In 1982, in the film periodical Filmska kultura nos. 138,139, and 140, MEMORIES AND OPINOINS (SJEĆANJA I MIŠLJENJA) by Oktavijan Miletić were published. Excerpts from this text convincingly describe the existence of numerous cinemas in Zagreb in the early part of the 20th century, as well as the interest of audiences at that time for the new art form – film:
- The most elite cinema in Zagreb before World War I was Union, situated at the beginning of then narrow Gajeva street, opposite the building in which the Foundation Hospital operated at the time. The cinema’s owner was Mr. Bajer, a former horse trader. He took very good care of his guests, especially the more distinguished ones. Since the cinema seats were not numbered – instead, there were three different categories of seats with different ticket prices for each – the audience members jostled to secure the best seats for themselves. In times of greatest onrush of viewers, especially on Sundays (and people were allowed to enter the cinema after each act of a show), a red rope was strung outside the cinema to contain the crowd, and it was in some critical moments stretched to the brink of snapping. Behind the rope stood a Mr. Weiss, who at one point unhooked the rope and barely managed to save himself by quickly jumping to one side. The cinema itself was built like an amphitheater. Mr. Bajer would often sit down next to a distinguished guest in an attempt to entertain them, which was rarely met with enthusiasm on the part of the „honored“ guest. Musical accompaniment of films was done on a piano at first, and was later expanded by adding a violin and a cello. The music played was mostly classical, including all the older and newer overtures.
- At the intersection of Petrinjska and Amruševa streets (where today we find a Kemikalija plastic materials store) stood a not-as-elite Edison cinema. Since the cinema did not have an appropriate projector lens, a part of the image, either on the top or the bottom, was always missing from the screen.
- The Cyril-Methodius cinema was situated in the same building as today’s Balkan cinema. Of course, the cinema did not look exactly like it does today, although its interior dimensions are unchanged. Back then the cinema wasn’t amphitheater-like in style. Instead, it was at ground level and flat. It contained ordinary chairs which could be moved around. The entrance was located where the screen is today. One would first enter into a medium-sized hall in which the ticket office and an automatic orchestrion, like the one that can be seen today in Geresdorfer’s hall of musical devices in Demetrova street (located in Jelačić’s palace), were located. Throwing in a ten fillér coin caused the device to start playing music to the rhythm of talambas drums, and the transparent picture on the body of the device would keep changing colors. In order to access the cinema viewing hall, one had to pass through a narrow doorway. At the far end of the hall, one story up and across its entire width, stretched a large balcony in which the chairs were covered with red velvet. This space was always scented with oils, with which the floor was coated. One would enter the balcony directly from the courtyard, climbing via a steep staircase which was more like a ladder. The cinema hall itself was spacious, but not very comfortable.
Back then there were no houses in the Balkan cinema passage. Instead there was only a garden and one pub, so in the summer films could also be screened outdoors. However, when there was any wind, it would fill the film screen canvas like a sail, causing the characters in the film to be deformed in unusual ways. As young children we used to watch Suffering of Jesus there. I remember that each scene was colored differently. That custom was called virage. For a long time, virage was applied to silent films. Forest scenes were greenish in color, interior scenes a bit yellow, scenes of a fire were red, etc. But sometimes one could also see red forests and green fires. I would like to remind you that in the early stages of film making, the equipment was not standardized, and neither were the films. Today the position of perforations is identical on all kinds of film stock. But in those days it was possible, for example, for the Gaumont company’s film has perforations to be positioned differently in relation to the image compared to film made by Pathé or some other firm. Consequently, it might happen that the laboratory producing the intertitles for a film used a camera with perforations positioned differently than the original film for which the titles were made, and so when showing the film, with each intertitle the image would jump up or down. The cinema operator had a really rough time, since he had to align the picture each time an intertitle came up; and this experience was not too pleasant for the audience, either.
- The Apolo cinema was built where the Jazavac theatre stands today, and had its opening in 1912. The cinema was built by Engr. Fisher, who seems to have forgotten he was building a cinema rather than a theatre, and therefore the gallery ended up being horseshoe-shaped. The intention was to make this „top“ cinema in Zagreb as beautiful as possible, and so painter Tomislav Krizman painted larger-than-life frescos of Pierrot and Pierrette on each side of the screen. The cinema was relatively luxuriously equipped. For its grand opening, the Italian film Quo vadis? was shown. The cinema’s program changed every two days, since at the time there weren’t enough interested viewers to justify additional shows. Programs were printed six or seven days in advance, and they included the synopsis of the film being shown, since the culture of film viewing was not yet very well developed then (and perhaps a similar approach might be useful even today).
- A bit later, on Preradović square, Metropol cinema (today cinema Zagreb) was built. Immediately after World War I, Zagreb audiences packed this theater in order to see the sensational American adventure films such as Cinnabar and Red Ace. These films were made up of four to six epochs.
- Even after that, Olymp cinema – today’s Kozara – was built, followed by Helios cinema in Frankopanska street, which later became the Gavella Drama Theatre. It is interesting to note that two of Zagreb’s cinemas were later turned into theaters, while abroad we usually see the opposite trend. The first (American) sound film White Shadows, with its soundtrack recorded on phonograph records, generated previously unknown levels of interest (it was shown at the Olymp cinema).
30 years after this text was published, the situation with Zagreb’s cinemas has changed dramatically:
- Union cinema – the first permanent cinema in Zagreb (Pathé Bioskop, Gajeva 1) – is today the Hotel Dubrovnik
- Edison cinema – theatre (at the corner of Petrinjska and Amruševa streets) – today there are shops at this location
- Cyril-Methodius cinema (Balkan cinema) – today is called cinema Europa (Europe), located at number 3, Varšavska street, which connects the important city thoroughfares of Preradović square and Frankopanska street; it is the oldest and most beautiful active cinema in Zagreb
- Metropol cinema ( Zagreb cinema ) on Preradović square – called Flower square today – has been demolished and a shopping mall built it its place
- Olimp cinema ( Kozara cinema ) – today is a theater house, home of the Histrion theater group
- Apolo cinema at Ilica 31, later renamed cinema Croatia, has been converted into the Jazavac theater – today called the Kerempuh theater
- “Sloboda” (Freedom) cinema – today is called the Tuškanac cinema (the building was built in the middle of the 19th century, and remodeled in the early 20th century to suit the needs of the Croatian National Theater)
- Helios cinema in Frankopanska street – is today the Gavella Drama Theater
- Music-Hall cinema at 7, Nikolićeva street, was later turned into the Istra concert hall – today it is the Zagreb Youth Theater