Kung Fu ruled at the Stoke Newington Astra

Today we’re looking way back into London’s celluloid past to shine a light on another unsung hero of exploitation exhibition: Stoke Newington’s Astra cinema. Never heard of it? Neither had I until I was reading the cinema listings in a handful of vintage 1970s issues of Time Out.

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The cinema landscape of London was a very different beast back in the 1970s, there were only 3 TV channels, no video players and the internet as we know it decades away, so consequently the city was overflowing with the cinemas! Which meant that there was plenty of room for a screen that specialised in martial arts double bills, yes that’s what the Stoke Newington Astra did, or at least did most of the time.

What I didn’t realise, until I started digging online for more info, was that the Astra was actually this place:

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The Astra in its Kung Fu double bill days (1970s)

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Which I’ve walked past so many times, but had no idea it used to be a cinema, let alone that is used to show classic kung fu films back in the 1970s. Today it’s the Aziziye Mosque, with the front section functions as a community store.

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I’d always assumed the design was part of the Mosque, but the cinema was actually built in that style when it opened all the way back in 1913. Over the decades it went through different hands and many refurbishments, but always keeping its distinctive exterior. Where it becomes really interesting for us is when became the Astra in 1974 and started playing the kung fu and cult film double bills. Here’s a look at the three killer double-bill Time Out listings that we’ve been able to find for the Astra:

November 1975

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November 1977 

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March 1978

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It blows my mind to think that you could have caught these classic films on a big screen in Stoke Newington back in the 70s! Sadly the Astra closed in 1983, but the building is still there and it’s great that the very unique exterior has survived all those decades.  We hope this short feature has helped to shine a light onto the Astra and helps to preserve just a little bit more of London’s cult cinematic history.

Your Eyes Vs Plaza Theater, El Paso, Texas

Got your shades on? Yes? Ok well now you can look upon possible the most dazzling, overpowering and downright wild cinema exterior I’ve ever seen. Welcome to the Plaza theatre, El Paso, Texas circa 1962.

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Yes once you actually got inside to watch Dr. No you probably wouldn’t have be able to see anything as your eyes would have been overload with all that ballyhoo showmanship outside. Now how about we all go and watch Hitchcock’s The Birds? Shades at the ready?

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The Plaza Theatre started life in 1930 and operated as a multi-purpose venue, hosting theatre productions, music concerts and of course film screenings. Over the decades it had it’s up and downs but we’re happy to report that it’s still open and going stronger than ever now, thanks to an extensive refit back in 2006. The best thing? Check out how it looks now, yes it’s still trying to destroy your eyeballs with light! 

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Plaza Theatre, El Paso, Texas – The Duke salutes you! 

Dilworth Theater – an unsung hero of exploitation cinema

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Our first full Duke blog and we wanted to dedicate it to something that symbolised what we try and do at the Duke each month – that’s screen long overlooked films and trying to shed light on people, places and times that maybe have been forgotten over the years.

So here in our first post we’re going to take a look at a great unsung hero in the world of exploitation film screens – the Dilworth Theatre in North Carolina, USA.

You won’t find the Dilworth on any list of great cinemas, it wasn’t situated in London’s West End or New York’s great 42Nd Street, instead it sat in the heart of North Carolina, feeding it’s local residents with a steady diet of 70s exploitation, horror and kung fu films. Launched in the 1930s the Dilworth had a long and successful history of first run film screenings, but it’s when it became a second run theatre in the 1970s that it really becomes of interest for us.

I stumbled onto the Dilworth one day while digging through ebay for interesting cinema related auctions, this first picture really caught my eye with its great double bill programming, Rattlers & Bug plus its catchy, slightly jokey marquee message “Two horrible movies”, are the movies themselves horrible, or just packed with scares?

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Looking at more of their marquee pictures you can see a fantastic array of classic exploitaion films playing there: Rattlers, Bugs, Blast, Adios Amigo, Devil’s Express, Black Shampoo, Eye For An Eye, The Howling, Super Fly. Plus you eagle eyed viewers check out the posters on the exterior wall: Infra-Man! And remember these would have all in been in glorious 35MM prints back in the day. Can you even imagine seeing Warhawk Tanzania kicking ass in Devil’s Express on 35MM?

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Heading over to the essential Cinema Treasures website revealed a great deal of history about the Dilworth and it’s worth taking the time to head there and read the full history of the cinema. But there’s one specific story that made me want to write a feature about these pictures I’d found,  and it’s that in the mid-70s the cinema was such a part of the local neighbourhood that the community came out and renovated the cinema themselves. Low and behold one of the pictures I had was of them doing just that!

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It’s quite fantastic to read about an obscure event happening and then to actually see a small part of it taking place through the wonder of photography.

Sadly the Dilworth burnt to the ground in 1984 and as of right now an interior design store and parking lot fill the space left by the cinema, but just for one post only we’d like to think that the Dilworth is still playing – let’s all meet there tonight and watch Devil’s Express together, the popcorn is on Evrim!