Wednesday, December 7


The big, Big, BIG Screen

Though I haven't seen paper copies yet, I was alerted by Jeff's Pre-Coded Messages site that the Castro Theatre has announced the first month or so of its Winter schedule. After a series of Christmas-themed films including the Nightmare Before Christmas (Dec. 12) and It's a Wonderful Life (Dec. 16), the Oscar-tie-in season launches with a week of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (Dec. 17-23) and soon after, a pair of Great Big Ape movies just perfect for their screen, Mighty Joe Young (Jan. 3) and the original King Kong (Jan. 4-11). How to resist the opportunity to compare Willis O'Brien's groundbreaking effects with the Weta Workshop's new versions? And I can't help but wonder if a series of Westerns featuring Rock Hudson might be around the corner too?

If the Castro's booking team is getting better at selecting tempting offerings, I have to say I'm getting increasingly frustrated with whoever writes the program notes. I suppose there's pressure to just get something out there so people can start marking up their calendars, so I can excuse typos and grammatical problems (I'm certainly not immune to them on this site!), but there's just no excuse for obnoxious arrogance. Under the notes for It's a Wonderful Life they claim in bright red letters that
The Castro is the ONLY theatre in San Francisco to view classic films the way they were meant to be seen!
I can see where they're coming from with such a boast, as there's nothing quite like a grand hall with a really big, tall screen, but it's really quite rude to other theatres around town to imply that they can't properly show classic films. Places like the Bridge and the Roxie were built in the era of "classic films" and are essentially architecturally unchanged. It's true they don't show older films so often, but whenever they have (last year I saw a Howard Hawks gem in each venue) it's always felt perfectly appropriate. As for the Balboa, which does show a lot of older films these days, I've grown increasingly pleased with their presentation quality. Last night I saw a gorgeous print of 1962's Harakiri there that, while perhaps framed not quite at the TohoScope ideal, was close enough to make the film feel like even more of a masterpiece than it seemed on DVD.

Still, now that Oakland's Paramount Theatre seems to have stopped running classic films (they've even shut down their poll about them) I can't possibly think of a better venue than the Castro to watch films like the 1933 King Kong or Busby Berkeley musicals. Yes, Busby Berkeley; a week of these eye-popping films will begin at the Castro the day after Christmas and last through the day before New Year's Eve (when they keep the musical theme with a showing of Saturday Night Fever followed by Moulin Rouge on New Year's Day.) The line-up includes rarities like Roman Scandals (Dec. 30), films he directed on his own like the Gang's All Here (Dec. 29), and tried-and-true classics like Footlight Parade (Dec. 28, also playing the Stanford Dec. 15-16) The most mandatory big screen double-bill being December 27th's pairing of the quintessential Depression musical Gold Diggers of 1933 and Gold Diggers of 1935 (the latter including the incredible "Lullaby of Broadway" sequence).

Oops. I just realized that Harakiri was a Shochiku picture, not Toho, and was photographed in GrandScope. Either way, it looked gorgeous up there on the Balboa screen. And I might add that all the UCLA Archive prints in the pre-code series looked great too. Maybe they weren't "meant to be" projected on a screen of that size/shape, but you'd have to be really finicky to be dissatisfied, I think.
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