Sunday, January 15, 2012

One Reason Why I Love San Francisco - The Castro Theatre

As Nick and I approach our 25th anniversary as San Francisco residents, I've been thinking about the things I love most in our adopted city. The Castro Theatre is high on the list.

Where else can you go to a 1920s movie palace that still operates full time as a movie house to watch Hollywood classics and independent films? Enjoy a pre-show performance on a Wurlitzer organ? Take your pick from among a variety of film festivals? Even see the occasional Hollywood star on stage?

Only in San Francisco, at the Castro Theatre. In this era of the multiplex and high-def/3D TVs, the theatre is wildly, adorably anachronistic. It's a reminder of a day gone by, and yet, it somehow feels current, at times even cutting edge. In the parlance of Hollywood, the Castro simply has that "it" factor--something unique, not entirely definable, and enduring. Perhaps the best thing about this theatre is that I often feel a strong sense of community with the audience. We applaud together, we hiss the villains together. In contrast, the only hissing in a multiplex occurs when someone won't stop talking on his cell phone.

I've loved movie palaces since I was a boy. I used to hop on a bus at Friendly Shopping Center in Greensboro, ride it downtown, and go to a matinee at the beautiful Carolina Theatre--which still shows films as well as hosts live performances. My parents didn't know I was doing this, of course. So maybe a trip to the Castro puts me back in touch with that feeling of boyhood adventure, independence, and mischief.

But really, going to the Castro is about seeing great movies on a wide screen instead of a TV; spotting things you never noticed before in those movies; and experiencing the film as the director intended. At the Castro, I've had the extreme pleasure of watching favorite movies I'd only seen on television: Hitchcock's The Birds and North by Northwest; The Wizard of Oz (that tornado is awesome on a large screen), and many others. And I've seen some excellent independent films that rarely played beyond the festival circuit, such as Loggerheads, a touching movie set in North Carolina.

The Castro is gearing up now for Noir City, the annual series of postwar, mostly black-and-white crime dramas that this year will include one of my favorites, Laura. At the end of January, locals will stand in long lines, often in the cold rain, for the opportunity to watch movies made over 60 years ago that they could easily watch in the comfort of their homes. Are these people crazy? Maybe a little. But more to the point, they are San Franciscans, and I consider myself fortunate to be among them.

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  1. Very few people are San Franciscans. Most everybody escaped from someplace else. ;-)

  2. That brings back some memories... The Empire in West Portal, the Parkside on Taraval, the Balboa, not to mention all of the big movie houses on the north side of Market Steet (the Fox, the Warfield, the Orpheum, Golden Gate). That was a long time ago

  3. James,
    I only was in San Francisco once in my lifetime. It was a short weekend visit in the late 70's. I was immediately impressed by the "it" factor of The Castro and San Francisco itself. This was one place that lived up to its hype. Most other places I've visited (not that much really), I usually had the "Is that all there is feeling" once I put my feet on the ground. Not so with San Francisco. I regret that I have never made the time for a return visit.

  4. Oh Jim, you have touched upon so many of my memories, Friendly Center, The Carolina Theater and The Castro. And here I sit in Boston. What a small world it is. How happy I am to have found your blog.

  5. There was a place in my hometown that's still open. A massive cinema, compared to the tiny things they build nowdays, with plush seating and a screen that curves out and away giving the movies shown a further sense of depth. They also show old movies and I think the equivalent ticket in US currency is 80c at the current exchange rate!