Lights, action ... Splodge!

16 April 2000
Sunday Herald Sun
(c) 2000 Herald and Weekly Times Limited

A film buff has turned the back room of a North Fitzroy pub into the most amazing picture theatre in town, reports MICHAEL WARD.

SPLODGE! film night is a million miles from your local suburban multiplex experience. And therein lies its charm.

Splodge! is run out of the back room of a North Fitzroy pub. It is an eclectic, eccentric film society with a decidedly oddball bent. Best of all, it is free.

At Splodge!, the first and third Monday of every month at the Empress Hotel, you will find no box office (there are no tickets to buy), no usher to show you your seat (just grab your own table), and no overpriced popcorn (though you will find Thai burgers, chickpea curries and nachos on the menu).

You will find a program with cartoons, short films, rare prints of schlocky sci-fi pictures and episodes from '60s television shows.

A recent Splodge! screening included the Disney animated film The Legend of Sleepy Hollow; Mongrel's Funeral, an Australian short that won an award at the 1987 Melbourne Film Festival; and episodes from TV series The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

Film buff Alan Quirk has been running his free screenings at the Empress since November 1997, taking over from a regular, if unsuccessful, stand-up comedy and poetry-reading night.

A Rusden Media Studies graduate - "a long, long time ago" - Quirk also studied film under Melbourne film buff John Flaus and has long been a devotee of Melbourne Cinematheque.

He funds Splodge! from his own pocket.

"This is culture," he says. "You simply can not put a price tag on every single cultural event.

"That's the expectation these days.

"Everyone is running on a philosophy of user pays. I strongly feel you can not have a healthy culture without making certain cultural items freely available."

Quirk calls Splodge! a free, no-budget, guerrilla, community film education project.

In some ways, he likens his role to that of the old picture show man, who travelled from town to remote town to screen films for the locals.

While North Fitzroy is hardly the Back o' Bourke, Quirk approaches his work with an almost missionary zeal.

"You show these films and it creates an appetite," he says.

"If the films are as striking as I think they are, they will stay with people for the rest of their lives.

"I really feel that doing something like this can affect and influence lives."

Quirk recalls how at a recent screening a woman came up to him afterwards and thanked him for showing the Twilight Zone episode Incident At Owl Creek Bridge.

T HE woman had read Ambrose Bierce's famous short story and had waited more than 30 years to see the film version.

"You just get an enormous feeling of warmth in the heart when you realise you're completing something for somebody," says Quirk.

"I mean, that film is a classic, but who sees it and where? It's extraordinary."

Quirk screens his films on a pair of 16mm projectors mounted on the pub's pool table. He speaks lovingly of his "glorious 16mm".

"It's almost obsolete technology," Quirk says. "But it's a tactile experience. Even if the film's terrible, you can still sit up front and look at the emulsion or grain or heat swirls from the lamp as they fall on the screen."

On a typical Splodge! night, 30-70 people can cram into the back room of the pub.

A rarely seen 30-minute documentary on Woody Allen recently packed in the punters.

And the very first episode of Sesame Street proved extremely popular.

As Melbourne's best-kept film secret becomes well spread, Quirk may find himself faced with the need to expand - something that he is not so sure about.

"It's a big job and I love it," he says. "Of course, I'd love to see Splodge! grow. But I'm also tremendously loyal. The pub's been extremely good to us, and in my mind it would be unethical or immoral to run off after having achieved all we've achieved.

"In a way, it's like a cosy marriage."

The latest Splodge! program can be found at

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