Dress Memory18

Harvey Graham

The Regent was unlike any other cinema in Brisbane. It was an old theatre with opulent curtains and a creaky dumbwaiter to transport heavy cans of film. The grand staircase swept up from the foyer and led you into the cinemas, into the thrill of darkness.

I was at university. First year. I saw Psycho for the first time after sneaking into a film lecture, and it was there I found out about volunteering to work at BIFF—the Brisbane International Film Festival. I phoned them up and began what turned into a four-year term as a platinum blonde cinema usher.

I was given a torch and a walkie-talkie, modern-day sceptres of power. I could throw 14 year-olds out of MA 15+ movies if they weren’t accompanied by a parent or guardian; I could do anything.

All my friends could do anything, too: music, performance, painting, fashion. They all ran student newspapers and music venues and did crazy art projects, living together in an enormous, sprawling house where The Delinquents was shot a decade before. Our interests included, among other things, Gertrude Stein and Lichtenstein.

First year. It was the first time I became vegan, which led to the first time I was rushed to hospital with malnourishment. It was the first time I had to be fed through a drip in my arm—the first time I had made myself sick.

Then came the first time I heard Horses and the first time I slept with someone else’s boyfriend. The second time I had made myself sick.

The first time I spent a lot of money on a dress was to buy this, an original Harvey Graham, to wear to a BIFF opening night. The bust is decorated with gorgeous, tiny scalloped pleats that make you feel puffed up, proud, like a bird.

Tippi Hedren was a special guest that opening night—Hitchcock’s Tippi, who didn’t want to be the next Grace Kelly but, rather, the first Tippi Hedren.

But something comes first so that something else can come after it, like the individual panels of a comic book. Life is art. The speech bubbles flap above your head like sparrows. You run up a staircase chased by time, the trenchcoated pursuer. You move forward, up, away from the past and into the thrill of darkness. Life is suspense.

Then the whaam, pow, crack! Years later you read in the newspaper that they’re going to demolish the Regent and turn it into apartments. They’re keeping the staircase though.

I don’t know why but I always remember that staircase being so, so long.

The melody haunts my reverie.

So long.


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Image by Lee Sandwith © 2011