During a time when single-screen theaters have become dinosaurs, hopelessly outnumbered by overstuffed cineplexes where first-run features crowd shoebox-sized auditoriums, the Castro Theatre is a refreshing relic, a movie palace that treats films as works of art. As such, it is the only venue in San Francisco equipped to project in high-resolution 70-millimeter format, giving local cinephiles an increasingly rare opportunity to see big-screen classics like Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia as they were originally intended.
Beginning this Saturday, the Castro will play host to its annual 70MM Festival, a nine-day celebration of those classics and two others: Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise's beloved adaptation of the Romeo and Juliet-inspired musical West Side Story, and Jacques Tati's Playtime, about a hopelessly old-fashioned soul braving the strange new world of modernist Paris. Tickets cost $10 for adults, and $7.50 for seniors over 62 and children under 12.
West Side Story
When: June 4-5; Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 1, 4:15, 7:30 p.m.
Why: Robbins' artful choreography takes center stage in this Oscar-winning adaptation of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's long-running Broadway musical. The story? "Frenzied hokum," complained legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, and it's true that West Side's kinder, gentler version of Shakespeare's romantic tragedy has aged less than gracefully. But restored to its original big-screen glory, it remains a worthy spectacle 50 years after its theatrical debut. (1961; 152 min.)
When: June 6-7; Mon., 7 p.m.; Tue., 5, 8 p.m.
Why: Tati’s farces about confusion in the age of technology peaked with this, his seminal fourth feature, about the resolutely old-fashioned Monsieur Hulot, who loses himself in a maze of modern architecture while trying to rendezvous with an American official in Paris. A bold, impressionistic portrait beautifully restored to its original format, Playtime speaks to the brilliance of Tati's timeless comedy, his breathtaking choreography and the visual audacity of a film that redefined the possibilities of 70mm. (1967; 124 min.)
When: June 8-10; 2, 5, 8 p.m.
Why: Set in and around San Francisco and beautifully restored to enrich Robert Burks’ stunning cinematography, Vertigo is neither as tightly plotted as Rear Window nor as masterfully paced as North by Northwest, but it remains one of Hitchcock’s moodiest and most affecting thrillers, a haunting tale of erotic obsession starring the great Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. (1958; 129 min.)
Lawrence of Arabia
When: June 11-12; 2, 7 p.m.
Why: Full disclosure: As a critic, I'm often asked to name my favorite film of all time. Well, here it is. Lean’s award-winning epic follows enigmatic adventurer T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) during his adventures in the Middle East during the First World War. The 70mm format was brought to another level here, as the awesome beauty of the desert was captured like never before in possibly the grandest, most riveting character study ever committed to film. (1962; 216 min.)