Written by Katie Rubin
I don’t tend to be someone who goes in for nostalgia. In general, I’m pretty “Meh” about the past. I prefer new things. I’m into the energy of the future, of possibility, of clean lines and modern design.
So, generally speaking, when folks begin to wax nostalgic about any type of “good old days,” while I certainly don’t have anything against people partaking in what they enjoy, I tend to nod off a little, maybe expel a bit of drool into my double shot of espresso with a splash of steamed almond milk and a teaspoon of honey (in case any of you are looking to buy me a clean-lined, contemporary beverage).
I’m just kind of like that.
Now, I understand if you’re an old-timey kind of lass or chap. I even understand if you need to dislike me for being into new, sparkly, modern-day stuff. BUT! Before you kindle any rage for my kind, let’s sit together at the metaphoric fire pit, shall we? Let’s pass the theoretical talking stick around the circle of our seemingly disparate ways, and discuss a topic we might actually be very much aligned about: The Tower Theatre.
I love The Tower Theatre. And it is as Blast-From-The-Past-y as they come.
In writing this article, I spoke with several people who had less than favorable thoughts and feelings about all those “spectacle-driven features you see at the big multiplex cinemas today.” And while I do love a well-crafted film, I’m also not above a good Matrix, Iron Man, or Bourne Identity Action flick.
That being said, when the moment arises that my artistic senses demand something more subtle, more refined, more sensitive… Where do I go? Why, The Tower Theater, of course!
Matias Bombal knows how I feel.
The man who many of you know as “that-guy-who-does-those-black-and-white-intros-to-the-previews-that-play-before-the-movies” at the Tower, has been connected to the movie biz in one form or another since he got his first job at The Tower at the age of 17. He started there as an usher in the 1980's, then moved to working at the Crest Theatre where he instituted the practice of playing classic movies, with, as he says, “a newsreel, a cartoon, a serial, and uniformed ushers with pillbox hats” helping you to your seat.
“We did that,” he says with great and well-earned pride, “and it captured the public’s imagination!” Since then, he’s managed theaters, opened theaters, taught folks how to run film projectors in theaters, introduced movies at a TV Station, promoted events at theaters, and now writes movie reviews for numerous in-print and online publications in the greater Sacramento area.
This is a man who loves movies. This is a man, you guys, who, when he talks about movies, or the movie business, or the switch that you flip in the tiny room you sit in when you’re running a movie projector, LIGHTS UP like a kid in a candy store. When I asked him what his favorite part about the movies is, he said “The great joy for me is watching people watch movies. At the movies, you create an environment that allows people to have a moment of fantasy or escapism or intellectual satisfaction. But every single person has a different experience. And I just love that.”
When I asked Matias what he loved about The Tower Theatre, in particular, he said “The attractions here skew to a more sophisticated, art-loving audience... Furthermore, there is something singular that is a very Sacramento experience and that is a much more interesting thing than your average, run of the mill theater experience.” Having opened it's doors for the first time on Armistice Day back in 1938, The Tower Theatre has had to evolve many times since then to renew expired leases, to repair the iconic architecture, and to accommodate digital film as it did in 2012, allowing them to continue to show first-run films.
When you walk into The Tower Theatre, it’s like stepping into the elegance, class, and glamour of Old World Hollywood. Perhaps that is why they are a coveted venue not only for local premiers and art film events, but world debuts as well. The All Things Must Pass premier in 2015 brought Colin Hanks back to Sacramento with his fantastic documentary on the Tower Records empire which originated in a small corner of Tower Drugs. Another large event was The Tower's 75th anniversary celebration where they screened the film Algiers to relive the very first feature shown at Tower. Nowadays in the lobby of the theatre you can see photos of the past and present of this historic Sacramento landmark as well as informational text and memorabilia from its heyday.
The Hollywood that existed before... before Hollywood was just a factory for producing the largest, loudest thing. The Hollywood that existed before their main aim was to create the greatest financial gain at the least imposing cost to the studio. The Hollywood from… dare I say it… back in the day.
Again, I’ll see the loudest, largest movie. I’ll even enjoy it! But I’d also like to have the OPTION to have a different type of cinematic experience if that’s what I’m up for.
In the 80’s, you had to think about it.
“Hmmm, do I feel like a scary, Glen Close thriller tonight? A thought provoking, emotional Spielberg epic? An intelligent “Sneakers”-type venture? A wacky “Ace Ventura” selection?”
These days, it’s more like “Hmmm… Aliens attack from another planet? Or, machines attack from another planet…? These are my only options? I think I’ll just Netflix it again.”
And that’s what the Tower provides. An OPTION. An alternative. A UNIQUE experience. It’s nostalgic, sure. BUT, it’s also not afraid to be different.
AND, did you know…?!
That inside the Tower Theatre there is a secret spot where you can stand, point your head toward the ceiling, talk, and be heard all the way on the other side of the building? That’s right! Matias showed me this secret trick that he learned lo, those many years ago, when he spent his weekend nights sweeping-up the place after everyone was gone.
Another fun fact for you: One afternoon, Matias was crossing the street outside The Tower, only to be stopped in his tracks by an thunderous CRASH behind him. The crash was so loud and imposing that he thought an airplane had crashed into The Theatre. When he turned around, there The Tower stood. Tall, stately and unaffected. Like a mighty oak. Like a towering behemoth. It hadn't been crashed into at all.
Later, he discovered that the inner metal structure of the top portion of the building (that part that looks like the top chunk of wedding cake?), had collapsed internally. It was eventually fixed, of course, but few people know, Matias told me in great confidence, his eyes lighting up again like the dewy eyes of a young deer, about to feast on a sweet patch of freshly mown grass, “that that portion of the building is basically hollow! The inner structure is not a dense, filled-in, solid entity. There’s almost nothing in there! It’s just a bit of scaffolding! Isn’t that incredible?”
I think so.
John Sittig, director of projection and sound for Reading International, gets the incredible-ness of The Tower, too.
He is the current Man-in-Charge of projection and sound at The Tower. John has been busy sharing his love of the movies since back in the 60’s when he was a Field Artillery man in Viet Nam. His love of cinema blossomed as he saw the power that his outdoor screenings had to transport his fellow soldiers out of their harrowing circumstances. (Um. Can we say- How cool was he for doing THAT?!)
Since then, he’s been screening movies for us, scratch- error- and problem-free. He takes great pride in being the last stop between the filmmakers and their audience. “Without us, and without the theaters, all of [the filmmaker’s] hard work would be for nothing,” he says. After all, movies were originally meant to be seen on the LARGE screen. Not the small.
John was instrumental in acquiring Quentin Tarantino's 70 mm roadshow edition of "The Hateful 8" . Both John and Matias, independent of one another, mentioned to me the pride they felt at being one of just 100 theaters to pre-screen “The Hateful 8.” Matias even made a short film about the special 70 mm projector that was brought in to screen the film. “Movies just aren’t shown that way anymore, so it was very exciting to be a part of that process.”
Both men mentioned, in my separate chats with each of them, the “social, communal experience” that is seeing-a-movie.
And given that this modernist, futurist, action-flick-loving chick was brought together with two Nostalgia buffs in honor of this treasured venue, I’d say they’re right to recognize the power of movies to unite people.