rapallo State Theatre 
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