About The Astor Theatre Blog

The home of restored classics, Double Features, cult favourites, Melbourne's most beloved film icon is one of the last independent film houses left in Victoria, and the last of the city's grand old art deco film palaces still in operation since 1936. We are one of two venues in Australia able to show 70mm print film and are committed to the preservation of the cinema going experience, providing a unique experience, value for money and the best darn choc-ices ever! Keep an eye out for our resident cat Marzipan! Visit us at www.astor-theatre.com

Garage Sale Sunday

We’re having a great big garage sale on Sunday!

GarageSaleNo advance price lists, but if you’re keen to nab yourself some movie memorabilia head on down on between 2pm and 5pm on Sunday April 19th.
Things we will have include:

VARIOUS MOVIE RELATED BOOKS/MAGAZINES FROM THE ASTOR THEATRE LIBRARY
VARIOUS MOVIE POSTERS – LAST 10 YEARS AND SOME CLASSICS (BE QUICK) SOME USED SOME UNUSED
VARIOUS DVD/BLURAYS – ALL NEW
SOME FURNITURE ITEMS (VANITY UNITS MENS/LADIES TOILET EXAMPLE), SOME TABLES/CHAIRS
VARIOUS MOVIE ADVERTISING BANNERS/CORFLUTES -EG: BIRDS/PSYCHO, INDY JONES, USED AT THE ASTOR OVER THE YEARS. NOTE THESE ARE ABOUT 4M WIDE/500MM OR 1M HIGH
MOVIE SPOOLS, 35MM/70MM (EMPTY)
CARPET SOUVENIR SAMPLES/OFFCUTS
MOVIE SPOOL CONTAINERS FROM THE LAB – MANY MARKED WITH FAMOUS/NOT SO FAMOUS TITLES – EG ‘GAS PUMP GIRLS’

We are not selling fittings/tech equipment/furniture – or anything listed with Heritage Victoria, such as the original amplifier. And no, we are definitely NOT selling that Marx Bros. lamp, it’s a family heirloom! But if you love memorabilia and want another chance to get an Astor Choc-Ice, then we’ll see you Sunday :)

George’s Farewell Speech – Sunday April 5th 7pm

After long term Astor staffers Steve and Jock finished up their intro, George said a few words. For anyone who missed the event, here’s a transcript of what George said and some pics of the great night, too.

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Thank you Steve and Jock – without your fine efforts we could not have run The Astor, Thanks also to Tara and Andy for your invaluable services.

We think The Astor is the most amazing cinema in the world, and part of what makes it that is having the most amazing staff in the world.

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Thank you to all past and present staff- you have been wonderful.

Also thank you to all our suppliers: Shimon from Tel Aviv – who has made our cakes since 1984, the same delicious cakes for all that time, and to Chandra the Bliss Ball lady, Dairy Bell who supply the key ingredient to our Choc-Ice and many others we have been trading with since 1982.

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Thank you to all the film companies who have supported our somewhat unique programming style and have facilitated the many special events, including Q&A’s, new print and digital restoration re-releases.

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Most importantly thank you to our audience, without you our mission would not be fulfilled.

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We are asked many times “What makes the Astor Experience?”

Recall a scene in Jacques Tati’s wondrous Mon Oncle – a man is in a barren field with a rickety old oven making pastries with flair and relish. Groups of kids repeatedly go back to the man – a memory that will stay with them forever, not because they like pastries, but because that man made them with Soul. Soul is the essence, the same soul that Toto and Alfredo put into Cinema Paradiso’s projection room, its patrons never forgetting that experience either.

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Soul is the essence; it is what you take away as part of the memory of your experience here.

We are pleased to announce that Palace Cinemas have acquired our business and they have undertaken to maintain The Astor Experience.

Please give Palace your support, after they begin operations in this hallowed space in June.

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Thank you for your attendance, loyalty and support over the last 32 years.

Now, as I start projecting my favourite movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey for the last time, I bid you all a fond farewell.

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The End – George Florence.

 

Goodbye; Thank You

I’ve written this post a thousand times over in my mind. But now that I am actually sat down with my laptop the words I am typing are very different. I know I have a lot to say. And perhaps what’s most difficult about that is knowing that I quite simply won’t be able to say it all; there is a lump in whatever the typing version of my throat is. When we started this blog, and I took on the task of maintaining it – with stories, a love for film, cinema-going and programming information – I never thought about this moment. To be honest, I never thought about any of it finishing.

But here I sit, hunched over my laptop, drinking tea, smoking cigarettes and scrabbling for words. If I were to put it in a letter it might be easier to say. Please read what’s below knowing that it’s as candid as I know how to be, and that I’m not writing it to create anything other than the most honest goodbye I can say. I am truly humbled and want to say thank you. I also want to express something of the immense joy I have experienced in my time at The Astor.

Dearest grand old dame, dearest George, dearest audience, dearest reader,

Thank you.

I’m not very good at saying goodbye. Some years ago my life took an unexpected turn and I lost something that was precious to me. It was painful in a way I hadn’t encountered before and I simply didn’t know how to deal with it. What happened next was that I felt overwhelmed and the only thing I could think of to do was to go home. So I bought a one-way ticket to Australia and turned up in a town where everything was different and where my home didn’t exist anymore.

I felt completely lost.

Then I saw a call out for people to help write the Astor’s e-news. Some of my most formative, memorable and exciting cinema experiences were at the Astor – to this day I tell people about the first time I stepped inside its doors and how completely it filled me with wonder. George and I started emailing. Jet lagged and lost in Melbourne’s South Eastern suburbs I had found a connection. And then the emails morphed into a real life conversation.

When I first met George it felt like we’d known each other forever. Some friendships are just like that. We spent a few hours talking about film, life, and how one had shaped us both. After the curtain closed that night, George offered me a job in the ticket box. I’d worked in cinemas before but this was The Astor and I knew right away that it was the beginning of something special.

Every day after that, as ticket selling gave way to so much more, the emptiness I’d been feeling began to disappear and joy filtered into all of the spaces inside me that I thought could never be filled. I felt found and it was honestly a saving grace.

Over the years that followed I built some of the most remarkable friendships I imagine I will ever have; with staff, patrons, and cinema. It was like falling in love just when I thought my heart was broken beyond repair.

I can’t tell you how difficult this goodbye is for me, as I know it is for so many others. I don’t claim to have a greater connection to that feeling. The only thing I can claim is my experience of being a part of The Astor as George created it. That experience has been life changing. It has been so immense that my entire being has been altered; for which I am grateful, humbled and proud.

There’s too much to talk about in trying to define what that experience has meant to me singularly, but I can say this: this goodbye has to be about saying thank you. I want to thank George for everything – simply everything. I want to thank everyone at the theatre, and everyone I worked with over the past five years. I want to thank everyone who ever came to the theatre and enjoyed a show, and those who couldn’t but wrote heartfelt messages to us anyway.

It has been a privilege and a joy to maintain this blog just as it has been a privilege to experience what I have at The Astor – as a cinema-goer, as a member of staff, as a friend and as someone who found something beautiful at a time in their life when they thought they never would.

Mine is a goodbye that only has its voice because of everything George, his team, his cinema and the film-going community in Melbourne has given rise to. And for this I thank you most of all. It has been an absolute pleasure and a huge honour to speak for such a remarkable and unique cinema-going experience.

Goodbye; thank you.

Tara. xx

A little bit of Astor Love

As we creep ever-closer to the end of our calendar, wonderful memories fill our collective cinema-going hearts. Sometimes those memories manifest into words. While it’s especially difficult for me to find my own words right now it’s an enormous comfort to read yours. Always humbling, always heartwarming and forever the most rewarding part of a passion that I have been privileged enough to call my job.

IA Astor Media aNobody told her what was coming as she landed in Melbourne. Nobody told her how the city would twinkle at night like fairy lights in a Christmas tree, how each encounter felt like a present. Nobody told her about that magical brick building on top of Chapel Street. Nobody told her she’d try all the couches on its first floor just because she could, or hold someone’s hand watching Taxi Driver, or dance with them, uncontrollably, unapologetically, unafraid on the stairs after The Blues Brothers. Nobody told her she could fall in love with a person as much as with a place, and that she’d do both. Nobody told her how the Astor whispers stories – the way matches crack before a fire – or how a flame could dance in hundreds of eyes at the same time, keep flickering as ephemeral companions take separate ways, burning still once the doors close. Nobody told her how her story would go, but nobody could have known how good this chapter would be.
Thanks for lighting the match.

– Astrid Voorwinden

maxresdefaultOn my 21st birthday last year I decided to quietly celebrate by seeing whatever the Astor happened to be playing that night. I was delighted and surprised when, shortly before my birthday, it was announced they would be having a special screening of Jennifer Kent’s independent Australian horror film The Babadook (due to technical issues disrupting the last screening). I had heard many positive things about the film beforehand, but a limited release had lead me to believe I had missed my chance to see the film in cinemas.
The evening of my birthday I sat, alone, watching the film – none of my friends brave enough to join me. The mix of classic horror elements with a more psychological aspect to the mother’s struggles to protect and raise her child inspired me, and I am currently spending the year writing an honours thesis in Film and Screen studies on the themes contained in the picture.
Thank you, Astor Theatre, for giving cinema lovers a welcoming environment in which to experience films that inspire and move us, either for the first time or to revisit in the proper format.

– Angus Attwood

Gas_PumpMy favourite Astor experiences:
1. ‘Grindhouse’
2. ‘Gas Pump Girls’
3. Having my first kiss with the lady who is now my fiancé

– Max Gettler

Though I will put down some of my own words, we’d still love to hear more from you. So if you feel like writing 200 words (or thereabouts) on your experiences at the Astor, please do. You can email them to us at: rsvp[at]astortheatre[dot]net[dot]au

A Clockwork Orange

Every now and again, a film will come along that changes the way I look at cinema. When I was still in my teens, I attended a cinema on Bourke Street late one evening to see a motion picture I had long been curious about: Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), adapted from the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel. It had been parodied in Mad magazine, it wasn’t available at my local video store, and it didn’t screen on television. The film had been around for nearly a quarter-century by that stage, but as someone who has always been fortunate enough never to have that terrible aversion to old films, I didn’t care. I had to see it.
imageIn short, I was flabbergasted. It was around about the time that I started going to see films by myself, and it was the first revival screening of a classic film that I can vividly recall attending. Okay, so I may have attended some Disney screenings as a wee child, I can’t recall, but if I did, those don’t count because (a) as a small child, I thought all films at the cinema were new films, and (b) they were suggested by my parents, and as such weren’t “entertainment electives”.  After experiencing A Clockwork Orange for the first time…well, I was shocked, horrified.

So much so that I ended up returning to the cinema on Bourke Street twice the next week for another couple of go-arounds. For many years, it was my favourite film. The only reason it’s no longer my clear-cut favourite is because I’ve been exposed to so many cinematic masterpieces, I couldn’t possibly choose one film to stand alone as my most beloved.

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Pauline Kael was not so pleased with A Clockwork Orange. She had the following to say about Stanley Kubrick’s nightmarish science fiction classic:

At the movies, we are gradually being conditioned to accept violence as a sensual pleasure. The directors used to say they were showing us its real face and how ugly it was in order to sensitize us to its horrors. You don’t have to be very keen to see that they are now in fact de-sensitizing us.

With that comment, I disagree entirely. A Clockwork Orange, if anything, re-sensitised me to violence on celluloid. I grew up watching action flicks like so many others in the 1980s and 1990s. I didn’t think I could be disturbed by any act of simulated violence on the silver screen, because they’re just movies…right? Stanley Kubrick changed that.

There are very few films on my list of favourites that I wouldn’t recommend wholeheartedly to anybody, but A Clockwork Orange is an exception. Recommend to most, absolutely, recommend to all, no. The infamous home invasion scene shall be deeply disturbing to the first-time viewer, especially if you’re a fan of Gene Kelly. And it’s not exactly the world’s greatest first-date movie (I know this from personal experience). Having said all that, if you’re up for some challenging cinema, attend the movies by yourself, and don’t mind having your rose-coloured memories of Singin’ in the Rain (1951) spoiled for life, then by all means, please do see Clockwork on the big screen.

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Notice that I haven’t raved at length about Malcolm McDowell’s charismatic central performance as Alexander DeLarge, the unforgettable electronic musical soundtrack by Wendy Carlos, John Alcott’s stunning cinematography and all the rest of it. I haven’t even delved into the film’s storyline. A Clockwork Orange is a film that can speak for itself.

Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre.

A Clockwork Orange screens in a double bill with Full Metal Jacket on Monday 23rd March, 7.30pm

 

 

Ice Cream Stories

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It never ceases to move us when we hear about someone’s first visit to the Astor, especially now when it’s so close to the end of our tenancy. The two lovely women pictured above are amongst the latest to surprise us and warm our hearts. They came to the theatre for our most recent Grease Sing-a-long and had such a wonderful time that it continued on after they left the building. So impressed were they with the Astor Choc-Ice, that when they returned home they attempted to create their own! Thanks for sending us pics :)

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We’ve talked on this blog before about losing the Leone film prints and yet how marvellous it has been to screen them for so many years to eager audiences. And, a few weeks ago we ran a competition in our e-newsletter that was all about Leone – explaining your most memorable Leone experience at the Astor. George and Matthew were our two big winners and we’d like to share with y’all what they wrote:

It was your revival of Leone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly that I came to see. I had seen it as a 15 year old kid when it was first released and subsequently on TV but it was that screening at the Astor that will always stick in my memory. The combination of the Astor’s beautiful wide screen, superb sound (Morricone never sounded better!), and watching it with fellow enthusiasts made for an unforgettable evening. I watched it entranced and left the cinema giddy with joy. I was that kid again! – George Lazarides

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A friend and I had organised a small reunion to gather and watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The entire back row of the front section was full of old friends we hadn’t seen in over a year. And none of us said a word! Nor could we speak afterwards, we were spellbound, but I know we felt closer. Sitting in silence in that magical space watching a masterpiece of cinema went a lot further to reconnecting us than small talk ever could. – Matthew Prodan

Your stories mean so much to us. They are a constant, joyous reminder about why we do what we do. They help us get through the tough times and they also let us know that even after we leave the auditorium, the Astor will always live on in the millions of beautiful stories it is a part of.

If you’d like to share a story with us, please send it to rsvp@astortheatre.net.au, we’d love to publish a selection on our blog. Due to the anticipated quantity of emails, however, we do ask that you please keep them short, 100-200 words, so that we can read and edit them for publication here in the coming weeks.

Scarface

Whenever I learn that a Hollywood remake of a classic film is about to reach the big screen, I think to myself “Hollywood has run out of ideas” (but it’s not just Hollywood). With very few exceptions, remakes are  passable at best, horrendously offensive at worst. However, every now and again (not often enough, for my liking) there comes a remake that is not only a superb piece of cinema on its own terms, but can also be compared favourably to its predecessor. Such can be said of Scarface (1983), the epic crime drama directed by Brian De Palma; the film where Al Pacino portrays his most over-the-top character a Cuban refugee and notorious underworld figure Tony Montana.

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Perhaps there are readers who have visited the Astor Theatre numerous times to see Brian De Palma’s Scarface yet haven’t seen the original film version, released in 1932, or, until now, have been totally unaware of its existence. If you are one such reader, then you would be correct in guessing that the Depression Era edition is nowhere nearly as graphic as its 1983 counterpart. That said, for its time, the original Scarface was extremely controversial, a product of what is known as the Pre-Code Era.

The Great Depression swept across the United States, causing severe financial hardships for countless Americans. The joyful ritual of visiting the cinema suddenly became a luxury for working class Americans and, in times of economic disarray, such luxuries are often sacrificed in favour of necessities. Desperate to lure audiences back to the cinemas, Hollywood took advantage of the relatively lax censorship guidelines (prior to rigid enforcement of the Hays Code in 1934) to present films with taboo subject matter. Numerous films about organised crime, Scarface among them, exhibited levels of simulated violence previously unseen on the big screen, as millions of Americans who had only read and heard about the criminal exploits of real-life gangsters, such as Bonnie and Clyde and the real “Scarface”, Al Capone, flocked to cinemas to see hard-boiled fictional gangsters played by Hollywood actors. Directed by Howard Hawks, the original film (Scarface: The Shame of a Nation, based on the novel by Armitage Trail) is one of the most celebrated of these Pre-Code crime films.

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It is worth noting that in the 1960s, the Code was revised, then abandoned in favour of a ratings system—with the rapidly burgeoning popularity of televised entertainment in loungerooms across the United States, Hollywood again changed tack to lure audiences back to the cinemas, picking up where the Pre-Code period left off several decades earlier. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) was one of the first films to take full advantage of Hollywood’s increased liberalism—and how fitting this was, as the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, legendary outlaws of the Great Depression, were at their most active in the early 1930s, the Pre-Code period, before their demise in 1934. An especially graphic film in terms of its depiction of violence, Bonnie and Clyde started the modern trend of ultra-violent crime cinema that would reach new extremes with the release of the Scarface remake in 1983.

Readers who have seen the 1932 version as well as its 1983 successor will note, despite the obvious stylistic differences between the two, numerous similarities that link them together,  a few of which are mentioned below. Most obviously, both films feature a dangerously ambitious protagonist named Tony (Tony Camonte, as played by Paul Muni, in the 1932 original, Tony Montana in the 1983 remake) who is determined the become a major player in the criminal underworld. Tony Camonte seems obsessive about protecting the sexual purity of his younger sister Francesca (Ann Dvorak), as is Tony Montana in regards to his junior sibling Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). In both cases, it is suggested that Tony’s motivation for steering his sister away from potential suitors is less about protecting her virtue and more about his own taboo desires (those readers who have seen Alexander Mackendrick’s 1957 classic Sweet Swell of Success, and recall Burt Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker character and his possessiveness regarding his teenage sister Susan, will understand what is being implied). Even the scene in the 1983 remake where Tony Montana gazes at a Pan-Am blimp, with its advertising slogan “The World Is Yours”, is a direct hommage to its 1932 predecessor, as illustrated below.

tumblr_m33uxuVIEH1rtdyilo1_1280Despite these and other similarities between the two films, Brian De Palma’s Scarface, like any great remake, refuses to be a carbon copy of its predecessor. Running more than one hour longer than the original, De Palma’s version has plenty of time to expand its storytelling boundaries and add ingredients not present in the 1932 Pre-Code classic. Instead of being a hoodlum of Italian descent and living in Chicago, as was the case when Hawks filmed the story, the protagonist in De Palma’s 1983 film (written by Oliver Stone) is a refugee from Cuba, one of the countless emigrants from the small nation who didn’t share in the spirit of President Fidel Castro’s revolution, and like so many others enters the United States by landing in Florida. Determined to never again go wanting for anything, having suffered enough under the statist-socialism of Castro’s Cuba, Montana and his closest friend Manolo (Steven Bauer) enter the criminal underworld as small-time hoods. Soon, Montana, his ruthless nature matched by extreme cunning, becomes a major player in the illegal narcotics trade, and rich beyond his wildest dreams, his palatial abode reminiscent of Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu in Citizen Kane (1941). However, the richer Tony Montana gets, the more dangerous he becomes. Consequently, Montana, not exactly the most stable personality when we meet him at the beginning of the film, becomes extremely paranoid, spending an inordinate amount of time watching the security monitors inside his home (video surveillance being a motif that appears in several of De Palma’s films.)

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They say that money can’t buy happiness. This is definitely true in the case of Tony Montana. The more influential he becomes in the criminal underworld, the wealthier he gets, but of course it also means that he makes more enemies for himself, which then makes Tony even more distrusting of others. Almost nobody is safe from Tony Montana and, as we shall learn before the conclusion of this epic crime thriller, Tony Montana is safe from almost nobody else. The world might belong to Tony, but after a while, he questions, loudly and profanely, if it’s a world worth having, in a drunken restaurant monologue that is one of the highlights of the film.

While some will claim that Tony Montana is a self-made success – which is to say that his millions of dollars is all that matters – the reality is that Tony is a loser, a victim of his own insatiable avarice. It’s easy to fall under the spell of Tony’s larger-than-life personality, a testament to the charisma of Al Pacino (let’s face it, Pacino, who disappears into his role, is rather funny as Montana—I have a Tony Montana talking keychain somewhere, he’s one of the most quote-worthy characters in the history of cinema!) But despite being a psychotic killer and drug baron, Tony his own moral boundaries, refusing to commit to any assignment that may directly endanger the lives of women and children. Of course, Tony seems to forget that the men he either kills personally or has killed by his goons may be partnered with children of their own. There is no telling how many children Montana has left fatherless, no guessing how many widows he has made, and no way to count how many women and children have become addicted to the thousands of kilos of poisonous white crystals that he has sent flooding into the cities of the United States. But in the mixed-up mind of Tony Montana, he is a criminal with a conscience.

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But going back to the restaurant scene, for those who have seen it, we must ask ourselves, is Tony Montana really “the bad guy”? This is to ask, is he really any worse than the countless “respectable” types typically adored by society, who screw and manipulate their way to the top legally, albeit no more ethically than the likes of Montana? Remember, this film was released in 1983. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, and along with his wife, Nancy Reagan, declared the “war on drugs” which, unfortunately, was not accompanied by a “war on poverty” and a “war on greed”. The so-called “war on drugs”, much like the current “war on terror”, was merely an empty promise designed to draw favour from the more reactionary elements of American Society. Let us not covet Tony Montana’s tragic lifestyle, fuelled by a certain misguided desperation to escape the clutches of poverty, but at the same time, let’s remember that so many “self-made” success stories are anything but self-made, and an overwhelming percentage of the “respectable members of the social elite”, whether they be politicians, casino owners, world bankers, diamond barons, you name it, profit greatly from the misery of others. It’s just that unlike Tony Montana, they don’t get their hands dirty.

De Palma’s Scarface is a masterpiece of modern cinema. If you have not yet delved into the blood-soaked, drug-polluted, money-grubbing world of Tony Montana, you have the opportunity to do just that (at a safe distance that cinema affords, of course) at the Astor. And, if you ever have the chance, please do take a look at Scarface: The Shame of a Nation as directed by Howard Hawks, one of numerous classics available from the world of Pre-Code cinema.

Written by Mark Vanselow for The Astor Theatre.

Scarface screens Monday March 16th 7.30pm