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.


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