This pricey first stage in the renovation of the Castro is all about cleaning and comfort. Technical Director Hal Rowland, the head of projection since 1991, says with a laugh, "I made some improvements to the sound over the years, and that stopped most of the complaints. Now it's the seats" that people kvetch about. Before the recent 2001: A Space Odyssey run, an expert from Dolby Laboratories suggested that the theater's high-frequency horns be more narrowly focused. "The old horns slopped a lot of sound off the walls and added reverb," Rowland explains. "All the seats are good now, whereas before you'd get some balcony drop-off in the highs. We won't get THX approval because we're too big a house, but we have all THX-approved hardware."
The first patrons to enjoy the improved Castro -- the theater reopens Dec. 24 for the annual concert by the S.F. Gay Men's Chorus, followed by a week of John Waters' Female Trouble -- won't see a new curtain, new carpeting, upgraded washrooms, or spruced-up murals and organ grilles. But those amenities are coming. "It's important that the public knows that this is not the end of the job," notes Wisnia. "It's a work in progress. Anytime something's being fixed or changed it takes a lot longer than expected because everything is so old."
Pocketful of Miracles "I find him so incredibly larger than life," says Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (Cronos) of Francis Ford Coppola. "If he didn't have glasses, he could play God in a movie." Sounds like a classic mentor-protégé relationship, and Coppola is indeed on board to produce del Toro's retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, set during the French intervention in Mexico.
Del Toro's other Bay Area buddy, writer/director Matthew Robbins, is heading into production on Riding Shotgun with Michael Caine, one of a half-dozen scripts the filmmakers wrote together. "We jokingly call it King Lear in a limo full of coke, with only one daughter," del Toro confided during a recent visit. "Matthew and I met in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab; I was the pupil, he was the teacher. We started talking, and he started fixing my script and I started fixing his. I said, "Why don't we write together?' Every day, we have one to four long-distance phone calls. I basically talk to him as much, if not more, than I talk to my wife." Perhaps it's not a coincidence that del Toro embraces mentors. "I'm always attracted in a strange way to stories about fathers and sons, or about paternal figures and children," he explained. His latest ghostly tale, The Devil's Backbone (opening Friday), certainly qualifies.
It's a Wonderful Life Need a last-minute gift idea for the cinéaste in your life? You can't miss with a year's supply of Cloud Nine Cool Mint Crisp dark chocolate bars (perfect for smuggling into theaters) and the new edition of Ephraim Katz's The Film Encyclopedia. For aspiring directors, the University Press of Mississippi's "Conversations With Filmmakers" series collects interviews with a single auteur; choose from John Huston, Robert Altman, Jean-Luc Godard, Mike Leigh, or the ubiquitous Martin Scorsese. Classicists should savor the stunningly illustrated coffee-table book Hollywood: A Celebration!, featuring text by the always-insightful David Thomson. Give the hipsters on your list some spiked eggnog and either the graphic novel or the screenplay of Daniel Clowes' Ghost World, both from Fantagraphics.