I woke yesterday to notice a couple of tweets suggesting that the Astor Cinema would close next year. I’m not surprised. The cinema business has evidently been unviable for many years, even given the reportedly modest rent the cinema currently pays. The building requires expensive maintenance and repairs that the owner cannot afford. He needs to put up the rent, and the cinema can’t afford it and has stated it will vacate the building.
The operator of the cinema, George Florence, seems to get into disputes with all his landlords. He may have a long history as a tenant in the building, but viewing the history of news reports about his business leads the reasonable reader to the conclusion that he has unreasonable expectations and a deluded sense of entitlement about his place in the building. He also sounds like a hypocrite if he now decries a multi-screen renovation when he is on the public record as thinking a sensitive redevelopment, like that of the Rivoli in Camberwell, could be a good idea back in 2007.
Unlike a domestic residential lease, where landlords needs to fix most infrastructure problems, such as blocked toilets, in commercial leases tenants have far more responsibility for infrastructure. What a tenant is responsible for and what the landlord is responsible for is often disputed, especially if the terms of the lease do not provide further clarification.
When I reviewed the recent history of the building and the cinema within it a year ago, it was clear to me that the cinema actually had less certainty about its future based on the circumstances of the building’s new elderly individual owner, a man who lost money on selling the George cinema in St Kilda and who had to sell his home to cover it, than it did when the building was owned by St Michael’s Grammar School, which has a long history in the area, a history of local real estate investment and long terms plans to remain an inner city school.
It seemed deeply pathetic to me two years ago that the cinema allowed the Friends of the Astor Association (FOTAA) to speak publicly on its behalf and act as its public relations arm. FOTAA engaged in a deliberately misleading and manipulative campaign against the school that pushed a naive public to criticise the school for no reason.
The result was that the school sold the building. The irony is extensive. When the school bought the building in 2007 it was hailed as a saviour. Then it became the enemy for no reason and was driven out by negative social media publicity. The new owner became the saviour but he too started expressing some semblance of rational business thinking and then became the enemy. The building and its cinema tenant have run out of saviours and, in my eyes, public sympathy.
FOTAA has hopefully run out of public support. Its campaign against the school can now be viewed as absolutely pointless, and arguably quite destructive of the cinema’s potential future under the comparatively stable and future-oriented school. The statement they made yesterday on their website made no mention of the building’s owner. They’ve backed themselves into a corner and have no one left to blame for the demise of the cinema.
FOTAA itself appears defunct. It tweeted nothing between August and December 2013 and then between December and June 2014. While its Facebook page has been active it’s mostly generic film content. Good riddance FOTAA. Back in 2012 you manufactured a bad situation out of nothing but class hatred and ill will and contributed nothing to the community you claimed to serve.
Farewell Astor. I’ve been a customer many times and may be one again before you close. There’s another screening of 2001 A Space Odyssey in 70mm coming up. That may be my last visit.