Temples of Cinema

“I look up, I look down. I look up, I look down, there’s nothing to it. ”
-“Scottie” Ferguson on sketching

As a celebration of film on this Academy Awards weekend I went to one of the Temples of Cinema, the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, to see the film that has recently usurped Citizen Kane, as the greatest film of all time, on “Sight & Sound” list of the 50 greatest films of all time. That film would be Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
I couldn’t think of a better temple to see this masterpiece than in a theater that regularly accounts for 25% of classic film attendance in the United States. The Stanford was opened in 1925, at a time when movie theaters looked more like cathedrals than cinemas.

We were treated to live music on the mighty Wurlitzer as the organist’s hands moved across the rows of keys and his feet danced out the bass line on the pedals. He began to play the spider-like Bernard Herrmann Vertigo theme as the organ and organist slowly sunk from view and the curtains parted. It’s show time!

There are only a handful of these movie palaces left in the Bay Area. The Castro, the Grand Lake, and the Paramount. No other theater focuses more on classic films (films made between 1910 and 1970) than the Stanford, which was purchased by the Packard Foundation in 1987 and restored at an additional cost of $6 million. It reopened in 1989 with The Wizard of Oz.


The Paramount Theatre in Oakland featuring Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Note: The fourth grader I was with described Vertigo this way: “Driving and talking and driving and talking and trees!” Give it another 20 to 25 years and I’m sure he’ll come to love it.



Front Page & Quotes

I try to use every page of my Moleskine watercolor journal including the front two pages. These pages I reserve for quotes, poems, song lyrics, and thoughts that I come upon in the three months it generally takes to fill a journal. I also record the start and stop time of the journal. In the front page above I included my current staff portrait (my students voted for the bow tie over the straight tie), quotes (Dr. Seuss, Dr. King, Kurosawa, the sketcher), a portrait of Captain Joshua Slocum, my hand stamped Coloma miner’s name (Hawkeye) and a part of last years Sibley calendar (a male American kestrel that seems to be staring me down) . Rubber cement is a common tool for my front pages.

Sometimes I come upon a quote that I think deserves its own page. I write the quote and them come up with some sort of image that supports the words. Such was the case when I came upon a quotation while reading Robert MacFarlane’s new book: The Old Ways, A Journey on Foot. MacFarlane walks the ancient footpaths that crisscross England, Scotland and elsewhere.  He quotes the American historian and geographer John Brinckerhoff Jackson:

“For untold thousands of years we traveled on foot over rough paths, not simply as peddlers or commuter or tourists, but as men and woman for whom the path and road stood for some intense experience: freedom, new human relationships, a new awareness of the landscape. The road offered a journey into the unknown that could end up allowing us to discover who we were”


I first sketched out the lines of the path that leads to an inviting distant horizon. I then wrote in the quote, allowing the path to bisect the words. The landscape I created was really a landscape of the mind. I created a place I would have liked to travel through. A place that was a foil to the rainy and windy February day outside. I wanted the landscape to be inviting. The oak tree beckons me to ascend the hill, to see what landscape lies beyond. And maybe I would like to stop for a rest, pause for a meal and I could look over the crest of the rolling hill and maybe even sketch.There is a story in this spread and it is really up to the viewer to fill in the details.