Nik Dirga on the revival of much-loved classics at the cinemas
They're sitting in the dark, watching Jeff Goldblum turn into a fly.
Outside, it's 2019.
Inside the crowded theatre it's 1986 and trailers for Peggy Sue Got Married and Stand By Me are rolling before the main event at Avondale's Hollywood Cinema, David Cronenberg's The Fly.
Long-time fans and newcomers alike are soon screaming and laughing - mostly screaming - at the cult horror classic. Similar scenes are playing out several times a month around Auckland. For local film lovers, everything old is new again.
Revival showings spotlighting classic films and hidden treasures have been drawing in crowds, with Hollywood Cinema and downtown's Academy Cinemas leading the charge.
It's a quiet contrast in the age of Netflix - instead of squinting at the hot show of the moment on your phone or laptop, people are going out, sometimes dressing up, to view some of cinema's greatest hits on a big screen.
"There's this kind of communal experience of being in a big, dark room and watching these films together," says Gorjan Markovski, programming manager for Academy Cinemas, which has had a strong revival film schedule for years.
"Coming to the movies and feeling the buzz of people around you is its own thing, that makes you feel more alive and connected with the film," agrees Matt Timpson, owner of the Hollywood Cinema in Avondale.
Despite the growing popularity of streaming services, a big chunk of film history isn't easily available online.
"There's this assumption that people can access everything online, that the cinema experience is kind of fading away," says Markovski, "but it's not always the case."
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Both the Academy and Hollywood have been featuring a wide selection of revival screenings, special themed evenings and double-features to appeal to film lovers of all stripes. The Vic in Devonport also features monthly "flashback" screenings such as a run of 70s' disaster movies. Groups like the Auckland Film Society or the Dead Signal Film Club also play their part in reviving classic movies.
"It's nice anything from Blue Velvet to Casablanca can still pull a crowd," says Timpson.
Auckland film buff Bevan Shortridge appreciates the wide variety of films being shown. He attends several screenings a month.
"There's an embarrassment of riches at present for retrospective screenings in Auckland," says Shortridge. "Two or three years ago, you might get an occasional screening of an older film in a cinema somewhere, maybe at a film festival or part of a film society. Now there's an older film screening virtually every week and maybe two of them on a Sunday."
There's a certain amount of nostalgia driving viewers of classic films but there's also a sense of discovery for those who may have heard of a famous movie but never seen it.
"I had a father come down, he wanted to take his son to see Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure because he wanted to introduce him to it," says Markovski. "It's kind of a rite of passage."
Revival showings are a good way to fill in gaps in film knowledge.
"There are films showing that I was too young to see in a cinema when they were released, and also those I was not even born for first time round," Shortridge says. "The first Greta Garbo film I ever saw was Ninotchka, earlier this year."
The Academy's $5 movie screenings on Wednesdays often include retro movies such as Airplane! and dark teen comedy Heathers.
"We definitely have a solid crowd that love repertory cinema, they will come to almost all of them," says Markovski. "There's certain customers we have we just know by name. I feel like when you go to a lot of more mainstream sites, most of it feels like just a quick exchange, instant gratification. Here, the Academy is very focused on building a community vibe."
The Hollywood is also one of the last cinemas in New Zealand to regularly show 35mm films, as well as the digital presentation most theatres have now migrated to.
"I have a love for film and truly believe it's a completely different experience watching 35mm as opposed to digital," says Timpson, who has built up a massive collection of 35mm prints, along with his brother, film-maker and festival programmer Ant Timpson.
"I have spent many years crawling under houses, battling rats in dirty storage containers hunting out film around the world," he says. "These older movies mean more to me than any current movies and I want to share them with everyone as I know they offer something tactile that modern films don't provide."
As a 35mm screening fan, Shortridge says the unique feeling of watching a film unspool is something digital can't easily reproduce.
"There is something to be said for viewing a film print that can be either in pristine condition, or, as often as not, in used condition."
At a screening of Casablanca at The Hollywood recently, film-goers were encouraged to dress up in period clothing. It's all part of making the cinema experience more than just another piece of "content" for distracted audiences to chow down on.
"I think anyone who watches a movie on a phone isn't going to care about coming to The Hollywood, and that's okay," says Timpson. "It forces you into not texting and checking up on your online status but instead it forces you to take in the film with no distractions."
The Academy recently hosted two special double-feature evenings, a "Killer Queens" evening featuring vintage Joan Crawford and Bette Davis camp classics emceed by drag entertainers Murella and Drew Blood, as well as a special Father's Day double-feature of 60s spaghetti Westerns.
"Sometimes I see a gap in the market for those really edgy genre films," says Markovski. "But we want to make sure The Academy is a cinema for everyone."
Diversity is a key point in programming films - The Hollywood has shown both family classic The Wizard of Oz and controversial French drama Irreversible in recent weeks. It also welcomed New Zealand film director Lee Tamahori for a 35mm screening of his 1997 film The Edge, starring Anthony Hopkins and hopes to bring the director back for a screening of his classic Once Were Warriors soon.
"I loved that screening and hearing Lee talk was magical," says Timpson.
Having a director host his own film and have a Q&A afterwards "rarely happens in New Zealand outside film festivals, and certainly not often for a 20-year-old action film", adds Shortridge.
Cinema managers are continuing to innovate as they try to draw eyeballs away from smartphones for a night's entertainment. The Academy hosted a Batman marathon this month, featuring episodes from the 1960s TV series and a movie, with prizes for best costumes. As Halloween draws near, there's plenty of opportunity for spooky classics.
The Academy has planned a "Witches Festival" of films such as The Craft, while the Hollywood will have a special screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a benefit for Starship, with the film's writer, co-star and New Zealander Richard O'Brien hosting.
"Don't get me wrong - I'll happily go see a new movie that's out," says Shortridge. "But at the same time I'm more than happy to see an old favourite - or a new favourite - back in the cinema too."
WHAT'S ON IN OCTOBER
* The Hollywood's schedule for October includes Flashdance, Spice World, Harold and Maude and Dr. No. www.hollywoodavondale.nz
* The Academy's October line-up includes a High School Musical marathon, a Japanese film festival and a host of witch-themed films for Halloween. academycinemas.co.nz
* The Vic in Devonport hosts monthly Flashback screenings. www.thevic.co.nz
*Auckland Film Society www.nzfilmsociety.org.nz/auckland.html