Astor Theatre St. Kilda

"Why is the Astor Theatre, a single screen cinema, still operational when all other cinemas of its kind in Melbourne have closed?"

Final Word

The posts on this blog have hopefully shown how lucky we are in Melbourne to still have such a fantastic cinema in operation, over 75 years after its opening.

The now heritage listed building and its spectacular interiors are truly unique, and something that will hopefully be enjoyed by generations to come.

We have proprietor George Florence to thank for keeping this cinema alive with the advent of huge multiplex cinemas, DVD and illegal film pirating, and can only hope that with the help of the community, who love this establishment so much, that the cinema will continue to operate, and showcase beautiful films in their original glory for many years to come.

The Astor Theatre: future in danger?

Recently, news came about of owners of the Astor building, St. Michael’s Grammar, and their intention to not renew the cinemas lease in 2015, instead turning the building into its full time auditorium. The news frightened the community, and the strong reaction only proved how important the Astor Theatre is to so many locals. A petition was initiated to save the Astor in hand with the Friends of the Astor organisation, working to protect this wonderful place.

The petition has gained over 12,000 signatures, but has outraged St. Michaels head of school Simon Gipson, who says the school has no intention of closing the building as a cinema for public use. He stated that

“The school has never said it will close the Astor for five years, it has never said the Astor will be exclusively a performing arts centre and a uniform shop.

"The one thing it has always committed to, right from purchase, is that it would protect the theatre’s historic use as a cinema. No matter what the vision for the future was for the Astor, it would include that right at its heart."

The future of the cinema is still uncertain, but the huge community support for the cinema indicates it will remain a much beloved fixture for entertainment in Melbourne for years to come.

Sign The Petition! Friends of the Astor

The Age: Astor to stay a Cinema

Astor Theatre Lobby

Image courtesy of the Astor Theatre facebook page

A Word With George; why the Astor is such a unique Melbourne icon

Mr George Florence was kind enough to take the time to write out his views on why the Astor Theatre has remained successful, and has a place in the hearts of so many, with the help of assistant Tara Judah.

“There are many reasons contributing to why the Astor Theatre has remained open after so many years, one of the major reasons being that it was a part of the Greek Cinema & Theatre chain in the 1960s which saved it during that period from being demolished or multiplexed. Following on from that George Florence’s commitment to a unique style of programming and a unique cinema-going experience has helped the Astor through the years since his taking over the lease in 1982. Further to that, George had the building heritage listed which prevents potential owners of the building (distinct from the business inside the building) from being able to tear down the building and replace it with apartments, a service station, etc. These factors along with the theatre’s iconic status and independent touches - all born of George’s passion and dedication - have helped the Astor stay open through the advent of television and home entertainment. 

In terms of competition with multiplexes the Astor remains distinct as it offers a very different type of cinema-going experience, one that is pre-multiplex and that takes you back to the days when going to the movies was an event. An Astor experience is a true night out and the combination of our programming, excellence in now both film and digital projection as well as our unique single screen auditorium is something special not just on a local level but in a global context too.”

 

The Astor Theatre: A Unique Cinema Experience

We’ve all been to see a film at a big multiplex cinema such as Hoyts or Village. We all have fond memories of seeing these films, but the experience we have at these cinemas, while enjoyable, is not what film is really about. Watching a digital film or DVD becomes a lot less enjoyable after experiencing a film, a real 70mm film reel, at the Astor Theatre.

Many films when projected, are shown from 35mm film. While still good appealing to the eye, the image must be magnified for the big screen, losing some of the crispness along the way. 70mm film – double that of the usual 35mm – does not need to be magnified as much, and there for provides a clearer image. Virgil Von Bulow, a projectionist at the Astor Theatre discussed the difference in a 1999 article in Melbourne newspaper The Age. Von Bulow discussed the benefits of 70mm film, “you just get a sharper, crisper image that’s just much much clearer than the crusty old 35”. He went on to talk about the Astor experience, stating that “we try to make people realise that watching a movie at home on video is just a load of crap, you miss out on half the movie”.

The below images exemplify the difference between the two types of film from the Astor Theatre website. 35mm film is on the left, 70mm on the right. The difference between the two is obvious, 70mm film is much clearer and appears to be the way the film was meant to be seen.

70mm Film Comparison, courtesy of the Astor Theatre

One of these projectors was purchased from Hoyts Drive-In Cinema Bulleen upon its closure around 1987. Further information on Hoyts Bulleen can be found here

Hoyts Bulleen

Technicolour Yawn

Astor Theatre: 70mm Prints

'Get Reel', The Age 19th August 1999

Further adding to the Astor experience are elements of a visit to the Astor that truly make it unique. From freshly baked cakes available for purchase, to Marzipan the cat, who has called the Astor Theatre home for nearly two decades and can be found wondering the cinema and sitting on audience members laps, you just don’t experience anything like this anywhere else. The Astor prides itself on being different, and staying true to itself for over 75 years.

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Marzipan the Cat pictured with proprietor George Florence, courtesy of Astor Theatre

The Astor Theatre: Unique and Stylish at 75

Unique and Stylish at 75 Bonza Database

 

Astor Theatre showcasing unique films

In order to continue to provide a unique experience for cinema goers, and separate the Astor from the numerous multiplex cinemas in Melbourne, the Astor Theatre has often chosen to present films that other commercial cinemas will not.

2007 saw the release of ‘Grindhouse’, a double feature by renowned directors Robert Rodriguez and Quinton Tarantino. The film, comprised of two separate films, Rodriguez’s ‘Planet Terror’ and Tarantino’s ‘Death Proof’, was inspired by 1970s exploitation grindhouse cinema, and was originally produced to be shown as a double feature over 3 hours long, including faux trailers to add to authenticity and presented in a grainy format.

However, Australia’s theatrical release of the film saw them separated into two films and released two months apart. The original trailers were removed, and the films were edited, with the grainy format and scratches also removed.

Many fans were not happy with being unable to watch the films in their original state, leading to the Astor theatre presenting the film in its original un-edited state. The Astor screened the film every evening for a week, delighting cinema goers, and continues to showcase the film as a double feature, with the next showing taking place on July 25th, at 7.30pm.

Image courtesy of Dimension Films

Astor Theatre shows Grindhouse

Canned Geek: Astor shows Grindhouse in original presentation

More recently, 2012 saw the much anticipated release of Drew Goddard’s horror film, ‘Cabin in the Woods’. The film was originally created in 2009, but has had its release date pushed back numerous times due to the bankruptcy of production company MGM. The film is finally to be shown, however Australian roadshow declined to give the film a theatrical release, instead slating it to go straight to DVD. Amidst a storm of criticism and pleadings from the Astor Theatre itself, the film was given theatrical release, and will have an off-calendar screening at the Astor, Friday July 6th at 10.30pm.

Astor Theatre shows Cabin in the Woods

Film Ink: Astor shows Cabin in the Woods

Image courtesy of Lionsgate Films

This video is from SBS News, and pays great homage to the Astor Theatre, showcasing its beautiful interiors, talking about its long history, including its past as a Greek language cinema. More information on another Greek Language Melbourne cinema, The Sun, can be found here: suntheatreyarraville.wordpress.com

 

 

Opening of an Icon

The Astor officially opened Saturday, April 3rd, 1936. The official opening comprised of a ceremony performed by Mr. A Michaelism M.L.A, in the presence of His Worship the Mayor of St. Kilda, Cr. Dixon, and was organised by the theatres management. The opening ceremony was attended by the Mayoress, Councillors and other notable person. While this official opening took place on Saturday evening, the first screening open to the public actually took place at 2.15pm earlier that day.

The first film screened was ‘Hands Across the Table’, a 1935 American film starring Carole Lombard, Fred McMurray and Ralph Bellamy.

In his book, ‘A Place of Sensuous Resort’, Richard Peterson commented on the Astor’s debut, saying that “One imagines the sky alive with sweeping klieg lights”, conjuring images of a glamorous, ‘Hollywood’ style opening event.

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Information courtesty of imbd.com and The Astor Theatre

http://www.bonzadb.com.au/bibliography/view/12742

A History of The Astor Theatre, St Kilda

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On Saturday April 3rd, 1936, the Astor Theatre, located on the corner of Chapel St and Dandenong Rd in St. Kilda, Melbourne, opened its doors and commenced its life as a much loved Melbourne icon.

The site was previously home to a silent theatre known as the Diamond, which is thought to of commenced operation in 1908, and was owned by Mr Thomas Alford. The site later became the Rex theatre in 1908

The site was previously home to Liverly Stables, constructed by Mr Thomas Alford in 1894, and remained this way until either 1908 or 1912 (historical reports are conflicting) when Mr Alford redeveloped the site, turning it into a silent theatre known as the Diamond. A few years later, the cinema was further developed, and became known as the ‘Rex Theatre’, operating from 1914-1924. The site then became ‘Alford’s Motor Garage’, before being sold to Mr Frank O’Collins in 1935, director of Astor Theatres Pty Ltd.image

The old structure known as the ‘Rex Theatre’ was almost entirely demolished, leaving only the rear outer wall. Mr O’Collins commissioned architect Ron Morton Taylor to design a modern theatre, with construction on what we know today as the Astor Theatre beginning in December, 1935. This original structure could seat 1673 patrons, with a single screen and two levels of seating.

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The Astor Theatre flourished, with the cinema filled many nights of the week. It remained a popular suburban cinema for 20 years, but began to flounder with the arrival of television in Australia, coinciding with the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. Various changes were made to the cinema to make it more modern, but in 1964 the O’Collins family decided to sell the premises.

 Tanda Investments purchased the cinema, and elongated the stage to provide potential for live stage performances, reducing the number of seats from 1673 to 1400. Tanda Investments, with the help of Mr. Stan Raft, began to operate the Astor as a Greek language cinema, one of 12 operating at that time in Melbourne to provide for the growing Greek immigrant population. They continued to run the Astor through the 1970’s, before the cinema began to flounder again and closed its doors for a second time in 1981. It is suggested that the Greek community had become “Australianised”, and had turned to SBS and VHS for Greek language entertainment.

Following a year of closure, the Astor was finally leased to Stan Rafts nephew, a then 19-year-old George Florence. Mr Florence had a passion for cinema, and saw the potential for a truly unique cinema experience in the Astor. He desired to “preserve this unique part of Australia’s cinema heritage for future generations”.

The Astor Theatre re-opened its doors on September 17th, 1982 with the showing of the classic 1933 film King Kong, and an African Drum performance provided by the students of La Trobe University, Bundoora. The new Astor shows all types of films spanning the last century, and prides itself on its collection of unique and restored prints, many presented in 70mm format. The cinemas in house company, Chapel Distribution, lends the prints out throughout Australia and the world. Upgrades to the cinemas equipment also allows for the presentation of 2K Digital Films.

2007 saw the purchase of the Astor building by neighbouring St. Michaels Grammar, using the theatre for their performing arts program by day, and allowing the cinema to operate on weeknights and weekends and remain open to the public, under the management of Mr Florence. However, 2012 brought the announcement of the schools intention to not renew the cinemas lease in 2015, and using the premises for a full time performing arts centre.  This announcement has led to outrage from fans of the cinema and members of the local community, and a petition to save the Astor cinema has been launched.

The future of this iconic theatre is currently uncertain, but one can only hope that cinema goers may continue to enjoy this unique cinematic experience for many years to come.

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The Astor Theatre: A History

The Astor: A Survivor (Cinema Record Issue 26, November 1999)