St Kilda Film Festival Day 4

Day four of the festival was the busiest day yet. Our foyers were packed full of stalls and patrons chatting about courses, funding, international festivals and all things film. We also had Paul Harris and the wonderful team at 3RRR broadcasting Melbourne’s premier film focused radio show Film Buff’s Forecast live from our upstairs foyer and a plasma TV station where you could put on a set of headphones and watch the shorts in whatever order you chose.

Australia’s Top 100 Competition Shorts continued with six more sessions; Session 11 being so popular we even had to open our stalls as the dress circle was positively full of filmmakers, their friends, family and fans. Afterglow, Nadine Garner’s directorial debut was greeted with a great reception and the Dutch Shorts also proved to be quite the festival highlight.

Beyond the short films we had a visit from beyond the grave as Deadly Earnest resurrected himself to wish us all a hateful evening in earnest. Amidst a cloud of smoke he read the audience a poem before the hilarity and gore of Drive-in Delirium’s Horrorpalooza got under way. Not just a gorefest, Horrorpalooza! also brought us Trog (1970), The Green Slime (1968)  – and coming up on our next calendar as part of Cinema Fiasco’s new line-up (Friday July 01)! and, of course, an insane number of half-naked women. The prize for best (and by which we mean most convoluted) title goes to The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) and the best marketing ploy we’ve seen in a long time goes out to Corruption (1968) – watch the trailer below and you’ll see why!

The last of the Competition sessions are already underway for today and there’s still time to get your tickets for Coffee: Between Reality and Imagination (the Israeli/Palestinian shorts programme at 4.30pm this afternoon) as well as the Closing Night Awards.

And finally, for anyone wondering where Marzipan is – I’m afraid she left us for a few days as of last night. She has a very important appointment with the vet on Tuesday and wanted to get some rest away from the ruckus first.

The Return of the Living Dead

The Return of the Living Dead (1985) is an anarchistic horror-comedy, one that is both a continuation & a transformation of the zombie sub-genre. The religious overtones of the European zombie & the social commentary of the American zombie have been done away with in favour of an apocalypse, which is just a dumb warehouse clerk away. It is aware of its place as a sequel (of sorts), acknowledging the significance of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), while displacing it as ‘only a movie’ with little to teach the protagonists as they fight the zombie hordes. After all, that film was only ‘inspired by true events’ whereas Return is supposedly the real deal; the adopted brother comes home to make good.

The zombies of Return have not only crawled out from the grave, but out of the repressed nightmares of a generation raised on E.C. Comics & the paranoid sci-fi of the 1950s. The government response to the ‘real’ 1968 outbreak is to seal the corpses in barrels & hide them around America. Of course, the paperwork isn’t always done correctly, so some of the barrels end up at Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse. After an accidental opening, with deadly Trioxin gas spraying everywhere, we find out that the rules of Night don’t apply here. All bets are off. The use of a classic punk soundtrack & the inclusion of punk characters is no mere attempt at attracting a sub-culture. It demonstrates the savage nihilism of punk culture, which is fully embraced by writer/director Dan O’Bannon. This is an all out fun ride into hell. Return of the Living Dead is the cinematic equivalent of a deranged punk concert, which should of course end with the roof being pulled down on our heads.

It is easy to forget that zombies didn’t always crave human flesh, let alone the ‘BRAAAAINS’ of paramedics. The flesh-eating zombie is a fascinating and particularly modern creation, one that has continued to develop in multiple directions in a brief period of time. Once upon a time the zombie genre was like a country town, a place where everybody knew everyone else & tracing lineage was as easy as pie. The modern, flesh-eating zombie made its cinematic debut in Night of the Living Dead, a shockingly violent film for a generation raised on giant ants. It embraced the subversive possibilities of horror as social commentary, raising spectral images of Vietnam & prefiguring the horrors of the Kent State shootings. Inspired by the vampiric creatures of Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend, to a greater degree than the bug-eyed victims of voodoo as seen in White Zombie (1932) & I Walked With A Zombie (1943), Romero’s living dead, referred to as ghouls in the film, are roused by radioactive fallout from a crashed space probe. Later films in Romero’s series would move away from a direct explanation, simply suggesting that ‘when there is no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth’. Since then there have been viruses, religious conspiracies, & most importantly, to The Return of the Living Dead, simple scientific/military incompetence.

Night of the Living Dead would itself inspire sequels, imitations/thematic continuations, remakes, re-edits (including colourisation, a dodgy 30th anniversary re-edit by John Russo, a Romero-approved remake by special effects artist Tom Savini, & a 3D knock-off), all thanks to its public domain legal status. The European success of Romero’s first sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978)[1], produced & re-edited for its continental release by Dario Argento & re-titled Zombi, led to an explosion of European gore-fests through the early 1980s. The genre quickly turns from Dawn’s biting satirising of consumerism to embrace the Grand Guignol horrors of decay & dismemberment. Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), originally titled Zombi 2, in order to cash-in, embraces a semi-surrealist tone in which graphic nightmare images overpower narrative & meaning. If you want to see a zombie fight a real shark, this is the place to go. It was a golden age of gore & mind-numbing images, with zombie fans clamouring for the few films available on censored VHS copies. Now, with Bill Murray appearing in a zombie film[2], well, you know things have changed. It has become a sprawling genre, dominated by no-budget, straight-to-DVD features & occasional mainstream forays. However, before all this, when it was still a strange little hybrid-genre, there was The Return of the Living Dead.

While praise is heaped upon George Romero for his ground breaking work on Night of the Living Dead, it is often forgotten that he had a co-writer on Night: John A. Russo. In the 1970s, Romero & Russo were involved in a court case in which Romero agreed to a ‘quit claim’ in which Romero retained the rights to the word ‘Dead’ while Russo retained the rights to use ‘Living Dead’, & all connection between the two would thenceforth be severed. The rights to ‘Living Dead’ were then purchased by producer Tom Fox, who first attached Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974) to direct, only for him to drop out when rewrites delayed proceedings. This gave screenwriter Dan O’Bannon the opportunity to step in & make his directorial debut. O’Bannon had made a name for himself writing such classics as John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974), Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) & later Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990). However, while Alien had the greater cultural impact, many genre fans consider The Return of the Living Dead to be his greatest achievement.

The Return of the Living Dead screens first in a double bill at the Astor Theatre this coming Monday 30th May, 7.30pm. Following a twenty minute interval will be Night of the Comet (1984).

Written by Ben Buckingham, a regular contributor to our E-news.

Ben is also taking his sweet time completing a degree at Melbourne University while lurking and working around the cinema going haunts of Melbourne. He is addicted to Italian cannibal cinema and enjoys traumatising friends and loved ones with atrocious cinema.

[1]   Followed by Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), Survival of the Dead (2009)

[2]   Zombieland (2009)

St Kilda Film Festival Day 3

Day 3 of the festival gave everyone a little lie in as the first session of the day started with a free session: Park Saints at 5pm. Finishing up with a choir onstage and a hoard of happy attendees, the atmosphere for the evening was positively brimming. Our foyers were full for the Irish Films at 7.30pm and the die-hard film fans stayed on for the comedy shorts session at 10.30pm which included Pop, starring Angus Sampson (recently pictured with Melbourne’s most infamous cat Marzipan in the Herald Sun - although she denies all claims that they’re “an item”, saying their relationship is strictly professional, which is good news because she’s a cat).

Today the festival continues with its fullest day yet. So come along any time from 11.30am to get your tickets if you haven’t already done so as we’ve got Paul Harris and the Film Buff’s team broadcasting live from the venue for 3RRR (if you can’t make it down, be sure to listen in at 102.7FM or stream online). There will also be a bunch of stalls set up upstairs for the Industry Open Day, a Dutch Shorts programme at 4.30pm, six more Australian Top 100 Competition Shorts sessions (including one that stars our very own FOH staff member!) and tonight, Drive-In Delirium’s Horrorpalooza! which showcases a bevvy of gory and insane exploitation and horror trailers. It’s going to be a fantastically full day so make sure you get down here.

St Kilda Film Festival: Day 2

Last night (Day 2 of the festival) something rather scientific took place inside our grand old theatre walls, and I’m not even referring to the strange phenomenon of people leaving whilst there was still a free bar going on inside the auditorium next to a live DJ onstage playing stupendous tunes to the backdrop of Black Orpheus (1959)! Nope, the strange scientific discovery I’m referring to is the empirical evidence that proved to us once and for all that it is possible for Melburnians of the North to cross the city and spend a night Southside. And no, not one of them turned into a pumpkin (although that might go some way to explaining why so many of them abandoned boxes of free pizza and glasses of free booze just before midnight…)

But on a serious note, Day 2 saw a very touching memorial slide show tribute screened just prior to the 6pm session in memory of Bill Hunter, accompanied by some brief but fitting words from festival director, Paul Harris. It also saw sessions 2 & 3 of Australia’s Top 100 Competition Shorts get under way and it did present some pretty innovative music videos; some of which won awards. The award for Best Music Video went to Beautiful Trash by Lanu featuring Megan Washington. Beautiful Trash was directed and produced by Lucy Dyson who just so happens to be part of an exhibition on now at the Jenny Port Gallery until May 28.  To check out all the winners head on over to the St Kilda Film Festival official website, but before you do, take a minute to watch this clip by the The Bedroom Philosopher who won the Best Independent Award for Northcote (So Hungover).

Thanks SoundKILDA for the crumple bags given to audience members with the most rock’n’roll contents in their own bags and for finally proving that even the most Northcotey of Northerners aren’t restricted to just the 86 tram.

The festival continues tonight with a free screening of Park Saints at 5pm. Tonight’s programme also includes some Irish Shorts & three more of Australia’s Top 100 – Competition Sessions.

St Kilda Film Festival

This year the St Kilda Film Festival is hanging out round our gaff and so far it’s all kinds of awesome.

After Opening Night at the Palais and with many filmy types recovering from the afterparty at the Town Hall (catered by ACC and with some outstanding tunes playing into the wee hours), we opened our Marzipan silhouette-postered doors to welcome the first of the week’s screenings. Kicking off with some filmmakers milling about the place and with Paul Harris introducing the fantastic St Kilda Film Fest team, our first evening was off to a pretty good start. Last night also saw the competition shorts begin (and yes, you do get to vote for the films in these sessions when you come along!) as well as the first international programme: German Shorts from interfilm Berlin Short Film Festival.

To find out more about what’s happened at the theatre today you’ll need either to turn up and get involved (go on, SoundKILDA is happening at 9pm!) or check back in with us tomorrow to see what you missed!

For more info on purchasing tickets for individual sessions or for Closing Night please head on over to the St Kilda Film Festival website.

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Nothing screams cinema classic, or movie magic more than Gone With The Wind (1939). Directed by Victor Fleming (who also directed The Wizard of Oz in the same year), and produced by powerhouse Hollywood producer, David O. Selznick, this is one film against which so many film classics are judged. Arguably, no other movie has been bigger than Gone With The Wind, the film that raked in a record (not beat for 20 years) 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and two honorary awards and it was nominated for 13 (not including the two honorary awards). The film has topped or has come close to topping nearly every ‘Best Movies of All Time’ list in the last 50 or so years, and is the highest-grossing film of all time if you take dollar inflation and weighting into account. Now, you can once again see it the way it was supposed to be seen – on the big screen and on a 1999, 60th anniversary, Restored 35mm digital stereo sound print.

Based on Margaret Mitchell’s best selling 1936 novel, Gone With The Wind is a truly epic film that spans many years over and around the duration of the American Civil War and tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a spoilt, rich, selfish woman, whose love for a man by the name of Ashley Wilkes, who marries her cousin, stands in the way of her many marriages and relationships. The film is the story of the trials and tribulations of Scarlett during this time period, which leads to a four-hour film of epic proportions.
The film showcases many brilliant and iconic performances from a stellar cast including Vivien Leigh (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951) in an Oscar winning performance as Scarlett O’Hara, Olivia de Havilland (The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938) as her beautiful cousin Melanie, who wins over the heart of Ashley Wilkes, played by Leslie Howard (The Petrified Forest, 1936), Hattie McDaniel as the servant Mammy – which won her an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and made her the first African-American to win an Academy Award-, and of course there’s Clark Gable (It Happened One Night, 1934), as Rhett Butler, the no-nonsense drifter from Charleston who falls head-over-heels for Scarlett, in, arguably, his greatest performance; one that earned him an Oscar nomination, and which delivered the infamous line – what the American Film Institute voted as the greatest film quote of all time – “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

After a disastrous film production that saw the replacement and use of multiple directors, many re-shoots, the filming of half a million feet of film (cut down to only 20,000 for the final cut), and the use of 5 film units shooting different scenes simultaneously, the film was all shot and released in about a year and still managed to become one of the most recognizable and most classic films of all time. Gone With The Wind is definitely a seminal cinema classic, and if you love the classics, or love this film, there would be no reason not to check out its screening at the Astor, the only place you will be able to see it screened the way it was intended to be seen.

Reviewed by Dave Lee, one of our awesome and regular E-news contributors.

Gone With the Wind screens at the Astor Theatre Saturday 4th June, 7.30pm.

The Illusionist: Advance Screening!

“… represents the magically melancholy final act of Jacques Tati’s career” Roger Ebert.

The Astor is very excited to present an exclusive advance screening of THE ILLUSIONIST on Saturday June 18th at 7:30PM. Based on an un-produced script by cinema legend Jacques Tati (an animated version of Tati is the lead character), and from the director of THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, The Illustionist is a bitter sweet celebration of what might have been from the master film maker. Set in the 1950’s, The Illusionist is forced to accept increasingly obscure assignments in fringe theatres, garden parties and cafés. He young Alice who will change his life forever. Watching his performance for the excited villagers who are celebrating the arrival of electricity on their remote island, Alice is awestruck believing his tricks are real magic. Though not speaking the same language, the two lonely strangers quickly bond through small kindnesses. Fascinated by The Illusionist, they form a father – daughter relationship, with Alice keeping their home at a boarding house for vaudevillians, while he goes to work in a small local theatre.

Enchanted by her enthusiasm for his act, The Illusionist rewards Alice with lavish gifts he has ‘conjured’ into existence. Although the progression of time dims Alice’s perception of magic, their lives remain ever changed through the passage of time. Lavished with critival accliam the world over, it’s an absolutley exqusite animated feature, and we’re fortunate to present this before it’s July general Melbourne release, screening in the most optimum way possible at the spiritual Melbourne home of Jacques Tati: the majestic Astor Theatre.

70mm Movies. The ultimate trip…

We often bang on about how good 70mm Print format films are and for good reason. There is just nothing better. Shown in these photographs are a view from the projection booth of a recent screening of the fully restored 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although you can’t really tell from a photograph, the image is razor sharp incredibly bright and that screen is about two storeys or more high. What you have to get, is that a film like 2oo1, Ben Hur and Baraka (which we screen regularly, being one of the few places in the world that can screen the format) were all shot in 70mm and super 65mm format (approx. 3 times larger than standard 35mm) and were intended to be seen as such. It really is a breathtaking experience. Although Blu Ray looks great, it is only designed for a large TV or living room screen at best. Any bigger and the image begins to degrade in quality (think of it as blowing a high res jpeg up beyond the limitations it’s resolution is set at – it doesn’t create the muddy effect, but the clarity and density of the image really suffers). All in all we hope you’ll come and experience this magnificent format at The Astor. Just keep an eye on our program for films noted as 70mm Print Format. You won’t be disappointed!

When classic style 3D came to The Astor…

Back in 2003, we screened a Double Feature of the 3D versions of Dial M For Murder and the original Vincent Price  version of The House of Wax. Right now we are spolit for choice for 3D, with mesmerizing and crustal clear images with fantasy movies like Avatar and Alice in Wonderland though to new leaps in 3D technology seen in the Imax concert film U2 3D. But these humble 3D origins got a special run a few years back for audiences to re-experience a night out at the movies, in 3D – 1950’s style!

3D films were all the rage in the 1950s – they were seen as the next-wave of cinema technology that would get people away from their TV sets and back into the theatres. But too many film makers treated the process as a gimmick with everything “leaping out of the screen” in an attempt to amaze and impress the audience. The fad didn’t last for very long – people became bored and didn’t like having to wear glasses. Perhaps the final death knell was sounded when CinemaScope appeared on the scene. Even though it was only a 2D process, CinemaScope was actually promoted as “the modern miracle you see without glasses” and not all that many 3D films were made after that.

The gimmicky films had tended to overshadow more-serious use of the medium by films such as Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder and Andre De Toth’s House of Wax and it is only in comparatively-recent years that interest has been revived. There are two main systems for 3D films but they both rely on having separate images for each eye and for making sure that each eye sees only the image meant for it. The “anaglyph” system – which was certainly the most-popular and cheaper system – used a different colour for each image. The left-eye image was usually red and the right eye image was usually blue (it used to be green until NASA research showed that red-blue worked better than red-green).

Glasses with colour filters were then worn to “direct” the proper image to each eye The system worked well but was limited in that genuine full-colour reproduction was not possible (although there were some interesting experiments towards the latter days of the 3D boom and significant advances have been made since then). The other main system used polarised light to differentiate between the two images – it gave much-better results and full-colour. It was used for making Dial M For Murder and House of Wax and is, fundamentally, the system-of-choice today. Briefly, photons (light “particles”) can be forced to line up in a particular plane instead of having natural, random polarisation. Light is said to be polarised when all the photons are lined-up in, say, a vertical or horizontal plane. With polarised-light 3D films, the left-eye and right-eye images are projected through filters that result in the light reaching the screen having a different polarisation for each image. The images are then “directed” to the correct eye when the viewer wears glasses having special “polaroid” filters.

There is more than one way of projecting these films. One has each image on a separate film so two projectors have to be used. This gives a very-bright image on the screen but there can be problems. For example, the two projectors must be lined-up with the utmost precision and they have to run exactly in sync – even to the timing of the shutter opening and closing between each frame. Any frame-loss caused by damage to one of the film strips has to be duplicated on the other. A complete loss of the 3D effect can result from them being just a frame or two out of sync. However, the prints of Dial M For Murder and House of Wax that were shown at The Astor use the StereoVision process which places the two images side-by-side within a single frame on the same strip of film. A special StereoVision projection lens is used to combine the images on the screen and apply the appropriate polarisation to each of them. The images on the film are pretty-much the “normal” height but, as you can see in this frame from Dial M for Murder, they have been “squeezed” horizontally so that they fit in the space available on the film. An anamorphic (CinemaScope-type) lens is used in front of the StereoVision projection lens to “unsqueeze” them to the correct 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  But there’s a price to pay for the convenience of having both images on the same film strip. The number of optical stages involved (including filtering) causes of loss of 70% of the light that would normally reach the eye so the images are significantly dimmer than you would be used to seeing at The Astor.

Getting ready to show 3D films at The Astor had been something of an adventure – apart from getting the prints and the special lenses (not to mention thousands of “polaroid” glasses) we also had to get a different screen! Our usual screen is “matte-white” – that is, it doesn’t have any of the special coatings that are often used to try to make the picture seem brighter. Some coated screens – often known as “gain screens” – are not ideal (even for 2D) because they do not give the even light distribution that we feel is essential to the proper presentation of any film format. Unfortunately, a matte screen does not preserve polarisation. It scatters the light randomly and destroys the 3D effect. You can put on the special glasses but there’s none of the “depth” you expect. Several options were tried but, in the end, we had to manufacture a so-called “silver” screen for mounting on a temporary frame in front of the permanent screen. It was roughly the same size as the part of the main screen used then for Academy Standard ratio (1.37:1) films at The Astor so nobody missed out on any of the big-screen experience.

Don’t Mess With Foxy Brown…

This Friday the rather eccentric duo that is CINEMA FIASCO return with their monthly installment of mirth and mayhem, this time setting their sights on their favourite lady of the big screen, Pam Grier, in the classic FOXY BROWN. Read on as Geoff Wallis of the Fiasco duo sums up what to expect…

It wouldn’t be a season of Cinema Fiasco without a Pam Grier movie. This month Geoff and Janet’s favourite actress – this is the fifth film of hers they’ve featured – struts her stuff in the sensational action-packed thriller “Foxy Brown”. You have to see it! The original ads for the movie warned one and all to not mess ‘round with Foxy Brown because she was the meanest chick in town – and you’d better believe it! When a bunch of dr*g dealers kill her nice boyfriend, Foxy Brown finds herself with a lot of a*ses to kick and, boy, does she kick them!
Pam hits the revenge trail in “Foxy Brown” like never before. In her pursuit of justice she infiltrates a call girl ring, starts a brawl in a lesbi*n bar and runs over one of the bad guys with an aeroplane. That she does all of this and more while sporting some mighty fine 70’s fashions and an Afro that could block out the sun only adds to the pleasure. The performances are superb. It goes without saying that Pam is fabulous and she gets excellent support from Antonio Fargas and the inimitable Sid Haig in one of his patented sleazebag roles. Kathryn Loder plays the villainess and hers, quite simply, is one of the most extraordinary cinema performances I have ever seen.

The finale is unforgettable, especially if you’re a guy, and, by the end, nearly all the characters are dead. Just like “Hamlet”. That’s how good it is. Oh, yeah…there’s a funky soundtrack by Willie Hutch, lots of jive-talkin’ dialogue and, of course, bo*bs.“Foxy Brown” will be presented with jive-a*s commentary by Cinema Fiasco’s honky hosts Geoff Wallis and Janet A. McLeod. If you have an Afro wig, wear it. You know they will.

Tickets $18/$16. No Free List

Check out the trailer too. Too many great lines to count…