THE Astor Cinema will experience its curtain call tonight after the two last movies, ‘Sparkle’ and ‘Good Deeds’, have been shown. The last two shows will be on at 16:15 hrs and 20:30 hrs respectively.
Proverbially the “Last of the Mohaicans”, and representative of the halcyon days of a glorious bygone era when owning a cinema was engaging in big business in Guyana, the “Last Man Standing” had outlived the dire predictions of skeptics for more years than even they care to count. But now the end is near, and it is time for the final curtain.
The ‘tragic’ announcement of its closure comes after the Astor had faithfully served the entertainment needs of the Guyanese public for over 70 years.
Standing on Lot 189, at the corner of Waterloo and Church Streets in South Cummingsburg, Georgetown, the sad news of the closure was initially announced via a ‘For Sale or Rent’ sign tacked on the building since last April; and there was nothing more than a contact email address for interested persons to follow up.
The rumour mill had churned out that the cinema was to cease operating in the last week of May, but the official notification which staff members had each received via a letter that also thanked them for their years of hard work and dedicated service, had put the date of closure as June 30, 2013.
Most cinemas in Guyana had chosen to terminate their activities several years ago, but the Astor Cinema had persevered, for years waging a valiant fight against impossible odds. It stood its ground, an obstinate, unyielding unflinching adversary to the unfortunate system of movie piracy that had seen the death of all its relations; and it would likely have survived, had not the system of piracy been so pervasive.
Remember when it was truly a unique experience being in the Astor Cinema with its full stereo surround sound system and its convenient little canteen that always featured a hot puri and egg ball with sour?
A diligent effort was always made to keep the surroundings clean and tidy.
Veteran entertainer Cyril Shaw, in an article published in this newspaper back in 2000, made a few observations about the Astor. Among the things he had mentioned were that this cinema had always carried ‘full houses’ on opening nights, and had managed to attract diverse audiences.
Astor opened its doors with the premier boxing movie ‘Golden Boy’, starring William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck, which ran with a full house for four days!
This cinema not only provided the best in movie entertainment, but also carried news from foreign countries as well as local news on film clips.
It gave us vaudeville shows wherein some of the world’s top artistes made their early performances, among whom were the Mighty Sparrow, Madame O’Lindy, Lord Kitchener, and Small Island Pride. The first known Broadway star to come to Guyana, Lawrence Winters, performed at the Astor in the last 1940s.
The lesson to be learn from the unfortunate experience of the closure of the Astor is that, “Whenever you go to a video store and rent a pirated movie, stop and think about the booming cinema industry in other countries, and the good old days when you lined up for hours to purchase a ticket to see ‘Jaws’ or ‘Saturday Night Fever’ at the same time as the rest of the world,” Shaw advised in the article.
Other popular cinemas in Guyana, all closed now, included the Star Cinema, formerly located at La Penitence Street in Albuoystown; The Globe, formerly located directly opposite the Astor on Church Street; Metropole, formerly located at Wellington and Robb Streets; Plaza, formerly on Camp Street between New Market and Middle Streets; Strand, formerly at Charlotte and Wellington Streets; and the once most popular Liberty, located at Vlissengen Road and Garnett Street in Newtown, Georgetown.