The Astor Cinema still a top movie theatre
--says Cyril Shaw

Guyana Chronicle
September 18, 2000

"AFTER 60 years in the movie business, the Astor Cinema is still Guyana's top movie theatre."

So says veteran entertainer, Mr Cyril Shaw who, for most of his life has been actively involved in bringing the best in the line of entertainment on screen to the Guyanese public. For several decades before television became popular and easily accessible to the average household, Shaw held key positions in the local cinema industry.

Today as the Astor Cinema observes its 60th anniversary, Mr.Cyril Shaw offers some reflections:

"Like the other cinemas, in Guyana, Astor is still struggling to remain in business as more and more Guyanese prefer to watch the latest movies not yet released for television, on their favourite local channel or to rent a pirated copy from the nearest video library.

Giving us the world's top movies for the last 60 years, the Astor Cinema has been carrying full houses on opening nights, attracting diverse audiences as it brings us the latest and the best releases. This is a memory held by most of us who love the big screen. Those of us who believe that to enjoy a really good movie, you just have to see it on the big screen.

It all started with a few individuals with a vision: Hilary Correia as Managing Director, along with the Correia Brothers - Alex, William and Silvana. M.C. Correia played a major role in realising this dream, and Percy Watson was the Public Relations and Promotional Manager.

On September 14, 1940, the Astor opened its doors with the Premiere Boxing Movie "Golden Boy" starring William Holden, and Barbara Stanwyck, and which ran with a full house for four days. This was one of Holden's first major movies, and Guyanese just loved it!

Chief Projection and Sound Technician was Manoel Ignatius Jardim, while operating the projector was Pete Willis. In the cashier's cage for balcony and box was Marie Fernandes, and at the stall window was Lawrence Gomes. This was the team that brought us our dreams through the lives of the stars.

News and Vaudeville shows

'The War is over!' Those were the unexpected, but evidently relieving words blurted out over the loud speakers to a full house during a movie show at the Astor Cinema, one night in May 1945. And sure enough it was young Cyril Shaw giving the news to the cinema's patrons as it happened. I heard it on the radio and I hastened to inform the people. As could be expected, there was a general uproar in the cinema.

But why would the news be given at a movie house? A Cinema? It was in the cinemas that the British newsreels were shown - the `British Movie Tone' and the American newsreels.

It was the BBC on radio, the main newspapers for print, but the visual medium for news throughout the war and long after, was the cinema.

News commentary was given on Sundays by Ulric Gouveia. With continuously updated technology, and a news conscious Public Relations and Publicity Manager, Astor kept ahead of the game.

But Astor not only provided the best in movies and news from the outside, as well as local news on film clips. It also gave us Vaudeville shows where some of the world's top performers made their early appearances. They included the Mighty Sparrow, Madame O'Lindy, Lord Kitchener and Small Island Pride.

The first Broadway star to come to Guyana, Lawrence Winters, performed at the Astor in the late 40's. I promoted this show to raise funds for the Law Association under the auspices of Chief Justice Stoby, and Colonial Secretary Heape. Assisting with this production was Post Master General P.C. Cox.

Whenever you go to a Video Store and rent a pirated movie (one that is not yet released for television because it is still showing in theatres in its country of origin) then stop and think.

Think about the booming cinema industry in other countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, 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. Then you did not sit at home for an advance viewing from a pirated copy."

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