Thursday, August 25, 2011

Melbourne: Adventures in Film, Part 2: The Astor

Auckland needs an Astor Theatre. Pronto. While we still have a few single screen theatres around such as the Lido, Civic, Academy and Hollywood Cinema, they fall short of being a complete film buff’s dream house. Lido’s elegant and done up nicely, but they tend to stick to showing lite “granny-vision” “arthouse” films - same/similar stuff you’d find playing at Rialto; Hollywood is perhaps closest to Astor in feel, and they show occasional retro but it’s mostly second-run mainstream, and usually only comes alive when it’s time for the annual 24 Hour Movie Marathon. Likewise the Civic’s a once-a-year visit, when the NZFF comes round. To put it simply, things can be so much better......

OK now imagine if you had a theatre to go every week where there are cult double features, 70mm print screenings and old classics playing alongside cool second run films - that’s the Astor Theatre. Visiting the Astor was perhaps the highlight of my trip. I love being able to rock up to a theatre and catch a 35mm print of John Frakenheimer’s The Train on a Sunday night, and then the following night, a 70mm of Pink Floyd - The Wall. When you walk into the lobby it feels like you’ve travelled back in time. The old, art deco look has been maintained beautifully and the ushers even wear vests and bow ties for that extra special touch. You’ll find spots in the theatre that look like this:

There’s also a cat named Marzipan who roams around and has been known to sit on the laps of patrons during screenings.

Anyway the films were great. The Train has been sitting on my rental queue for a long time now, but when you get an opportunity to catch a film like this on the big screen, you don’t pass it up! Such an incredible, thrilling, muscular movie made when Frankenheimer was at his artistic peak churning out masterpieces like The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds. And Burt Lancaster impressively does all his own stunts! It was my first time with The Wall as well, and it was quite a spectacular psych-out treat. The screening was way more packed than The Train, which was mostly attended by senior citizens who probably saw it when it first came out (or even fought in World War II). The 70mm print wasn’t the most colourful but was fairly clean and it sounded superb.

“Fine films and atmosphere” indeed! Man, there's a Two-Lane Blacktop/Zabriskie Point double coming up...

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