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.

 

 

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.

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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.

Double Booking the Dead

On Monday I drove some nine hundred kilometres from Sydney to Melbourne, with a 35m film print of My Neighbour Totoro in tow. The film had screened at the Art Gallery of New South Wales during the Sydney Film Festival. Its Sydney screening was on Saturday (14th) and its Melbourne screening (at the Astor) was scheduled for Monday (16th). The proximity of the bookings was something of a slip because – in the world of transporting physical films across the country – print movement hadn’t been taken into account. Fortuitously, I had personally planned an interstate road trip that could facilitate precisely this type of print movement.

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Basically, my car and I became a lot like the Catbus – carrying Totoro with us on an epic road journey.

Perhaps it’s because the industry has forced the move from film prints to DCPs that the bookings had been authorised so close together without taking into account the physical movement of the prints – if two digital screenings are scheduled closely together the DCP is simply dispatched much earlier and the instruction is to ingest say a week in advance and then send on to the next cinema for their screening. This in theory also supposes that the cinema, if they screen a large rotation of titles like we do, has some rather expensive additional server storage space. That said, as our projectionist and programmer extraordinaire George notes, “In the heydey of movie theatres (1930s-1980s) it was extremely common practice to swap prints while a show was in progress with up to three or four other theatres. ‘Film Runners’ on motor bikes, bicycles, cars or even trams would dash across from theatre to theatre carrying one or two 2000 feet reels of film – as it came off one projector it was rushed to a nearby other theatre for winding and threading.”

So perhaps the reason we needed my makeshift Catbus is because the assumption is that if you are DCP capable, you will just run DCP. The marketeers do say it’s superior and the way of the future…

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It was a rainy journey but I made sure that the film print was secure in the Catbus and did not get wet.

Well, here at the Astor – and at great places like the Art Gallery of NSW – we don’t necessarily agree with everything the money-makers say. Sure, there was a DCP for Totoro, and yes, we were pleased to have it sent to us as a backup, in case the print didn’t arrive in time owing to extenuating circumstances (i.e. flooding/accidents/anything road related that might cause detour or delay – it was pretty rainy). But, ultimately, the reason we booked the print because we wanted to screen the print.

Personally I was devastated at even the thought that the print might have to be replaced by a DCP. I know it doesn’t matter to everyone, but it does matter to many. I know I wouldn’t go much out of my way to see a DCP – but I would for a film print (the very reason I drove to Sydney was to see two James Benning films on film – 35mm and 16mm, at the Art Gallery of NSW, and both were presented beautifully! If I had driven all that way and the film prints were replaced with digital copies I most certainly would have been peeved). During my few years at the Astor to date I’ve already learnt that our patrons are a lot like me in many ways and us film lovers do travel great distances to see great films on film.

Much like I would venture interstate for 35mm and 16mm, others have flown in to Melbourne from Adelaide or Sydney to set their eyes upon the glory of 35mm and, especially, 70mm. They also come from all over Melbourne and support what we do because of our commitment to quality film screenings – from format to atmosphere and down to every element of presentation (for example, on Monday, for house music, we played a mix of Hisaishi (Miyazaki’s composer) and avant-garde Japanese composer/performer Keisuke Sakurai). And so, despite having to leave Sydney at 5am in order to make it back to Melbourne with enough time to ensure delivery of the print for our projectionist to make up and screen, it was very important to me that it get there.

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Exactly !

There are people who benefit from bandying about that “death of film” slogan. We’ve been hearing it for the past two and a half years and its saturation is, for many, starting to sink in. Of course, there are still instances where a print – not just the title but the format too – can be double booked, which tells me that the demand for it is still very much alive.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

SoundKILDA is coming…

Proudly presented by the City of Port Phillip, the St Kilda Film Festival, Australia’s premier short film festival, is back at the Astor! It’s already underway and so far it’s been a schedule roaring with goodness. Featuring Australia’s Top 100 short films, music videos, archival screenings, filmmaker development programs and more – including SoundKILDA - it’s time to get excited and get down here if you haven’t already.

On Thursday 29 May, SoundKILDA will screen and award the best music videos of local and international musicians by some of country’s most talented filmmakers. We’ve even got three films featured here to whet your appetite!

Child Bride by CocoRosie

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Child Bride is a fairytale but in reality, every year an estimated 14 million girls are married before they turn 18. Robbed of their childhood, denied their rights to health, education and security. Child Bride is the latest clip in an ongoing collaboration between Brooklyn-based CocoRosie and award-winning Australian filmmaker Emma Freeman.

Twin Rivers by Big Scary

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A praying mantis struggles to find contentment in a modern world. The crew waited patiently for Florence to move into a good position or give a look with personality. She is now retired and is kept as a pet by filmmakers Shaun and Maxine.

Quasimodo’s Dream – Tim Rogers

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Using the evocative setting of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide, Tim Rogers falls again and again like a suicide on repeat. Quasimodo’s Dream features in Tim Rogers’ new feature film, The Boy Castaways, directed by Michael Kantor and featuring Megan Washington and Paul Capsis.

Known as Australia’s only dedicated music video competition, collaborations include Director Natasha Pincus with The Paper Kites, Director Emma Freeman with CocoRosie, Director Summer DeRoche with City Calm Down and Directors Charlie Ford and Josh McKie with Vance Joy.

But that’s not all! There’s also the Under the Radar Competition, on Wednesday 28 May, that will showcase the extraordinary work being produced by young filmmakers under 21 years of age.

As Australia’s oldest and largest short film festival, the St Kilda Film Festival showcases exceptional films by emerging artists, providing the most comprehensive overview of the country’s short film industry.

The St Kilda Film Festival is also now an ACADEMY AWARDS® qualifying event with award-winning films eligible for consideration in the OSCARS® Short Film Awards.

The full program is available to view now at www.stkildafilmfestival.com.au

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.”

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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.

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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.

Swinburne University of Technology presents: Synaesthesia!

We know things start to get crazy-busy at this time of year but even so, there are some events that even the most intensely scheduled December diary just has to make space for. This is one of those. The continued excellence from Swinburne University of Technology is making its way back to the Astor on Tuesday night and if past years are anything to go by, then you really won’t want to miss out! Introducing Synaesthesia

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A synergy of the cinematic senses! Join us to experience shapes, sounds, tastes, smells or touches in myriad combinations. The graduate screening of the Swinburne University of Technology, Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media, is a sensory event incorporating works from both Digital Media and Film & TV students. Facebook event details here.

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Doors open at 6PM for Digital Media exhibition, followed at 7PM by film screenings. Tuesday December 3rd 2013. Free entry. No bookings required. This screening contains mature content: an adult must accompany patrons under 15 years of age.