Mercury Falling

by Bill Mousoulis

An impression of Adelaide's Mercury Cinema.

Having attended a couple of sessions at the Mercury Cinema recently, I'm sorry to report that, despite a nice refurbishment of the venue in the Covid off-season, the venue is still beset by organisational problems.

I have been living in Adelaide the past 4 years now, and have visited the cinema quite a few times, but certain issues still persist: session times are changed without proper warning, the ticketing system is hampered by a cumbersome workflow involving having to line up at the (painfully slow) counter to be physically given a ticket (even for those who have already bought their tickets), and a general lack of any kind of purpose or excitement in the air.

Last night's Cinematheque screening of Godard's Tout va bien suffered from all the above (in fact, the session time had changed twice in the space of the last few weeks – from 7:00 pm to 6:30 and then back to 7:00, confusing a number of people at various points, including at the screening itself). There was the added bonus last night of the female toilets being closed due to refurbishment (not repair – refurbishment, a no-brainer mistake when running a business), and then there was also the absurd act of handing a glass of white wine to a patron in a martini glass, complete with an offer of a straw! I should also mention that an extra film, Letter to Jane, was added to the program only at the last moment. Good luck to anyone trying to organise their parking space or dinner. The films also played off a standard-definition DVD. So much for the cinema's proclamation on their website:

Suffice to say, even the 20 or so regulars who always attend the Cinematheque screenings were getting a little pissed off.

Speaking of the Mercury website, it is also beset by problems. Apart from its unappealing design, it has bad UX (user experience), and can anyone believe this classic mistake in the FAQs section? No, that's not a blank space in the answer, it's white writing on a white background:

My first impressions of Adelaide, in the first full year of living here in 2018, were that the city was actually punching above its weight when it came to the area I myself am most interested in – Australian independent cinema, especially that which is a bit more alternative and experimental. So, in 2018, apart from the existence of the boutique cinema and bar Sax & Violins Film Society, where I programmed a few screenings of more alternative Oz indie works, the Adelaide Film Festival and Mercury Cinema also allowed me to program some indie sessions of my own choosing. See here for more details. Adelaide may have only 25% of Melbourne's population, but in 2018 it seemed to be shooting at 50% of Melbourne's audience and impact, and the Mercury was indeed feeling like "the home of independent cinema", as its website proudly proclaims today:

Alas, in 2019 that audience and impact lessened dramatically. Sax & Violins were forced to close due to lack of funding, and I had negotiations with the Mercury programming team to put on more Australian indie films, but I had to pull out of that planning process due to overwork and some health concerns. Credit to them that they still exhibited a couple of titles that I was going to program (films by Allison Chhorn and Matthew Victor Pastor), screening them in the Oz Asia Festival. Also, in 2020, the Adelaide Film Festival did not invite me back to do more programming for them.

I also noticed, through 2018 to 2020, that the Mercury were simply not programming certain independent Australian titles that were doing the rounds in Melbourne and Sydney, namely films like Under the Cover of Cloud, Reflections in the Dust, Strange Colours and a restoration like Ray Argall's Return Home, which in 1989 was actually shot in Adelaide.

I hope that that changes a bit this year, with a title such as Bloodshot Heart, which is currently getting attention and screenings in Melbourne and Sydney, or certainly the Mercury must play the local, Adelaide feature, Dry Winter, made by some Flinders Uni students, which recently had its World Premiere in Switzerland. It is a genuinely bold indie work, and work like this needs to be encouraged.


Bill Mousoulis is a Greek-Australian independent filmmaker since 1982, and a programmer and critic. He is the editor of the Pure Shit: Australian Cinema website.

Published May 6, 2021. © Bill Mousoulis 2021.