From the mid-1920, Eleusis began to change rapidly. The arrival of refugees from Asia Minor, the return of the enlisted men after the end of a decade of war, and the development of industry transformed the semi-rural town into a dynamic urban center full of life. Work in the factories was, therefore, accompanied by new entertainment opportunities.
Sweet treats and circuses
Coffee shops and pastry shops gradually adopted the hours followed by shops in Athens (5 am to midnight). The more athletically-inclined Eleusinians could take advantage of the tennis court that operated since 1924 on a community plot, or choose between the “Panelefsiniakos Athletic Club” and the “Elefsiniakos Athletic Club” if they preferred group sports. There were Karagiozis and puppet shows for the children, the Philharmonic of Eleusis for music aficionados and the occasional theatrical performance by amateur troupes for theatre lovers. But nothing could compare to the magic of cinema.
The arrival of cinemaphotography
Motion pictures appeared in Greece on November 29, 1896, just eleven months after the first commercial screening organized by the Lumière brothers in Paris. The inaugural screening of those “moving photographs” took place at 9 am, in a modified private residence on Kolokotroni Street, in the centre of Athens. The programme included all the great successes of the Lumière brothers. There was a new screening every half hour and a ticket cost 2.20 drachmas (1.10 for children under seven years of age). It was a steep price, but the public responded with enthusiasm.
The following years were turbulent and full of war, political or economic instability, dictatorships, national disasters, and successive coups d’état. The state’s attitude towards cinema was erratic. The authorities feared that films could betray the ministers’ illegal activities, cause a backlash from the general public, or even “contaminate” the minds of Greek viewers with foreign ideas. State restrictions became so unbearable that in 1934 Greek producers abandoned all efforts to make films in Greece, while cinema owners faced heavy taxation and various committees that tried to regulate everything, from safety standards to the appropriate age of admission.
The refugee movie theatre
In this climate, the Tatakis brothers, refugees from Asia Minor, decided to invest in the movie theatre business. Michalis built the facilities for an open-air theatre at the intersection of El. Venizelou and Iatrou Pappagianni streets, while Nikos was responsible for running the business. The cinema was called “Pallas” and began operating in the summer of 1938; it was equipped with Italian movie projectors made by the famous Cinemeccanica company, while the theatre was surrounded by bougainvilleas and jasmine. Opening a movie theatre was a great adventure for Nikos Tatakis. The movie projector cost more than a new house, while he lacked experience in the field since until then he had been employed as an industrial worker, a hairdresser, and a convenience store clerk.
Nevertheless, “Pallas” soon became a local reference point. The 300 seats proved totally inadequate during the screening of the “Little refugee girl” by the Egyptian director Togo Mizrahi, with Sophia Vembo as a refugee girl from the Caucasus. Many members of the audience had to sit on the floor or climbed on the branches of the surrounding trees.
Winter is coming
The second open-air cinema in Eleusis opened barely a month after “Pallas”. It was called “Rex” and was located on the plot where Iera Odos meets Hadjigeorgiou and Aderfi Mouriki streets. It had a capacity of 650 seats, but when popular movies were shown, many spectators were forced to bring their own stools from home. The first film screened was Nicolas Farkas’ “Port Arthur”. The technical equipment was far from perfect: the movie projector often destroyed the film reel, while technicians were forced to soften the reels by placing them in humid wells, otherwise, they would not work with the projector.
The venture’s success prompted the businessman Nikos Asteriou to create a winter cinema. To this end, he used an old pottery factory across the city (at the corner of Ir. Politechniou and Tzaferis street). The cinema opened its doors on October 28, 1939. It had approximately 250 seats, which could be removed to transform the building into a ballroom.
Cinemas seriously harm the spectator
The political situation at that time, of course, remained difficult, not only for the owners of cinemas but also for the spectators themselves. The dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas had its own ideas regarding the influence of cinema on the general public and tried to control what was said or heard there. A commission of military and police officers classified the movies as appropriate, inappropriate or strictly inappropriate. Some academics argued that motion pictures could destroy the visual nerves, cause respiratory problems and facilitate the transmission of disease. Metaxas responded by imposing prison sentences on any adult accompanying children under the age of 15 to the movies. But he also financed films inspired by his own speeches or from the athletic activities of the EON. Over 450 short films were produced and screened immediately following Hollywood-made movies to ensure that the viewers left the cinema with the proper images and notions.
The public, of course, did not seem intimidated by such bizarre opinions and embraced movie theatres with passion. Eleusis acquired a third open-air cinema in the summer of 1939. The famous “Orpheus” was nothing more than an open space surrounded by tall trees (ideal places for neighborhood children during screenings) on Heroes Square. Two brothers (Dimitris and Spyros Pappas) had many dreams for their venture, but the beginning of the Second World War overturned the plans of businessmen and spectators alike. The movie theaters of Eleusis entered an unpredictable and adventurous period of their lives.