Entertainment and The Cinema

Australia Between The Wars

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As part of the push to enjoy life after the war, there was a demand for a new style of entertainment and a greater range than had existed in earlier years. The most popular forms of entertainment were music, vaudeville (a popular form of live variety entertainment) and dancing. In dance halls and ballrooms across the country people enjoyed the new sounds in music, particularly jazz from the United States, and new and daring dances such as the Black Bottom and the Charleston.

Every country town had its dance hall, while in the larger cities there were elaborate dance palaces and ballrooms, most with complete orchestras. For young people, the dance venues were the places to meet and to be seen.
However, the most popular form of mass entertainment in the 1920s was the cinema.

Silent films captivated Australian audiences in the first half of the 1920s, and Australia had the highest cinema attendance rates in the world. Almost every town soon had a permanent picture theatre. In many cases this was only a shed with galvanised roofing, but in the capital cities lavish theatres were built on a grand scale. Some of these extravagant new theatres with their elaborate entry foyers, ornate ceilings and rich curtains had full orchestras, which played at intermission. Others had Wurlitzer organs that emerged, with the organist, hydraulically from beneath the stage.
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The Lyceum Theatre Sydney 1927

The arrival of the ‘talkies’

A small Australian film industry began in the 1920s producing silent films, some of which are now acknowledged as classics. The pioneer film-maker Raymond Longford made The Sentimental Bloke, which was based on the poem by C. J. Dennis. Much of the film was shot on location in the Sydney working-class suburb of Woolloomooloo and it captured the life of working-class Australians. The film was a popular success. Another classic early Australian film was the epic story of the convict era, For the Term of His Natural Life, which was made in 1927.

In 1927 the first 'talkie', or talking film, The Jazz Singer, opened in Sydney and a new era began for the cinema as a form of mass entertainment. While Australian film-makers had enjoyed a period of growth with silent movies, the introduction of sound meant increased production costs. That, as well as the coming of the Great Depression, caused the production of Australian sound films to decline.
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The Movietone News camera teams in Sydney, 1938

Most of the films of the 1930s were from the United States and Britain, but some Australian sound films were also being produced. The Cinesound studio produced a series of successful films in the 1930s, including a popular series of films based on the comic characters of Dad and Dave from the novels by Steele Rudd. There were also a number of independent producers who made movies. The most successful was Charles Chauvel. His film In the Wake of the Bounty, about the famous mutiny on the Bounty, was filmed in Tahiti and Sydney and starred a young Australian actor who would become a Hollywood star, Errol Flynn.

Another development with sound pictures was the popularity of newsreels which captured the news events of the week and were then rushed to theatres across the country. In the days before television, Cinesound and later Movietone News gave Australian audiences images of people and events happening in their own country. The Australian newsreels were issued weekly and usually reached the screen a few days after the events they covered. Newsreels from overseas took longer to arrive.