Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Roll Up for the Mystery Tour: A Visit to the Oakland Paramount Theatre

Have you ever wanted to tour a historic movie palace? One of those elaborately ornate monuments to cinema constructed during the Golden Age of American movie theaters, back in the ‘20s and ‘30s? Well, I have, and luckily for me I live not very far from one of the most spectacular of them all, the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, CA, a theater that hosts public tours twice monthly.

Considered an Art Deco masterpiece, the Paramount was at one time the largest theater on the West Coast. It’s opening night, in December 1931, featured Kay Francis, star of the theater’s first screening, The False Madonna, along with the film’s supporting cast, and scores of other luminaries, including the Governor of California. But this first blush of glory was short-lived; the theater closed its doors for the first time in June 1932, unable to meet its weekly $27,000+ in operating costs. The Paramount re-opened under new management within a year, but no longer featured stage shows, an orchestra, or light fixtures with full sets of working bulbs. Over the next several decades the Paramount weathered periods of decline and resurgence, but today stands resurrected, the anchor of Oakland’s thriving Uptown neighborhood.

Because we wanted to find out more about the Paramount’s nearly 90-years of history and get a behind-the-scenes look at this fabulously restored showplace, a friend and I attended a tour in July, a 2-hour excursion that led us into the past, through just about every nook and cranny, filled our heads with numberless historical and architectural facts, and ended with a spectacular light show in the theater’s cavernous auditorium.

Top of page: view of grand lobby from balcony portal; Above: view of mezzanine staircase from grand lobby

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Celebrating Bastille Day with French Noir

Today is Bastille Day, the National Day of France – la fête nationale française. If you have a bit of French blood in your veins and are a Francophile, like me, that’s reason enough to celebrate. But how to celebrate? With a baguette and a glass of vin rouge? Listening to Edith Piaf (or Madeleine Peyroux) sing La vie en rose? Or are you, a die-hard film buff, more inclined to sit down with a classic film? Perhaps a French film, a Renoir, Duvivier, Melville or Truffaut. Or maybe a glittery Golden Age Hollywood movie set in France, like Midnight (1939), An American in Paris (1950) or Charade (1963).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A remembrance of things past: "MY AMADEUS STORY"

As the San Francisco Symphony prepares to screen the Oscar-winning film, I reminisce... 


Amadeus first entered my consciousness back in the early ‘80s, when I worked in the promotion dept. of Fantasy Records (Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, Creedence Clearwater Revival) in Berkeley, which was owned by Saul Zaentz and his partners, along with several jazz and R&B record labels. A few years earlier, before my time with the company, in the 1970s, Saul had begun producing movies under Fantasy Films, the film division of the parent company. His second feature, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), had gone on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and the first of Jack Nicholson’s three Oscars. Saul would continue to make films, and the film division would soon change its name to the Saul Zaentz Company.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Beautiful Face, Beautiful Mind: "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story"

As a 5-year-old she completely took apart and put back together her toy music box. She was a child who was very close to her father, a bank director with an interest in inventing. Regularly during their walks through Vienna, where she was born in 1914, he would explain to her the inner workings of mechanical devices they encountered on these outings. She was captivated. And she became interested in inventing things herself; it came easily to her, she said.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Small Town Theaters: A Gem in the Wine Country, the Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma, California

Opened in 1934, the Sebastiani Screens Current and Classic Films

On a recent trek into the wine country, we took some time to cruise Sonoma Plaza in the town's center, an area now lined with restaurants, specialty shops and food and wine sellers. Amazingly, in the midst of all this modern-era commerce, stands the Sebastiani Theatre, in operation since 1934, still showing movies, and not only current releases, but also classics.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Exploring the Dark Side of the American Dream

Richard Barthelmess in William Wellman's Heroes for Sale (1933)

As the U.S. continues its steep and steady descent into another dark night of the soul, distressed Americans cope as best they can. Some rant and debate on social media, some organize or take to the streets, others seek solace in their diversion or hobby of choice. For the film lover, watching movies can provide relief but also, on occasion, a sobering history lesson.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Another Noir Year Begins

San Francisco's Noir City is the first of several film noir festivals scheduled around the U.S. for 2018

The Film Noir Foundation's 16th annual Noir City festival in San Francisco ran from January 26 through February 4, kicking off a series of nationwide noir festivals, as it traditionally does, for the year.