Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Commoners Guide to the Stanford Theatre


If you’ve never visited Palo Alto, California you just have to!  It has a great mall, a pretty famous university, a world class hospital and the downtown is full of fabulous restaurants and shops. I counted 15 different ethnic restaurants in one block!  It’s great!  Oh, and there’s a world class, historical movie theatre there too!
I don’t know this for sure, but I think most of the people who live in Palo Alto are either students or professors at Stanford University, at least it seems that way.  For sure everyone here is super rich, and super smart, definitely NOT commoners in any way.
Recently my really good friend, Sue, who is the biggest movie buff I know and also really smart, suggested we go to the Stanford Theatre for the showing of two Buster Keaton silent films.  Silent films?  What do they DO in silent films I wonder.  Sounds pretty boring. 
Boy was I wrong.  We got to the theatre about 45 minutes before the first movie.  These films are so “great” they are only shown once.  This commoner is thinking “if it’s only being shown once it can’t be that great.”  So anyway, we get to the theatre with plenty of time to spare.  First of all, the theatre is the least expensive movie theatre I’ve visited all summer.  It was $7 to get in, and that was for an evening show!  I almost said, “No I’m not a senior or a student” but realized it was $7 for everyone!  I like that…usually I’m discriminated against because of my Commoner status…I’m not a student, child or old person so I get stuck paying full price.  Not here!  It was just $7.  I like this place already.
As we walk into the lobby you can’t help but look around in awe.  It’s a 2 story theatre, originally built in 1925, complete with upstairs seating.  Pretty rare in earthquake country!  There are old movie posters that must be 4 feet wide and 8 feet tall all over the place.  They’re hanging everywhere and I’m pretty sure they’re originals too, or at least that’s what I tell myself.  This commoner had fun checking them out!  Once I’d had my fill of old movie posters I sauntered over to the popcorn line with my $20 in hand.  Any movie theatre that charges just $7 to get in HAS to make their money in the concession stand, right?  Wrong again.  I got a HUGE tub of delicious popcorn (tasted like Grandma used to make) and a gigantic soda for $4.50.  Four fifty??  But I’m paying for the popcorn too, I thought to myself.  Then the nice lady handed me both of my treats and smiled.  I nearly passed out.  FOUR FIFTY?  I am totally coming back here.  Like most commoners, I love a good deal!
So we went into the theatre and sat in the 5th row on the aisle.  Like I said, Sue is a total movie buff and has her favorite seat!  Luckily the one next to her usual seat was vacant!  So we spent the next hour or so catching up on her recent European vacation, and the end of my summer school.  It was great. 
Fifteen minutes after the show was supposed to start some guy comes out on stage and starts talking.  As my eyebrows raised, I can’t help but think how odd this is.  This would not happen in a COMMON movie theatre.  In fact, they discourage any talking at all in the movie theatres where commoners gather.  Then the strangest thing happened.  This man, the manager I think, announced that they hadn’t started the movie yet because the line snaked out the door and around the corner, and they anticipated a sell out crowd…and here’s the weirdest part…  the audience started clapping.   Not just obligatory…haha get off the stage type clapping…they were hooting and hollering because of the sold out crowd.  I guess they just love this theatre so much they are happy that others have found it too!  Or maybe it’s because the movie was late and they had extra time to read their newspapers.  I’m not 100% clear on that.
So while Sue visited the little girl’s room I took the extra time I had to look around the theatre and make up stories about the people sitting near me.  I do that sometimes.  There was one guy, we’ll call him Edward, sitting across the aisle from me and 2 rows back, who was there all alone.  I’m pretty sure he’s the president of either the university or some huge company like Ebay or maybe Edward runs NASA, which is just down the road too.  He was reading the Wall Street Journal.  Then there was Betty.  She was there with her daughter and 2 grand daughters.  She enjoyed introducing them to others in the crowd.  Pretty sure Betty is a widow living on the bazillions of dollars her deceased husband left her.  Maybe he was a wealthy land owner.  She was dressed to the nines including a jacket and skirt that looked like floral curtains, you know what I mean, and perfectly done up hair, which HAD to have been styled that day, or it was a wig.

 Just about the time I started making up a story about Lou, the guy wearing the white fedora, the man playing the organ showed up.  He was very happy to be there, wore a straw hat that was from the same time period as the Buster Keaton film, The Navigator, and had about 15 minutes of history about both the movie, and the Wurlitzer Organ.  Did you know this organ has 16 foot pipes?  That is pretty amazing if you think about it.  So after we learned about silent films, and some history on Buster Keaton films, he started playing the organ.  WOW!  It’s just like being at a commoners’ movie, only no screaming kids (no one in Palo Alto can afford small children) and no cell phones (who would deface this great old theatre by using a cell phone??)  I mean seriously… Bill Gates himself could have been here and even HE would have turned off his phone.  This was definitely not a common experience.  I loved it!
So as the movie began, people put their newspapers and cell phones away and we all enjoyed “The Navigator” and “The Cameraman”.    I will forever have fond memories of “Lou” guffawing during the slapstick comedy, like when there was an underwater sword fight with SWORDFISH and of Betty shushing her granddaughter who smiled up and said, “This is almost as funny as the last Buster Keaton movie we saw.”  The kid was like 7.  These are children of privilege…NOT commoners’ kids.

And like I said, it was beautiful historical building, with fun movies and the best prices all summer.  I hope you’ll visit this theatre next time you’re in the area…especially if you want an UNCOMMON experience.    www.stanfordtheatre.com