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

The Art of the Concert Film

The electricity of a live music is like nothing in the world. There is a sense that you are experiencing something direct and raw, a moment that won’t outlive your experiencing of it. To try and capture that energy on film can seem an impossible task, like running into a storm with an open bottle and a cork in the hopes of later enjoying the lightning’s glow.

The greatest concert films manage to not only capture but elevate the music, combining what makes the music unique with the tools of cinema. Jonathan Demme, who directed one of the greatest concert films ever with Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, said that “shooting live music is the most purely cinematic thing you can do. Ideally the cinema is becoming one with the music.” Demme shot the show from the perspective of an (impossibly) lucky fan who is allowed to weave in and out of the stage, reveling in the show’s gradual shift from minimalist solo show to art-rock spectacular. There are no audience shots till the very end, no graphics aside from the song titles. Through the beautifully framed but unobtrusive photography, viewers are treated to a first hand experience of David Byrne’s unique vision.

Martin Scorsese’s major contribution to the medium, The Band’s Last Waltz, mixes together documentary, interviews, concert performance and impressionist theatre to craft a raucous wake for the legendary rock and roll band. The mixing of formats places the music in a historical context while imbuing the show with a dreamy grandeur. It’s an attempt to simultaneously deconstruct and reconstruct a rock and roll myth through the various forms of cinema.

DA Penneabaker’s Don’t Look Back, by comparison, attempts to remain as unobtrusive as possible, shooting a young Bob Dylan in his direct cinema style; no interviews, no narration, giving the film a roughness and ambiguity that echoes Dylan’s own. Unknowingly catching Dylan right before he made his infamous switch to electric, Penneabaker captures an iconic moment in history before it had the chance to become a myth.

LCD Soundsytem’s swan song, Shut Up and Play the Hits, seems an attempt of anti-mythmaking. Split between a fly-on-the-wall look at James Murphy before and after his final LCD Soundsystem show and a concert film of the show itself, we’re taken between worlds. The first is Murphy’s day-to-day life, shuffling about his New York apartment. We watch him shave, play with his dog and look into the middle distance, a little lost. The second is Murphy leading LCD Soundsytem, one of the greatest bands of a generation, in a career spanning set at a packed out Madison Square Garden. It’s a fitting mix of mundanity and dynamism for a group who made anthems about losing your edge and getting innocuous.

This Tuesday, the Astor is having a very special screening of Shut Up and Play the Hits presented by 6am at the Garage.  

Tickets can be booked at http://6amatthegaragesale.bigcartel.com/

Arnie, The Violent Poet

Arnold Schwarzenegger contains multitudes. Action star, 1970’s Mr Olympia, governator, upcoming host of Celebrity Apprentice. But he is also the vessel through which some of the finest action-film writers have funneled their genius. Much like Frank Sinatra, Arnie is not a writer but an amazing interpreter of material, in his case mostly pun-based insults yelled over gunfire/before murders/in front of explosions. His iconic Austrian accent was originally viewed by producers as a liability, to the degree that his first film (Hercules in New York) was entirely redubbed by another actor, robbing audiences of the pleasure of hearing Arnie intone immortal lines such as “Bucks? Does? What is all this zoological talk about male and female animals?”

Thankfully Hollywood learned its lesson, giving us the following classics, carefully selected by the Astor from the immortal pantheon of the Schwarzenegger canon.

After accidentally close lining a passing cyclist in Twins:

“I did nothing! The pavement was his enemy!”

Asserting his moral correctness in Jingle All the Way:

“I’m not a pervert, I was just looking for a Turbo Man doll!”

On unfair contracts in The Running Man:

“I live to see you eat that contract. But I hope you leave enough room for my fist because I’m going to ram it into your stomach and break your goddamned spine!”

Objecting to criminal protections in the Miranda Act in Red Heat:

“I do not want to touch his ass. I want to make him talk.”

But of course Arnie’s speciality has always been the kill line. No Schwarzenegger character has ever found himself speechless in a post murder situation, no matter how bizarre the circumstances.

Impaling a man with a knife in Predator:

“Stick around.”

Throwing a man over a balcony in The Running Man:

“Give you a lift?”

Blowing someone up with a rocket in True Lies and/or performing Celebrity Apprentice hosting duties:

“You’re fired.”

Halving a man named Buzz Saw with a chainsaw in The Running Man:

“He had to split.”

Blowing up an ice cream truck that propelled an icecream cone to shoot bullet like into a man’s skull:

“I iced that guy, to cone a phrase!”

And last, but not least, every word uttered by Mr Freeze in Batman & Robin:

The Astor Theatre will be playing Predator and Commando on 2K

When: Friday the 26th of November

Price: $13

Scorsese’s Art of Murder

When Taxi Driver was released in 1976, the demonically violent final act had early reviewers referring to it as an exploitation film, critical shorthand for an easy couple of dollars for the young director. In an interview with Roger Ebert, director Martin Scorsese was appalled by the idea. “Jesus! I went flat broke making this film!” It’s clear that for Scorsese, violence in his films has always been deeply personal. His relationship with cinematic violence is complicated, wrapped up in moral disgust, aesthetic fascination and Catholic guilt.

At a time when just about every movie has to involve a gun in the protagonist’s hand at some point but the inclusion of blood is still hotly debated, Scorsese remains somewhat of an anomaly: a director of violence who is deeply serious about violence.

Scorsese characters often try to use violence as a cleansing agent, like the Catholic act of penance. The original draft of Taxi Driver actually had a scene featuring Travis Bickle whipping himself with a wet towel, preparing himself for the horrific slaughter to come. That Scorsese captured that slaughter at 48 frames per second, twice the industry standard, speaks volumes. In Raging Bull we watch the tormented Jake La Motta offer up his body in the ring as an almost religious sacrifice, an act of flagellation that fails to prevent the violence from bleeding over into his home life. And never have dead bodies been shot as lovingly as they were in Goodfellas. From the Cadillac to the meat truck, Scorcese’s camera glides to the piano-led outro of Layla, making sure we see the horrific repercussions of violence. It’s disturbing, sure, but there’s no debating it’s weirdly beautiful as well.

“You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the street,” we’re told at the start of Mean Streets. In Scorsese’s films it seems doubtful that your sins can be made up for at all, but they can at least be witnessed. In the essay The Simple Art of Murder, from which Mean Streets derived its title, Raymond Chandler wrote: “But down these mean streets a must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” Scorsese’s films are touched by darkness, but when it comes to violence, he’s brazenly unafraid.

Casino is screening at The Astor Theatre on 2K 

When: Friday the 20th November 

Tickets: $16

Tarkovsky’s Elevation

The idea of the Russian Epic looms large over popular culture. Russian Epics are created by men with impossibly thick beards and drinking problems. These men are brilliant and depressed and think you should be depressed too. They create massive works that are to be respected from a distance. They are not to be enjoyed. They have been created to remind us that life is nasty, brutish and short. They do this, in part, by being exceedingly long.

It can be difficult, at the end of a punishing day, to subject yourself to further punishment in the form of pop culture. Sitting before one of these towering works can fill you with a peculiar despair that PG Wodehouse referred to as “…the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.”

This aura has clung to Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky as tightly and unfairly as it has to Nabakov or Dostoyevsky. But unlike their works, whose beauty and humanity unfold slowly over countless chapters, it only takes a few minutes for this fear to dissipate in a Tarkovsky film. Their stunning camerawork and sound design,  fascinated by human longing and natural beauty, evoke not so much despair as it’s opposite, what the late great Roger Ebert referred to as “elevation”.


Elevation is the feeling of warmth one feels when witnessing acts of kindness and generosity, akin to spiritual uplift or awe. Ebert explained that he always knew when he’d seen a great film because he felt “…a tingling in my spine.” Moral psychologists have studied this feeling and noticed that it’s increased when it’s shared in a large group. The moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt could’ve been describing the feeling of leaving a cinema after a powerful film when he explained that “Powerful moments of elevation sometimes seem to push a mental ‘reset button,’ wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, and optimism, and a sense of moral inspiration.”

Tarkovsky films don’t hold humanity at an intellectual distance, they attempt to reach through the screen and connect with the viewer’s deepest hopes and fears. “Relating a person to the whole world,” Tarkovsky claimed, “that is the meaning of cinema.”

Stalker, Courtesy Open Culture

The Astor Theatre has secured two ultra-rare, 35mm prints of his Soviet-era masterpieces, Solaris and Stalker, playing on the 16th and 23rd respectively. Come along and share with us an experience of great artistic generosity. Vodka is always better shared, anyway.

Solaris and Stalker will be screening at The Astor Theatre on 35mm

When: Solaris – Monday 16th November, 

Stalker – Monday 23rd November

Tickets: $12

Controlled Chaos: The Master and Inherent Vice

“We are on a journey that risks the dark,” Lancaster Dodd warns his assembled followers in The Master. Speaking with the captivating hyperbole essential to any decent cult leader, he promises followers of The Cause a way to reach back into their pasts, “…capturing the mind’s fatal flaws and correcting it back to its inherent state of perfect.” It’s a powerhouse performance from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a mix of controlled charisma and predatory intelligence. Continue reading