The man who made the picture show

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By John Keast

Geraldine has a new picture show.

But it’s not on at the Plaza, or the Lyceum – it’s at the Geraldine Vintage Car and Machinery Museum.

The museum has set up a display on its mezzanine floor setting out the story of Town Hall Pictures and its creator, Charles Cuthbert Knight, known to all as Cuth Knight.

As well as the story, the museum has acquired some of the original projection equipment.

Mr Knight began working for his father in the Lyceum in Timaru in 1918, but made his name in Geraldine – and Mt Somers, Mayfield, Staveley, Fairlie and further afield.

But Geraldine was his base.

The Geraldine Town Hall was built around 1924 and Mr Knight was approached by the Geraldine Borough Council to be manager/caretaker, with part of his role to prepare the hall for use as a theatre.

Because the hall had to be used for civic and other duties, the screen had to be rigged on a rope and pulley system.

The projector was put in a projection box for a test run, but had to be raised 60cm and ports – one for the projector and one for the operator – had to be cut into a concrete wall.

But it was sorted out, and Town Hall Pictures became a reality, though not without safety concerns, with all film then made of nitrate celluloid – prone to catching fire.

To counter the problem, the projection box had to be made of non-combustible material.

Town Hall Pictures opened in 1925, with the first movie being North of the Yukon.

The cinema in those days was an event, with a musician or an orchestra making it a night out.

But trouble was ahead for Cuth Knight, with the Geraldine Borough Council decreeing in 1927 that talking movies not be shown.

Patronage dropped off, with film goers going to Timaru where talking pictures were allowed.

Later, the council decided to lease the hall – and Cuth Knight applied and was granted the lease, and was eventually allowed to show talkies.

By the end of World war 2, Cuth Knight ran theatres at Mayfield, Staveley, Mt Somers and had other theatres set up at Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo, sometimes carting the film by motorcycle accompanied by wife Olive in the side-car.

In later years, he bought and ran a theatre in Temuka.

But as many theatres as he ran, Geraldine was always the base of operations.

One time, when the Skipton Bridge was washed out, he rigged a makeshift flying fox to get film across the river.

Mr Knight (1901-1983) was chief fire officer at Geraldine and awarded the QFSM for services to the fire brigade.

In 1970 Town Hall Pictures in Geraldine was reopened as the Geraldine Cinema, and still operates today, but with digital projection equipment.