I've been trying to get to the Stanford Theatre more often lately. It's a beautiful old theater, lovingly and obsessively restored by David Packard (as in Hewlett-Packard), who is at least a little bit insane, but if nothing else loves old movies and wants them to be seen as they were originally. Reportedly he installed some six-channel sound system from the 50s for one movie, and bought a particular specialized lens for another, to better replicate the original experience. (He also has interests in classical history, and for his dissertation made some significant contributions using computers to the decipherment of Minoan Linear A, which explains the "archeology" part of the Packard Humanities Institute that I stumbled on one day.) I started going there my first summer here, when I was an intern with a bicycle and no car, and the Stanford was an easy ride and a cheap night out. Tickets were five dollars then, but to six dollars now, but the largest popcorn is $2.50, the largest soda is $2. I still go because it's cheap, but it's also a lot of fun. And these movies are fascinating bits of our history.
Tonight, for example, I went to see The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, and not just because the lead character's last name is "Kockenlocker", though that did bode well for it as a comedy. The Stanford's pamphlet quotes one James Agee: "like taking a nun on a roller coaster... one of the most violently funny comedies that ever came out of Hollywood." And it's true, it's hilarious, and far more weird and edgy than I would have expected from a comedy of 1943. Maybe the parts where it's dated strike me more: one character says "That's mighty white of you" a few times in thanking another character, which also reminds me that the film has no non-white people in it. But it's a hell of a premise, and maybe a reminder that life didn't used to be quite as quaint as we're used to thinking.