When my dad was growing up, going to the movies was a pretty big experience. It seems to me that they went in on Saturday at dawn and came out after midnight, having seen the week’s news plus cartoons plus eight or nine features. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I think that what’s true is that it was a pretty magical part of the world, not to mention a huge source of cultural information. Even when I was growing up, going to the movies was something special. VCRs were just sneaking into our lives, but a movie wouldn’t show up in a video store until about six months after its theater release, which is a lifetime in kid years, and, anyway, the gap in quality was enormous. Nowadays it feels almost silly to see a movie in a theater. Everything you want can be pirated off the internet while it’s still in the theater and huge HDTVs make even the big screen redundant. But what about the magic?
Well, let me tell you about San Francisco’s Castro Theater! It’s celebrating its 90th birthday this year, which means that it literally is one of those theaters my dad used to go to. It went through a period of corporate ownership, but now it’s back in the hands of the family that owned it at the start. It’s huge, ornately decorated, with a balcony and a capacity of something like 1,400. There’s an organ that’s played as introductory music, the space that other theaters are now filling with ads. And, now that I’ve at least got you believing that this is a beautiful old theater, let me tell you what’s playing just in the few days following this random day that I happen to be writing to you. Tonight will be a sing-along screening of Grease. Tomorrow there will be a “BFF triple feature”: Clueless, Mean Girls and Heavenly Creatures. The following day it’s an indie animated film festival called Scary Cow. The day after it’s a Muppet Movie/Phantom of the Paradise double feature. Lest you think this is a kids place, next week, which I will skip detailing, seems to have more of a narcotic theme. This is a magnificent, historic relic that’s being programmed with eccentricity and a sense of humor. This is the place to come re-find the magic of going to the movies.