007 Festival – 4K Digital remasters

This one has been a long time in the pipeline. It’s probably close to two years since we first heard that the James Bond titles would be getting the 4K treatment. Digitally remastered DCPs – when done well – can look glorious (not ‘better’ than film – they’re different formats and not truly comparable – but spectacular in their own way). Having made room on a couple of calendars to date, the DCPs will finally be ready for us to unveil onscreen this year, starting on October 18th with the very first and second 007 titles: Dr No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963).

Beginning with Sean Connery and making our way forwards with George Lazenby and Roger Moore, our 007 Festival brings a popular character back to the big screen where he belongs. According to our calendar (which will be hitting the streets next week!) Sean Connery is the Bond we love best. Who’s your favourite Bond? And what about Bond villains? Does 7’2″ with steel teeth impress you or are you more interested in plots focused on world domination? There’s plenty of nefarious types to choose from and yes, the series does come with a large dose of sexism delivered through dialogue, narrative and lack of agency. In typical Bond style the women are showcased as beautiful but aren’t given all that much to do besides.

In terms of further exploring the world of 007 we’ve got you covered there too – the Sunday before our 007 Festival begins we’ll be screening a documentary that delves into the world of villains, beauties and a British guy who values being suave above all else. It’s called Everything or Nothing (2012) and it screens Sunday October 12th at 4.30pm. 

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Full listings and details will soon be up on our website but until then, here’s the line up for our 007 Festival:

Bond 1Saturday October 18th 7.30pm
Dr No [1962] (PG) + From Russia With Love [1963] (PG)
Sean Connery, the Bond we love the best, investigates strange occurrences in Jamaica and overcomes the evil Dr. No, who of course has a serious plot to rule the world. After intermission, pitted against a blonde Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya with a dagger in her shoe, Connery returns. Plenty of suspense and action, and one of the longest, most exciting fight scenes ever staged.

Bond 2Saturday October 25th 7.30pm
Goldfinger [1964] (PG) + Thunderball [1965] (PG)
Full of ingenious gadgets and nefarious villains, with a hair-raising climax inside Fort Knox. After intermission there are plenty of gimmicks and Academy Award winning special effects as the world is threatened with destruction, set in the Caribbean.

Bond 3

Saturday November 1st 7.30pm
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [1969] (PG)
Lazenby, as the first non-Connery Bond, battles Blofeld amidst incredible action sequences, and a plot with a novel twist. The requisite components persist: nefarious villain, beautiful women and scenery, and great action sequences, but this Bond film is set apart by its maturity and emotional depth of characterization.

Bond 4Saturday November 8th 7.30pm
The Spy Who Loved Me [1977] (PG) + For Your Eyes Only [1981] (M)
In this lavish adventure 007 joins forces with a seductive Russian agent to quash arch villain Stromberg’s plans for world destruction. Nobody does it better, indeed. After intermission, bereft of the space age gadgetry, cartoon villains and female mannequins, we have the Bond film that has created the most debate among 007 fans.

Bond 5Saturday November 15th 7.30pm
Octopussy [1983] (PG) + A View to Kill [1985] (M)
When a “00” agent is found holding a Faberge egg, the British are suspicious and send James Bond to investigate. 007 discovers a connection between the priceless egg, an elaborate smuggling operation and a plot by a renegade Soviet general to instigate World War Three. After intermission, it’s Moore’s final appearance as 007, but hardly the strongest of the Bond series. An investigation of a horse-racing scam leads 007 to a mad industrialist who plans to create a worldwide microchip monopoly by destroying California’s Silicon Valley.

All films presented in brand new, remastered 4K DCP format.

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.

Raiders email signature

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.

never-ending-story

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.

apocalypse-now

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.

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