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

Malick: on the SuperScreen

The Astor has admired and honoured Terence Malick’s films for many years. We’ve had mini Malick retrospectives in abundance since the release of Tree of Life (2011) and that particular film has graced our SuperScreen more than a few times. His work simply demands the big screen. Or at least that’s what we’d always thought…

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I know George and some of our other staff fell in love with Tree of Life. It was a joy to watch for me too: throughout its narrative it sustained a true sense of the sublime. I found its aesthetic rhythm mesmeric, I loved how softly the characters dancing onscreen grounded the ethereal nature of the film. The wind rustling through trees and fields captured by a wide angled lens harked back to The Thin Red Line (1998) and earlier, but still held its own contemplation relevant to the story in Tree of Life.

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Then came To The Wonder (2012). With this film, Malick was losing me. The conversations around this film have remained contentious and the opinions divided. There is so much to love about the look of the film and the ideas that break the two lovers apart. And yet, somehow, it felt empty to me. Watching Olga Kurylenko dance around a home supplies store just didn’t say anything. I felt as if at a precipice: when Malick next returns to the big screen, I wondered, will I go with him?

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Malick’s depiction of a male/female relationship can be beautiful and heartbreaking, but is that enough?

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At this year’s Berlinale I saw Knight of Cups. With each whispering philosophical contemplation and beautiful waif-like woman dancing around before me onscreen, I found myself falling farther and farther away from the film. There was nothing here for me; no character to cling to, or even to observe with interest; no words that gave the incessant beach side scenes sincerity; no philosophical ideal that gave me pause for thought beyond why I was sat watching something so insufferable.

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Okay, so it’s is not necessarily an auteur’s job to please his or her viewers; theirs is the pursuit of art. For some, I know Knight of Cups will bring joy and revelation. For others, it will be a great disappointment. It is bittersweet that the Astor does not have another calendar in the works, into which we could program Knight of Cups, because ours has always been the pleasure of letting you decide, as the curtains unveil the Astor’s majestic SuperScreen.

And so, we invite you to enjoy Malick once more, as it ought to be seen, in grandeur, at the Astor. Tree of Life screens Thursday February 26, 7.30pm

Inherent Vice

Quick – everyone stop what you’re doing and get excited about Inherent Vice. Oh, you were already excited? Okay, but things just got a whole lot more exciting for Melbourne movie-going PTA fans. Why’s that, you ask? Well, we’re only going to be screening PTA’s latest on 70mm PRINT FORMAT is all. With six-track DTS sound. TWICE.

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Having put the good news in paragraph one, I realise that you may not reach this, paragraph two. But, if you have managed to read on, then thanks, and get even more excited because Inherent Vice is packed with the kinds of loveable, flawed characters and broad caricatures that PTA has become so well known for. It’s got a big cast, it’s a generic hybrid minefield of a movie and another lengthy watch at almost two and a half hours. It’s funny, crazy and bold and the kind of film that wants movie snacks.

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The first film to be adapted from a Thomas Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice is certainly ambitious. It’s a drama/comedy/crime caper that blends classic noir with self-reflexivity and stoner gags. PTA apparently describes it as “a Cheech & Chong movie”, while Raymond Chandler served as one of his major inspirations. If you can imagine Bogie’s goofy smile under neon lighting, and if you replaced his smokes with smokes, and if you asked all the femme fatales to get naked, then you’d kind of have PTA’s vision of Pynchon’s world.

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It’s set in a fictional location: Gordita Beach, LA. The protagonist is Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). Doc is an endearing f**k-up. He’s smart and can probably crack the case, but his lackadaisical attitude, propensity to spark up and that broken heart he’s been dragging around town are slowing things down.

True, sometimes his work is dangerous and, as a PI, it seems both the cops and the crooks see him as as adversary. Poor Doc just can’t catch a break.

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The cast is jam-packed with other big names including Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston and Benicio del Toro. Even PTA’s wife, Maya Rudolph, makes a cameo appearance in this star-studded drug-fuelled investigation into the comic underworld of the Golden Fang. There’s drugs, violence, nudity, a man with a swastika on his face and pancakes. It’s everything a devoted PTA fan could want in a movie! And it’s coming to the Astor in 70mm print format, for two very special screenings on March 13th.

To find out who or what the Golden Fang is and why you might want to avoid them, get thee to your local art deco movie theatre and catch this movie the only way it ought to be seen: on the BIG screen, in a BIG screen format.

Inherent Vice screens in 70mm print format at the Astor Theatre in two very special sessions, Friday March 13th, 7.30pm and 10.30pm. No Free List.

Valentine’s Day, once removed

You may have noticed that our Valentine’s Day screening of An Affair to Remember isn’t actually on Valentine’s Day, it’s the day after. Our reasons for putting it on in the Sunday matinee time slot are varied. But, suffice it to say that romantics and anti-romantics alike are welcome to spend that Sunday afternoon welling up in the opulent surrounds of this great building.

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As for V-Day itself, we’ve got our Michael Keaton bat/bird double. Romance doesn’t have to be about schmaltz. Equally speaking, costumed superheroes and theatrical performances about contemporary life and the crisis of authenticity doesn’t have to be anti-romantic. The score in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is truly brilliant and the film’s search for meaning in a (potentially) meaningless world is, for some (me), just about as romantic as it gets.

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Meanwhile, it’s also a Michael Keaton double bill. It has a number of things that may or may not be romantic to you: action, adventure, Kim Basinger, a 35mm film print, Edward Norton giving an insanely great performance, some fantastic music and a whole lot more.

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Whatever your feelings on the matter – and we know they’ll be divided – there is plenty of romance to be had here at the Astor. From Choc-Ice to SuperScreen, with a warm candlelight glow from the chandeliers, any day of the week, we’ve lots of ways to romance you. And so, we look forward to welcoming you Saturday or Sunday – or any other day you want to come while we’re still here. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Digital at the Berlinale

If you want to know how digital is advancing in the film world you needn’t look much further than the Berlinale. This year, the digital proportion of their approximately 2,500 film screenings will account for more than 95 percent. Mostly, this is DCP. But the industry want to do away with DCP in the next couple of years and move completely to fibre optic. However, in order for the festival to run fibre optic, they must manage a huge process of standardisation. The quality of digital formats is varied.

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Films are delivered to the festival across various medias ranging from DCP (note that the quality here can vary too) to tape and other video formats. The festival’s official information says these are “transferred by the festival’s Colt fibre optic network with a 10 gigabit/s connection to the Colt data centre. There they are recorded onto the Rohde & Schwarz DVS ingest and production server VENICE, which converts them to a standard video format. The R&S VENICE can process and convert signals on up to four channels simultaneously. The video data is then converted to DCPs on the R&S CLIPSTER Mastering Station. Following the conversion, the DCPs are stored centrally in the Rohde & Schwarz DVS SpycerBoxes, two storages with a total capacity of approximately 800 terabyte. The storage is comprised of two components in constant synchronisation. Should one fail, the other takes over immediately, ensuring an error-free sequence.”

The reason for this is essentially so that studios and filmmakers can stop using any kind of physical format in the processes of distribution and exhibition. Like a huge dropbox, work can be uploaded directly to the data centre, meaning no physical copy need ever be made – or kept.

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In their press release it seems to be that the festival is concerned, as it ought to be, with presenting image quality to the highest possible standard. They use Barco 4K digital projectors in their major venues and have installed Dolby Atmos at the Berlinale Palast. As a theatre who also strives for best possible quality, we completely understand their need to install and update their processes to best use these new technologies. Surely the standardisation processes will eek out some of the poorer quality DCP transfers. Still, that’s a lot of work for the venue and exhibitor.

Such is our glimpse into the future for theatrical distribution and exhibition. Whatever the industry may have saved themselves on making and distributing film prints it seems cinemas and festivals will have to make up for in technical presentation management. I look forward to seeing the flawless presentation at this year’s Berlinale but I wonder too how small scale festivals and independent venues will keep up in this climate.

 

Cinema Snacks and Other Curiosities, from Rotterdam

When I arrived outside the Cinerama in Rotterdam this morning, I was up against pouring rain and howling winds. After my screening I was met by sunshine and a gentle bluster. I couldn’t help but think of Melbourne.

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That’s pretty much it for similarities between Rotterdam and Melbourne, but it did give me pause for thought – what cinematic rituals have changed on my travels and what’s distinctly Australian, Melburnian – Astorian?

Let’s start with the screen. In Melbourne and across Australia there are varying sizes and materials but, for the most part, in my personal cinema-going experience, the screens are only ever slightly curved (or flat). The main auditorium at the Cinerama, however, is noticeably curved. I found this jarring at first, but soon got used to it, warming to my expectation that of the edges of the frame would try to wrap me up and bring me into the onscreen world. In the absence of the Astor while overseas, this auditorium has welcomed me.

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When it comes to masking, it’s pretty much like it is everywhere – well, everywhere that isn’t the Astor – mission aborted. But the (digital) projection has been without a hitch. And, much to my pleasure, house lights go up at the end of the credits, never a moment before. There’s even an auditorium here that has similar vintage wall feature panelling to the now lost-to-time Greater Union cinemas, formerly of Russell Street.

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But the most striking difference concerns the concessions stand (candy bar). Australians love popcorn and they love a choc top – or, at the Astor, what we call a traditional Choc-Ice – but, here in Holland, it’s all about nachos. Yes, NACHOS. They come with a melted cheese ramekin, one for salsa, and one for guacamole. The auditorium retains a salty, corn-related snack smell, but, to a connoisseur nose, is distinctly different.

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As someone who rarely snacks in the cinema, but often has ‘candy bar dinners’, and who’s spent more than enough time in UK multiplexes to think of both nachos and ‘sweet and salty’ popcorn as (relatively) normal candy bar options, I began to wonder how much the familiarity of elements like cinema snacks – key to the ritual of cinema-going – would disorient cinema-goers from my home town…

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I know, for example, that there are people who visit the Astor purely to buy a Choc-Ice, when they’re not seeing a movie. There are also people who tweet ahead of time to check in on the availability of their favourite flavours – running out of Arctic Banana has consequences, my friend! So, my question is, could you watch Blues Brothers or Grindhouse with dip accompanied nachos instead of a bucket of buttered popcorn and an Astor Choc-Ice? Just how important are movie snacks to you? And which snacks do you want/need/expect us to have at the ready?

Peculiarities from distant cinemas penned by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

 

 

Wake In Fright

May you dream of the devil
And wake in fright

With these ominous words from an ancient curse, so begins the nightmarish outback odyssey that is Wake In Fright (1971). Based upon the 1961 novel by Kenneth Cook, Wake In Fright tells the sorry tale of school teacher John Grant (Gary Bond), who eagerly awaits his end-of-year vacation from the single classroom school where he is contracted. The school is located in Tiboonda, an outback dustbowl so small that to call it a town would be most charitable. For his summer holidays, John plans to travel to Sydney by way of Bundanyabba. The Yabba, as it is more commonly known, is somewhat larger than Tiboonda (which isn’t saying much), where the main activities seem to be drinking, gambling, more drinking, and more gambling. John, a well-mannered, prim and proper sort, belongs in The Yabba about as much as a hamster in a lion’s den. But no matter, John’s trip to The Yabba is merely an overnight stop en route to the salubrious beaches of Sydney – or is it? No, for if it were, this would be a very short story – and a much happier one. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong for John Grant as he finds himself staying in The Yabba longer than expected, confronted by the unsettling “hospitality” (read: passive aggression) of the locals, and very much done in by his own foolishness. But maybe John will get to Sydney after all… if the waking nightmare that is The Yabba doesn’t get him first.

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Forget about your picture postcard portrayals of Australia, because Wake In Fright is possibly the most unflattering depiction of life in this country ever committed to film. Under its entry in Leonard Maltin’s annual film guide, it is said that Wake In Fright is not likely to be endorsed by the Australian tourist commission. So one can know if the folks in the Oz tourist trade were relieved when Wake In Fright disappeared from cinemas for many years (until a restoration from a 16mm print courtesy of Jamie and Aspa at Mu-Meson, brought it back to the big screen in 2009), because if the misadventures of John Grant were viewed as widely as the adventures of Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee, potential travellers Down Under would be staying away in droves. That said, if I had a short list of Australian films to recommend, particularly to visitors from overseas, Wake In Fright would be on the list.

The character John Grant is clearly an outsider looking in, so it’s only fitting that he is portrayed by a foreigner (Gary Bond was English, as is his Grant), and even more appropriate that the film was directed by another outsider, Ted Kotcheff, who is Canadian. Following on from Wake In Fright (released with the title Outback in the United States), Kotcheff stood at the helm of the American football classic North Dallas Forty (1979) and the celluloid debut for the John Rambo character, First Blood (1981). He is no stranger to crafting brutal, disturbing cinema.

It is only fair to warn potential first-time viewers that this film contains an extremely harrowing kangaroo hunt sequence (as a long-time vegan myself, I found this especially disturbing). So I can only imagine how grotesque the experience must have been for Ted Kotcheff, himself a vegetarian at the time, now a vegan, as his cameras followed one of the regular night-time kangaroo hunts through the Australian outback. Much of the footage acquired was deemed by Kotcheff himself as being far too graphic to show an audience (I shudder to think how that must look).

Even with the film as it is, Australian audiences raised on a television diet of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1967-69) must have been mortified when Wake In Fright first hit cinemas in 1971. And as somebody who has read Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel upon which the film was based, yes, I can tell you the kangaroo hunt figures in the literary version, too, and it’s even more graphic than what is depicted in the film, if you can imagine (the day after reading the book, I was in a health food store and noticed tins of pet food made from slaughtered kangaroo, disturbing me to the point where I had to immediately leave the store, and I don’t disturb easily. Kenneth Cook sure could write.)

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So long as you can withstand the sheer brutality of the infamous kangaroo hunt sequence, Wake In Fright is a most rewarding exercise in existentialist cinema, one that rivals Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) for the title of grimiest, sweatiest film of all time – you can see the dust and perspiration settling on the screen. Gary Bond is superb as John Grant; with flawless verisimilitude, he portrays a man who, due to his unfavourable surroundings and circumstances, regresses from his civilised self into something more closely resembling a borderline savage.

Wake In Fright also boasts a memorable performance from Donald Pleasance as the dodgy town doctor, in addition to appearances from Chips Rafferty (his final role in a feature film) and Jack Thompson (one of his earliest). The film takes place in a “bloke’s world” – it’s one of the blokiest films you could imagine, full of fistfights, gambling, shooting and boozing. There are few females in the film, and Janette (Sylvia Kay) is portrayed with derision. This opens the door for the aforementioned aggressive male bonding rituals shown in graphic detail. There is also intimate male bonding that is only ever implied, though no less bewildering, given the circumstances.

Wake In Fright is a powerful film not only because of what it shows, but also for what it suggests.

Recent years have seen a surge of popularity for the horror genre, but if you want to see a real horror story, forget about vampires, werewolves and zombies: Wake In Fright is the real deal, all the more disconcerting because this sort of thing could and does really happen. It is indeed a rare opportunity to catch the film on the big screen, in 35mm print format, an event that no ardent cinephile should miss. And if you haven’t already done so, do read Kenneth Cooks’ novel, a short if worthwhile read to be digested in one sitting. May you dream of the devil… and wake in fright.

Written by Astor regular Mark Vanselow.

Wake in Fright screens Sunday January 25 7pm.  All tickets $14

Turkey Shoot + Turkey Shoot

Get ready for a high-octane action evening! First up is the cult classic feature film, Turkey Shoot (1982), before we come at you with the 2014 remake AND a Q&A with one of the producers from both films, Anthony Ginnane, along with members of the remake’s cast.

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Made by popular grindhouse director Brian Trenchard-Smith, the original Turkey Shoot was a ‘1984′ parable, with a high gore factor, and one that went on to become one of the highest grossing Australian movies at the US Box Office. Released in the US as Escape 2000, Quentin Tarantino cites it as one of his personal favourites. In the UK, Enterprise released it as “not a film for chickens”.

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Packed with mayhem, stunts and special effects, the remake is a warped reflection of the global fascination with increasingly brutal reality-television competition game shows. It’s been re-crafted and updated by co-writers Belinda McClory (X) and Jon Hewitt (X, Acolytes). Set in the not-so-distant future, it follows a smash hit live reality TV show that combines a stalk-and-chase adventure with the ultimate twist: death.

In the wake of a shocking civilian massacre in a foreign war zone, disgraced Navy SEAL Rick Tyler is sentenced to rot in a maximum security military prison until he is offered the opportunity to put his life on the line to win his freedom. A one-man force of nature, Tyler will have to take-on and take-down some of the world’s most ruthless killers in the some of the world’s most brutal locations to win the game, obtain his freedom, and find out why he was set up. The question is, can he accomplish all of this before Game On is Game Over?

What’s wrong with the government and society at large? Well, in a nutshell, lots. The whole thing gets a little satirical and a lot bloody in our Thursday night double bill of Turkey Shoot and Turkey Shoot. Check them out, back to back, on the big screen at the best cinema in town.

Turkey Shoot and Turkey Shoot screen in a double bill on Thursday January 22nd, 7.30pm. This special event screening includes a Q&A with producer Anthony Ginnane and members of the 2014 film’s cast. Advance tickets available. Special prices, $20/$18. No Free List.