Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nostalgia on the Ides of March

It's been a while since I have posted. A LONG while. I won't make excuses; it was just one of those things. I have been meaning to get back into blogging and I finally have some impetus.

I relived a goodly chunk of my youth today with a heaping side helping of local culture.

Today, the Eureka Theater held a festival titled  "Spock Day", a tribute to Leonard Nimoy who recently passed away.
OK, I am deeply aware that this post rats me out as a nerd. I am, but not the way most people think of nerds. I don't do cosplay. I don't go to Comicons. Even with regards to Star Trek, I am a fan, not a fanatic. I am deeply familiar with the original series as I watched it religiously in reruns with my brother on our local independent TV station. (M-F at 6 PM for YEARS). Bro and I knew all the episodes, had seen them multiple times, and got to the point where we could look at the opening 10-20 seconds and could tell which episode it was. That was a game for us: who could figure it out first. It was a large part of my youth. I even remember as one of my earliest memories of television (and I am dating myself here) seeing an episode of Star Trek NOT IN RERUNS--yes, on regular, network,  non-syndicated TV. It was "The Galileo Seven" and it scared the SHIT out of me. My mom banned me from watching it any more because I had nightmares of a big hairy monster pounding on the outside of the shuttle craft with a rock. I was completely freaked out by it. For years, I even referred to that as the "Hairy Monster Episode".

Beyond that, though, I watched only a little of the following spinoff series. Some NextGen (OK, anything to do with the Borg was pretty damned cool. They were great villainous aliens.), Some Voyager and a smidgen of Deep Space Nine (enough to be vaguely familiar with the plot line.) I didn't watch all of the episodes, didn't watch regularly and tapered off after a while. Same with the movies. I went to see the early movies, and gradually lost interest. It's not that the continuations were bad; I had just moved on. I don't sneer at these things: the True Trekkies, the cosplay, the Comicons. It's just not my thing. My obsessions (and I do have them) lie elsewhere.

However, when the Eureka Theater announced today's program, I was intrigued. I was supposed to go to the movies with one of my Besties--we were going to go see "Despicable Me". More on that later. I was leery of spending a goodly chunk of Sunday in a movie theater. The festival went from 3-9:30. Yikes. But I decided to go for it. The program included two Spock-centric episodes of TOS, "The Wrath of Khan" and the 2009 J.J. Abrams "Star Trek" reboot, which I had never seen. I avoided it because it might tamper with my childhood memories. I am still rather irked that the remastered TOS series has now got souped up special effects. I LIKE the crappy old effects because that's what was seen originally. It's like colorizing films. I am a firm believer in leaving things as they are in their original context. That's a large part of why I avoided the reboot--tampering with beloved childhood stories. I was pleasantly surprised.

The reboot actually incorporated the changes in the plot quite successfully. It was a believable story that allowed for the differences and made them plausible.(I refer to this as the Misery Syndrome which references Steven King's novel, but that is another story for another time.). All this AND I got the distinction of being able to see the newer version for the first time on a big screen almost 7 years after it was released which was pretty cool in and of itself. Add that two TOS episodes, also on the big screen which ROCKED. Lastly, seeing "The Wrath of Khan" once more really took me back. It is still a really great movie with all the best elements of Star Trek: winks of trivia for the fans and a stand-alone sci-fi action film that kicks ass even for non-fans.

I was allowed for a brief window to be a kid again. A teenager again. And it was so COOL. It evoked so many sweet, happy memories of time spent with friends. Not just time based on Star Trek, but time at the movies. I grew up in the SF Bay Area and I went to MANY movie marathons back in my day, some held at theaters that no longer exist. I'm talking 2, 3 or even more films at once. I got to see things in a context not often seen today in this age of streaming movies and dvd's. I frequented places like the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, which is still extant albeit in what seems to be a truncated form of itself (no more silent film Wednesdays?? What a waste of the fabulous Wurlitzer organ!), the Sash Mill Theater in Santa Cruz, the UC Theater in Berkeley (which I am TICKLED TO DEATH to read is supposed to be resurrected later this year!), the Alameda Theater in San Jose (which now shows Bollywood films--not a bad thing at all, but I miss the old repertoire.). I occasionally also went to the Castro Theater in SF (hard  since I didn't have a car and was unfamiliar at the time with SF public transportation outside of the BART system.) which still has the original format of older movies, silents, classics and indie films.

These places gave me the chance to see these films on the big screen and really have a total film experience. To see a huge picture of Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn on a large screen can be amazing. I got to see a revival of "Lawrence of Arabia" (my first viewing of it, no less)on widescreen with a restored print and great sound. (AMAZING soundtrack.) I saw the Lon Chaney, Sr. version of "Phantom of the Opera" at the Paramount Theater in Oakland in all it's original Art Deco movie palace glory as others might have seen that film many decades before. The Stanford theater did a screenings of the original "Nosferatu" with a gorgeous print from a German film archive that included the original colored film stock--yellow for daytime, pink for interiors and blue depicting nighttime scenes, and a wonderful nitrate print of Powell and Pressburger's "The Red Shoes". I saw a screening of Buster Keaton's "The Cameraman" with a jazz orchestra playing the score (Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks--great jazz ensemble!)--a film which included the hilarious scene where Keaton loses his swimsuit in a public pool:

I could go on and on.  These are things you can't see easily anymore and that's unfortunate. What is encouraging for me personally are the two local theaters that are trying to restore this format in some incarnation. The Eureka Theater is one and the other is the Arcata Theater Lounge, an old single screen theater that reinvented itself a few years back to be half theater and half pub. They serve food there and have a full bar. They show old movies, have live music or comedy shows, screen local films and have theme nights like there fabulous Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza night which they put on almost every Wednesday. (It occasionally gets co-opted for live shows.) I saw a screening of  "The Wizard of Oz" at ATL as the locals call it, and it was wonderful! Did you know that the Scarecrow's makeup is so detailed that his face looks like it is made of burlap? I never did until I saw that film on the big screen, even though I had seen it more times than I can count. I am a regular viewer at the recurring showings of "The Big Lebowski" where the drink special is a White Russian.(the double White Russians come in pints. Yes, really.) I saw "Jaws" there while having their movie dinner special of fish and chips with a Lost Coast Brewing Great White ale. Fun stuff.

The Eureka Theater is working towards the same type of thing. The folks there are in the process of restoring the theater. They have a ways to go, but they have made great strides. To that end, the have festivals like today's. What's more, it's not just sit for hours with a popcorn and a coke. They have a bar and serve specialty cocktails ( or Spock-tails, as today's were called) whipped up to match the theme of the movie. I saw "Blazing Saddles" there just a couple of weeks ago. It was great.

I realize that this kind of format represents a financial risk. These are still businesses and enough people have to attend to make it economically feasible to sustain the format. At ATL people ARE attending. Wednesday Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza night is usually pretty packed. When my husband and I go, we get our pub dinner (hot dogs or burgers or specialty salads) and a couple of drinks and spend an evening with a roomful of like-minded people all getting off on a live version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (the movies tend towards the piss-poor. The worse the movie, the better the evening for the sheer snark of it all, IMO.).

 ATL has been going with this format for a few years now and I am thrilled to see the Eureka Theater heading in the same direction. They have added their spin on it with the beer wine and cocktails and they had a gal there tonight from a place called Royal Bavarian Brezen -Pretzels who was selling KILLER homemade pretzels and pastries. This kind of additions brings a unique spin to the theater experience. Even bigger, this calender of events means there are even more chances for other folks and YOUNGER folks to see these films on the big screen. The two gals who sat behind my bestie and I tonight had never seen "The Wrath of Khan" before. Their first viewing was on the big screen and from their reactions and comments, they LOVED it. These people are getting a chance to view films in a way that I did when I was younger and I am glad for them. I loved these outings as a kid and now others can share this and make their own memories. Add to this, it's not an evening of same old, same old. I am pleased beyond measure that I get to relive my youth like I did today and revel in my nostalgia while making new memories. Life is sweet!