September 13, 2011

The Unexpected Magnificence of Castro Theatre

The instantly recognizable Castro sign, immortalized most recently in Gus Van Sant's 2008 Milk. If certain films serve as Cliffs Notes to a city, Milk is to San Francisco what Woody Allen did for New York in an earlier phase in his career.

Often photographed from this angle, it's easy to assume that it is a welcome sign for the district. But it's actually the sign for the awe-inspiring Castro Theatre. 

The ticket booth and entrance. Just seeing this space gives you a good idea of the theatre's meticulous design and well-maintained facade.

The programming is impeccable -- a mix of high and low, Old Hollywood and queer cinema, sincerity and camp, with some live performances. That the words Super 8 are visible in the first photo, while a poster for The Bad Seed appears on the right hand of this photo tells you everything you need to know.

They were in between showings when I visited, but a nice man invited us to have a look inside. If you ever get the chance to step inside, do not hesitate! It is one of the most beautiful movie theatres you will ever see.

Built in 1922, the theatre is one of the precious few built in that era that are still in use. The paint on the ceiling has become peeled and mottled, giving it an oddly leather-like look.

The whole effect is so awesomely ornate, I innocently asked the manager if this used to be a church. It wasn't.

Every single aspect of the theatre, from the lights to the Art Deco bathroom to the seats was beautifully detailed and spoke of the theatre's rich history.

A shot looking up at one of the two organ grills on either side of the screen.

A Wurlitzer organ, supposedly played before evening screenings.

Films from Warner Bros., set to be returned. Long live film!

A poster commemorating the audition process of the aforementioned Milk, with autographs covering practically every inch.

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