TURN OFF YOUR MOBILE PHONE – PLEASE?

So Astor supporters, once again the topic of mobile phones in cinemas comes up and the good folk at the Alamo Drafthouse have a pretty strong zero tolerance stance on the issue. Recently, they kicked a customer out for texting in the theatre and she was so angry about it that she left a rather ranty voicemail on their answering service. Course, clever and funny as those folks at the Drafthouse are, they went ahead and made the following youtube video **PLEASE NOTE THIS VIDEO IS UNCENSORED AND FEATURES STRONG LANGUAGE**:

The video has since found its way all around the internet and even onto the Austin news. 

Watching these videos and reading through some of the user comments, and of course following our recent Astor Film Tweet event, we thought it might be a good idea to open up a discussion on our blog about the use of mobile phones in cinemas and of course the repercussions involved. There are many interesting issues that come out of the Drafthouse event, so here’s a few to start the discussion:

1. Customer awareness and familiarity with the venue and its standards of conduct – or perhaps “rules” in this instance.

From the YouTube video in question, it seems to be that the customer who was asked to leave had not attended a screening at the Drafthouse before and was not at all familiar with the expected and enforced codes of conduct for their patronage. It also seems to be the case that the customer in question had difficulty finding a seat in the auditorium – perhaps again because she was unfamiliar with the theatre, or perhaps there was not an usher on duty to torch her in (we make no assumption that this was not the case, but raise the question based purely on the content of the YouTube clip). This of course is not us endorsing the subsequent use of a mobile phone in an auditorium and we are in no way suggesting the Drafthouse are to blame, but it does raise a strong case for clear signage and easily accessible information publicly displayed for newcomers unfamiliar with the individual rules of a theatre. Whilst many of our own customers are regulars and they know the venue by heart there are always newcomers and it is not surprising or unfair to consider that they might be confused by a cinema that operates independently and therefore differently to the multiplex theatres they likely most often attend. Which brings me to point 2.

2. Multiplex “standards” and the impact of home viewing on contemporary cinema-going conduct.

As Melbourne’s only truly independent film house we are more than aware that many newcomers to the theatre will also be newcomers to the unique experience we offer and, of course, that the experience we do offer is therefore very “different” to what people might experience in a multiplex. Our staff are well versed in these differences and it is not the case that we don’t ever attend multiplexes ourselves, so we do know exactly what many of these differences are. Personally, on a recent visit to another Melbourne cinema I was struck by the difference in “cinema checks” carried out by FOH staff. We don’t wish to vilify other cinemas but certainly it is true that torching standards (the way in which the usher shows a latecomer to their seat) or even attitudes towards disruptive patrons (including the usage of mobile phones), and of course presentation standards including details such as when house lights are turned on at the film’s conclusion (often during the closing credits at a multiplex but never until the film in its entirety has finished at The Astor), are certainly specific to each cinema and its own established code of conduct or FOH procedures. As a result, there are of course a number of differences in appropriate and expected audience behaviour between multiplexes and independent cinemas, and as the venue presenting a specific experience it is ultimately our responsibility to ensure that all of our customers are aware of and understand and respect the specific codes of conduct we have put in place.

It is also true that due to the nature of home viewing – and it ought to be noted that this is a result of many factors but stems for the most part from the increasing immediacy with which films are now “available” for home viewing – approaches and attitudes towards viewing conduct have become largely fragmented. Certainly it is true that in the comfort of one’s own home you can cook, eat, talk, tweet, status update, etc to your heart’s content and the only people affected by these actions are you and the people you no doubt have chosen to share that specific viewing experience and environment with. This is of course at a great remove from what happens when you leave your home to watch a film in a cinematic environment. Like any event that occurs in a public place, you have then the responsibility of taking into account how your behaviour will impact upon others around you. And speaking of public events, this brings me to point 3.

3. Cinema-going as an event.

One of the other major changes concerns attitudes towards cinema-going – and indeed cinema – as something worthy of undivided attention. It is surely less likely that you would see audience members at the opera texting, talking, tweeting and so on. The reason it is more likely to occur in a cinema is because cinema is still considered in many ways to be a commercial activity and so too a commercial product, and is often relegated as such to the sad lonely corner of ephemera. Of course, film is also an art form and outside of the multiplex, in an environment such as the one provided at the Astor, we celebrate that art form by paying it due respect in every possible way including everything from carefully selected foyer music, atmospheric lighting, theatrical presentation standards and yes, not permitting the use of mobile phones inside the auditorium.

So then, I now find myself back to the beginning of the argument which begs the question, what of enforcing these strict codes of conduct? Well, here at the Astor we feel that much like the experience, both parties – customer and theatre – are responsible for ensuring a safe, comfortable and enjoyable environment is established and maintained for everyone. With  part of the onus on us to ensure patrons are aware of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate ways in which to behave during a theatrical screening, we realise that awareness and mutual understanding is the first step towards an enjoyable experience for everyone. We also don’t want anyone to feel “policed” at the Astor – although that’s far from an invitation to start status updating during your next visit; please remember Marzipan sees all and she’s an absolutely no nonsense kitty.

Finally, there are also some “rules” that will apply to specific screenings but not to others. For example, whilst we expect people to throw a little rice during screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, if you were to do so during The Bicycle Thieves one of our FOH staff would most certainly ask you to stop. Also, recently at the Astor Theatre we held an event called Astor Film Tweet where customers could live tweet about the movie during the screening. To ensure this wouldn’t in any way disrupt customers who wished to watch the film without mobile phones on around them we divided our audience into two separate viewing areas (very easy for us due to the already existing nature of our auditorium which has both a dress circle and a stalls area – which historically was quite literally used to separate the upper and lower classes so you can imagine even if you’ve not been to the theatre just how successful and clear the separation is!) But again, if you were tweeting during a screening of Taxi Driver you can guarantee one of our FOH staff would indeed ask you to stop.

Every environment has its own standards to maintain and asking patrons to be respectful of others seems to us a very basic request, but like the experience itself, the responsibility for establishing and maintaining those standards really is something we ought to share.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

THIS FILTHY WORLD IS FULL OF DIVINE TRASH

“I believe life is nothing if you’re not obsessed. I only think terrible thoughts, I do not live them. Thank God I am not my films. If audiences can laugh at my twisted ideas, what’s the great harm? I had a goal in life — I wanted to make the trashiest motion pictures in cinema history. Thanks so much for allowing me to get away with it.”
John Waters

As many of you devoted juvenile deliquents might be aware, the proverbial Pope of Trash (so-coined by one William S Burroughs) is leaving Baltimore for the next best saturation of suburbanality, yep, here in our very own land of Oz. The Pope’s visit is a much anticipated one as attendees can expect to hear about his influences, fascination with true crime, his own films and much more to do with THIS FILTHY WORLD in which we live.

The Tour:

Drawing on some of the content from his most recent book, Role Models, Waters will be touring the country, bringing his vaudevillian content to Perth, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and of course, Melbourne. His Melbourne tour takes place on Saturday October 29 at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

The Retrospective Line-up:

Here at the Astor, we thought such an incredible opportunity to see the Pope in person warranted a pre-tour theatrical return of at least some of his impressive, exploitative, and hilarious oeuvre. So, we’ve put together, for your viewing pleasure, an entire weekend of the most tasteful cinematic trash we could find! If however you don’t so happen to live in Melbourne, fret not, there are similar opportunities in Adelaide and Sydney thanks to Adele Hann (Adelaide Film Festival) and Maggie Gerrand (MG Presents). If you’re in Adelaide, head to the Mercury Cinema and if you’re in Sydney, head to the Opera House to catch their Double Features From Hell film festival. But back to what’s here in Melbourne at Australia’s iconic, last standing, single screen, repertory cinema, THE ASTOR THEATRE.

FRIDAY OCTOBER 14, 7.30pm: FEMALE TROUBLE & POLYESTER double feature.

Female Trouble (1974), 35mm print, rated R, 95 mins: One of the things we should all be worried about is juvenile delinquency. When Dawn Davenport (Divine) doesn’t get the cha-cha heels she wanted for Christmas, she assaults her mother, runs away from home, becomes a single mother to a child born of rape, and flits between go-go dancer, model, petty criminal and murderer as she becomes a beauty experiment at the Lipstick Beauty Salon. Here, owners Donald and Donna Dasher (David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce) test Jean Genet’s theory that crime equals beauty. Then there are humans kept in bird cages, fatal facial peels, the injecting of liquid eyeliner… Undoubtedly one of the most hilarious examinations of reactionary social politics ever made, this early Waters work is riotous good fun and quite sincerely questions the perils of a celebrity culture before it was even really considered a thing.

Polyester (1981), 35mm print, rated M, 86 mins: The first film to bring Odorama (or Smell-o-vision) to the big screen, Polyester marks Waters’ move from the underground into the mainstream – well, the subversive underground mainstream anyway. Divine dons her finest in suburban housewife get-up in her too wonderful for words performance as the picture of middle American moms. Making fun of all-American, heteronormative family values, Waters exposes the artifice of such stifling societal constructs with unmatched hilarity and sass. As synthetic as the title suggests, Polyester unearths everything that is ugly about being “normal” and “average” in the most stupendously kitsch, camp and endearing way.

SATURDAY OCTOBER 15, 7.30pm: PINK FLAMINGOS & A DIRTY SHAME double feature.

Pink Flamingos (1972), 35mm print, rated R, 110 mins: This is the film with that famous scene that still has people looking up the term “coprophagia”. If you don’t know what that means then don’t blame us when you find out! Divine stars alongside or perhaps against Raymond and Connie Marble (David Lochary and Mink Stole) in an incredible underground tabloid like pageant for the trashy sought after title of “The Filthiest Person Alive”. This is one of THE defining films of American Underground cinema and the most iconic of Waters’ work that helped him win the title “Pope of Trash”.

A Dirty Shame (2004), 35mm print, rated R, 89 mins: You’re either a neuter or a pervert in this much later release in Waters’ filmography. Neuters are residents in Harford Road who can’t stand carnal knowledge and consider anyone who can a pervert. But when a series of concussions befall some of Harford Road’s neuters, a fully-fledged sex crazed soft-core public parade of shame ensues. There is also a rather ambitious search to discover the ultimate sex act. Possibly the most ludicrous story included in our mini fest, your response to A Dirty Shame will undoubtedly indicate to which of the two camps you belong!


SUNDAY OCTOBER 16, 2pm: HAIRSPRAY single feature, 5pm: CRY-BABY single feature, and 8pm: DIVINE TRASH single feature.

Hairspray (1988), digital presentation, rated PG, 90 mins: Now a major Broadway musical and remade for the masses, the most mainstream of all of Waters’ films, and the only one that is truly “family friendly”, Hairspray is all about counter culture in the ’60s and the increasing efforts of the most unlikely souls to out the upper classes for their negative views towards progressive issues such as racial integration, as well, of course, as being all about youths enjoying themselves and wearing their hair however they darn well please.

Cry-Baby (1990), digital presentation, rated M, 85 mins: Wade “Cry Baby” Walker is a sworn Drape (Greaser) and Allison Vernon-Williams a model Square. So when the unlikely two fall in love the entire town of Baltimore is thrown into an immediate state of uproar. Sound familiar? That’s because Cry-Baby is a parody that focuses its attentions on hit teen musical Grease. Another of Waters’ films to find its adapted way to Broadway, Cry-Baby is commercial counter-culture at its best. Only Waters could have so fantastic a flirtation with wholesome family fun whilst blatantly stating that there’s nothing more disgusting than wholesome family fun.

Divine Trash (1998), digital presentation, rated R, 97 mins: Could there be a more perfect title for a documentary about John Waters? Quite simply, no. Yeager’s documentary intercuts interviews and stock footage to celebrate and examine his incredible and controversial work. Divine Trash will be introduced by comedy film duo Lee Zachariah and Shannon Marinko, hosts of The Bazura Project, ABC 2′s newest six-part comedy, entertainment series about Australia’s number one, non sports-related past time: the movies. (Coming to ABC 2 Thursday September 29, 9pm. Watch their opening title sequence here.)

* NB: each session will also feature a welcome video recording by John Waters!

The Giveaways:

Friday October 14: Check under your seat to see if you’ve won a copy of John Waters’ latest book Role Models. 

Saturday October 15: DIVINE look-a-like contest. The best Divine in the house will win a double pass to see John Waters live at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday October 29. Special prizes for second and third place.

Sunday October 16: During our special intro to Steven Yeager’s documentary Divine Trash, with The Bazura Project hosts Lee Zachariah and Shannon Marinko, we’ll be giving away ANOTHER double pass to see John Waters live at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Saturday October 29. So brush up on your Waters’ trivia!

The result:

A wicked Waters weekend. Be there or be square. Ewwwww.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre. The Astor Theatre would like to thank Maggie Gerrand, The Adelaide Film Festival, The Mercury Cinema, The Arc Cinema, Roadshow Entertainment, Hollywood Classics, Yaman Films, ABC 2 and The Bazura Project.

Two-Lane Blacktop & Zabriskie Point

Tonight’s double bill is an existential journey through the screen – our regular E-news reviewer and passionate film aficionado Mark Vanselow gives us the low-down:
TWO-LANE BLACKTOP
Forty years ago, audiences might not have known what to make of Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). It is an altogether different type of road movie, an automobile film for the arthouse set. Two-Lane Blacktop has a mesmerising slow burn quality, little action and little story. Automobile buff, The Driver (James Taylor) accompanied by The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) races against GTO (Warren Oates) across the United Sates as they compete for the ultimate prize: pink slips (legal ownership of the other’s vehicle). For those of you who have seen it once, Monte Hellman’s cult favourite improves the second time you see it. Two-Lane Blacktop is presented in a Brand New 35mm Print, on the big screen—experience it the way it was intended for audiences!
ZABRISKIE POINT
Another film ahead of its time was Zabriskie Point (1970) directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. An outsider’s view of America (Antonioni was an Italian native), Zabriskie Point is an effective critique of crass commercialism and unchallenged bourgeois values. Anyone who questions mindless consumerism will probably relate to this film—it has its share of cryptic symbolism, but its social commentary still shines through. Those who don’t question the excesses of capitalism probably need to see this film more desperately than those who already “get it”. It is also an amazing film to see on the big screen: Antonioni really has created some memorable visuals here.