Too many to mention…

As New Year’s Eve approaches and we prepare ourselves for the most raucous night of the year – yep, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, now in 2K with 5.1 Surround Sound for an even more boisterous and blisteringly good time – we thought we’d take a look back over the year and some its highlights. In order to make sure this isn’t just one person’s subjective view of the year, we’ve pulled together a varied list of highlights as enthusiastically told by some of the Astor’s staff and regular E-news contributors. We welcome your input and would love to hear what your own personal Astor highlight was this year so please do let us know in the comments section below!

From our New York arm of the Astor (yes it’s true we do have an ex-pat devotee who tirelessly puts together our E-news and designs all our artwork all the way from NYC), Andy cites the arrival of our Barco 32B 4K digital projection plant and the re-release of Taxi Driver in 4K, “I’d say Taxi Driver – the debut of the new 4K projection system, further cementing the Astor as the home of the finest movie presentation in Australia.” And we have consensus from the Bio Box where Kaz says, “My favourite was the 4K re-release of Taxi Driver because it’s such a great film and seeing at that quality was amazing!” and resident ticket seller Tara agrees too, “Hearing Bernard Herrmann’s score – previously only ever in mono – in 5.1 surround sound was the most wonderful experience I’ve had all year.” Doesn’t hurt that the film itself is brilliant too.

But as we soon learned, even 2K looks amazing on our Barco 4K and so whilst TD didn’t take out number one spot for everyone, it did often get a honourable mention. From our new web designer (and we really do have to say an enormous thanks here too to Tyson who helped us put together a wonderful new website that far outshines the old one – in fact, I’d probably cite our new website as another of my greatest Astor highlights this year!), “I think my favourite was the Ghostbusters re-release, but the Taxi Driver in 4K was pretty awesome too!”

But amidst all the love for our new digital awesomeness it’s also true that we are still the home of film – both 35mm and 70mm. From the FOH Jake found a classic highlight in the charms and wit of Billy Wilder, “Some Like it Hot + The Apartment. Hadn’t seen them before; masterpieces!” And equally loved are the big screen staples we show regularly – both due to demand and also, in some instances, to ensure the prints won’t be thrown away. Regular E-news contributor Dave knows that the only way to see these films is as intended, “any screening of Apocalypse Now, Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz is something special. Three films that are best seen on the big screen.”

2011 also saw a few marathon screenings with the complete Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 1 & Pt 2 screened as a double bill and there were three popular trilogies; all three Back to the Future films which screened in an epic afternoon to evening event to help raise money for Parkinson’s Victoria (plus we actually had the DeLorean at the theatre!), Halloween was another special trilogy event with Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead screening to an audience who had just seen a Zombie playing a mandolin in the candy bar foyer(!), and of course, even though the extended versions were too long to run on this occasion (we will screen them at some time in the future), there was The Lord of the Rings. FOH Shift Supervisor Les sites the latter as his highlight, “For me the Lord of the Rings marathon in July. I really was surprised by the eclectic audience that attended that day and it would be amazing to put together something similar for the forthcoming movie of the hobbit in 2012.” Indeed it would be and I don’t doubt we will!

Something we pride ourselves on at the Astor is a unique and varied style of programming that caters to a wide ranging audience. Certainly we know not everything will be to everyone’s tastes, but another joy of the arrival of our digital projector has been the much wider range of films available to us to present to you. With so many films no longer available on actual film (there are various reasons for this and they range from the only print in the world being available at a cost we can’t – with no government funding – cover, to the prints themselves having been – in my own opinion foolishly – thrown to the tip; this is called “junked”), digital has meant we were finally able to screen a hoard of films that wouldn’t otherwise have found their way to the big screen this past year, including Dario Argento’s Suspiria, John Waters’ Cry-Baby, Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, the Cairo Club presented special screening of Key Largo and E-news contributor Ben‘s favourite Metropolis. Some of these films may not have got an individual staff mention but we know from our audiences that there was some genuine love for these screenings in 2011.

We managed to fit in a fair few horror sessions on our most recent calendar and writer/FOTA member/Astor and horror film enthusiast Ben (we have a few of them!) cites the Fulci experience as his best, “In a year the gave us a legion of masterful resurrections it was a much loved and worn print of the legendary video nasty, Zombie (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters), that will sit amongst my most cherished moments. It was my 1st Italian horror film on the big screen. Nothing could prepare me for the towering joy of zombie versus shark, or the destruction of a glistening  eyeball by a monument of a splinter. Projected from a different era, I could almost smell the dust of the dead, & watching it with Fulci virgins & devotees alike as we all gasped & laughed in eager appreciation, it was a night I shall never forget.”

But with so much and so varied a program there is also sometimes the issue of being decisive and certainly it’s true that at least two people weren’t able to decide at all. The lovely Lenny whose found her way from FOH to ticket box this year gave us five options, “Very difficult to pin 1 movie / event down….. Here are my favourite 5; 1) Silent Film Festival – Chicago, the Astor is the best place to see silent films – like a journey back in time to the start of cinema. With live music it is such a treat! 2) Hamlet, Simply awe-inspiring! A must see at the Astor with 70 mm print! 3) Cinema Fiasco’s Sheba Baby, Perfectly hilariously groovy!
4) In A Better World, and 5) 13 Assassins, bring on foreign films, both fabulously epic; one emotionally and one violently and morally.” All great picks and of course the writer of this piece has a special spot for Hamlet in 70mm even if I didn’t see it at the Astor this year. Hamlet‘s not only the first film I ever saw at the Astor though, it’s also an example of a film print saved by the Astor’s awesome George Florence. Marked to be junked some years ago, George stepped in, contacted Kenneth Branagh directly and told him what was about to happen to that glorious 70mm film print with six-track magnetic sound. Kenneth was of course appalled and directed the studio to hand over the print to the Astor to continue to screen forever more. So thank film for George or we wouldn’t have the opportunity to include such a magnificent film and film print on this fast becoming lengthy list of bests!

Also indecisive when it comes to selecting just one highlight, E-news and blog contributor, FOTA member and regular supporter of the Astor Mark gave us a great list that is impossible to select just something from. So, and as the person who I suspect has actually attended the most screenings of any of our attendees for 2011, we’re going to list them all: “The Graduate/Lenny. The former has long been a favourite and the latter was a first-timer for me that really blew me away–it was a privilege to witness it in its original format on the big screen. Rollerball/Westworld. Two of my favourite futuristic films, always wonderful to see this ideally matched pair revived at the cinema. Lawrence of Arabia (even in 35mm this was an amazing experience and I kept coming back for more), 2001 (always a stunning experience in 70mm–nowhere else in Australia shows this classic sci-fi movie in this format, it gets better each time I see it), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (one of my favourite Clint Eastwood movies and the extended footage version makes a great film even greater, in fact, all of the Sergio Leone epics, including Once Upon a Time in the West and A Fistful of Dynamite), Das Boot, magnificent in 70mm, a technical marvel, an all together different view of the German military in WW2, Ben-Hur, simply demands to be witnessed on the big screen, Amadeus, semi-fictional period piece deserves praise for sheer amount of detail and care, not to mention its compelling story and the fact that it does not take everything too seriously. Honorable Mentions: Network, one of my favourite movies and one that I feel should be seen by as many people as possible [ed's note - this screened as part of a private hire not a regular screening, for Mark's birthday earlier in the year], The Red Shoes, simply because I am starting to lose count of how many times I have seen this at the Astor and I only first saw it just under three years ago. You just know there are others but I’d be here typing forever otherwise.”

Speaking of private hires – which I mentioned briefly above – we’ve had some wonderful events this year that were “off-calendar” so to speak, including premiere screenings of Face to Face, Twice: The Cam Sinclair Story and Reservoir Cats. And from the Bio Box we also get a favourite non-film event, Alex and Allyson Grey. Also from the Bio Box George cites TD as a highlight and of course 2001: A Space Odyssey (if you didn’t already know, it’s his favourite film and the 70mm print is another one he acquired himself!)

Finally, we have two mentions for the film that screened back in 1982 when George first took over the lease at the Astor Theatre: the original 1933 King Kong. For anyone who missed the wonderful milestone event in April, The Astor celebrated its 75th anniversary with a special screening of this film. Gerard who contributes to our E-news and also wrote the excellent extended review we had available at the event says, “I think it has to be Kong/the 75th celebration for me. As an animation enthusiast, the film has been a wellspring of fascination for me since childhood, yet I’d never seen it projected. The Astor’s grand deco milieu – and the post-film company – ensured the experience was well worth the wait!” Owen in FOH agrees, “My favourite of 2011 was seeing the original King Kong for the Astor’s 75th.”

Well folks, there are so many examples that didn’t quite make the list and of course not every staff member managed to get their picks in in time for this post (a certain cat who shall remain nameless failed to email me in time…) which goes some way to explaining just how awesome this year has been for us. But of course, we want to know what your highlights are too – the whole point of this is to share our experiences and with even more awesome films and events on the way for 2012 we can’t wait to share yet another year of wonderful experiences with you!

Comments collected and arranged by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

Favourite Christmas Movies

This week in our E-newsletter we featured a very special Christmas giveaway to tonight’s splendid double bill – Shop Around The Corner and It’s A Wonderful Life.

And because we love to hear from you so much we asked for your favourite Christmas film and why. Thank you to everyone who entered (sorry but not everyone could win!) and congratulations to our 10 winners whose answers were so wonderful we just had to publish them here for everyone to read (in no particular order).

1. Anthony – It’s A Wonderful Life

“My favourite Christmas film of all time is, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Not because it’s showing at The Astor Theatre but it has a great meaning & significance not just in the Christmas sense but life in general. George Bailey being a generous person who has spent most of his life helping other people. The message is clearly evident at the end of the film that Christmas isn’t only a time for giving but appreciating life & the people who are close to us. As human beings, we tend to have a grouch on the world because we’re having a bad day or something isn’t going right in our lives but when we stop to think about it, life isn’t so bad at all because if we’re still alive, able to achive our goals & willing to assist those who are less fortunate than us then we have performed miracles by bringing happiness & joy the lives of other people.”

2. Konrad McCarthy – It’s A Wonderful Life

“My favourite Christmas film: “It’s A Wonderful Life” is because it’s often a tough time of year, it drives some people turn to drink, meds and/or illicit substances, but I find the best cure is to be reminded people, there can be good things too by taking a dose or two of Capra.”

3. Mary Kenneally -It’s A Wonderful Life

” You just can’t beat “It’s a Wonderful Life”, because it does tackle very serious issues – the despair that  George Bailey feels when his life of self sacrifice seems meaningless in the face of the power and success of the unrelentingly selfish and cruel Potter.
[There are echoes in  "Back to the Future 11" when Biff takes over Hill Valley and turns it into a nightmare place riven with  selfishness and nastiness, similar to the way Bedford Falls deteriorates due to the unfettered power of Potter, unchecked by the good deeds of George.] James Stewart expresses the explosive anger that often accompanies depression, and the emotions he portrays are razor sharp. The happy ending is well and truly worked towards, and hence completely satisfying.
[The anti- capitalistic message is rare in American films after this time. Had Stewart  been in "We got Mail", the little book shop would have won.] I can’t help feeling that knowing the real life Stewart’s  heroic career in WW2 also feeds into my attraction to the nobility of the character he creates in George Bailey. “

4. Eve Urban

” My favourite Christmas film is “It’s a wonderful life” and the reasons why are mulitple:
* Jimmy Stewart
* Frank Capra
* Even when I feel cynical and feel the film feeds humans overwhelming need for significance, I still love it!”

5. Jeannie Rae – It’s A Wonderful Life

“I have to admit that I am very fond of It’s a Wonderful Life, because despite it being a cliché, the values of caring and recognising your and others’ worth is so fundamental. Maybe also it reminds us that it is self-centred to think only of yourself and not how important you are to others – rather than such an attitude being humble when it is actually indulgent.”

6. Pat Plum -Marvin’s Room
“Not your standard Christmas movie, but when my four children were young teenagers, Marvin’s Room became our traditional Christmas Eve movie. The story of a very real family comprising of a man bedridden by a stroke, his self focused daughter who estranged herself from the family twenty years earlier, her two troubled sons – the elder of whom had been admitted to a mental institution for setting their family home alight, and the man’s other daughter-caregiver who had been diagnosed with leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant, was a refreshing change from the sugar-coated offerings that seemed to abound at this time of year. The family’s journey to reconnection (without any ‘happily ever after’ ending) helped me significantly, over the years, to teach my children what Christmas is really about. Additionally, the superb acting by a stellar cast – Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Robert De Nero and Leonardo DiCaprio – also helped me to teach my children about quality independent films!
…And Boxing Day always, of course, included Ben Hur! Thanks for such a fun competition that has given me cause to think about the place movies have in our Christmas celebrations!”

7. Jenny Krohn – Gremlins

“My favourite Christmas movie is Gremlins, because it’s got everything a Christmas movie needs:

Humour
Suspense
Cute Critters
Evil Monsters
A legend
A curse
A fight to the finish
Christmas carols
A happy ending

What more could you ask for! Season’s Greetings!”

8. Jordan Dautovic – Die Hard

“Die Hard. It’s totally a christmas film. Except with machine guns (ho ho ho) and a badass German bad guy.”

9. Adam Pietrzak – “Pere Noel est une ordure”

“…and my French isn’t even that great – absolutely hilarious – and any movie with a title that translates as “Father Christmas Is Crap” has got to be brilliant!”

10. Gaylene Carbis – Meet Me In St Louis
“Although not necessarily classified as a ‘Christmas film’, Christmas features significantly in this beautiful, moving film. This film is about a family facing change – facing leaving their beloved hometown of St Louis to ‘move up in the world’ as their father has been offered a new job. The family, however, love their hometown – something I deeply relate to, having lived in Carnegie for most of my life and having a deep and passionate love for where I live and reluctance to live anywhere else.
The scene in which the young, beautiful, heartbreakingly poignant Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” to her little sister (Margaret O’Brien) is one of the most moving scenes in cinematic history. Judy and Margaret look out the window onto lawns covered in snow, treetops of snow, a winter wonderland, while Judy – singing along to a tinkling music box, to console her little sister who is filled with fear and apprehension – is gorgeous in a sumptuous red gown. Never has Judy been more filled with heart and compassion and tenderness.

“Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

Someday soon we all will be together
If the fate’s allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bow
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now”

Judy singing this breaks my heart every time – it’s heartbreakingly sad and yet at the same time, filled with love and hope. And the best that family can be.”

Please note that winners selected for Astor Theatre giveaways are always at the discretion of the judging panel at the Astor Theatre. The panel usually consists of a ticket seller in consultation with Marzipan, The Astor Cat.