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.

The Wiz

It’s safe to say that many cinema purists would not stand for a remake of The Wizard of Oz (1939) – unless, of course, the remake in question is The Wiz (1978). Yes, it’s the same old stuff with Dorothy, a brainless scarecrow, a cowardly lion and a heartless tin man, travelling along a yellow brick road to find the mysterious wizard who may grant their wishes…  only it isn’t the same old stuff at all!

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The Wiz is a reworking of The Wizard of Oz as a Motown musical (inspired by the Broadway stage show.) We have Motown legends Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as Scarecrow. It should go without saying that the music in this musical is rather enjoyable (as you would hope!) and that alone makes the film worthy of a trip to the cinema. However, there is much more to The Wiz than just its soundtrack. Directed by Sidney Lumet, The Wiz features wonderful costumes and production design that is even more spectacular that the 1939 incarnation of the Oz fable. One of my favourite aspects of The Wiz is the way that the Land of Oz somewhat resembles New York City – complete with yellow taxicabs and a subway!

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Granted, the film is rather lengthy at 134 minutes, but please don’t let this dissuade you. I know it’s a well-worn cliche, but they simply don’t make motion picture musicals like this anymore. The latest advancements in computer-generated imagery don’t hold a candle to the more opulent scenes in The Wiz. As someone who has experienced it on the big screen, I am at a loss to explain why this film is not more highly regarded by film fanatics and casual viewers alike. I know people have issues with Diana Ross and her performance in the role of Dorothy Gale, as well as her appearance; “She’s too old!” they say. Do audiences really think that Miss Ross is too senior here to play a twenty-four year-old character? Do these same viewers really believe Judy Garland looked age ten (as her rendition of Dorothy Gale was meant to be in the 1939 version?) There is so much to enjoy in this film, and any perceived flaws are simply to be overlooked…

Diana Ross The Wiz Toto

The cast, including Nipsey Russell (Tinman), Ted Ross (Lion), Lena Horne (Glinda the Good) and Richard Pryor as The Wiz, are great fun to behold. And ever since I was a child, the highlight song ‘Ease On Down The Road’ has remained firmly stored in my memory. An ideal follow-up for Xanadu (1980), The Wiz is a fantasy escapist musical that demands to be experienced on the largest screen available. And for perhaps the most thorough online review of the film, complete with many awesome facts about the film, please visit Ken Anderson at Le Cinema Dreams, one of the finest film review sites you could ever hope to read and a favourite of mine.

Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre.

The Wiz screens in a double feature with Xanadu Saturday April 12th 7.30pm.

Roller Skating into the Astor…

Following the Oscar season, there is no shortage of hype surrounding winners of those coveted golden statuettes handed out each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. If the Hollywood marketing hype is to be believed, a film’s worth is to be measured by the number of accolades it has received. The Academy Awards is considered by the general public to be the most prestigious of the lot, hence the Oscars ceremony has less to do with recognising the best in the world of cinema, more to do with engineering public perception. Granted, it might not have always been this way, but given some rather curious choices in recent years, it’s difficult to not feel cynical toward the Academy itself.

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The bastard cousin of the Oscars, the notorious Razzie Awards, has played its own role in manipulating public perception, in that it dishonours the so-called worst in cinema for the year. Whereas members of the Academy have become known for collectively making safe, non-controversial decisions when awarding the Oscars, so too has the Razzies become known for making similarly safe, non-controversial choices when acknowledging the worst in cinema. After all, the nominees for the Razzies tend to be films already eviscerated by know-it-all critics. These are films that have long since vacated theatres and have been banished to ex-rental oblivion in video stores across the world. As if these films haven’t suffered enough ignominy – and admittedly the dishonour is not always entirely undeserved – the good folks behind the Razzies see fit to label these supposed turkeys with the kiss of death for all posterity, the dreaded Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture.

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The funny thing about awards is that, much like film reviews in the popular press and box office figures, they actually have little influence over public perception of a film in the long run. In other words, the true test of a film is not how many Oscars it collects, nor is it how many Razzies it can avoid, and it certainly isn’t how much money it can take at the box office. The true test of a film is the test of time. Looking at cinema from this perspective, Xanadu (1980), a film that was savaged by critics, tanked at the box office, and was nominated for Worst Picture at the inaugural Razzie Awards in 1980, stands as one of the greatest films in existence.

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Yes, you read that correctly: Xanadu stands as one of the greatest films in existence – at least of all the films I’ve seen, anyway. [Ed's note: I can confirm Mark's wide and ranging knowledge of cinema!] If the true measure of a film is the sheer joy audiences derive experiencing it many years after  release, then I shall continue to defend Xanadu in the face of its most relentless (killjoy) critics.

Xanadu has outlived the negative reviews, the disappointing box office returns, not to mention the mocking nature of the Razzie Awards, to become something of a cult favourite over the last thirty years. Apart from inspiring a number of Broadway musical parodies in recent times, Xanadu still plays regularly at special theatrical revivals around the world. The Canberra International Film festival included Xanadu in its 2011 programme, as an outdoor sunset presentation. It played to capacity audience (this writer should know – I was in the front row); November 2012 saw Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art present two screenings as part of its retrospective of dance musical films (again, this writer was on hand to experience the magic on the big screen); and now it is your turn to view this infamous motion picture musical and form your own opinions about its merit (or lack thereof) as Xanadu roller skates its way to the Astor.

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Honestly, if you consider yourself to be an ardent cinephile, or you simply enjoy your kitsch in extra large doses, you really should make it along to this rare cinematic event, the first Melbourne theatrical presentation of Xanadu in many, many years. Even if you have never experienced the film, you’re probably familiar with its title number, performed by Olivia Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra. In fact, the soundtrack was incredibly popular back in its day, even if the film fell short of meeting commercial expectations in theatres – even today it’s not uncommon to hear selected music from the film on nostalgia and easy listening radio stations.

The film is pure escapist indulgence, a roller disco fantasy that is essentially a long form music video. The screenplay is to dramatic impact as cotton candy is to nutrition. Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck will never be regarded as one of the great romantic pairings in cinema though. The main thing that matters in Xanadu is the music, and there is no shortage of remarkable songs to be found in this fantastic cinematic realm where dreams come true. For those of you who are curious as to the premise of the film, it concerns a dissatisfied illustrator, Sonny Malone (Michael Beck), who specialises in reproducing album cover art at AirFlo Records. Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly, in his silver screen swan song) is an erstwhile Big Band musician whose heyday was sometime back in the 1940s. Inspired by a celestial being named Kira (Olivia Newton-John), and determined to realise a common dream, Sonny and Danny plan to open a musical palace that shall combine the Big Band music of the 1940s with the rock and disco stylings from (what was then) the present time. Of course, there is more to Xanadu than just its music, as this glorious exercise in psychedelia boasts some of the most fabulous costumes you will ever see – words can’t do the wardrobe for this film justice, you simply must behold the dazzling sartorial creations yourself! The film combines aural and visual pleasure in ways matched by very few other films this writer has ever experienced.

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Pleasure is something far too often overlooked by po-faced film critics when judging films like Xanadu. Films can do many things; they can educate us, inspire feelings of introspection, radicalise us politically, exist as great works of artistry, but sometimes we
indulge ourselves in a certain slice of cinema for the sheer joy of it all. Films that appeal to your own eccentric tastes on celluloid might not tickle the fancy of most published film critics you read, and it’s hard to imagine your garden variety movie reviewer dressed up in tights and leg warmers, dancing to classic melodies from the days of disco! For example, I could never imagine American movie critic Gene Shalit, who absolutely panned Xanadu, as the type of person who would sing into his hairbrush as the film’s soundtrack played on the radio (but that’s also because I could never imagine Gene Shalit owning a hairbrush.)

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Basically, it takes a special type of film reviewer to give Xanadu a fair shake – preferably one whose own life revolves around dancing, leg warmers and spandex – someone who actually gets the charm of the movie. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a film critic more qualified than California-based dance instructor Ken Anderson, author of Le Cinema Dreams film review site, for whom the film (quite literally) altered the course of his life. To visit Ken Anderson’s blissfully entertaining, rather hilarious, albeit highly informative review, please click this link here. Hopefully, you will be inspired to catch Xanadu, the first half of a musical fantasy double feature that also includes The Wiz (1978), on Saturday April 12th at 7.30pm at Melbourne’s own stately pleasuredome where dreams come true, the Astor Theatre.

Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre.

Xanadu screens in a double bill with The Wiz on Saturday April 12th 7.30pm.

You can purchase advance tickets here.

Keir Dullea & Gary Lockwood Take the Stage

If there’s one film that gives us goosebumps every time it’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, screened here in glorious 70mm film print format with sensational six-track magnetic sound. If ever there were a case to be made for the virtues of the film print then this is the shining example. There’s so much depth to the image and such resonance in the sound that the film really interacts with you as a living, breathing entity. Awe is a word that’s not only fitting but absolutely necessary.

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As a regular fixture in our programming, 2001 has been shown at the Astor many times but what makes this next screening all the more special is that we welcome to the stage actors Keir Dullea (Dave) and Gary Lockwood (Frank). It’s not their first time at the Astor but it’s set to be every bit as special as it was when they first joined us back in 2006. Head to our YouTube channel to revisit their last appearance.

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During their first appearance here, Keir Dullea said of our 70mm presentation that it was the finest he had seen since its premiere in 1968. Certain we can replicate the experience again for him and all of you on April 11th, we screen the film with full overture and intermission, dimming of lights and opening of curtains done precisely to match the way it was seen all those years ago. It’s going to be a sensational evening, make sure you don’t miss out!

2001: A Space Odyssey + Live Q&A with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood takes place Friday April 11th 7.30pm, with autograph signing opportunities from 6pm **please note that there is a $30 fee per autograph.

Advance tickets available now.

A Funny Issue…

We talked about this late last year when we screened the Birdemic (2010, 2013) double bill – a pairing of two films that are “so bad they’re good” and, as such, incite laughter. One of our concerns however – in programming these kinds of cult films and also with our audience participation sessions of things like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and The Blues Brothers (1980) – is that encouraging boisterous viewing practices (a LOT of fun in their own way) might have a negative effect on other, regular screenings at the Theatre. Unfortunately, motivational factors for viewer response is difficult to quantify without us conducting some pretty serious and in depth research which, currently at least, we are not in a position to undertake. As such, with some of our screenings having induced so much laughter it approached ridicule, despite their belonging to our regular programming strand, we need to continue the discussion.

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As you no doubt know, we have a strict no mobile phone/device policy in our auditorium. Strongly believing in the pre-multiplex experience and traditional modes of cinema-going (often including overture, intermission and always manual lighting concepts), we do expect – and are most often pleased to see – wonderfully respectful audiences. Thank you. There is, however, a relatively new phenomenon that we are still getting to grips with and that is, laughter during films that were intentioned, and are presented, in earnest.

Our relationship as a cinema with you the audience is one that is built on trust. It’s very important to us that you feel safe at the theatre and that you enjoy your experience. We are to a large extent responsible for orchestrating this and we take great pride in what we do. That’s why we go to  great lengths to talk about things with you either in person at the Theatre, over email, and also via our online platforms, be it Twitter, Facebook or this here blog. In short: we want to keep up our standards. Recently, we’ve had some complaints about disrespectful behaviour in the auditorium. Not the kind where people are doing outlandishly awful things or even the kind of annoying things you might find at the multiplex like people kicking seats, talking loudly, using phones, taking photos, etc. It’s that other thing – that harder to monitor and control thing: laughter.

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It happened in Halloween (1978), Barry Lyndon (1975), and now Rebel Without a Cause (1955)and East of Eden (1955). I’m fairly certain that the likes of John Carpenter, Stanley Kubrick, Nicholas Ray and Elia Kazan didn’t intend to provoke laughter. Moreover, the films, each of them well-revered and critically acclaimed (well, maybe not Barry Lyndon at the time it was made), certainly weren’t met with laughter on release. So what’s changed? The films, though all digitally remastered, certainly haven’t. This suggests audience – something that is of course subject to and sometimes even a product of its own time; socially, politically, culturally and environmentally.

I don’t like to use generations as a dividing force but there does appear, at least from what we’ve seen so far, to be a correlation between increased laughter and younger audience attendance. I’d like to make it expressly clear that we in no way wish to discourage younger audiences from seeing these films. Far from it – that’s one of our major joys; seeing younger generations discover classic and cult films for the first time. But what we do have to think about is how we can make sure everyone - of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life – can enjoy their experience at the Astor.

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So, this blog post is really just a starter for 1) conversation, but hopefully also 2) an appeal to everyone to be considerate of their fellow movie-goers. We can’t really stop a genuine response to something – and maybe you do find some of the dialogue dated, some of the acting hokey – but we can ask you to think about the context the film was made in; its own social, political, cultural and of course historical situation within film history. We are asking you to think about how your responses might impact upon others around you. Cinema-going is a shared experience and as things change, which of course they will continue to do, we’d like to uphold good movie-going values: consideration and enjoyment for everyone. It’s not a black and white issue and it is certainly something we understand needs further thought and discussion. So help us out and let us know how you feel about it in the comments section below.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Tech.no-love

Perhaps it has something to do with my preference for a mediated experience of life over a lived one – I spend significantly more time in darkened rooms staring at moving images than I do in the company of living human beings – or it could just be the general increasing reliance on technology that led to this morbid line of questioning, but I recently asked myself which five objects I considered most important in my life. Two out of five are Apple products. My British passport, glasses and red lipstick aside (I know, I need a hobby) the most important objects I own are my MacBook Pro and my iPhone 5. While it’s fair to say that they do at least play a significant role in my life in that they both enable me to earn a living, it’s not just work that I use them for. They also ameliorate my relationships with others. If I’m going to be honest, and I’ve already admitted to how much I value my red lipstick , then it’s fair to say that I’m someone who doesn’t build many or lasting human relationships, so using technology to buffer or enhance those relationships can at times feel like a godsend. But then I start to wonder how much of my inability to interact in real life is simply a byproduct of years spent online. Is it a chicken/egg situation? Am I closer to or further away from people than I was before? Is it them or the technology that I’m even having the relationship with? And if it is the technology then what exactly is the dynamic between us? Do I use it or does it complement me? Could we ever be equal?

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I once heard someone say (probably in a movie) that you know you’re in love when you think about the person last thing at night and first thing in the morning. This worries me because it means I’m in love with email. Or Twitter, or FaceBook, or something. And it isn’t a healthy relationship either: while I’m totally dependent, it doesn’t need me at all. And though it enables relationships it isn’t itself a relationship. – Or is it? No, not yet.

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We might not be too far away from actual relationships with technology. And such is the premise for the two films we’re screening this very Friday night, March 21st, 7.30pm. Starting with Spike Jonze’s latest human connection musings in Her where Joaquin Phoenix embarks upon an emotional and physical (yes, sexual) relationship with his operating system (OS), followed by the curious Robot & Frank where Frank Langella teams up with his domestic robot to re-live his jewel heist days, all kinds of questions about technology and our relationships with it crop up. Both films, provocative and funny, will also have you wondering how soon we can expect to get it on with an OS update or when we can start hanging out with our automated domestic help, not least because both are set in the not-so-distant future. Although I suspect Apple still have a lot of work to do because there are a number of kinks yet to be ironed out. For example, I don’t use Siri because he/she can’t understand a single word I say. Is it language, accent or tone? Or is everything I utter just gibberish? For all I know, maybe other humans can’t understand me audibly either; perhaps that’s why I love technology so much, it’s far easier to express oneself clearly when writing in rich text and certainly to understand the world through moving images.

Her and Robot & Frank screen as a double bill Friday March 21st at 7.30pm.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.”