One Flew Into the Ticket Box

It’s a few weeks since our screening but the limited edition screen prints have just arrived! Hot off the press and illustrated by US artist Chuck Sperry, they look like this:


Much like some of our previous screen prints, this one features a ‘secret layer’. Make sure you rush in to the ticket box to check it out! They’re $38 each and we have a limited supply so don’t delay. In the interim, you can read what Chuck had to say below:

“My first reaction was to make a poster featuring Jack Nicholson, in his role as McMurphy. Then after a few rough drafts, I set about working on a poster featuring Nurse Mildred Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher, the role for which  she won the Oscar. Nurse Ratched is a perfect subject for an art piece as America is struggling to reform its health care system. She is the embodiment of a dehumanizing American medical establishment, a figure without pity, one who punishes the objects of her prejudice through bureaucratic sadism. I chose to depict Nurse Ratched from the perspective of her victims. The impact of this poster is that it is intended to be a portrait of her, as if it were done in art therapy by one of her patients. I chose a psychedelic presentation, using psychedelic colour theory and using what I’ve learned about the science of optical perception. I overlaid my psychedelic presentation with techniques drawn from outsider art, or art of the insane. I remembered the work of artist Louis Wain, the popular and widely published early 20th Century prosaic cat artist.

Wain lost his mind late in his career, either from a progressive schizophrenia, or through exposure to toxoplasmosis (a disease that is often passed to humans by cats). He was institutionalized and started to create incredible cat paintings, which have been published in psychology textbooks as an illustration of the disintegration of the human mind.Louis Wain was a perfect starting point for a psychedelic portrait of Nurse Ratched, from the point-of-view of one of her patients. Wain often employed psychologically troubling, perfectly symmetrical compositions, and toiled with precise and obsessive geometric details which were meticulously mirrored on both sides of his symmetrical paintings. My design utilizes this symmetry and geometric detail to achieve this baffling effect. The blue forms are crenelated and manifold, so as to maximize the number of boundaries of contact between the two vibrating colors, red and blue. I used Eye-fry complimentary contrasting color, blue and red, taking care in my studio to custom mix them using fluorescent pigments in powder form, to an equal intensity. In brief, the resulting psychological effect on the optic nerve is that the color receptors are confused where the two colors meet.


Subtly printed over the finished piece is a light translucent grey halftoned portrait of Nurse Ratched, which I also flipped from a xerox and created a perfectly symmetrical face. The symmetrical, light halftone photo a secret image and appears in two ways. One way is to view the poster in UV backlight. The other way is to convert a photo of the poster into black and white (easy to do with the “Willow” or “Inkwell” Instagram filters). The equal red and blues meet at the same value of grey and allow the Nurse Ratched halftone portrait to appear very clearly. The resulting poster for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a combination of many of the techniques I’ve learned about printing, design, art aesthetics, psychology and the science of optical perception, appropriately used for one of the greatest American films.”

Deck the Halls…

There are lots of Grinch like reasons to rag on this time of year – from those lengthy queues in the supermarket to the commercialism that rages just around every corner. Still, there’s lots of reasons to love it too. From mince pies to movies, Christmas is a time to celebrate wonderful lives and stop cute fluffy creatures from turning into gremlins. Here’s what we have coming up on the program to get you started with the Christmas cheer and well on the way to discovering what Christmas is really all about: sitting in a darkened auditorium with a bunch of strangers and communally enjoying quality cinema. That is what it’s all about, right?

Sunday December 22nd, 2pm – White Christmas

indexIt’s Christmas eve, 1944, and two army mates who both love to sing and dance; Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye); farewell their commanding officer. The duo decide to pair up in entertainment once the war is over. After two years on broadway the boys are asked to audition their war sergeant’s sisters; Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen); something that leads to love, an occasional argument and, of course, a great big production constantly filled with song and dance. Even if it’s hot outside, there will be snow this Christmas.

Sunday December 22nd, 7pmThe Shop Around the Corner + It’s A Wonderful Life

indexThis is an annual tradition at the Astor and usually we screen it on the evening of the 24th. This year the 24th is a Tuesday and we’re closed Tuesdays so we’ve brought it forward to the Sunday night – sometimes it’s good to mix things up. You already know the films (and if you don’t then all you need to know is that you need to see them), so we’ll just say this: if you can only spend one night with us over the Christmas period, make sure it’s this coming Sunday. Both films will screen on 35mm film prints.

Monday December 23rd, 7.30pm – Gremlins + Gremlins 2

imagesIt just wouldn’t be Christmas without those cute little furry guys and those gross slimy green guys causing havoc in the auditorium. There are three very simple rules to follow: turn up, have a great time and don’t eat after midnight (bad for the digestion). The first one is in 35mm and the brilliantly funny sequel is a 70mm blow-up that was found not so long ago by the crew at Chapel Distribution in a salt mine in Mount Isa. These are stupendously great films from the great Joe Dante and we are so pleased to let them take over – really, they do take over – for a night of pre-Christmas revelry!


You might remember that back in August we held a special Dalek Invasion event at the Astor that involved a Tardis – a huge thank you to The Tardis Guy without whom this would not have been possible – some Daleks, K-9 – such enthusiastic thanks to the wonderful people at the Melbourne Robot Workshop and the Melbourne Hackerspace who are just incredible – and an awesome Peter Cushing as the Dr. double bill. It was quite the event. There were humans dressed as Daleks and even one who was wearing an outfit very much like a Tardis…



As you can see, those are some pretty awesome outfits so you’ll need to get working on the details if you plan to be the best dressed on the night. Speaking of which, this time around we’ve also managed to wrangle the Doctor – also known as Rob Lloyd who you can follow/stalk into another dimension called the twitterverse here.


So, a little about our local Doctor: since 2011 Rob has developed, created and been involved in a number of projects specifically focused on everyone’s favourite Time Lord, Doctor Who. Rob Lloyd has appeared as The Doctor numerous times for The Impro Box’s hugely successful improvised Dr Who show Time Lord. He is a regular special guest host on the Dr Who based podcast The Preachers Podcast. However Rob is probably best known for his one man comedy show about his obsession with The Doctor, Who, Me. Rob has performed Who, Me. at the Melbourne & Adelaide Fringe Festivals, the Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland & Perth International Comedy Festivals, the Darwin Entertainment Centre, the CSIRO in Canberra and most recently he has had a highly successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. While we won’t have time to fit Rob’s show into our evening program, we are pleased to announce that he will be in attendance – potentially trying to defeat Daleks – and playing host before the show begins!

DalekmaniaAnd, speaking of the show, we have a VERY special addition to this Saturday evening’s line-up. As you can see from the video above, it was quite the event back in August. But this time we’ll also be screening a documentary short – DALEKMANIA! – ahead of the main program. PHEW. That’s a pretty exciting and definitely jam-packed evening on offer. You’d be mad to be anywhere else.

This exceptional encore 50th anniversary Dr. Who celebration event takes place this Saturday, November 30th at 7.30pm. Advance tickets are available here.

Is it okay to laugh?

Last year on Halloween we screened John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). Contrary to popular belief we didn’t just choose it because of its apt title – we chose it primarily for its seminal role in the slasher subgenre of horror flicks. We thought, ‘Why not use Halloween (the 31st of October) as an opportunity to screen a great staple of the genre that lots of people might not have seen on the big screen before?’  Lots of people turned out for the film which was encouraging. But what happened inside the auditorium wasn’t at all what we were expecting…


Immediately following the screening came a host of complaints from representatives of approximately half our audience. Simultaneously our social medias lit up with contrary praise for such a great evening from representatives of the approximate other half of our audience. How is it that one film screening could divide opinions so gravely? Well, I suppose the answer to that relates to generational context.

John Carpenter’s Halloween attracted a number of Gen X attendees who could recall seeing the film many years ago – perhaps on release or perhaps in their youth/adolescence in a home entertainment environment – nevertheless, their recollection of the film was as a truly tense and terrifying horror movie. But John Carpenter’s Halloween also attracted a number of Gen Y attendees who saw the film for the first time, and who found it incredibly corny and overly cliched. When I asked a couple of these attendees about whether or not they realised it was one of the films from which the cliches were established their response was that it didn’t matter – if it isn’t being self-reflexive then it’s just funny.


I’ve pondered over this time and again throughout the past year, especially since the experience has been repeated – a LOT –  with other classic films. It’s a difficult issue to broach because, on the one hand, we can’t do much about it – if you genuinely find something funny then your laughter is a genuine response, not intended to upset fellow patrons and we want everyone to experience the films honestly but, on the other hand, we have to think about doing something because half the audience are really unhappy about having their experience tainted by what they feel is inappropriate, disrespectful laughter. Both perspectives are valid, aren’t they?

So where does this leave us? Well, not really at any kind of resolution. But it did get me thinking about what on earth we could screen on Halloween. Lucky as I was earlier this year, to visit the Sydney Underground Film Festival, inspiration (or perhaps a low hanging CGI bird) hit me. If Halloween seems to be an evening where people want to get together with large groups of friends, have a (sensibly consumed) beverage or two, and enjoy riotous good laughter in our large, acoustically awesome auditorium, then why not embrace the essence of the experience and give everyone the opportunity to truly – and importantly – without fear of upsetting others, enjoy themselves? And so, the Birdemic double bill was born.


Immediately stickered with the ‘so bad it’s good’ label, Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) is an exercise in how not to make a movie; allowing the length of the music track to determine shot length, spending little more than two cents on computer generated imaging, using two very wooden people instead of actors to play your leads, and, defying the very laws of sound design. And just when you thought this was as bad as it could get, along came Birdemic 2: The Resurrection (2013) which is pretty much twice everything that the first film was.

Still, even in writing this there’s a little something that irks me – director James Nguyen was sincere when he made both of these films and yet here I am encouraging people to come see it – and go ahead and laugh at it. Perhaps we’ve reached a self-reflexive point of no return? Now that would be truly terrifying.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror and Birdemic 2: The Resurrection screen Thursday October 31st as a Halloween double bill.

The Wicker Man – The Final Cut

Swirling shots of the sky with birds circling overhead; eerily sweet folk music; a close-up of two slugs touching, oozing; hedges pruned in the shape of a phallus; naked dancing, leaping over an open fire; creepy low angles creating ogres of men; a young man brought to the island’s Aphrodite as an offering; an investigation; wicker burning. The Wicker Man – The Final Cut.


Hardy’s original cut (known as The Director’s Cut or ‘The Long Version’ and with a 102 minute run time) made in 1973 was never released theatrically in the UK and was accidentally junked at some point to make space at the warehouse. The UK theatrical release or ‘The Short Version’ comes in at 88 minutes, cut under the direction of Mike Deeley at British Lion who wanted to fit The Wicker Man in a double bill with Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973). However, A positive print of ‘The Long Version’ had been sent to the US to Roger Corman for potential distribution in the US. Hardy was determined to track down the original cut and have it released in the US. Soon he was working with the distributor Abraxas who had been sent ‘The Short Version’ from British Lion. With Hardy’s help Abraxas tracked down the print of ‘The Long Version’ that had been given to Roger Corman. A few additional cuts were made with Hardy’s approval and this cut became ‘The Middle Version’ at 93-94 minutes running time. This cut was never released anywhere for home entertainment purposes or theatrically in the UK and has only ever been seen on the first episode of Alex Cox’s Moviedrome in 1988.


Whilst ‘The Long Version’ was available on VHS and transferred to DVD the video masters were not of a good enough quality to restore for theatrical presentation. This meant the only theatrical prints available were ‘The Short Version’ and ‘The Middle Version’. Which brings us to 2013 when Studio Canal embarked upon a worldwide search for the original materials and turned up a 35mm 1979 release print of the Abraxas cut, at the Harvard Film Archives. Scanned at the Harvard Film Archive in 4K, then sent to Deluxe Restoration labs in the UK, The Final Cut was put together from the 1973 88 minute UK theatrical release cut,  splicing in the extra scenes from the Abraxas cut, or ‘The Middle Version’ as its also known. The restoration is fantastic but of course there is a noticeable difference between the extra footage spliced in and the theatrical footage due to the condition of the original source materials. The Final Cut is 100 minutes in length, only 2 minutes shorter than ‘The Long Version’, or The Director’s Cut which Hardy doesn’t believe will be found. The major difference between ‘The Long Version’ and The Final Cut is the exclusion of that footage from the very beginning of the film in the police station on the mainland, footage Hardy decided was not essential to the story anyway.


The rumoured 117 minute version – which would be from a ‘rough cut’ is not a version that Hardy is interested in pursuing because that is a version where scenes were cut rather than lost; including a lengthy monologue from Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) about apples. The most important distinction between this version and the theatrical cut is that it introduces the Summerisle character much earlier in the film. Robin Hardy is currently working on the third film in The Wicker Man trilogy with hopes of its completion by the end of 2014.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre with reference to Studio Canal’s official press release on the 40th anniversary restoration.

The Wicker Man – The Final Cut screens for a limited engagement Thursday November 07 – Sunday November 10, 2013.

Mommie Dearest

Working at a cinema like the Astor means working with like-minded people who share a passion for film. One of the greatest benefits of this sharing passion is gleaning knowledge and an even greater passion from inspiring colleagues who can’t help but share with you. I consider myself an extremely fortunate employee in my role at the Astor as I get to work with George Florence who has been programming the awesome range of rep titles here since 1982 when I was still a wee bairn.

imagesOver the past three years at the Astor, as well as revisiting much loved classics and cult favourites I’ve also been fortunate enough to be exposed to films I hadn’t previously seen – we all have gaps, omissions and curiosities yet to be discovered within our individual catalogues of film knowledge – and one of the films George introduced me to, initially on DVD, has now been transferred to 2K DCP which means we can now share this great picture with all of you! And so, coming up on the calendar this Sunday is the incredible and under-appreciated, Mommie Dearest (1981).

Adapted for the screen from the memoir/exposé written by her adopted daughter Christina, Mommie Dearest is a sort of terrifying/deranged biopic of part of Joan Crawford’s later life. Beginning by giving a detailed picture of the extreme beauty routine Crawford endured on a daily basis to keep her iconic face radiant and fresh, Mommie Dearest is a candid look at life inside the celebrity psyche.


What’s strangest – and indeed most compelling – about Mommie Dearest is how it manages to straddle the realms of quality cinema and ‘so bad it’s good’ camp/trash aesthetics simultaneously. How one would even begin to decide whether or not this fits the gambit of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cinema becomes problematic. To begin with, Faye Dunaway’s performance is so incredible – genuinely magnificent, so convincing it’s almost as if Dunaway is channeling Crawford – that one can’t help but lavish acclaim on the film. On the other hand, the ludicrousness and excess of her beating her timid daughter with a wire coat hanger and calling out to her to bring an axe in the middle of the night whilst dressed to the nines is so far removed from most people’s semblance of ‘reality’ that it comes across as entirely absurd.

Ultimately, the awkwardness we find in responding to this film comes down to the material: the story itself is so far beyond theatrical and so intensely melodramatic that it’s difficult for everyday people such as (a presumed) you and I to comprehend what we see as an accurate re-telling of anyone’s lives. A truly astonishing film, Mommie Dearest really has to be seen to be believed.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Mommie Dearest screens Sunday September 15th at 7pm.

They Live: John Carpenter Shows Us The World As It Really Is

UnknownAn out-of-work drifter (professional wrestling legend ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper) wanders into Los Angeles, looking for work and a place to stay. An idealistic individual, he believes that America is the land of opportunity, so long as you work hard, remain patient and follow the rules. However, our drifter is about to have his illusions shattered, as he soon discovers the glamorous facade of the privileged society we inhabit is a smokescreen concealing a nightmarish landscape of thought control and rigid conformity.

Inspired by a short story from Ray Faraday Nelson, titled Eight O’Clock in the Morning (1963), writer-director John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) is one of my favourite motion pictures. Admittedly, it’s a pretty big deal to me that ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper appears as the central character of the piece. You see, I grew up watching ‘Hot Rod’ during his prime years as a wrestling star, and as far as I’m concerned, one couldn’t have found a better actor to portray the lead in They Live. Indeed, it would have been a totally different film without Piper. All of those hilarious one-liners that you hear from Piper? Many of those were ad-libbed by ‘Hot Rod’ himself. Apart from his prowess inside the squared circle, Piper was a flamboyant character whose pre-match interviews often contained stinging insults aimed at whomever his opponent was to be on the night. An incredibly gifted speaker, Piper’s verbal barbs at his foes were never scripted, and his talk show segment, Piper’s Pit, became the stuff of legend. Suitably impressed by the ultra-charismatic Piper’s work in the realm of professional wrestling, Carpenter offered the Canadian-born ‘Hot Scot’ the leading role in They Live. Carpenter couldn’t have made a better choice.

Casting decisions aside, They Live really speaks to me with its indictments of mindless consumerism, draconian conformism and brutal authoritarianism, all the while lamenting the demise of individualism in modern society. Granted, it’s also a work of science fiction, but the messages in the film are wholly applicable to the real world. The concrete jungle presented in They Live is littered with countless billboards, signs and posters, seemingly innocuous commercials for consumer products, but when stripped of their glossy facade, each insidious advertisement reveals a stern message, printed in severe black text, demanding that we humans obey, consume, and don’t demonstrate independent thought. Piper’s lone drifter character is understandably astonished when he makes this discovery (exactly how he manages this, I’ll leave it to the film to reveal), as he soon realises it’s all part of a global conspiracy, designed to keep “regular people” subdued and subservient to an exclusive worldwide corporate elite.

Much like the world we inhabit, really.

UnknownPiper’s working-class character (never named in the story, but listed in the closing credits as “Nada” and often called “John Nada” by fans of the movie, so let’s go with that) at the outset of They Live is like so many of us: the hard-working individual who believes that there is room for everyone to prosper, so long as each of us has faith in the system and follows the straight and narrow. By contrast, Frank (played by Carpenter regular Keith David) is already jaded and embittered when we first encounter him, a construction worker and family man who has really been screwed over by the capitalist machine. However, despite his dissatisfaction with the capitalist system, Frank expresses his reservations, to say the least, when the post-disillusionment Nada tries to show him the world as it really is. Frank represents another mindset common in our society, that of the individual who knows the system is designed to marginalise the many for the benefit of the few, but is hesitant to take action against the puppetmasters who comprise the corporate elite. Frank is frustrated, yet feels powerless and unable to fight the system, and understandably doesn’t want to be associated with Nada at this point, as the drifter has, owing to a violent rampage inside a city bank, attracted unfavourable attention from the police department, themselves subservient, unquestioning foot soldiers of the so-called ruling class.

imagesAs you might guess, the masters of this global conspiracy as portrayed in They Live are not regular people. Again, as to exactly what they are and how they are discovered by Nada, I shall leave for the film to reveal. One of my favourite scenes in the film takes place inside a newsagency, where Nada is alarmed by the presence of a seemingly normal human whose true appearance is apparent to no one else. Take note of the book with its orange cover on the bookstand next to John Nada in the picture below. Nada, now blessed with an extra-sensory perception of his own, is able to see the world as it really is, as opposed to the world as many of us think it is.

imagesCarpenter’s They Live, much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, 1978) and numerous other motion pictures from the sci-fi genre, rouses profound feelings of paranoia, making us consider that maybe not only are we not alone in this universe, we aren’t even alone on our own planet. Perhaps the invaders are here already, living among us, controlling us without our knowledge. Such fantastic notions aside, They Live, again, similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives (1975, 2004), deals with the loss of our humanity, the idea of people losing their souls, their uniqueness, as they succumb to the rigidly conformist principles preached by society. Granted, the film is entirely unsubtle in its approach, and detractors might consider it redundant in the sense that it underscores the flagrantly obvious, but if the societal woes highlighted in the film are so apparent in the everyday world, why is it that so many people fail to see the world as it really is? Perhaps this accounts for the lack of subtlety exhibited by the film. Sometimes, you really do need to spell it out in bold capital letters.


Carpenter’s They Live is a relatively obscure work in the history of science fiction cinema, and most unjustly so. Released to American cinemas during the final days of the Reagan administration (the film itself critical of Reaganism), just four days before the November 1988 presidential election, They Live topped the United States’ box office in its opening weekend, before experiencing a rapid decline in audience attendance. However, the film has become a firm cult favourite, and now twenty-five years after it first reached the cinema, They Live is ripe for discovery from a new audience. A blissfully entertaining blend of science fiction, action and social commentary, boasting a tremendous sense of humour, much of it originating from Piper’s hysterical one-liners, They Live is recommended most highly to fans of sci-fi and socially-aware cinema. Featuring a supporting cast including George ‘Buck’ Flower, Meg Foster and Raymond St. Jacques as The Street Preacher, Carpenter’s They Live is a motion picture that – its more fantastic elements aside – shows us the world as it really is. It’s a film that has become terrifyingly relevant, moreso than ever before, to our commercially-saturated, non-thinking society since its release one-quarter century ago. So if you think you see the world as it really is, John Carpenter’s They Live will give you cause to reconsider.


Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre. 

They Live screens Sunday September 1st at 7pm in a double bill with David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.