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.


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.


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.


The year in review: the good, the bad, and the ugly

It’s been another big year for the Astor. What we call “the movies” is both a business and an art, and the two don’t always see eye to eye. Nevertheless, we do our best to forge a path through the  jungle that is theatrical exhibition. This year, we’ve seen a continued loss of film prints and the arrival of more DCPs, although the replacement digital files do not necessarily correlate to the losses. We announced our closure and produced our last Astor calendar. It’s been difficult, wonderful, infuriating and heartening. Like most great movies that stand the test of time, it’s been moving and memorable.

2014 was the year that we welcomed the Pelvic Thrusts into the Astor’s fold, saw The Dark Crystal (1982) return to the big screen and finally got word that the digital restoration of Once Upon a Time in America (1984) is complete. It was also the year that we were told we could no longer screen The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) or It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) on 35mm film print format. The Lebowski Bash didn’t go ahead because of distributor restrictions and even though we offered to pay the freight on shipping the 70mm prints of Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Interstellar (2014) and Spartacus (1960) from the US to Australia, so that we could run final tribute screenings on our last ever calendar, we were not granted permission.


At the Astor and Chapel Distribution (Chapel co-founded and directed by George Florence with Mark Spratt), we refer to photochemical film prints and think of what we do as showing movies to an audience. The studios now call film prints “analogue backups” and even though the industry term has always been “exhibition”, they now refer to a screening of a film as the “exploitation of an asset”. This small detail gives an insight into the mindset that permeates from the top of the global capital corporations that now control most of the entertainment industry.

When we are forced to surrender film prints to the studios who own the intellectual and physical properties of the film after our rights expire, we always insist that they keep those prints, as an irreplaceable “asset”. Sometimes the studios listen. Props to Madman, Universal and Roadshow for not junking their entire film print libraries when Deluxe moved to a smaller location and changed the business model from film and digital distribution to digital only dispatch. Those prints are – currently – safely housed at Chapel Distribution and available to exhibitors for booking. Chapel is housing the prints for free with the sole intention of saving them from their alternate fate of being junked (destroyed). Fox, also to their credit, chose to house their remaining film prints at the NFSA, though this is not as accessible as the distribution-oriented Chapel Distribution, and Sony, who have stored their prints in a remote Queensland location.

It’s a Wonderful Life


I’ve written before on this blog that every time a 35mm film print is screened, it’s like an angel gets its wings. Well, we reluctantly handed over the print of It’s a Wonderful Life – it was once in the Chapel Distribution catalogue and was later recalled by Park Circus after the rights changed hands – and we were assured that the print would remain available to us. It was, after all, one we showed annually on Christmas eve; an Astor tradition. The print (still in great condition) was made from the restoration elements commissioned by the US Library of Congress for their preservation archive and it was one of the best classic prints (image and sound) we have ever screened. Chapel Distribution paid around $4500 to have the print made when they bought the rights. The rights expired and reverted to Paramount but, Park Circus, who now represent the majority of repertory content outside of the US, insisted that the print be handed to Park Circus, after assurances from Paramount that the print would not be junked. In the meantime the print went missing. Paramount locally disclaimed any knowledge of what happened to it. We were told finally that it went back to the UK. Was it junked there or are audiences enjoying it? We don’t know. Consequently, we shifted the screening from the 24th to the 27th and ran a new DCP –  one that was supplied by Paramount.

 The Good, The Bad and the Ugly


Early in the year, after Eli Wallach died, we decided we’d like to run a special tribute screening of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The film print has screened many times at the Astor and is a favourite among Melbourne cinema-goers. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the prints that was recalled a couple of years ago when the rights holder changed and it was sent to “central storage facilities” after Deluxe decided they could no longer store film prints. Apparently the “tech ops people” decided that many of those prints were in poor condition and supposedly those were junked (there was nothing wrong with the GBU film print, and the majority of the film prints in question were in as-new condition, having been commissioned by Chapel as new prints). Which prints they were we do not know. We’ll probably never know. We have asked, but our voice only seems to make its way into an echo chamber. Just prior to our request for the print, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly had undergone a brand new 4K digital restoration and, according to Park Circus (the new rights holder), “this is the version the studio wishes audiences to see”. That’s as close to an answer as we have managed to get, even after flat out asking if the print had been junked.

Lebowski Bash


Followers of Dudeism may remember how we used to host Melbourne’s Lebowski Bash. The fantastic people who organise the event did in fact plan to return to Melbourne in 2014 with their tribute band, In ‘n’ Out burger bar, and white russians in tow. Unfortunately, the distributor decided to up the cost of film hire. For people who don’t know, the distributors take either a flat fee or a percentage of the box office when cinemas screen their films. There are standard industry rates but there’s also some room for negotiation when it comes to event screenings. Having had the event at the Astor before and having set a film hire fee in previous years, one might think that the very same fee could be applied the following year so that the people of Melbourne could enjoy an event that was created in good spirit, aiming to bring joy and entertainment to town. But that would be the thinking of a film-lover and not a studio executive. It seems that in 2014 Universal wanted a higher fee for film hire. It was too expensive for the people who organise Lebowski Bash because the event is born of love, passion and elbow grease and not huge profit margins. Without a lower fee the event would not go ahead. It did not go ahead.

There are plenty more stories such as these in the Astor’s not-quite-on-the-calendar programming files. But we’re on the cusp of a new year so let’s not get too down and out about it all. In terms of what you can look forward to, there’s a glorious, glossy final Astor calendar in circulation. It, like so many before, has been put together with love, sweat, late nights and an occasional tear by the talented George Florence. We’ve seen thirty-two years of cryingly good double bills so make sure you come down and celebrate what we have managed to secure in our bookings over the coming months, because it’s going to be one helluva farewell.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Once Upon a Time on the SuperScreen…

We’ve waited with baited breath for more than two years since the first announcements of restoration and the Cannes Film Festival’s screening of a new version of Once Upon a Time in America. Finally, after a careful process of continued restoration on the film’s additional footage, we are now able to present Sergio Leone’s complete masterpiece of visual storytelling, back on the big screen, where it belongs.
We’re big Leone fans here at the Astor (you may have noticed) and could not be happier to present his final film, this New York gangster flick, restored and remastered in 4K digital format up on our SuperScreen. Plunging the characters and the viewer into an ocean of longing, regret, and rumination over what might have been, Leone masterfully brings the streets of NYC to life.
When the film was first released in the United States, it was cut and arranged in chronological order. This was followed by a re-release – a much longer cut that preserved the director’s structure.
Now, after digital restoration, following scans of the original elements and including 22 minutes of restored footage —never before seen — the film is finally complete. Three decades after its theatrical release, Leone’s true vision will be seen, with intensified character development and the film’s full, epic story. Only at the Astor.
Once Upon A Time In America screens for a special, limited engagement, Friday February 6 and Saturday February 7, 2015.

007 Festival – 4K Digital remasters

This one has been a long time in the pipeline. It’s probably close to two years since we first heard that the James Bond titles would be getting the 4K treatment. Digitally remastered DCPs – when done well – can look glorious (not ‘better’ than film – they’re different formats and not truly comparable – but spectacular in their own way). Having made room on a couple of calendars to date, the DCPs will finally be ready for us to unveil onscreen this year, starting on October 18th with the very first and second 007 titles: Dr No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963).

Beginning with Sean Connery and making our way forwards with George Lazenby and Roger Moore, our 007 Festival brings a popular character back to the big screen where he belongs. According to our calendar (which will be hitting the streets next week!) Sean Connery is the Bond we love best. Who’s your favourite Bond? And what about Bond villains? Does 7’2″ with steel teeth impress you or are you more interested in plots focused on world domination? There’s plenty of nefarious types to choose from and yes, the series does come with a large dose of sexism delivered through dialogue, narrative and lack of agency. In typical Bond style the women are showcased as beautiful but aren’t given all that much to do besides.

In terms of further exploring the world of 007 we’ve got you covered there too – the Sunday before our 007 Festival begins we’ll be screening a documentary that delves into the world of villains, beauties and a British guy who values being suave above all else. It’s called Everything or Nothing (2012) and it screens Sunday October 12th at 4.30pm. 



Full listings and details will soon be up on our website but until then, here’s the line up for our 007 Festival:

Bond 1Saturday October 18th 7.30pm
Dr No [1962] (PG) + From Russia With Love [1963] (PG)
Sean Connery, the Bond we love the best, investigates strange occurrences in Jamaica and overcomes the evil Dr. No, who of course has a serious plot to rule the world. After intermission, pitted against a blonde Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya with a dagger in her shoe, Connery returns. Plenty of suspense and action, and one of the longest, most exciting fight scenes ever staged.

Bond 2Saturday October 25th 7.30pm
Goldfinger [1964] (PG) + Thunderball [1965] (PG)
Full of ingenious gadgets and nefarious villains, with a hair-raising climax inside Fort Knox. After intermission there are plenty of gimmicks and Academy Award winning special effects as the world is threatened with destruction, set in the Caribbean.

Bond 3

Saturday November 1st 7.30pm
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [1969] (PG)
Lazenby, as the first non-Connery Bond, battles Blofeld amidst incredible action sequences, and a plot with a novel twist. The requisite components persist: nefarious villain, beautiful women and scenery, and great action sequences, but this Bond film is set apart by its maturity and emotional depth of characterization.

Bond 4Saturday November 8th 7.30pm
The Spy Who Loved Me [1977] (PG) + For Your Eyes Only [1981] (M)
In this lavish adventure 007 joins forces with a seductive Russian agent to quash arch villain Stromberg’s plans for world destruction. Nobody does it better, indeed. After intermission, bereft of the space age gadgetry, cartoon villains and female mannequins, we have the Bond film that has created the most debate among 007 fans.

Bond 5Saturday November 15th 7.30pm
Octopussy [1983] (PG) + A View to Kill [1985] (M)
When a “00” agent is found holding a Faberge egg, the British are suspicious and send James Bond to investigate. 007 discovers a connection between the priceless egg, an elaborate smuggling operation and a plot by a renegade Soviet general to instigate World War Three. After intermission, it’s Moore’s final appearance as 007, but hardly the strongest of the Bond series. An investigation of a horse-racing scam leads 007 to a mad industrialist who plans to create a worldwide microchip monopoly by destroying California’s Silicon Valley.

All films presented in brand new, remastered 4K DCP format.

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.


Taken from 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.


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.

A Necessary Conversation

Martin Scorsese, a regular champion of that elusive thing we call ‘cinema’, introduced the new 4K restoration of Rebel Without a Cause at this year’s Berlinale. He posed the question, “What is cinema?” Simple yet complex, Scorsese answered himself, giving cinephiles everywhere food for thought, “For me there’s only one answer: it is necessary.”

From our perspective, as a repertory picture palace, the term ‘cinema’ is more important now than ever before. Whatever we understand it as – place, activity, concept – it’s a living thing insomuch as it’s always in conversation with the world. Just like audiences, experiences and responses, it’s always changing.

This thing we call cinema is so important, especially as we try to navigate our way through its biggest change since the transition from the silent era into talkies. If ‘film’ no longer means the physical medium running through the projector, then maybe ‘cinema’ doesn’t mean auditorium anymore either. Perhaps ‘cinema’ has become more spiritual than that.


If we start to think about ‘cinema’ as a term that encompasses its historic roots, as well as its social connotations, then we can start to see the picture Scorsese is painting. The reason it is necessary is because it is endangered. With so many film prints continuing to be junked (destroyed), at a rate and with a breadth that far surpasses the current efforts in digital restoration, we are actually losing content. So, what can we do? Well, the first step is to show the studios and those keepers of our cultural artefacts that ‘cinema’ is important to us.

If we don’t celebrate what we do have, it will wither and die. Celebration in our world is valuing and supporting the preservation and exhibition of moving image works – in both film and digital formats. Here at the Astor we try to bring place, activity and concept together so that ‘cinema’ has a home. The restoration work itself is of course important, but what’s necessary is the experience of seeing it, as a communal act, transforming that beautiful concept into a living thing. That’s how we start all our conversations with the screen.

The Astor Theatre is proud to announce the 4K digital restoration of Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which recently screened at the 2014 Berlinale, will have its Australian premiere in a double bill with the 4K restoration of East of Eden (1955), on Sunday March 23rd, 7pm.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Heading West after the Civil War, Clint Eastwood stars as the title character in The Outlaw Josey Wales, a revisionist western we are pleased to welcome back to the Astor’s SuperScreen. Based loosely on the notorious outlaw bushwhacker Bill Wilson, who was something of a local hero in the Phelps and Maries counties of Missouri, Josey Wales is famed for reversing the regular Hollywood stereotypes. It’s also a revenge narrative about a lone man who’s been wronged – his family murdered, his friends lured to their deaths. Despite the bounty on his head, and the cavalry on his tail, Josey Wales refuses to surrender. The fifth feature film directed by Eastwood, fans of the great Western’s leading lone ranger won’t be disappointed as he brings his famous few-word demeanor back to the screen.

16486We love the artwork for this film, it’s so angry. More angry than most Westerns. Josey Wales has been digitally remastered in 4K and we’re super pleased to bring it back to the big screen after such a lengthy absence, Sunday evening is sure to be a night you won’t soon forget.

The Outlaw Josey Wales screens on Sunday December 15th, 7pm.