Posts Tagged ‘Castro Theatre’

Adventures in Babysitting 30th Anniversary Screening

My friend Marco and I attended a 30th anniversary screening of Adventures in Babysitting (1987) at the Castro Theatre yesterday. Keith Coogan (Brad) was the special guest, and he did a Q&A after the film. He and his wife Pinky had a table set up in the lobby where they met fans, posed for photos, and sold some merchandise.

Marco and I arrived at the Castro early, so we had some pizza slices and then wandered around the neighborhood. One of the art galleries had a portrait of Gilbert Baker in their window. He designed the Gay Pride rainbow flag, and he sadly passed away earlier this week. We bumped into Keith Coogan and Pinky outside a taqueria, so we introduced ourselves and chatted for a few minutes. They recognized my twitter name and were good-humored and friendly.

Once we got in the cinema, I enjoyed watching Coogan and his wife interact with fans before the film. Marco got popcorn and relaxed in our seats. There weren’t a lot of us at the screening, but the line at the Coogans’ table was steady and everybody was having a good time. There was a good spread of ages, too, although I didn’t see any kids.

During the Q&A, Coogan talked about the audition and rehearsal process, his lasting friendship with Anthony Rapp, filming in Toronto, the film’s journey from script to screen, cast parties, real life crushes, the AIB remake, and his current projects. He told us an early version of the AIB script had Sarah swap her toy chest for one carrying plutonium, which evolved into the backpack with the Playboy magazine.

Anthony Rapp tweeted earlier this week about the screening:

I got to meet Rapp in 2006 when he was on tour for his memoir Without You, at both The Booksmith and at his Swedish-American Hall performance.

Adventures in Babysitting holds up well after 30 years. This was my first time seeing it in the cinema. Marco and I reminisced on the drive home about what we were doing in 1987, trying to remember the movies we saw on the big screen that year. It was a good year for films, and in these uncertain times, it’s a good year to escape back into, for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.

Thank you, SF Sketchfest, the Castro Theatre, and Keith Coogan! You’re lovely, Pinky!

When We Rise: The San Francisco Premiere

As a volunteer with GLAAD, I received an invitation to attend the February 20th premiere of When We Rise, Dustin Lance Black’s new ABC miniseries chronicling the LGBTQ rights movement, focusing on the lives of several San Francisco activists. I invited a friend as my plus one and submitted my RSVP, although I wasn’t sure about an 8 hour marathon or the “first come first served” seating. Then my friend got sick, and the day arrived with heavy rain and 60 mph winds expected by the evening. Still, I braved the elements alone and headed to the Castro Theatre.

When I arrived in the Castro at 1pm, the doors to the cinema had just opened. At first I got into the wrong line, where the production folks were checking in. One of the young actors turned around and was very helpful pointing out the right line. I wasn’t sure any of the cast would be there, so this was a happy omen. My line went down the block and just around the corner of 18th Street. After I got there, many more folks arrived behind me. A friendly young woman with an ABC7 cap came by to explain what to expect. She assured us we’d all get in at that point in the line. We’d be checked in and given wristbands, which would allow us to come and go during the breaks. Everyone attending would also get a ticket for a free drink and a bag of popcorn.

I chatted with the guys around me, and there was some confusion about how much of the miniseries would be shown. Dustin Lance Black tweeted that we’d watch the whole 8 hours, but the numbering of the episodes is confusing. IMDb says there are 8 episodes, Wikipedia says 7 parts, but it’s being shown on 4 nights. Anyway, the ABC7 woman assured us we’d be seeing the entire miniseries, in four segments, with two 15 minute breaks and one 2 hour dinner break. The program would start at 2pm and end around 11:30pm.

There were still plenty of seats on the ground floor when I got in, but I headed to the balcony for a front row seat above. You don’t get a crick in your neck looking up at the screen there. Since we’d be spending a lot of time together, I introduced myself to several of the folks in my section. The young guy behind me worked as an extra in several scenes, so it was fun to hear to his stories.

Dustin Lance Black went up onstage with a microphone to introduce the first segment, saying that many of the activists depicted in the series were in the audience. He also pointed out that without the commercials, each segment was shorter than two hours. Zeke Stokes of GLAAD also spoke, and later in the day Roma Guy, Cecilia Chung, and Cleve Jones got up onstage to address the audience. We also had a song performed by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

During the screening, the audience cheered a lot—when familiar names were said, when well-known landmarks were shown, and when serious truths were spoken. The SF Chronicle says we booed the villains, but I only heard hissing.

Because When We Rise doesn’t air on ABC until next week (February 27th, then March 1st-3rd), I can’t share much about it yet. I never give plot spoilers anyway. I will say that the lesser-known young actors are terrific. These include Jonathan Majors, Adam DiMarco, Rafael De La Fuente, Fiona Dourif, Nick Eversman, Kevin McHale (familiar from Glee) and so many more. Austin P. McKenzie as the younger Cleve Jones had my heart from his first moments onscreen. I also really connected emotionally with Emily Skeggs as the younger Roma Guy. This kind of connection is crucial if the viewer is going to stick with these characters through a miniseries. I can’t count the number of shows I’ve seen where I appreciated the quality but didn’t care enough about any one character to keep watching.

During our first break, I met Emily Skeggs. It’s great to watch someone onscreen for the first time (whether it’s their first time or just yours), and then be able to tell them right away how much their performance has touched you. This is one of the reasons Twitter is so addictive, but doing it in person is so much more satisfying. I’m certain that many more viewers like me will be looking up these young actors and following them on social media. I was already doing that at the dinner break.

A tip for those folks looking at the cast lists online—at this point, the IMDb page is incomplete. Kevin McHale and Rafael de la Fuente, for example, are not yet listed. Wikipedia includes them and several other actors not listed on IMDb, but it’s not complete either.

At the end of the screening, all the folks involved with the production went up onstage. I left the balcony and came down to the front in time to video a bit of the song Oh Happy Day, and then it was done. I said hello to Dustin Lance Black and Tom Daley, then met Austin P. McKenzie and Kevin McHale (such a charmer, that one!).

I came out of the theatre to find that the rain had stopped, but the wind was blowing hard. I rode the bus home with a couple of fellow viewers, and we talked about our impressions of the miniseries. I got home tired but still wired from the experience.

I’m looking forward to watching When We Rise again next week. It will be interesting to compare the difference seeing it on a small screen, without an audience, and with the ad breaks.

This miniseries will hopefully inspire viewers to read more about the activists and the history of this struggle for equality, understanding, and respect. There’s so much more to learn. The book When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones is a good place to start.

Thank you to Dustin Lance Black and everyone involved for making this miniseries. Thank you to GLAAD and ABC for the privilege of attending this amazing event.

http://www.sfchronicle.com/tv/article/LGBT-community-sees-its-story-told-in-When-We-10948675.php

https://ripplenews.com/watch/san-francisco/when-we-rise-shows-emotional-powerful-san-francisco-lgbt-movement-1s7r0o5h (This is a video of the premiere from local ABC7 news.)

http://www.sfchronicle.com/tv/article/When-We-Rise-a-story-of-past-struggle-and-a-10954771.php

Tom Daley’s video of the premiere:

Happy Birthday, Castro Theatre!

Folks have been asking where I’ve disappeared to recently.  I’ve been at the Castro Theatre, which is celebrating it’s 90th birthday today.  It opened on June 22, 1922.  This week, it’s one of four Bay Area cinemas playing host to the 36th annual Frameline Film Festival.  I’m a volunteer captain for the festival, organizing ushers and ticket takers and generally making a nuisance of myself.  As soon as it’s over and I’ve recovered, perhaps I’ll have the energy to write a full report.  In the meantime, here’s to one of my favorite movie palaces.  Happy birthday!

Castro Theatre, San Francisco

Castro Theatre, San Francisco

 

Frameline Film Festival 2011

San Francisco’s Frameline35 Film Festival by the numbers: 35 years of history and eleven days of over two hundred LGBT feature films, documentaries and shorts shown at four different cinemas.  A dedicated staff plus over four hundred volunteers make it all happen.  This was my third year helping out.  It was my first time as a volunteer captain, which had me supervising ushers at the historic Castro Theatre.  I wasn’t sure I had the skills or the stamina to do the job well, but I survived all my shifts and made an appearance at the closing night party.  I even managed to see a couple of films!

Castro Theatre, San Francisco

Castro Theatre, San Francisco

It all began with the volunteer orientation meeting.   These meetings are really entertaining.  The first time you volunteer, all the information and staff are new to you.  After that, it’s interesting to see the changes from year to year.  What will the volunteer tee shirts look like this time?   Who’s doing the same job this year, and who is new?  Which volunteers will you see from before?  I always look forward to the new crop of interns, especially the ones who come from overseas.  The volunteer coordinator is Lares Feliciano, and she’s a lively, outgoing person who always makes us feel appreciated and important.  She leads the meetings, and her tutorial on composting is one of my favorite parts of the evening.

Volunteers at the guest services table

Volunteers John and David at the guest services table

My first year at Frameline, I tried a number of different volunteer positions.  The best fit for me was staffing the guest services table at the Castro Theatre.  The Castro is the largest of the four cinemas where the film festival takes place, with about 1400 seats.  It’s a real movie palace, built in 1922.  I love just being in the building.   At guest services, the hospitality team takes care of the visiting filmmakers and representatives from other film festivals.   It’s where guest welcome packets are picked up, questions are answered, and tickets to the screenings are handed out.   This year the team was led by Alexis Whitham, with interns Lianne and Clemence, who came over from France.  I guess I like hospitality the best because I get to meet the filmmakers.  This year, I was particularly charmed by the two young Brits who made the short We Once Were Tide.

We Once Were Tide filmmakers

We Once Were Tide writer Matthew Kyne Baskott and director Jason Bradbury

It was also a thrill to meet Witi Ihimaera, author of The Whale Rider and a producer of the film made from his novel.  He was there with the producer and director of Kawa, a movie based on his recent book Nights in the Gardens of Spain, about a married Maori man with two children who comes out to his family.  This was one of the films I got to see, and it was beautiful and very moving.  I especially liked the two young actors playing Kawa’s children.  One of the other actors, Dean O’Gorman, is playing a dwarf in the long-awaited movie The Hobbit.   Before and after the screening, Ihimaera and his filmmakers went onstage to sing in Maori and talk about their film.

JB Ghuman Jr and Des Buford discuss Spork

J.B. Ghuman Jr. and Des Buford discuss Spork

I also saw Spork, a film about a girl-identified 13 year old with an intersex condition.  She lives with her brother Spit in a trailer park and copes with the horrors of middle school.  The young cast was brilliant, and the script was funny and irreverent.  The writer and director J.B. Ghuman Jr. answered questions during the Q & A, and he was as delightful as his movie.

Volunteer Captains Kim and Coyote with House Manager Ed

Volunteer Captains Kim and Coyote with House Manager Ed

Along with my shifts at the guest services table, this year I tackled the job of volunteer captain.  After shadowing an experienced captain who showed me the ropes, I was put in charge of the volunteer ushers for six different screenings.   Wearing a very attractive radio headset that did wonders for my cowlick, I communicated with the house manager and other staff members.  Once my volunteers arrived, I assigned them duties and gave a brief orientation.  Then I supervised them before and after the screenings as they took tickets, did line control, passed out ballots, and cleaned the theatre.   The most important lesson I learned is that things that are supposed to happen often don’t,  and things that aren’t supposed to happen often do.  As a volunteer captain, you just have to stay calm and roll with the punches.  I mostly rolled, and I certainly learned a lot.  Will I do it again next year?  I don’t know, I guess if they let me!

Closing Night Party at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Closing Night Party at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

The closing night party was held at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, a cool modern structure with all sorts of interesting architectural details.  The special Gertrude Stein exhibit was open for the party.  I really enjoyed the old photographs and the portrait of Stein made from “pixels” that were colored spools of thread.  Another highlight of the party was chatting with Lisa Haas, who starred in the film Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same.  Tomorrow is the Volunteer Appreciation Party, which promises to be relaxing and fun.  I’m already missing the festival, so it will be nice to see everybody one more time.

A journalist for the Castro Courier, a small neighborhood monthly newspaper, interviewed me for an article about volunteering for the festival.  It’s coming out in a few days, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.  (Here’s the link!)

So, that was Frameline35, or at least my little corner of it.  I really enjoyed myself this year, and I learned so much from the staff, the interns, and the volunteers I encountered.   Now I just need to recover, and then I’ll start counting the days until next year!

My thanks to:

Frameline Staff:  Lares, Alexis, K.C., Des, Sarah, Daniel, Jenn, Frances, Alex, Jennifer, Trista, Richard, and Texas.

Interns: Clemence, Lianne, Sam and Nissa.

Volunteer Captains: Holly, Cheri, Kim, Coyote, Andy and Edric.

House Managers: Gyllian, Molly, Ed, Jill, and JC.

Volunteers:  The 2 Johns, Penni, David, Lambert, Joseph, Johan, Katie, Lori, Ralph, Scott, Deb, Maeve, Siofra, Jesse, Mandy, Dan, Donna, Paul, Ellen, Christine, Catherine, Renee, Carolyn, Nikki, Ezgi, Nan, Richard, Guy, LauraLee, Theo, Leigh, Madison, Heather, Roberto, Kurt, Noam, Kent, Derik, Kathleen, William, Steve, Mark, Allen, Ed, Chad, Drew, and Michael.

Langdon, Capra & Brownlow

A great debate rages over the sad career of Harry Langdon.  He was a silent film comedian who became very popular under the direction of Frank Capra in a trio of films, then split with Capra and sank into obscurity.  Was Capra responsible for his success?  Did Langdon get overconfident and ruin his own career?  Sometimes you want to ponder what really happened and what might have been, and sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy a funny movie.  Saturday at the Castro Theatre, I just wanted to watch The Strong Man and have a laugh. 

Harry Langdon

Harry Langdon

The Strong Man was the second film made by Capra and Langdon, and it’s my favorite of the three.  The San Francisco Silent Film Festival hasn’t shown enough comedies in the last couple of years, so I see whichever ones they schedule and keep asking for more.  The real reason I chose to see this film, though, was because silent film historian Kevin Brownlow was giving the introduction, as well as accepting an award from the Festival.  Kevin Brownlow wrote The Parade’s Gone By, which is one of the best histories of the silent era.  He met so many of those involved in making the films, before they passed away, and in the course of recording history he became part of it, too.  He was largely responsible for the restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoléon, which was shown in 1980-81 to such acclaim that even I heard about it, and I was a clueless teenager back then. 

Kevin Brownlow is now in his early seventies, and he’s soft-spoken and charming.  His introduction to The Strong Man was excellent, of course, and the film was pristine.  It was made from the original negative, and only the very first scene had a few of the stains and scratches one sees on old films.  The rest of the print was sharp and clear, and the contrast was just the way I’d set it, if I had the remote control in my hand.   The grey shading was wonderfully subtle, especially on Langdon’s face, remarkable when you consider the thick makeup he wore. 

I have two favorite scenes in The Strong Man.  The first is when little Langdon has to carry a tall woman up a big staircase.  She has pretended to faint, and she’s so clearly bigger than Langdon, that every step up—and slide back down—is genuinely fraught with peril.   My other favorite is when Langdon is forced onstage in front of a rowdy and potentially violent audience in place of the drunk strong man, where it’s obviously a case of entertain or die.  He blinks shyly out at the crowd and tries a little soft-shoe.  He tries to pick up a weight.  A little dance.  Another weight.  Another shuffle.  The scene builds from this into a chaotic climax that literally brings down the walls.  When you watch these scenes, it becomes pretty obvious that both Langdon and Capra knew what they were doing.

After the movie, I went up to the theatre mezzanine to meet Kevin Brownlow and get an autograph.  It was such thrill!  I also met William A. Wellman Jr, whose father directed Wings, the first film to win a Best Picture Oscar.  He autographed a Wings poster for me, and I added his books about his father to my reading list.  I also discovered that a new biography of Richard Barthelmess was published last year.  He’s one of my favorite silent era actors.  Naturally, I added that book to my wish list, too. 

I wanted to go to a couple of the films being shown on Sunday, the final day of the festival, but I just couldn’t manage it.  I will just have to wait for the announcement of when the winter film festival will be held. Last year it was held right before Christmas, which was a really bad date for most people.  I’m hoping for a better choice this winter.  And more comedies!

Update: Here’s a great blog post about the rest of the festival.

Metropolis Restored

Soon after Fritz Lang’s Metropolis premiered in Berlin in 1927, the studio that produced it came under new management.  The 2 ½ hour film was recut, both by the Germans and again by US distributor Paramount, and the excised footage was presumed lost, although small bits would turn up every now and again to torment film lovers.  Then Fernando Peña, a young cinephile in Argentina, heard a story from his mentor about a 2 ½ hour version of Metropolis in a private collection.  This poor fellow spent twenty years battling bureaucratic red tape trying to get access to this can of film. Finally, the collection arrived at the Museo del Cine, and in 2008, Peña’s ex-wife became the museum director.  It took Peña and Félix-Didier ten minutes to find the can and determine that it was the original uncut version, in a badly scratched 16mm format, brought to Argentina before the film was cut down.  It then took them months to convince the world that they had the real thing.  Now the film has been restored and recut, and I was in the audience for one of the very first screenings, at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival on July 16th.

Fernando Peña and Paula Félix-Didier were interviewed onstage before the film began.  They were both charming and funny, and this was going to be Peña’s first viewing of the restored film. When asked about his future plans, Peña said, “Well, it’s all downhill from here.” 

The Alloy Orchestra did a fantastic job accompanying the film.  It wasn’t just music but all sorts of incredible sound effects, particularly when the mob was destroying the machines.  (Kino will be releasing the DVD version with the Alloy Orchestra doing the alternate score.)

I was concerned that I wouldn’t recognize the newly restored footage, but it turned out that was not an issue.  The lost footage was badly scratched and in 16mm format, so those pieces had a narrow black border all around the edges, and the scratches were still very visible.  It became clear that very few entire scenes were cut, but instead it was reaction shots, alternative perspectives within the same scene, and quite a bit of two particular characters:  The Thin Man and Josaphat.  Also, a lot of the missing footage lengthened and heightened the escape of Freder, Maria, and the children from the flooding Worker City.

Brigitte Helm as the two very different Marias.

Brigitte Helm as the two very different Marias.

This was my first experience seeing Metropolis on a big screen, and it really became clear how iconic Brigitte Helm is as Maria.  Her face is still mesmerizing.  As the evil Machine Man version of Maria, she was brilliant and hedonistic and so different from the saintly Maria.  Helm said making Metropolis was “the worst experience I ever had.”  You can certainly see why, since she’s battered and tossed and soaked throughout the film.  The poor woman must have been covered in bruises.

The 1400 seat Castro Theatre was sold out for this screening, and it was a very enthusiastic audience.  I just wish we’d been treated with more consideration.  I love the SF Silent Film Festival, and I hate to criticize the staff, but we were left standing outside in line until 8:15pm, when the film was supposed to begin.  It was quite cold, which I know must be hard to believe for anyone who hasn’t endured a San Francisco summer.  The line was wrapped completely around the block, and nobody came out to offer any explanations for the delay.  When we finally got inside, the line to the women’s bathroom almost reached the screen along the side aisle.  The program didn’t begin until 9pm, the movie itself starting at 9:15.  The poor young guy I stood in line with was wearing only a tee shirt, and he must have missed his last midnight BART train to the East Bay.  Still, no explanation was offered, just a not-so-funny joke from the host onstage, who said the world had waited over seventy years to see the whole Metropolis, so what was another forty minutes.  Ask that kid stranded in San Francisco in a tee shirt what that forty minutes meant to him!

A Silent Scream

Today kicks off the 15th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theatre.  It will be my third summer attending, and it’s one of the highlights of my year. 

Like most people, I was ignorant of the power and beauty of silent film, until I had a very strange dream in 2006.  It was a chaotic tumble of images, and when I woke up, I had a name pounding in my head like a pulse.  It was insistent.  (I don’t usually hear voices in my head, I swear!)

Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks

The name was Louise Brooks.  I wasn’t certain I knew who she was, so I looked her up and discovered she was a silent film star who wrote a well-respected book called Lulu in Hollywood.  I went to my neighborhood used bookstore (remember those?) to find it, but they didn’t have a copy, so I bought Walter Kerr’s The Silent Clowns instead.  The Silent Clowns is a wonderful book about the great silent comedians, focusing on Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd.  I read it cover to cover.  Then I rented my first Buster Keaton film, The Cameraman, and that was it.  I was in love.  Not just with the comedian himself but the whole era of film.   It probably helped that I had a bout of flu soon after that allowed me to watch every single Buster Keaton silent film and short in the course of a week.  There’s nothing like total immersion.

Many people today have never seen a silent film.  Certainly there aren’t many who have seen one in a movie palace with live music.  Even those of us fortunate enough to attend the SF Silent Film Festival, which is the closest we get to the original experience, are missing an important element.  The original films were made on silver nitrate film stock.  Silver nitrate  film shimmers beautifully when projected, which is where the term “the silver screen” comes from.  Unfortunately, it is also highly inflammable, and it emits toxic fumes when it’s deteriorating.  It is so dangerous that it’s now actually illegal to project silver nitrate film without a special projector and viewing room.  Only those with access to film archives get to watch them anymore.  Oh, how I’d love to be one of those privileged few!  The films that have been restored and shown to the public have been transferred to safety film, which is just that–safe–but it’s not the same.   

There are so many misconceptions about silent films.  Nowadays people dismiss them as primitive, artless, badly acted, jerky and unwatchable.  While it’s easy to find films poorly produced on cheap DVDs that validate this dismissal, a little effort will reveal an artistry, freshness and level of creativity that makes one envious of early film audiences.  Some of the most beautiful films were created in 1928, just as sound was being introduced. 

 Theatres and studios were making the big transition to sound by 1929.  Ironically, the very first film audiences had no interest in sound, since it was the miracle of moving images that fascinated them.  Sound would have been developed for film much sooner, but early experiments were dropped until the novelty of moving images wore off.  Silent film audiences became extremely sophisticated and had no trouble lip reading.  They complained loudly, or laughed knowingly, when the actors mouthed lines that didn’t match the intertitles. 

Projection speed (the number of frames per second) is the reason so many silent films look wrong today when they’re not shown correctly.  When filmmaking was in it’s infancy, nothing was standard.  Different companies produced film stock that was different widths, with different numbers and shapes of sprockets.  The movie cameras were hand cranked, with different kinds of scenes cranked at different speeds for different effects.  The movie projectors didn’t have standard projection speeds.  Unscrupulous movie theatre owners would show films extra fast to allow more showings for greater profit.  ( They’d probably still be doing it today if they could get away with it!)  For years it was believed that all silent films should be projected at 28 frames per second, but that rule of thumb is too fast for some and too slow for others.  Cue sheets were sent out with films to the cinemas, and the musicians playing along  also provided sound effects.  Special scores were written for prestige films, as well as songs, and the movie palaces in big cities were accompanied by full orchestras.  Just imagine it!

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton

The comedies of Buster Keaton are a brilliant introduction to silent film.  Keaton’s work remains fresh and even postmodern, and he’s called the most silent of the comedians, because his comedy needs the fewest intertitles.  It’s probably a mistake to begin with the dramas, since they are the ones that come across as melodramatic to modern audiences.  After some exposure to them, you get used to the heightened emotion and gestures, and they are genuinely moving.  Here’s a list of some of my favorite silent films:

  • The General and The Navigator (okay, just about any Buster Keaton silent)
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc
  • Tol’able David
  • The Kid Brother (Harold Lloyd’s comic tribute to Tol’able David)
  • Metropolis (look for the newly restored version due out soon)
  • Diary of a Lost Girl
  • Sunrise
  • The Thief of Bagdad
  • Sparrows and Daddy Long Legs (for two sides of Mary Pickford)
  • The Crowd
  • Modern Times (Chaplin, made in the 30s, because he was stubborn)

Oh, and read Lulu in Hollywood.  Louise Brooks insists.

For more information, visit www.silentera.com (silent film history and criticism) and www.pandorasbox.com (Louise Brooks Society).

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