Monday, June 14, 2010

Louise Brooks in the lobby

Last night, my wife and I went to see The Prisoner of Zenda (1936), starring Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. The film was being shown at the Rafael Theater in San Rafael. On hand were members of the Fairbanks' family, as well as a couple of Academy Award winning special effects guys who spoke about the making of the film. They even showed behind-the-scenes footage shot by Fairbanks Jr.

The theater is home to the California Film Institute. As I entered the theater lobby I was surprised to come across a large poster promoting membership in the Film Institute. The poster featured a big portrait of Louise Brooks. I was very tempted to steal it. But somehow, I resisted temptation. Instead, I had my picture taken next to it. I guess that is the next best thing. (For those seeking less of me and more of thee, a close-up of the poster is shown below. Sorry about the glare.)

The California Film Institute restored the Rafael Theatre, which is now officially called the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center. The art moderne Rafael was itself a 1938 renovation of the earlier, fire-damaged Orpheus Theatre. Today, it houses three screens specializing in independent and foreign films. 

According to its entry on the website, "The Rafael was built in 1920 as the first run movie house Orpheus. It was enlarged and a new screen was added in 1926. After a 1937 fire gutted the victorian style auditorium it was remodeled in the art deco style and reopened as a second run movie house. It even served time in the 1960s as a Disney Family Theater. It was heavily damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and was closed. In 1998 the majority of it was gutted with half of the building being demolished. It was rebuilt as a triplex in 1999 and shows art and foreign films."

Most all of Louise Brooks' American silent films were shown at the Orpheus in the Twenties. (Most of Brooks' sound films from the Thirties were shown at the El Camino, which was located nearby but today no longer stands.)  Among the Brooks' films screened there were The Street of Forgotten Men on September 12, 1925, Just Another Blonde on April 14-15, 1927, and Beggars of Life from November 19-21, 1928.
This is not the first time I've been to the Rafael. I met Peter Cowie, author of Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever, there in 2006 when the theater screened Pandora's Box and Cowie introduced the film and spoke about his book.

The Rafael is a charming theater. If you have chance, it is worth visiting.

1 comment:

  1. great post... some quick bits that come to mind...

    "membership has its privileges" - the old american express slogan, don't know if they are still using it

    and i like how you say you resisted temptation...
    great song by the velvet underground- "temptation inside your heart"-


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