VIENNA: Buy your ticket to an art house movie, order a glass of wine and kick back on century-old seats: Vienna’s half a dozen old picture houses still draw crowds with their retro charm.
At the Bellaria, a cinema founded in 1911 in central Vienna, there is only one screen, no bright lights and no posters of the latest Hollywood action blockbusters or Pixar animated capers.
Instead there is slightly worn floral wallpaper and black-and-white-photos of the German and Austrian film stars of yesteryear: Paula Wessely, Hans Moser and Magda Schneider and Wolf Albach-Retty – parents of the acclaimed German-French actress Romy Schneider.
Some pictures are even signed, much to the delight of visitor Heidrun Poschinger, 72. “Cinema was like that in the old days,” she said. “I used to collect all their autographs back in the day.”
These are tough times. Faced with stiff competition from modern multiplexes, which account for two-thirds of the Austrian capital’s 150 or so cinemas, the musty, reassuring authenticity is all the small places can tout.
Even if they have a loyal base of regulars – original version afficionados, students, film buffs and retirees – they cannot only rely on showing art house films to attract clients.
“Since in Vienna there are too many cinemas and seats compared to the amount of demand, multiplexes are also showing art house films and are competing with us,” says Michaela Englert, manager of the Admiral Kino, founded 101 years ago.
Over at the Breitenseer Lichtspiele (BSL), which first opened in 1905 and claims to be the oldest continuously operating cinema in the world, manager Anna Nitsch-Fitz accepts that she cannot compete.
“There are hardly any films now that come out in 35 mm,” she says. And going digital would be too dear.
As a result Nitsch-Fitz, who’s been in charge since 1969, tries to make the BSL unusual, a bit like going back in time.
On the program are visits to the projection room, silent films accompanied by a pianist and even knitting evenings – with the lights not too low when the movie is showing.
“It’s a chance to experience the past,” says Sabine Rosenkranz-Froemmel, a philosophy teacher. “It’s like a living museum of cinema.”
The Admiral meanwhile, a veritable Viennese institution in the hip seventh district of the Austrian capital and a former hangout of the late writer Arthur Schnitzler, has moved more with the times, going digital a few years ago.
Seated on one of the century-old refurbished red leather seats, Bavaria’s Mia Unterharnscheidt, a glass of red wine in her hand, feels at home – or rather in someone else’s.
“I find the atmosphere really nice,” she says, sipping her drink as she waits for the film to begin.
“It’s like being in someone’s sitting شroom. You feel good.”