Tuesday 26 January 2021

Thornbury Picture House - from motor service station to cinema

Year 2020 is unprecedented, unexpected, and downright crazy. Just early of the year, I was holding my baby in arms watching a film in a jam-packed cinema, enjoying a little rare mummy’s moment of blockbuster film while sipping a bottle of refreshing ice-cold cider at this cinema of the north. The next moment, we were “locked-down” with multiple restrictions imposed on where we were permitted to go and for how long. Businesses suffered, restaurants closed-down, cinemas bemoaned. Thornbury Picture House’s “Cry Baby Sessions” was one of my favourite weekly “to-do” self-care rituals before the Covid struck. It used to run on every Wednesday. Slightly before the start of the session at 11 am, you would see mummas and grannies walking in, pushing/strapping/carrying/ cradling their tiny bubs. We exchanged knowing glances, nods and smiles. Already, a small community was formed without the need of a word.
Thornbury Picture House is one of a kind. It is artistically furnished, an indie cinema belongs to the north part of inner Melbourne, setting itself apart from the rivalling large and major establishments with its quirky fixtures, attentive services and the inimitable touches of extra care. The building is difficult to be missed. Conspicuously located at the corner of the main commercial area of High Street, its white-washed walls and the catchy signs of “Motor Service Station” immediately capture the attention of curious passers-by. The cinema is stylishly converted, with a large sheltered outdoor area (previously a driveway), completes with vintage furnishings and remnants (including one antique petrol bowser), reminding us of its former status as one of Melbourne very first drive-in petrol stations in the 1910s. The selection of movies is an interesting mix of latest releases. I can still vividly remember my “Knives-Out” experience, where an Agatha-Christie-style of interrogation and crime-solving process presented before a theatre full of thriller-loving mummas and their occasional crying babes. The “Little Women” attracted a massive room of patrons eager to see the retelling of a good old classic that captivated hearts of millions for more than a-hundred years.
What makes Cry Baby Session so special is the unspoken understanding between parents who desire a break from routines of nappy-changing and milk-feeding, the “no worries” smile whenever a baby burst out screaming for no apparent reason, or that kicks and tantrums that blended into the background of each movies. No one gave any angry or annoyed stare to one another, no unpleasant exchanges, not an unkind word was uttered. We understand. The ticket is a great bargain of $12. On a day where it was not that busy, my coffee was served up in proper cafe-styled porcelain cup and saucer, together with a personal service where the drink was brought all the way into the cinema room. If you prefer something more “punchy”, there is also local craft beer, fancy cocktails and gin & tonic on the menu. There is also a great selection of foods, including classic cinema snacks such as popcorns and choc topped ice-cream!
Prams are allowed access into the theatre. The sound volume was soft enough for my Little Missy to continue her sleep without a stir, but loud enough for mummas to enjoy the film. Lights were slightly dim for a “true” cinematic experience, but bright enough for an “emergency” nappies-change (no interruption of any thrilling scene!). Change table is available in the toilet outside the cinema room, but I wish they were a few more provided as there was quite a queue right after the movie. I love the pram-friendly ramp, the Art Nouveau interior, the old-glamorous Hollywood touch, and the personable service of a small-sized, independently-run cinema. This is a quiet gem for anyone who prefers a non-mainstream cinema experience.
Us Victorians have been through a tough time (but probably not as tough as many others around the world, for that, I am grateful), but I am glad that light is at the end of tunnel. I’m hopeful that this difficult moment will soon be conquered and full freedom will be returned, hopefully globally. I am happy to see that the Cry-Baby Session is back again at the Thornbury Picture House, and this time, it would run on each Friday at 11 am.
Hot tips: Location: 802 High St, Thornbury VIC 3071 (in between Dundas St and The Thornbury Theatre. The cinema is walkable from the Thornbury train station or Stop 41 of the 86 Tram. Easy pram access. Pram is allowed into the cinema room

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