Blade Runner – The Final Cut

Blade Runner: The Final Cut simply refuses to fade into the vast catalogue of forgotten film history. Its persistence as film’s pedestal sci-fi owing to its innovative and intelligent contemplation over ontological questions of authenticity and artificiality as they pertain to a rapidly, and terrifyingly, techno-advanced, mechanized, global future society.

Set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, Blade Runner depicts, through its neo-noir aesthetic, a dystopian future where humans have created their own robotic slave-race known as Replicants. In one sense the Replicants act as soldiers, in a time of hyper-universality on “Off-world” human colonies of other planets. Four dangerous Replicants have returned to earth in the hope of confronting the corporation responsible for their very questionable existence: Tyrrell Corporation. Alerted to their illegal activities in a hyper-modern police state, Blade Runner Unit enlist Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) to find and “retire” (kill) the four who are merely desperate to prolong what they think are their “lives”.

That the film is set in Los Angeles is far from incidental. Although New York is America’s foremost “global” city with regards to economic and cultural growth/wealth, LA is its “expansive” counterpart in that its spatial development and the sheer scale of its urban planning exemplifies the artificial “constructedness” that the film is concerned with in the first instance. As such, the dark, seemingly boundless sprawl of the dystopian LA landscape operates in the film as a psychogeographical reflection of the labyrinthine, almost indistinguishable cerebrally sound constructs of the Replicants’ cognitive minds.

Beyond their declared “at least equal intelligence to the genetic engineers who created them”, the Replicants, also described as “virtually identical” to humans, are suggestively “evolved” rather than “constructed” beings. The implication of their proverbial “evolution” affords the Replicants with organic rather than robotic capabilities, creating from the outset a distinct atmosphere of ambiguity; blurring the boundaries between the human/non-human attributes they are imbued with, rendering them, in some advanced cases, as liminal beings even unto themselves. Furthermore, following the “bloody mutiny” on Off-world colonies, Replicants have been “declared illegal on earth, under penalty of death”. In light of a Derridean comprehension of binary oppositions the very notion of “death” here suggests “life”, providing further substance to the idea that the Replicants are “living” beings. Moreover, the final two sentences of the prologue to the film read; “This was not called execution. It was called retirement.” The two sentences appear onscreen isolated from one another and from the paragraphs that came before. In using “called” twice in such close proximity Scott emphasizes the semiotic construction of a concept based upon two otherwise abstract things. That is to say that we (human viewers) comprehend the action as one thing and not another through a system of signifiers and signifieds that links the action to its name. This subtle note at the outset is designed to make the viewer think through the implications of the Symbolic Order itself, and therefore the constructedness of everything human, including something that mistakenly considered natural: language. The reminder so early on that almost everything is constructed and/or performed already alludes to Scott’s overarching provocative contention.

But what exactly does it mean to be “living” and where does that leave the boundary between legitimate “born” human beings and illegal “created” Replicants? For the purposes of distinguishing between the two (primarily so as not to accidentally “retire” a human), the Blade Runner Unit have created a test that is “designed to provoke emotional response” from its recipients, measuring their levels of empathy through indicators such as response time and pupil dilation. The only obstacle here being the fear that after a few years they would – in line with the aforementioned process of evolution – “develop their own emotional responses” and it is, for this reason, that their life-span is restricted to a short four years. Moreover, the more advanced and indeed “experiment” Replicants of which Rachael (Sean Young) is one, are given greater access to the concept of humanity through programmed memories which act as a “cushion” for their own subjectivity helping them to believe they are human. It is at this moment in the film that the true nature of every character, including Deckard himself, is brought into question.

Ignoring the extensive implications of this revelation, Deckard denies Rachael’s inference when she asks him if he has ever taken the test himself. Clearly hurt by the determination that she is a Replicant, implanted with memories from Tyrrell’s niece and believing them to be her own, Rachael sheds a solitary tear, displaying clear and unmistakable human emotion. Following this display the two become romantically involved which, if he is human and she is not, is dodgy ethical ground at best, but, if (as Scott certainly intended it to be) they are both Replicants who merely believe themselves to be human is an equally consensual union. The inclusion of this scene operates as reiterative of the Replicants’ ability to experience human desire and also to provide a strong ethical questioning of the resultant actions of a Replicant who considers him/herself to be human.

Like Deckard and Rachael, Roy (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah) are “coupled” Replicants, only in this case they know themselves to be so. The difference here is that along with their knowledge of what they truly are comes another human desire: the will to live. Their mission is to have their lives extended at any cost, their fear of death very human indeed. But it is Roy who goes to see Dr Tyrrell, leaving Pris to defend their newly acquired “home”. His presence at Tyrrell Corporation is met with a combination of kindness and cruelty as Dr Tyrrell lovingly refers to him as the Prodigal Son returned. At this moment Roy becomes Jesus to Dr Tyrrell’s God and Roy’s anger towards his maker results in a murderous crime of passion – yet another decidedly human action. Dissatisfied and disillusioned with the God who created him, Roy returns home to find Pris has bled to death, and Scott lingers on her blood to reiterate yet again the very human qualities of the Replicants.

In the final showdown between Roy and Deckard, Roy makes an ultimate sacrifice of himself, accepting the inevitability of his life cycle. Mirroring his surroundings, like the rain that gushes into the house, Roy is in many ways an organic being trapped into a constructed environment. As he forces a nail through his hand and then his own head through a tiled wall, he further blurs the boundaries between natural and unnatural, removing the confines and limitations that one necessarily holds over the other. In this way the final scenes of the film move towards breaking down Derridean binary oppositions, suggesting that there are grey areas and ultimately that humans are the result of both organic evolution and the extraneous influences and input that are responsible, at least in part, for their existence.

The Directors’ Cut (and with very minor differences this Final Cut) in particular, is the version of this film that led to the discussion surrounding whether or not Deckard was human or Replicant. Ridley Scott has himself professed that Deckard is a Replicant and if we take this reading at its word then he is, by his own admittance, justified by the system: “Replicants are like any other machine: they’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” Ultimately serving the system and its self-perpetuating myth surrounding the significance of authenticity versus the threat of artificiality, Deckard is the exemplary product of a well governed police state; unwittingly serving its needs to his own detriment; ignorant of its ideology and only able to see through its constructedness so far as it allows him to. If we however, do not take Scott at his word and allow Deckard to remain ambiguously human then the film does not fail, it merely suspends itself and its determination in the liminal space that it so brilliantly creates.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre. Originally published in an Astor e-newsletter in 2010.

Blade Runner – The Final Cut screens at the Astor Theatre Friday January 9th, 8pm.

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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…

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Merry Christmas – New Calendar Announcements!

It is almost here. Tomorrow will see many boxes of shiny new Astor calendars arrive at the theatre. Shortly thereafter they will arrive in mailboxes and at shops, spaces and cafes all around Melbourne. It’s an exciting time for toilet doors and fridges everywhere.

But what treats will this pre-Christmas calendar bring?

WELL, before you get crazy excited and explore the whole thing online, here are a few seasonal sessions we’re excited about:

An annual treat of The Nightmare Before Christmas + Ed Wood, Monday December 22nd (includes a bonus screening of Ed Wood’s first film Crossroads of Loredo!) Nothing like a movie about a bad movie to get you into the holiday spirit!

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Then, just two nights later, the perfect anti-Christmas eve double bill. Who better to spend your night with than Francine Fishpaw and Tracy Turnblad? Learn all about the perils of All-American family values and then dance away the evening with whatever kind of crazy hairstyle you can imagine. It may not be our usual Christmas Eve treat but it certainly will be DIVINE! Polyester (In Odorama with brand spanking new Odorama cards!) + Hairspray, Wednesday December 24th.

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The silly season just wouldn’t be complete without some seriously silly classic titles, presented on stupendously glorious 35mm print format. And so, with that in mind, we have a perrfect double bill of The Brain Eaters + Cat-Women of the Moon, Sunday December 28th, 7pm.

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That’s not to say that your favourites don’t appear – they do! Our Friday and Saturday nights will take you back to traditional Astor days with a Boxing Day double bill Monty Python’s Life of Brian + Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Friday December 26th, 7.30pm.

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And, just a little after Christmas, but before the New Year, our regular double of It’s a Wonderful Life + The Shop Around the Corner, Saturday December 27th, 7.30pm. Unfortunately though, we no longer have access to the 35mm prints of It’s a Wonderful Life or The Shop Around the Corner, and so, regretfully, we will be presenting them both on 2K digital format – more on this in a future blog post.

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There’s a LOT more to discover around Christmas and beyond so make sure you make your way over to our website and explore the visual treats the coming months have to offer!

Saturday night at the Astor

When I first started coming to the Astor, as a teenager, the shows were BUSY. I remember always queuing for tickets, the ladies cloaks’ and the candy bar. Sometime in the earlier 2000s I visited the theatre again, only the requisite queues weren’t there. In the past few years those queues have returned. If you’ve been to any of our re-release seasons (we know that many thousands of you were here for Labyrinth!) then you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a good thing we have so many seats because if we were to program the way we do in any other cinema in Melbourne, well, we would have to turn hundreds of people away – you simply can’t squeeze more than 600 people into a standard multiplex auditorium!

On Saturday night I watched the glorious 35mm and 70mm film prints of Rear Window and Vertigo, inside my favourite cinema anywhere in the world. The dress circle was full and the stalls open. The foyers were bursting with long-time Astor attendees as well as first time visitors. There was excitement in the air as we filed in to take our seats and inside the auditorium the atmosphere was electric. The moment the screening commenced, there was stillness. There is something truly special about being in a room with hundreds of individuals all quietly, respectfully watching the same films. The only movement to be felt is the occasional sound of someone drawing breath during a tense moment in the onscreen narrative, or a shared chuckle at that trademark dry wit Hitch inserts every now and again to give his audience a moment of respite.

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Saturday night at the Astor. I can’t imagine living in a version of Melbourne where this doesn’t exist and, quite frankly, I don’t want to. It’s easy when you’re at the Astor to forget that anything could ever change – it’s like a magical solace from the outside world where both space and time are contorted. But, as this particular evening came to a close, and as I left the building, that all too sobering reminder of an alternate future hit me – blindingly, like the sickly artificial lighting that has since replaced our once enchanting chasers. My joy was interrupted: what if the interior is fated to resemble the now replica veranda with its fluorescent tubing? Then the experience I’ve just enjoyed won’t exist anymore.

As I reflect over the great night I’ve had, journeying home, I can understand my enjoyment as the culmination of a number of things; the screening of rare 35mm and 70mm film prints, a glorious screen, quality projection (including constant focus and re-focus from a trained projectionist, correct masking, the right aperture plates, manual lighting, no tolerance for mobile phones and the gold curtains that have signaled the start and finish of many hundreds of film experiences in my life), the very same Astor logo that I’ve watched on 35mm for the almost twenty years I’ve been coming to the Astor, the carpet made especially for the theatre, sitting in the same seat that a cinema-goer from 1936 sat in when the theatre first opened and every one of my shared experiences of laughter, tears, fear, excitement and love, still living inside these walls. It’s busy, loved and cherished. And so much more than just the bricks and mortar that house it.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

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. 

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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.

Your year long film festival is always here, at the Astor

Victoria has been dubbed (via number plates) “the garden state”, “on the move” and “the place to be”. The state as a whole is a pretty big place (larger than the entire UK if we’re talking physical land mass) and it’s difficult when you work in Melbourne and dwell only around its suburban fringes to know just how garden like, moving and ‘to be’ it really is elsewhere. That said, when I think specifically about Melbourne, one of the things that springs to mind is how very many festivals the city plays host to.

Speaking specifically about film, over the years, the Astor has housed far more than a handful of brilliant festivals including; MIFF, St Kilda, MIM (Made in Melbourne), Manhattan Short, Australia’s Silent, Yew TV, NZ Short, and many others. It’s always a pleasure to host the buzz that comes along with a designated event – but then, that’s no surprise seeing as it’s also what we do all year round!

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The Astor is known for many things – from its grand foyers, golden curtains and famous Choc-Ices to the unique style of programming we do, keeping cult and classic cinema alive with many a double bill on our awesome, toilet-door/refrigerator-adorning quarterly calendars – and it’s the unique style of diverse programming from recent releases to repertory titles that we pride ourselves upon most of all. The programming – which proprietor George Florence has crafted since 1982 (!) – offers a year long film festival with all manner of different strands for Melbourne cinephiles and movie-goers to enjoy.

We’re currently putting together the next one and we can already tell you that it’s a cracker! There’ll be so much to announce in the coming weeks (keep an eye on our social media for updates and announcements) but something we can tell you right now is that we are truly Melbourne’s (and Australia’s) home to the grand film print format known as 70mm.

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It’s incredibly rare to have the opportunity to see some of the brilliant things we regularly show, like Baraka (1992), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Vertigo (1958), Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1982), Aliens (1986), Hamlet (1996), The Master (2012) and, in the past, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Titanic (1997), Ben Hur (2003) and a number of blow-ups like Gremlins 2 (1990), The Mission (1986), The Right Stuff (1983) and The Last Starfighter (1984).

Now, not all of these films are available for us to screen – y’all know the Titanic story because we posted it about a week ago, and if you’ve been attending the theatre or following up online updates for a while you’ll also know what happened to Lawrence (short version: we loaned it to a film festival in Korea and they burnt Korean subtitles into the print) – but what we can still screen, you can bet we will. We’re always working on bringing you the very best year-long film festival in an environment abuzz with grandeur and great atmosphere!

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.