You say eccentric, I say romantic…

What makes your favourite indie cinema different to the multiplex? Sure it’s the programming, and the prices. And a lot of other ‘stuff’. But the main thing, the big thing, is the people. Whether it’s a rep house or an art house, it’s different because the people who run it and the people who populate it are different. Some call them weirdos, nerds and eccentrics. As both an employee and an attendee of such places, I’d call us optimists, and romantics.

Despite the many reasons I think we all go to the cinema, the truth is that it’s different for all of us. Some of us just love movies. Others like the social experience. Some people happen to live nearby and others come in because it’s raining. But I still think that most of us want to feel something that the multiplex can’t and won’t abide. It might be a sense of belonging, of community. It might also just be anything other than alienated and unwanted by the world.

How we feel and who we share our experiences with is important. In the ’90s I used to go to the Lumiere with friends, but I’d visit the Trak on my own and the Astor was an experience I always shared with loved ones. My first cinema job, at the tender age of eighteen, was at the Kino (back in the Dendy days). It was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere. Sure the manager used to ask me to please not to dance on the candy bar, but a little groovin’ while ripping tickets was fine. Being honest about which films to see was encouraged and no one was admitted into the auditorium after the first fifteen minutes of photochemical film had rolled. I learnt everything I know about Pedro Almodovar over conversation and cigarettes in the foyer.

Fast forward to today and even if smoking in foyers has well and truly become a thing of the past, my favourite conversations and my film education is still taking place one or two steps away from an auditorium. Every cinema that fosters an environment that film lovers can feel is their own, and can really feel at home in, is special. And it’s something worth holding on to.

Recently the New Beverly Cinema underwent some management changes. You may have read about it on the LA Weekly blog.

Well, today things are looking less than optimistic. Today, Julia Marchese, the former face of the New Bev (and a lovely, passionate cinephile), put this up on her own blog. 

She has also shared her film Out of Print on vimeo. We had hoped to screen a 35mm film print at the theatre, once it had finished its anticipated festival run. But, given how things have turned out so far, that looks doubtful.

I don’t mind saying that watching this documentary – the first thing I did when I woke up this morning – brought tears to my eyes. And not just because I’m a romantic. But because I know the stories Marchese tells intimately. They are the stories we share here at the Astor. They are the stories that impassioned, optimistic film nerds know all too well: love, hope and disappointment.

Pleading with the studios not to junk prints, to let you book existing prints, to stop mastering crappy DCPs –  and to please for the love of God stop blaming everything on online piracy – all the while trying desperately to ensure the longevity of what you love – hopeful that a white knight landlord will share your vision without making commercially minded changes to the operation of the place – oh, these are battles we know all too well.

No one in a rep house has ever done what they do for the money, to exploit patrons. Let’s be clear: the only kind of exploitation a rep house is interested in is the kind that was once printed onto photochemical film.

But the saddest thing for me, watching Out of Print, was the painful knowledge that even when Joe Dante says film prints are important, the studios won’t listen. When it comes down to it, corporate studios and landlords aren’t romantics – they’re capitalists.

While I don’t want a cinematic life that excludes the option to see a double bill of Gremlins and Gremlins 2 on 35mm and 70mm blow-up at Christmas time, my best ideas are anti-multiplex anarchy stolen from Cecil B. Demented. Perhaps I ought to write to John Waters for more ideas…

In the interim, if you love rep, watch Out of Print and, if you live near a rep house, go see what you can while you can. We eccentrics try to stay optimistic but even the most romantic among us get downtrodden at times.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre, with love and appreciation of The New Beverly Cinema, and sisterly respect for the passion Julia Marchese and her colleagues have brought to the city of LA.

 

I love St Kilda icons

St Kilda has long been home to many of the city’s arts events and of course, a number of its grand theatres. Today it is still home to some of the city’s most beautiful, iconic, and culturally and historically significant buildings. As well as the grand old dame that houses the Astor – a not especially gaudy structure that belies the hive of activity that takes place inside, St Kilda boasts the National Theatre and, shoreside, The Palais.

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Each in its own right is so much more than just beautifully stacked bricks and mortar to view from the beach or while sauntering down Barkly St. And now – not exactly like us but also not entirely unlike us – The Palais is in trouble. Its trouble is not about a freehold, however, as the building is owned by the State Government. It is about maintenance. A LOT of maintenance – far more than the comparatively minor repairs the Astor requires.

As a state owned building, what’s needed is investment from the government. There’s an election upcoming so now is a good time to make some noise if you love the Palais. We love the Palais. We love all of the rich history and the wonderful cultural events that take place in Melbourne, and especially St Kilda: it’s our home, and we want our home to keep its cultural icons.

sk0407A-71-22There’s too much apathy when it comes to keeping history alive, which is why I’m writing this post. Recently, in the media frenzy that followed our announcement of closure in 2015, a journalist asked me why the building housing the Astor was important when it’s not yet reached 100 years in age. The Astor is 78, the Palais is 87. Neither building is 100 years old, but both are incredibly important and must be maintained. My question, not just for that journalist, but for everyone, is this: how can a building ever hope to become 100 years old if it isn’t valued, protected and maintained before then?

If you love the Palais and want to know more, visit: ilovemypalais.com

You can also get involved and show your support on Facebook and Twitter.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre

MSO at the Astor

The folks over at the MSO are launching their 2015 season in style! Celebrating the magical connection between music and film, the MSO will be performing popular film scores at the Astor on Tuesday October 14.

The performance on Tuesday will include works by Albinoni, Beethoven, Jonny Greenwood, Strauss and Nigel Westlake. It also kick starts their sort of scavenger hunt through the city of Melbourne where the MSO will be found and experienced in unexpected locations… like the Astor!

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As part of all this musical madness, they’ll be giving away a golden ticket. We don’t know where it is or when it will appear but if you fancy yourself a sleuth and want to keep up to date with their clues, follow them on Twitter and like them on FaceBook.

2015 tickets for the MSO will be go sale from Thursday October 23 and more info can be found at mso.com.au

As for the performance at the Astor – live music in a building designed by an acoustic engineer? Listening to the greats in your favourite movie theatre? Being a part of something special and it’s free? Sounds too good to be true, right?

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BUT IT IS TRUE! The MSO are coming, they will perform and it will be free. BUT, because of this, we have to tell you right now that there are only 1000 seats (“only”). That means QUEUE EARLY FOLKS.

Doors open 6.30pm Tuesday for a 7.30pm start. Queues start as soon as the most enthusiastic of you appear. Please queue carefully as we are at the corner of a major intersection and you never know about the weather so be prepared. Other than that, we’ll see you Tuesday, yeah?

Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen. It’s not going to happen.

Before Iggy Azalea was getting Fancy with Charli XCX, Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) was cruising around LA with Dionne Davenport (Stacey Dash), trying to be more of a do-gooder type by making over her adorably clueless new best friend, Tai Frasier (Brittany Murphy). Of course, finding someone more clueless than she is to worship her was far more of a challenge than Cher had bargained for.

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Sure she’s a little distracted by things like the mall and being popular, but so long as she can argue her way to good grades, Cher doesn’t see why her step-brother Josh (Paul Rudd) should be so super critical of her all the time – or why she failed her driving test, and what’s wrong with being a virgin anyway? High school boys are so immature.

So okay, I don’t want to be a traitor to my generation and all but I don’t get how guys dress today. I mean, come on, it looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some baggy pants and take their greasy hair (eww!) and cover it up with a backwards cap and like, we’re expected to swoon? I don’t think so. You see how picky I am about my shoes and they only go on my feet.

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It’s a totally quotable movie, and it completely revived Jane Austen for teenagers in the ’90s. Now I don’t want to say anything way harsh, or diss Iggy Azalea – exactly, but when it comes to being adorably clueless, Amy Heckerling’s privileged party girl clad head to toe in designer threads is totally like Ren & Stimpy – they’re way existential.

And when you’re done getting existential we’ll have a bit of a recess – time enough to get yourself some kind of herbal refreshment. And even though we actually do have tea, but we also have coke and stuff. Even though this is not America.

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After your break, we move schools to join Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) as she befriends unpopular but awesome best buds Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese). Soon after, however, she encounters the school’s Queen Bee Regina George (Rachel McAdams) and is invited to sit with The Plastics – Regina George, Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried). From here it’s all about who can be the biggest – and most clever – bitch of all. Jungle like behaviour and savage competition ensues.

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But it’s not a Wednesday, so don’t wear pink. YOU KNOW THE RULES. No really, this is important:

You can’t wear a tank top two days in a row.

And you can only wear your hair in a ponytail once a week.

Oh, and we only wear jeans or track pants on Fridays.

Leave the real world and enter girl world. It is SO FETCH.

 

 

Clueless screens with Mean Girls in a Thrifty Thursday double bill on Thursday October 2nd at 7.30pm. All tickets $13

A surprising home for ‘film’

While the film studios make a past time of junking things, we do the opposite.

We keep stuff. Lots of stuff. Not just film prints (we keep those too, so don’t worry).

One item  we’ve kept and found a surprising use for is this humble box that used to house VHS tape.

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Now you’re probably wondering what exactly we are cataloging with these (yes, this is number 17 in a series).

Well, even though we have invested in additional storage space for our server, there’s just not enough (memory) space. We screen more than 100 films per calendar, and many of those are digital. We often repeat titles and we have a number of other files (trailers, promos, etc) that we need to keep, but can’t always keep on the server due to our high rotation of titles. So, inside this VHS case is a DCP.

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Not nearly as romantic to look at as a film print, is it? Still, a drive needs a home and these cases seem just about the perfect fit.

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Who knew that a VHS case would find itself housing a theatrical screening format? Seems ludicrous. But then again, so do most of the things that happen in this industry. Why not reuse a humble VHS case? And while we’re talking about re -purposing the supposedly obsolete, why don’t we just admit that there is life yet in all manner of formats? Maybe throwing everything away as a past time isn’t such a good idea after all. Oh wait, we knew that already. If only those studio execs would listen to the people who actually work with film and, you know, care about it. Now that really is crazy talk!

Pencak Silat Martial Arts

Brace yourselves. On Sunday October 5th there’s going to be a quite literally kick-arse event taking place at the Avondale Heights Stadium in Melbourne.

It’s recently been brought to our attention by the Australian Pencak Silat Federation that the Australian Pencak Silat Championships take place not long after our big screen double bill showcasing precisely that style of Indonesian Martial Arts.

Next Thursday (September 25th) we’ve got a double bill of The Raid (Redemption) (2012) + The Raid 2: Berandal (2014) scheduled, sure to blow your mind with its superbly choreographed fight scenes. If you’ve seen either of these films before then you’ll know what we mean – some pretty astonishing moves. Well, this mesmerising stuff takes place in Melbourne too and the Aus Pencak Silat Fed are still accepting late entrants to the tournament – and it’s open to all styles of martial arts – so if you’re interested in trying your hand (or foot) at this artistic athleticism, then you really ought to hop to it!

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The championships are being held on Sunday the 5th of October,
at Avondale Heights Stadium,
68-89 Military Rd, Avondale Heights, 3034
Tickets are $15 and it commences at 9am, with an opening ceremony, some Silat demonstrations, and fights following.

This tournament is the Australian National Championships, with victorious combatants  selected in the Australian Pencak Silat Team, to contend at the World Championships in Thailand, January 2015.

Anyone wishing to purchase tickets, or find out more about the Tournament-  or even if you just want to find a school in Melbourne where you can learn Silat – then you can contact the federation via email: apsf[at]silataustralia[dot]com[dot]au or check them out on Facebook.

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If you’re not sure what it’s all about then come along to our Raid double bill and see Pencak Silat in action for yourself! It’s pretty impressive stuff.

The Raid (Redemption) + The Raid 2: Berandal screens as a double bill on Thursday September 25th 7.30pm. All tickets $13

Lucy CGIs her way towards 100%

It is a popular notion that humans utilise only ten per cent of their brain capacity, a notion that according to modern neuroscience seems to be more urban myth than scientific fact. But let us suppose it were true. One then wonders what might be possible if humans could tap into the remaining ninety per cent of their cerebral potential. This is the premise for Luc Besson’s latest motion picture Lucy (2014), a rambunctious blend of science-fiction and action from the director of The Professional (Leon, 1994), The Fifth Element (1997), Angel-A (2005) and The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (2010).

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Without divulging too many particulars of the plot, the story concerns a woman named Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) who, due to being contaminated by a powerful narcotic stimulant, acquires the ability to access an ever-increasing amount of her mind. The potentialities of tapping into the supposedly unused ninety per cent of cerebral matter are foreshadowed in a series of speeches from neuroscientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman). Lucy launches a one-woman assault on the drug traffickers responsible for her unstable condition, as she becomes ‘superhuman’ in her mental abilities, blessed with powers such as telekinesis (the ability to move objects without contacting them physically – the same talent exhibited by Sissy Spacek in the 1976 film Carrie) and extra sensory perception (also know as the sixth sense).

Although it makes for a dazzling sci-fi action spectacle, one flaw with Lucy is that due to the increasingly invincible state of its eponymous character, suspense and drama are quickly deflated, as Lucy’s nogoodnik adversaries go from being genuinely menacing to comically pathetic – and a heroine is only as good as her opponents. Another liability is Besson’s over-reliance on computer-generated imagery (CGI). One may argue in favour of such cinematic technology when it’s in service of the story or no other options are available, but here it just feels like overkill. Also, CGI, more often than not, has a tendency to look somewhat inauthentic. Nowhere in Lucy is this more apparent than the appearance of the title character’s namesake, the simian creature believed by evolutionary scientists to be humankind’s original ancestor (if you want to see what such a being should look like, I refer you to the cave dwellers in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey).

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On a related note, I recall a television interview with Star Wars creator George Lucas, where he responded to the critics of his heavy dependence upon computer-generated special effects for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), with a condescending “Duh, movies aren’t real!” Well, “Duh!” right back at you, Mister Lucas – no kidding movies “aren’t real”, but they’re at least meant to appear authentic; otherwise, nobody would care about silly little things such as appropriate period detail and thespians remaining in character. Yes, we know that a man can’t fly, but we don’t want to see the wires that allow Superman to remain airborne. And this is the problem with films such as Lucy. As impressive as the special effects might be, it’s all too obvious that they are special effects. Those viewers who were fortunate enough to experience Luc Besson’s marine life documentary Atlantis (1991) this past week at the Astor know that the French filmmaker requires little if any hi-tech trickery to astound his audience. So the CGI overload presented in Lucy is somewhat puzzling to say the least. Ultimately, it distracts rather than engages.

Still, despite its numerous flaws and excesses, Lucy does manage to keep us guessing as to what might become of its heroine once she connects to 100 per cent of her mind’s abilities (inter-titles appear at various points in the picture to inform us of the percentage of Lucy’s accessed brain capacity), so it does retain at least some sliver of intrigue. For those viewers who typically enjoy Luc Besson’s directorial output, Lucy is a worthy of at least a once-around. Even though its premise is scientifically suspect, this is a science fiction picture (you will need to accept it on its own terms) and it does raise some interesting ideas as to what human beings might be capable of realising as the species evolves over the next several thousand years – unless, of course, we outsmart ourselves and wipe humankind from the face of the planet.

Written by Mark Vanselow for the Astor Theatre

Lucy screens on Sunday September 14 at 4pm.