Projectionist leaves reel life

Frank Gibson watched Pretty Woman at the cinema for six months when it came out and he found "bloopers" in blockbusters such as An Officer and a Gentleman and Gladiator.

It was part of his job, after all.

The 68-year-old has just retired as a cinema projectionist after 53 years in the tiny room at the back of the cinema.

He estimates he has worked in 30 cinemas in south-east Queensland, starting at the Odeon Theatre in Annerley and finishing his career at Pacific Cinemas in the Hyperdome at Loganholme.

The Calamvale local has seen every movie released for more than half a century from the projection room, but when was the last time he was tempted to watch a movie from the comfort of the actual cinema?

It was in 1997 and the film was Titanic.

"I just wanted to see the movie from downstairs to see what it was like, it was one of my favourite movies," he said.

"It's very good, I really enjoyed it."

What else sticks out in Mr Gibson's mind as the best movies of the past 53 years?

  • Zulu – A 1964 historical war film about the Battle of Rorke's Drift between the British Army and the Zulus in January 1879.
  • The Last of the Mohicans – A 1992 film about three troopers who try to protect a British Colonel's daughter during the French and Indian war.
  • Caddyshack – A 1980 sports comedy about a posh golf club that has to deal with a brash new member.
  • Dances With Wolves – Released in 1990, the movie tells the tale of a lieutenant during the Civil War who makes friends with wolves and Indians.
  • Avatar – Released in 2009 the 3D blockbuster is a story about American marines travelling to a the moon Pandora on a special mission.
  • Pretty Woman – A 1990 romantic comedy about prostitute with a heart of a gold who teaches a hardened businessman how to love.

Mr Gibson concedes watching a movie multiple times usually made the gloss wear off, but Pretty Woman was still a movie he loved.

Seeing the latest releases over and over again meant Mr Gibson not only knew some movies "line for line" but started picking up on the mistakes of the blockbusters of the time.

"The funny part is if you watch movies to any great extent you usually see a few bloopers in them," he said.

"Two that come to mind are Gladiator, when Russell Crowe was in the arena when he got killed, he was lying down and had his head tilted back on the ground, in the next scene it showed him and someone had put a mound of sand under his head.

"His head was about three inches off the ground, they must have though it looked a bit funny with his head tilted and so someone shoved some sand under there.

"And then another was in An Officer and a Gentleman, when Richard Gere went into the factory she was working and picked her up and carried her, well when he picked her up and swung her around her foot hit one of the things on the machine and you could see the look and she laughed, so you see these occasional bloopers.

"That probably in some ways spoil the effect of a movie, the more you see them, the less impact they have on you."

Twenty-three years ago, when Mr Gibson had worked in the cinema industry for 20 years, he was given a special card which allows him to see movies for free at almost any cinema in Australia.

He has never used the card.

Whipping it out is one of the things he is planning to do with his retirement. Much to his surprise, he has been tied up with media interviews since officially retiring on October 3.

Mr Gibson told his wife he would have to consider going back to work to have a break from the media and their interest was "getting bigger than Ben Hur".

"Well I suppose [the career] is interesting, it's funny you know because though it has been interesting as far as I'm concerned, for some reason I don't put a lot of significance in it, it's just something I've done and that was it," he said.

"I suppose it was a bit of a feat, when I think of it, 53 years. Probably a lot of people aren't in a job for 53 days these days."

He describes the changes he has seen in the industry as "mammoth" and the job of a projectionist has become "a lot less physical".

Gone are the days when a projectionist had to manually wind the film, put it on to a spool and then a platter.

Now, like so many other industries, it has gone completely digital and the movies come on a hard drive that is plugged into a bigger system.

"To be honest, that's one of the reasons I did retire as well, I sort of felt the new concept and the digital side of it, it's not my forte, it's such a big change," he said.

"I have been doing it the past couple of years, the digital, but I preferred the old way because it was more hands on."

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