The Digital Copy

Yesterday I was wandering around The Met (though this same story could be told with almost any other gallery or museum as the example) and I was struck by how fleeting the encounter with the work of art so often is. Sure there are still some people who sit or stand with one painting for more than thirty seconds but it seems to me that most people aren’t interested in spending more than five to ten.

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Taken from Art Basel Photo Essay: People Watching Art http://www.port-magazine.com/feature/art-basel-photo-essay-people-watching-art/

Now I know that art, and cinema, is subjective and that the experience is different for us all. I also know that there are some works we’re only interested in glancing at while there are others that we really want to see. The Met is also an enormous building and I don’t doubt that many people are speeding through because they’re lost/hungry/aimless/fatigued/looking for a toilet – I was all of those things by 5pm.

But even if we take these things into consideration there is a definite trend that refuses the encounter taking place. What I most often bear witness to in a gallery is someone pausing, checking whether or not the work or artist is famous, taking a pic with phone/tablet/device if it is and moving on, or just moving on if it’s not. In these instances artwork itself becomes incidental to its own notoriety or the stature of its creator. Abstracted from itself, it becomes a mere cog in our social media cycle of photo sharing.

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It doesn’t look anything like this up close.

Whether or not it’s my business, this always fills me with sadness. If you take a picture of a Van Gogh you lose the texture, if you snap a Rothko the colours never pulse and if you capture a Degas you don’t have his tension between precision and softness. Short of discussing the work of Walter Benjamin here (which I won’t do because I’m talking about my own sadness), it seems to me that the digital copy, no matter how good, can never compare to the original.

Though I am pleased to see remastered and restored digital versions of films we no longer have prints for, I would always prefer to see a print. Often prints have degraded or are lost, but in many instances they’ve been junked (destroyed) by the studios and any time I see a DCP of a print I know was in good, runnable condition, chucked out like refuse due to the vulgarity of rights restrictions, I am overwhelmed by sadness. Consumer culture doesn’t care about authenticity.

Behind the Screen at The Museum of the Moving Image

Behind the Screen at The Museum of the Moving Image

Last week I visited The Museum of the Moving Image where two ‘Behind the Scenes’ galleries display a dot point history of movie-making and cinema projection. Knowing these galleries were frequented by school groups made me think about how people outside of the film industry would view the dot points on display. Most of the elements from acting, make-up, costume, cinematography, lighting, sound, editing and projection had exhibit description labels that all finished in acknowledging that the techniques and equipment on display have since been replaced by computer generated or digital counterparts.

If the film print, like the canvas, ceases to engage us then does an encounter even take place? Have we stopped having a relationship with the work of art in favour of consuming it?

The Refusal of Time exhibition space at The Met.

The Refusal of Time exhibition space at The Met.

I finished my incomplete tour of The Met (five hours isn’t nearly long enough if you actually do wish to look at anything) with the thirty minute installation ‘The Refusal of Time’ by William Kentridge. The work is set on a loop and, in theory, a group of ten or so people enter every half hour to experience it. It’s a five-channel video installation and the seats are nailed to the floor in different positions to give a number of experiences, each of them slightly skewed and therefore unique. As hoards of people wandered through the space, catching a ten second glimpse of a thirty minute work of art, I couldn’t help but think that they were missing out. Amongst other things, the work muses over the idea of controlling time, rejecting the idea completely. There is no right or wrong pace at which to look at or engage with a work of art, but there is a difference between experience and consumerism.

I don’t personally believe that the encounter can take place as you scroll through the camera roll on your image capturing device, nor do I think that the digital copy can replace the movement and grain of celluloid. What troubles me most, though, is that there’s no place for authenticity at all if we don’t at least try to engage with it.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

A Necessary Conversation

Martin Scorsese, a regular champion of that elusive thing we call ‘cinema’, introduced the new 4K restoration of Rebel Without a Cause at this year’s Berlinale. He posed the question, “What is cinema?” Simple yet complex, Scorsese answered himself, giving cinephiles everywhere food for thought, “For me there’s only one answer: it is necessary.”

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From our perspective, as a repertory picture palace, the term ‘cinema’ is more important now than ever before. Whatever we understand it as – place, activity, concept – it’s a living thing insomuch as it’s always in conversation with the world. Just like audiences, experiences and responses, it’s always changing.

This thing we call cinema is so important, especially as we try to navigate our way through its biggest change since the transition from the silent era into talkies. If ‘film’ no longer means the physical medium running through the projector, then maybe ‘cinema’ doesn’t mean auditorium anymore either. Perhaps ‘cinema’ has become more spiritual than that.

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If we start to think about ‘cinema’ as a term that encompasses its historic roots, as well as its social connotations, then we can start to see the picture Scorsese is painting. The reason it is necessary is because it is endangered. With so many film prints continuing to be junked (destroyed), at a rate and with a breadth that far surpasses the current efforts in digital restoration, we are actually losing content. So, what can we do? Well, the first step is to show the studios and those keepers of our cultural artefacts that ‘cinema’ is important to us.

If we don’t celebrate what we do have, it will wither and die. Celebration in our world is valuing and supporting the preservation and exhibition of moving image works – in both film and digital formats. Here at the Astor we try to bring place, activity and concept together so that ‘cinema’ has a home. The restoration work itself is of course important, but what’s necessary is the experience of seeing it, as a communal act, transforming that beautiful concept into a living thing. That’s how we start all our conversations with the screen.

The Astor Theatre is proud to announce the 4K digital restoration of Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which recently screened at the 2014 Berlinale, will have its Australian premiere in a double bill with the 4K restoration of East of Eden (1955), on Sunday March 23rd, 7pm.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Heading West after the Civil War, Clint Eastwood stars as the title character in The Outlaw Josey Wales, a revisionist western we are pleased to welcome back to the Astor’s SuperScreen. Based loosely on the notorious outlaw bushwhacker Bill Wilson, who was something of a local hero in the Phelps and Maries counties of Missouri, Josey Wales is famed for reversing the regular Hollywood stereotypes. It’s also a revenge narrative about a lone man who’s been wronged – his family murdered, his friends lured to their deaths. Despite the bounty on his head, and the cavalry on his tail, Josey Wales refuses to surrender. The fifth feature film directed by Eastwood, fans of the great Western’s leading lone ranger won’t be disappointed as he brings his famous few-word demeanor back to the screen.

16486We love the artwork for this film, it’s so angry. More angry than most Westerns. Josey Wales has been digitally remastered in 4K and we’re super pleased to bring it back to the big screen after such a lengthy absence, Sunday evening is sure to be a night you won’t soon forget.

The Outlaw Josey Wales screens on Sunday December 15th, 7pm.

 

 

Indy on the big screen – and at Melbourne Fringe

As you know by now, we love all things Indy here at the Astor – just don’t mention crystal skulls…

So following the re-release of each of the individual Indy flicks we are super pleased to now be able to present the trilogy (yes, trilogy) in its entirety back where it belongs, on the big screen!

imagesRaiders of the Lost Ark [PG] (1981)

An iconic figure for fans of artefacts and adventure alike, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a gripping quest film packed with danger, doctored history and gold hearted family fun. Only narrowing escaping death – and almost losing his trademark hat in what will become an affectation of the franchise – Indiana is relieved to hear from Museum Curator Marcus Brody about an assignment of epic and existential proportions. Risking his life and a grand romance all at once, Indy embarks upon a search for The Ark of the Covenant; an artefact that holds the key to human existence. Of course, being set at the turn of WWII, he’ll have to fight a hoard of Nazis first! A long awaited return of the first in one of cinema’s most fantastic franchises and starring one of its greatest grumbling heros, Raiders – winner of four Academy Awards including Best Art Direction, Sound, Film Editing and Visual Effects, now in remastered 4K – is sure to take you on your most thrilling cinematic adventure yet!

imagesIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [PG] (1984)

Despite being the most politically dubious of the trilogy, Temple of Doom is also the funniest and craziest installment of the Indiana Jones franchise films. Teamed here with an eccentric night club singer who’s only real talents are being a token leggy blonde, and a smart, endearing if racially stereotyped youngster Short Round, Indy is in for another round of epic adventures. Searching for the power of the Sankara stones and a city of lost children, the three find themselves inside the booby trapped Temple of Doom! Another great ’80s blockbuster that has to be seen on the big screen. Proudly presented in remastered 2K DCP format.

indiana jones and the last crusade imageIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade [PG] (1989)

The man with the whip returns to the big screen for his final dalliance and this time he’s searching for The Holy Grail. And his father! When Indy’s dad sends him a diary and a map with clues leading to the Holy Grail, he and Marcus Brody hot foot it to Italy. When they find Dr Henry Jones (Indy’s dad) the race really begins! Up against those pesky Nazis once again, Indy and his cohort must find the Holy Gail first – before the Nazi’s use it for evil. The final instalment in this fast-paced adventure trilogy, Last Crusade is the perfect, heart-racing ending. Join us for the final journey, in high definition 2K digital format with surround sound, on an archaeological action-adventure like no other. Get your whips cracking, and prepare for the big finale in one of the greatest trilogies of all time!

The Indy Trilogy screens Saturday 28th September, starting at 5pm.

And if this isn’t enough Indy for you then we recommend you check out Stephen Hall’s Melbourne Fringe show: Raiders of the Temple of Doom’s Last Crusade.

As part of this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival, this all-new comedy stage show sees Stephen taking on the epic task of performing Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Live on stage.
All by himself.
In under an hour.
All the characters! All the action! All the thrills, spills, nail-biting chases and daring escapes! From September 20 – October 5 at the North Melbourne Town Hall.

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New Book About The Making Of The Guns Of Navarone by Brian Hannan

There were more twists and turns in the making of the film of The Guns Of Navarone (1961) than the fertile mind of best-selling author Alistair Maclean could ever have dreamed up. The movie narrowly avoided filming in the middle of a civil war, caused a court martial, the director had to be replaced and star David Niven nearly died. Worse, Gregory Peck, whose name was meant to guarantee success, became a box office liability and, strangest of all, American producer Carl Foreman was  hell  bent on giving opera superstar Maria Callas her movie debut.

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Maclean, a Scottish schoolteacher, had shot to international fame with HMS Ulysses (1955), sold 250,000 copies in hardback. His follow-up, The Guns Of Navarone (1957), equally successful, was snapped up by Columbia Pictures, which had just enjoyed its biggest ever success with The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957).

The studio assigned the movie to American Carl Foreman, a fugitive from the McCarthy communist witch hunt of the early 1950s. Foreman had written Kirk Douglas’s breakthrough picture Champion (1949) and High Noon (1952) starring Gary Cooper. Under fierce political pressure, Foreman fled to Britain. Foreman’s ambitions to become a producer were blocked by the US government’s decision to revoke his passport, but Columbia offered him a deal as long as he remained out of America. The Guns Of Navarone would be the studio’s biggest-ever film.

Foreman pursued the current superstars – Cary Grant wanted first refusal, William Holden was keen – and aimed for a stunning casting coup. Despite no women in the book, Foreman changed the genders of the two Greek partisans into females. The most famous woman in the world, Callas was as well known for her scandalous love life as her voice and Foreman tracked her down to the yacht of her lover, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Previous opera stars achieving Hollywood fame included Grace Moore, Lawrence Tibbetts, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald in the 1930s, and Mario Lanza in the 1950s. Foreman won his leading lady, promising ‘mucho love scenes’ with Gregory Peck.

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Peck was under fire on the domestic front for being the equivalent of a ‘tax dodger’.  Using tax loopholes, he had made Moby Dick (1956) and The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit (1956) abroad and, separately, incurred the wrath of screenwriters and musicians.

Richard Burton, Peter Finch and John Mill were all mooted, but the final cast comprised Oscar-winner David Niven, Anthony Quinn, a double Oscar-winner for best supporting actor, and rising Welsh actor Stanley Baker (later more famous for Zulu, 1964). The other female role went to Annette Stroyberg, wife of French director Roger Vadim who had turned Brigitte Bardot into a star. The director was Alexander Mackendrick (The Ladykillers, 1955.)

But Foreman almost ended up in a war zone. Cyprus, the original location, was  a powder keg, with relationships between Turks and Cypriots on a knife edge. The country’s leaders assured Foreman the troubles were a thing of the past. But the American was not convinced and after a second look at the island of Rhodes, and the offer of a very sweet deal from the Greeks including free use of army and navy resources,  and tax incentives, changed his mind. Months later, civil war broke out on Cyprus.

Now Foreman face battle on other fronts. Callas pulled out as did Stroyberg, replaced by Irene Papas and Gia Scala. An actors strike threatened the production. The director fell ill and, much to the studio’s astonishment, Foreman suggested he take over. But Columbia turned him down. J Lee Thompson, director of British war classic, Ice Cold In Alex, was available after A Dream Of Troy was cancelled.  Thompson coped admirably, although his directing style sent the film over budget and his inexperience in special effects sank a Greek ship, resulting in its captain facing court martial, and the navy withdrawing all support in protest.

SoundstageHeros

Special effects sent the production into uncharted waters. Mountaineering scenes were impossible to film with doubles and it was here the device of constructing a cliff on the floor was invented; with actors crawling across it, intercut with mattes and blue screens and limited use of doubles, realism was achieved. The storm sequence was shot in a water tank,  with water blasted at the actors from wind machines and aeroplane motors. Peck suffered a deep gash on his head, Quinn injured his back and Darren nearly drowned.

Worse was to come. The set for the guns, the biggest ever built in Britain, collapsed and had to be rebuilt. Inadvertently, Foreman nearly caused the death of Niven. To heighten the tension Foreman had, in his screenplay, flooded the well in which Niven stood (this was not flooded in the book) in the climactic scene. Niven contracted septicaemia and was rushed to hospital where he lay at death’s door for several weeks leaving Foreman considering cancelling the entire film.

With filming complete, there was another problem. Beloved Infidel (1959) starring Peck as writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby, 1925) had tanked, giving the actor the worst box office of his career, which meant that only two out of the last six Peck films had been hits, a disturbingly low proportion given the actor was meant to be a guarantee of success. In addition, the film had a distinctly anti-war undertone, an approach that could deter the masses.

But when it opened in 1961, the film smashed box office records in London and New York and was the number one film of the year and the movie, and its director, were nominated for Oscars.

Guns190413The Making Of The Guns Of Navarone by Brian Hannan, published by Baroliant Press, is available on Amazon Kindle and printed copies direct from the publishers at www.baroliant.com.

The author has also published The Making Of Lawrence Of Arabia and two books on Hitchcock. The Making Of The Magnificent Seven is due out in October.

The Guns of Navarone 4K screens as a special Father’s Day matinee this Sunday September 1st at 1.30pm.

Not Quite Right(s)

If you’ve ever wondered why we haven’t screened a digital DCP of Blade Runner (1982) since the installation of our awesome 4K digital projector, then Wednesday’s late change in programming is probably a really good departure point for a bit of chat about those necessary and sometimes prickly things called theatrical screening rights.

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Though we talk about this often, it’s so important we think it’s worth re-stating; we would love to just pick the films we want to screen and programme those (and yes, before you ask, the first thing we would show would be the original Star Wars Trilogy!) Unfortunately, and beyond whether or not there is an available format to screen from (70mm, 35mm, 4K or 2DCP, digital et al), there must be valid theatrical screening rights for us and indeed any cinema, society or organiser of a public screening to show a film.

Theatrical rights will usually have a termed option (most often five years) and then, once those rights expire it’s a matter for legal negotiation between rights holders and potential distributors as to whether or not they wish to renew. If not the doors are open for another party to try to obtain the rights, which come at multi-thousand (sometimes in the tens of thousand) dollar prices. Even after rights are purchased, the producer always gets around 50% of rentals earned. As you would expect with anything involving legal contracts, this can take considerable time and money to confirm. This is also why a film might have theatrical rights one year and then no longer have them the next. Returning briefly to Blade Runner, this is why we last screened it in 35mm in 2010 and since have been unable to screen it.

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This is also the reason why we were so excited to finally be able to screen Labyrinth (1986)and soon The NeverEnding Story (1984) – Astor proprietor George Florence has been looking into rights for NES for around nine years and now, thanks to Park Circus, acting on our tip, now representing the film, we can finally screen it. And yes, we do still have our fingers crossed for The Dark Crystal (1982).

But back to Wednesday and why we had such a late change to our programming. Of course at the time of printing our calendar (both current and upcoming) we were unaware that the rights for Apocalypse Now: Redux might expire before our scheduled screenings. Once notified that the screening rights had expired and as such our screenings could not go ahead we had two concerns: 1) an expectant audience who ought to be able to trust our calendar and come see the films we’ve scheduled and advertised, and 2) the fate for the incredibly rare and stunning 35mm Technicolor IB film print [Ed's note: the technology that created this stunning film print no longer exists, so even IF someone wanted to, another print COULD NOT be made.]. Often what happens when rights expire is that film prints are junked (destroyed) but thankfully we can assure everyone that the Apocalypse Now: Redux print is safe and being held until new rights can be negotiated.

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Even though we began the process of trying to sort out an agreement in time to let us at least be able to honour the screenings already booked, we received late notice Wednesday afternoon that the process could not be approved until the request was officially signed off on by the rights owners. Although we have made inroads and do both hope and believe we will have confirmed something in time for the June 12th screening later this year, we were unable at the last minute to receive the approval we thought we would be granted to screen Wednesday night.

We want you to know that it wasn’t for lack of trying that the screening of Apocalypse was replaced by Django Unchained (2012). We also want you to know that we’ll keep working on it from now until however long it takes to get the film back up on our big screen. Apocalypse Now: Redux has been an Astor staple for years and every calendar has a space for it. One of the most significant reasons for this is due to the rarity of the print, made with a now past process that, as mentioned, can never be replicated. But, even as much as we love the print, and admire the incredible technical process to create it, without an audience the print is just a physical object in a box. For Coppola’s vision and the Technicolor frames to mean anything, they need to be seen by an audience in the original intended theatrical environment. It is our undertaking to bring what we consider to be the most sensational viewing experiences to the big screen. Apocalypse Now: Redux is one of them and we fully intend to keep it on our calendars.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

To keep updated with news about future screenings of Apocalypse Now: Redux and other Astor related screenings and giveaways, keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter accounts and subscribe to our weekly E-news via our website.

Thank you 2012.

It’s time to farewell 2012 and get ready to welcome another stranger, 2013, uncertain as we are about what it will hold…

It’s no secret that 2012 has been a significant year for all at the Astor, with a lot of change, and not a lot of change, occurring all at once. We’ve had an incredibly important year in the old dame’s some 76 year history; another story for the history books in years yet to come. If you’ve been with us on our journey in 2012 then you’ll know the moments we’re talking about with your own memories of fondness, triumph, tears and determination. The most striking thing about what this last year offered was its extension of the shared experience from the confines of the auditorium into the truly public domain. We shared everything with you this year and you supported us with a level of passion that succeeded any expectation we could ever have held, and it more than matched our own. For this we are incredibly grateful, and humbled too. Thank you for everything, here are the dot points:

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Bricks and Mortar

We learned the true meaning of friend this year as the Friends of the Astor showed everyone, not just our previous landlord, how treasured and loved the Astor is. The show of support that garnered more than 14,000 signatures on a public petition effected change and helped to convince St Michael’s Grammar School to sell the building. The building was sold with much haste to an independent landlord, Ralph Taranto. Since settlement, attempts to negotiate a new long-term lease have been put in place. We remain hopeful and optimistic that 2013 will see some advancement in this area. Meanwhile, The Friends of the Astor Association intend to re-focus their aims and objectives in 2013 with a view to continuing to work towards our ultimate shared goal of setting up a future trust for the secured future and ensured longevity of George Florence’s beautifully conceived vision for The Astor Theatre.

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A Full House is a great hand.

Many might remember the ‘old days’ when the auditorium was often ‘packed to the rafters’, but recent years have seen changes in cinema-going and on a regular night we won’t always open the stalls. 2012 however has seen some truly magnificent occasions with an electric atmosphere that only a proverbial house full of film fans can create. Some of our highlights include; Labyrinth 2K, Raiders of the Lost Ark 4K, Cabin in the Woods, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – Extended Editions, Paul Thomas Anderson in person for a Q&A at the Australian 70mm premiere screening of The Master and FOTAA’s Protect the Astor Day, to name a few. A Full House is a great hand to have and even when we’re a card shy, we love to feel the energy of an enthusiastic audience fill both auditorium and foyers alike.

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Print or pixel?

Although it’s well over a year since we had our Barco 4K digital projector installed, 2012 was the year that the greatest demonstration of change presented itself across the industry and really brought awareness into the public domain. For our part we too have noticed a great change for both better and for worse (we’ll leave you to conclude for yourselves which is which in this subjective debate). One change is that a perfectly good quality 35mm print, the once standard theatrical format, is now being referred to as an “analogue backup” within the industry, and is, in some instances, no longer available for us to screen, removed from circulation following the creation of its DCP (counterpart). Moreover, new titles rarely have film prints made at all. We have however been overjoyed at the most notable exception to this being Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master which was not only released in 35mm in this country but most significantly was shot and printed on 70mm; the first film since the 1996 release of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet to be shot on 70mm (excludes IMAX 70mm). The advent of digital has also opened many so-called cinematic doors for us this year, allowing us to re-present much loved classic films such as Labyrinth and now the Indiana Jones series as well as a stunning 4K restoration of Lawrence of Arabia, where, for various and often terribly sad reasons, film prints no longer exist.

Copy of chapel distribution despatch store and print warehouse

Everything Else.

So many things happened in 2012, including the almost-concluded shooting of a documentary about the Astor and everything aforementioned in much greater detail, but surmising a year is difficult. How can we put into words the elation we feel every time someone walks through the front doors for the very first time, and exclaims in genuine awe? How too can we put into words the hours of blood, sweat and tears that our dedicated staff and supporters have put in both in front of and behind the scenes, to ensure we always open our doors, ready to welcome another audience and eager to entertain? It’s not easy to convey something so ethereal in a blog post, and that’s because what we do, like any live experience, has to be felt. And with that, we hope you have a fantastic New Year’s Eve (we’ll see some of you in fishnets later on), and we look forward to welcoming you and everything else on that unseen dossier for 2013, once again. As we farewell 2012 we hope our account can add a dot point or two to the history books, and we rest well with the knowledge that 2012′s feeling is shared by many.

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We Wish You An EPIC! Christmas

Irregardless of our indidvidual religious beliefs, Christmas has long been a time to celebrate cinema going and great epic movies. That’s why this Sunday we’re screening both a brand new super high definition 4K digital DCP format remaster of The Ten Commandments and a glorious 70mm film print of Ben Hur on our giant Astor SuperScreen. Before the days of CGI, such films engaged large-scale set production and thousands of extras to achieve their grand epic proportions. Famous and remarkable sequences such as Ben Hur‘s gripping chariot race and The Ten Commandment‘s truly awesome parting of the red sea have become famous and acclaimed moments in movie-history as well as landmarks in production achievement in the field. They certainly don’t make ‘em like they used to…

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And thanks to our good friends at the Jewish Museum we have 35 passes (some complimentary and some two-for-one) to giveaway to their current exhibition: EPIC! 100 Years of Film and the Bible. The first 35 people to purchase tickets from our ticket box to The Ten Commandments (ticket box opens Sunday at 1pm) will receive a pass. Having visited the exhibition ourselves we can definitely recommend it as a holiday season must-see (exhibition runs until February 3rd 2013).

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Curated almost entirely from one man’s private collection (Father Michael Morris O.P., Professor of Religion and the Arts at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California), EPIC! includes original press kits, lobby cards, daybills, one sheets and more from the films’ original publicity materials, including some very rare and impressive posters from Europe. A vibrant lay-out complements the many kitsch, camp and stylised pieces set out under four sub-categories; Gender & Sexuality, Violence & Catastrophe, Magnificence & the Monumental, Righteousness & Redemption.

David and Goliath

From Adam and Eve, through to David & Goliath and Sodom and Gomorrah, EPIC! 100 Years of Film and the Bible offers a look at the items surrounding public film exhibition, offering up publicity materials as works of art in their own right. And, much like the movies they relate to, they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray Giveaway Winners!

Thanks to our friends at Sony Home Entertainment we were given three copies of Lawrence of Arabia on Blu-ray to giveaway to ‘Aurens’-loving Astor fans! We asked you to tell us about your experience of seeing Lawrence of Arabia at the Astor and were absolutely delighted by all of your replies. Here are our three winning entries:

I first saw “Lawrence of Arabia” on the big screen as a young teenager, with my Mum, at West’s Picture Theatre, Hindley Street in Adelaide.  When epic movies, were shown on Todd-AO wide screens with a sort of  surround sound !!    I remember being overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the filming of the movie and the man behind the story.   Over the years I read anything about “Lawrence” I could find, including the “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”,  and in my mind  I always pictured Peter O’Toole as the epitome of the man.  So the movie has remained a favourite of all time, but it was just not quite the same on video.  It is many years since I have seen the movie, but a year ago, my husband and I traveled to Jordan to visit “the road Lawrence took”, visiting Aqaba, Petra and Wadi Rum.

When I  read the Astor announcement of the season  for the 50th Anniversary, super high definition 4K digital restoration, I was so excited.   We purchased tickets for Sunday 30th September 7.00 pm session and arrived early to ensure good seats.   There was a buzz of anticipation in the audience, from those who were cinema veterans, to those who were about to have the “Lawrence” cinematic experience for the first time.   When the lights dimmed and the swell of the soundtrack [Overture - Ed] filled the cinema I was immediately taken back to that time in 1963 when I first heard it…….. and it was just as awesome this time.

At interval (such a civilised concept), we drew breath and everyone around us, exchanged comments on the movie, the quality, the acting, the soundtrack. After a pause for a choc top, we resumed our seats to immerse ourselves in the dramatic conclusion and the round of applause at the end was proof of how much everybody there had enjoyed and appreciated this spectacular piece of cinema history. What a fantastic opportunity to have again in one lifetime. This time also seeing  the places we had visited, (ooooh “we have been there”…..) was just an added bonus  !!

Thank you to The Astor and all concerned for making this possible…. There is now a whole new generation who have been able to have this wonderful experience.

- Denise Robinson

I just saw “Lawrence of Arabia” for the first time at the Astor on Friday 5 October. Although the film had been on my watch list for many years, for some reason I had never gotten around to seeing it. I had planned to see it at the Astor as part of Columbia Pictures 75th Anniversary in 1999, but study commitments prevented me from getting there.

So on Friday 5 October I finally got round to seeing “Lawrence of Arabia” at the Astor, and it was an amazing experience. While I am sure I’ll watch the film again at home, I very much doubt the viewing experience and atmosphere will replicate the brilliance of seeing it on the Astor super screen.

I hadn’t been to the Astor in a few years, and seeing “Lawrence of Arabia” reminded me of how much better films look when watching them in a cinema. This inspired me to visit the Astor again two days later to see the Lana Turner double. Although I had already seen both these films several times before, it was so much better seeing them on the big screen. Had I not seen “Lawrence of Arabia” on 5 October, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see the Lana Turner double. I now look forward to seeing the Greta Garbo double tomorrow and the Joan Crawford double next Sunday, and I’m sure there’ll be many more visits in the near future.

- John Aron

I saw LoA last Wednesday (October 3rd) and spent much of the movie thinking how great the surround sound was, what with the jingling of camel tassels coming from various directions. Then I realised it was Marzipan’s bell.

- Gary Chapman
This year’s 50th anniversary restoration and re-release screened exclusively in Melbourne at the Astor Theatre in 4K on 4K September 23 to October 6th and the Blu-ray releases Wednesday October 31st. For info, updates and to enter our upcoming giveaways make sure you Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our weekly E-newsletter via our website.

What Does It All Mean?

It’s sure been an interesting week online with regard to all things “Astor” and, in response to the very many questions appearing on facebook, twitter and elsewhere, we thought we ought to clear up a few points that seem to be causing confusion. So here it is, as we see it, in simple points:

A Brief History Lesson

In 2007, the freehold for the building at 1-9 Chapel St, St Kilda was for sale. St Michael’s Grammar School purchased the building at auction for $3.8 million dollars. With the purchase for SMGS (landlord) came an existing lease until 2015 for the the current major tenant, The Astor Theatre. The building was Heritage Vic listed when St Michael’s bought it  – and we already had a lease in operation. So no matter who owned it, we were always going to be here until May 2015.  No developers were interested because of the Heritage Listing and our lease which is why there was only one bid at auction. The Friends of the Astor Association Inc did not exist until 2010 which is why they did not bid at auction (it’s difficult to do things when you don’t yet exist).

Unfortunately, the media and estate agent were calling it the sale of The Astor Theatre, but “The Astor” is an entity that was not for sale. So rather than ‘Save the Astor’ in 2007, St Michael become the building’s new landlord. Much like when you privately rent a property, the landlord is the person you pay monthly rent to and just because they own (for example) ’10 Happy Lane’ doesn’t necessarily mean they own, run, understand, or have anything to do with the “home” existing inside of it.  If you replace ’10 Happy Lane’ with ’1-9 Chapel Street’, and “home” with “Astor Theatre”, you see clearly the current existing relationship, one of landlord/tenant.

The Astor Theatre

This is the point with the most – and most dangerous – element of confusion; “The Astor Theatre”, “Astor Theatre”, “The Astor”, all refer to the entity currently in operation inside the building at 1-9 Chapel St, St Kilda. Furthermore, it is a trademark belonging to Chapel Theatres Pty Ltd, owned and operated by George Florence, Proprietor of The Astor Theatre as you know it, since 1982. The school have been asked to please not use the word ‘Astor’ when referring to the building as it creates confusion.

Simon Gipson, Head of School at SMGS, commented, that ‘The Astor’ will continue to show films, but this could only be true if George were to be given another lease or if the freehold was sold to someone (i.e. FOTA) who would ensure The Astor could stay. So even though the assurance is that 1-9 Chapel Street will in future show films, The Astor will not.

The school have said they will be in consultation with the broader community. Good news for everyone is that the community includes a great group of people called The Friends of the Astor who are actually offering assistance with community consultation. And so far the community are speaking up loud and clear in favour of The Astor Theatre, which is – everyone all together now – “the entity inside the building”, owned and run by George Florence.

Friends of the Astor

The Friends of the Astor Association Inc is a distinct and separate body from The Astor Theatre. It’s a not for profit incorporated body that aims to become a not-for-profit trust and was founded by a group of concerned individuals within the community who are passionate about The Astor Theatre. Their aims are to preserve and protect the Astor. Their campaign comes from a concern for the future of the Astor. Their intent is not cyber bullying, far from it, they are interested in opening up the dialogue about the future of the Astor and are calling on SMGS to be good corporate citizens, to see that thousands of people out there want the Astor Theatre to exist, in its current incarnation, for future generations to experience.

Too Early to Speculate

It has been stated by the school that it is too early to speculate on the long-term uses for The Astor (one more timethe entity inside the building) but their Preliminary vision, plus the architects who visited the building with tape measures, suggest there has already been at least some consideration for what the future may hold for “The Astor”. And as a entity, “The Astor” must take the landlord’s intended long-term use of the building into consideration: for example, The Astor has recently installed state of the art digital projection and we might be considering further technical additions/upgrades, but it’s difficult to know what to invest in if we don’t know whether or not our intended improvements have a limited time-frame of two and a half years – the time-frame we realistically have left to trade.

Moving house from a small flat with few belongings may only take a couple of days to pack up and move but moving out of a more than thirty year tenancy will take a lot longer. With that in mind, with things as they currently stand, we will close in late 2014 to give us time to take with us everything that belongs to the The Astor including, but not limited to; a cooling/heating system, courtyard full of plants, popcorn machine, film projectors, 4K digital projector, amplifiers, sound rack and sound system, as well as our iconic carpet and a much loved Astor cat. As such, there will be another seven Astor Theatre calendars. And if there are only seven calendars left and with, for example, the 70mm film print of 2001: A Space Odyssey belonging to George Florence, one thing we might like to consider is how many more times we will screen it on the Astor’s SuperScreen before that print is never seen theatrically again. Certainly without the Astor, without George, the building can’t screen it.

The Library

There’s also been some confusion about the library of films The Astor have access to. Some titles, such as Casablanca, that we regularly screen, belong to Chapel Distribution Pty Ltd, a company, though co-founded by George Florence, that is again distinct from “The Astor Theatre”. These films would continue to screen at a number of cinemas in Australia and New Zealand but of course would not screen in the building that houses the Astor Theatre without The Astor in operation.

The Future

Whether or not the people currently operating the business of the Astor wish to stay is not really what’s at stake here, what the concern is, is what the public want, and what might happen to what the public can access. The Friends of the Astor Association is an independent body who could ensure the aims and intentions of The Astor continue once the business is handed over to them as a not-for-profit trust, ensuring The Astor exists, not as a private business but as an entity open to the public. This is something the current model of The Astor strongly supports.

It would be an incredible loss if future generations could not put up an Astor Calendar on their toilet door and come see 70mm film prints of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. If the Astor doesn’t stay inside the building then no one in Australia will see those films in those formats again. No one is saying that the school wouldn’t ever show a film again – as Simon Gipson, Head of School has stated, it will do so for perhaps ten weeks of the year. But will you be able to see It’s A Wonderful Life every Christmas Eve and then come back on Boxing Day for the Monty Python double? Will the Astor cat greet you in the foyer? Will you ever see the Astor logo on the big screen again as you take a bite into your Astor Choc Ice?

The Astor is so much more than just a venue and removing it from the building would be like removing its soul. The Astor isn’t bricks and mortar, it’s ethereal and it only exists today because the collective experiences of the community continue to feed its soul. If it’s gone then you will still have a building, and you will probably still be able to see films there, but do you want to enter the auditorium having purchased a scarf from the uniform shop instead of an Astor Choc Ice?

For more information please visit fota.net.au and sign the petition at change.org/astor

Written by Tara Judah, PA to the Proprietor at the Astor Theatre, for the Astor Theatre.