Tarwin Street (corner of George Street)
Also known as: Mechanics Pictures, Morwell Talkies
Showing films from: 1920s
Like many of the Mechanics Institutes across Australia, the Mechanics Hall in Morwell screened films. It is believed that the first film screened at the Mechanics Hall took place in 1900, as part of Lux Travelling Cinema circuit. There were a number of traveling picture circuits operating in Gippsland in the early twentieth century, such as those run by the Lawrence Brothers, for example. Starting with occasional film screenings at the Mechanics Hall, the screenings soon become a regular feature in the town. An advert from the Morwell Advertiser claimed that the first ‘talkie’ outside of Melbourne was shown at the Mechanics Hall on the 1st June 1929.
The Mechanics Hall hit the headlines a number of times during the next few years due to film related fires. In June 1933, following a film screening at the Hall, 14,000 feet of film internally combusted while it was in the process of being transported to Melbourne in the back of a car. The Argos, a Melbourne paper, reported that the driver and his passenger were shocked, when, having driven only a short distance down the road, the film suddenly burst into flames. The newspaper reported that the flames quickly overtook the car but the driver and passenger had thankfully been able to escape uninjured.
That same month, while the audience was watching a dramatic scene during the evening’s film, a fire broke out in the projection booth when the film jammed in the projector a few feet from the end of the film. The Morewell Advertiser reported the event in their article ‘Thrills at Picture show’:
At one stage an aeroplane flying high, is seen to nose-dive and in a sensational scene it falls with a terrific crash and bursts into flames; but a further thrill of a more realistic nature was added at the same moment when a portion of the film ignited and burst into flames in the operating box. In a twinkling there was almost panic, and quite a number made a stampede for the doors, some tumbling over chairs and forms in the semi-darkness. In the excitement that prevailed, one woman fainted and others were much upset. Fortunately, the alarm was of brief duration as the outbreak was promptly extinguished.
Just two months later in August 1933 there was more real life drama and ‘thrills’ when another fire broke out in the projection booth, again the Morwell Advertiser were quick to report the fire: ‘An extra thrill was added to the program of pictures screened at Morwell Mechanics’ Hall, on Saturday evening last, when 1000 feet of film was destroyed by fire. The fire was, however confined to the ‘operating box’, and little damage was done beyond the destruction of the film‘.
Fires were a frequent hazard during film screenings at that time because the film stock was still mostly made from nitrate, a highly flammable substance. It is no wonder then that audiences at the Mechanics Hall were given plenty of real life thrills while watching movies.
There were also plenty of cinematic thrills in store for Morwell’s film going public, as is evident from the Morwell Advertiser’s write up and almost full page advert for the controversial and uncensored Cecil B DeMille’s film The Sign of the Cross, appearing in the paper on the 6th July 1933, they wrote:
‘The Sign of the Cross’ is pulsing, primitive, passionate. It is Life at the highest summit and at the lowest depths, moulded by the hand of a genius into a kaleidoscopic spectacle that is at once stupendous, breath taking, magnificent. It is a powerful portrayal of the triumph of faith over the pagan passions of a dissolute and degenerate society.’
Another fire broke out during the early hours of 10th January 1935, this time sadly it destroyed the Mechanics Hall, reducing the building to ashes. Most of the town turned out to see the large fire, and it was reported that you could see it from miles away. However, on this occasion, it seems film was not to blame for the fire. Today, a retail unit stands where the Mechanics Hall once was.