Cinemas, the new cathedrals?

“We spend more time at cinemas, theaters, art galleries and theme parks than we do at churches, and they have become our new cathedrals” – Michael Huffington

The University of Queensland Union’s Schonell Theatre is currently under review to determine its heritage value and it was due to be demolished by the previous University administration under Professor Hoy. The Queensland Heritage Council then rejected its heritage value. However the University administration under a new Vice Chancellor has had a change of heart and is looking at the theatre for ‘adaptive re-use’.

Former manager, Desley Agnoletto, has described how she liked the design of the cinema, particularly the arches. Her husband, Pietro, would mount a ladder and spend hours cleaning the vanes on the circular sculptures hanging on the bricks walls (shown). Ms Agnoletto, describing what a joy it was to be employed at the complex from 1975 till 2006, said she couldn’t believe her luck to be employed to watch some of the great films shown there.

A former theatre manager and organiser of 4ZZZ Joint Efforts, John Stanwell, describes how the Schonell (including the Cement Box) Theatre was designed to replace the Avalon Theatre on Schonell Drive. It became a place for alternative and mainstream shows including the Architect Revues and was a staging ground for shows that would later be put on in Brisbane’s mainstream theatres and sometimes taken on tour.

The Avalon had provided actors like Brian Nassen, Jack Thompson and Liz Nosworthy (?) with early stage experience. Both the Avalon and the Schonell provided a platform for ensemble theatre with overseas director Albert Hunt, a devotee of Bertolt Brecht, training performers and playwrights like Erroll O’Neill and other members of the Popular Theatre Troupe.

According to John Stanwell, this agitprop ensemble ‘got their breakthrough‘ during the Brisbane Warana Festival in the mid 1970s. The troupe went on to perform in workplaces, schools and theatres throughout the state. They were part of the radical movement opposed to the repressive state government led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Musician Lindy Morrison said that PTT ‘often performed in the Forum Area’ of the University Student Union complex.

The Schonell was originally designed as a traditional proscenium arch complete with an orchestra pit and a lift to bring the musicians up on stage. This was later removed from the Schonell. I am told the old Regent Theatre in Brisbane city had an orchestra pit with a lift. It later became what former Manager Jim Beatson described as Brisbane’s most iconic cinema boasting 230 first release films and up to 17 programs each week. In its heyday, the Schonell was a money spinner for the UQ Student Union making $2,500 profit each week. This enabled Beatson to put on shows cheaply for students and staff at the University.

Fryer librarian, Simon Farley, quoted from his submission to Queensland Heritage Council as to why the Schonell should be renovated and preserved. The council rejected his and other submissions. Recently the University administration has had a change of heart and begun to think about how the Schonell and other parts of the complex can be renovated for ‘adaptive re-use‘.

The Schonell was used to stage ballet with musical accompaniment in the orchestra pit eg Clarissa Hill Ballet. Brian and Denise Cahill set up Queensland Musical Theatre and put on shows at the Schonell. West Side Story was put on in the Schonell as recently as 2013. By this time the director was Deian Ping. So the Schonell has had many uses over the past 50 years, putting a lie to the naysayers that it lacks heritage value.

We value our cathedrals so why not our theatres and cinemas?

Ian Curr
11 Feb 2022

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Schonell’s Best Films 1975 – 2000

Schonell Theatre’s most popular films were discussed and are listed below. This list was provided by Ron Wakenshaw (now deceased) and Desley Agnoletto.

Schonell theatre interior 2 Apr 1971
AGUIRE WRATH OF
GOD
DECAMERON TRAFFIC
GARDEN OF FITZI
CONTINIS
TIS PITY SHE A
WHORE
THE ENIGMA OF
KASPER HAUSER
DISCRET CHARM OF
THE BOURGEOISE
DEATH IN VENICE VIRGIN & GYPSY
FIRST RELEASES 1975 AMARCORD
DAY FOR NIGHT SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE 1976
LOVE & DEATH ROYAL FLASH SEVEN BEAUTIES
CONVERSATION
PIECE
BLACK MOON F FOR FAKE
LE MARVELLIOUS VISIT MADAME ROSA LACOMBE LUCIEN
LES VIOLINS DU BAL 1977 TWILIGHTS LAST
GLEAMING
THE RITZ W.C. FIELDS & ME ERASERHEAD
VALENTINO 7% SOLUTION SEDUCTION OF
MIMI
SALON KITTY 1978 A WHOLE LIFETIME
(BROKE ALL
AUSTRALIAN
RECORDS)
FEDORA EQUUS
1900 LOVE & ANARCHY MR KLEIN
LA CAGE AUX
FOLLES
1979 PADRE PADRONE
PARDON MON
AFFAIRE
ALLEGRO NON
TROPPO
LA LUNA
1980 MANHATTAN STARDUST
MEMORIES
SMALL CIRCLE OF
FRIENDS
DAYS OF HEAVEN MOVIE MOVIE
MAGININE TIN DRUM NOSFERATU
DEAR INSPECTOR BREAD & CHOCOLATE GET OUT YOUR
HANDERCHIEFS
1981 KAGEMUSHA PIXOTE
MAO TO MOZART BYE BYE BRAZIL ATLANTIC CITY
ANNIE HALL*** (Australian Premiere) GREGORYS GIRL
MONTENEGRO BRIMSTONE &
TREACLE
MY DINNER WITH ANDRE
DEATHTRAP FADE TO BLACK PIRATES OF
PENZANCE
LA TRAVIATA 1982 MANHATTAN
(Australian Premiere) HEARTBEAT COME BACK TO THE 5 & DIME
BRITANNIA
HOSPITAL
MEPHISTO LUDWIG
PHANTON OF
LIBERTE
LE MAGNIFIQUE ARABIAN NIGHTS
SACCO & VANZETTI KES LILI MARLENE
VERONIKA VOSS LE CAVALEUR MONTENEGRO
  AUTUMN SONATA 1983 SHOCK TREATMENT
FITZCARALDO DANCE OF LIFE DIVA
QUERELLE 1984 BROADWAY DANNY
ROSE
MAN OF FLOWERS UNDERCOVER DRAUGHTSMANS
CONTRACT
CARMEN
SUBWAY
FANNY & ALEXANDER 1985
BIRDY PURPLE ROSE OF
CIARO
EATING ROAUL 
SIMPLE MINDED MURDERER
LEBAL
ANOTHER COUNTRY MY BEAUTIFUL
LAUNDRETTE
DELICATESSEN MY OWN PRIVATE
IDAHO
MY MOTHERS
CASTLE
1986  MALCOLM VIGIL
PRIVATE FUNCTION THE CHAIN EUREKA
4TH MAN COLONEL REDYL RAN
LES FUGITIVIS KISS OF THE SPIDER
WOMAN
1987
BLUE VELVET RADIO DAYS RAISING ARUIZONA
TINE MEN SOMETHING WILD TRAVELLING
NORTH
DOGS IN SPACE VINCENT LADY
JANE NAME OF THE ROSE MONA LISA
WITHNAIL & I Z & 2 NOUGHTS JEAN DE FLORETTE
MANON OF THE
SPRING
CARRAVAGIO LE GRAND CHEMIN
MY LIFE A S A DOG BETTY BLUE 1988 
CRY FREEDOM MYSTIC PIZZA TWO MOON
JUNCTION
DOWN BY LAW AS TIME GOES BY HANDFUL OF DUST
WHITE MISCHIEF SALOMES LAST DANCE PRICK UP YOUR
EARS
LAW OF DESIRE CRAZY LOVE 1989 
MYSTERY TRAIN POWAQUATSSI NAVIGATOR
DROWNING BY
NUMBERS
HANUSSEN ROSALIE GOES
SHOPPING
TORCH SONG
TRILOGY
MAURICE PELLE THE
CONQUEROR
PATHFINDER 1990 WILD AT HEART
ANGEL AT MY TABLE STRUCK BY
LIGHTNING
MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON
JESUS OF MONTREAL REVOLVING DOORS DRUGSTORE
COWBOY
FRUIT MACHINE APARTMENT ZERO TIE ME UP TIE ME
DOWN
CINEMA PARADISO SALAAM BOMBAY 1991
TWO JAKES AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD UNBELIEVABLE
TRUTH
TRUST PROOF ROSENKRANTZ & GUILDERSTEIN
1992 CITY OF JOY BLACK ROBE
RUBY & RATA EUROPA EUROPA WHAT HAVE I DONE
HIGH HEELS MY FATHERS GLORY 1993
JOHNNY SUEDE SIMPLE MEN LIKE WATER FOR
CHOCOLATE
LOVERS WEDDING BANQUET FOR A LOST
SOLDIER
STOLEN CHILDREN LEOLA 1994 
MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY WHATS EATING G
GRAPE
SPIDER & ROSE
BELLE EQOQUE QUEEN MARGOT WINDOW TO PARIS
LOVE & HUMAN
REMAINS
BABY OF MACON 1995
USUAL SUSPECTS 6 DEGREES OF
SEPARATION
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
BASKETBALL
DIARIES
ED WOOD AMATEUR
BREAD & ROSES HEAVENLY
CREATURES
YOUNG POISONERS HANDBOOK
FARENELLI IL POSTINO QUEEN MARGOT
MOST DESIRED MAN STRAWBERRY & CHOCOLATE SECRET OF ROAN
INISH
1996 DEAD MAN GRASS HARP
LIVING IN OBLIVION SECRETS & LIES PILLOW BOOK
1997 CHASING AMY INTIMATE
RELATIONS
DIFFERENT FOR
GIRLS
LE APARTMENT WILD REEDS
CHILDREN OF THE
REVOLUTION
BASQUIT DEATH ON LONG
ISLAND
1998 TOTAL CLIPSE WILDE
VELVET GOLDMINE LIVE FLESH HURRICANE
STREETS
BUTCHER BOY 1999 PLUNKETT &
MACLEANE
RUN LOLA RUN GODS & MONSTERS CENTRAL STATION

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