If you are a lucky child, the world is full of magic. Or, better said, the world is magic. By lucky, I mean that you are loved and cared for. You’re safe. Except for the natural hazards of childhood, like the thugs and bullies you encounter in your neighborhood and at school (and whom you will have to deal with throughout the rest of your life), you are not afraid of the world. You have not known hunger, or had to flee from war. If you are fortunate, you don’t have to endure being torn away from your parents at the southern border of a police state and thrown into a detention camp. You’re a lucky child, even when you don’t get along with your parents, or with your brothers and sisters. You have a home at least, and they are part of it, like it or not.
By magic, I mean that even if you are a lucky child, it’s necessary, now and then, to escape from Life, to enter into the lives of strangers. Fairy tales allow you to do this. So do movies.
Three of the most magical places in the little town of my childhood were the Rialto, the Grove and the Crocker, a trinity of theaters as holy as the other trinity of home, school and playground. I don’t know when the love of films expanded to include an admiration for façades and marquees, but the discovery of the Hollywood was as decisive as it was unexpected.
Imagine walking down a street in a rainstorm, in late November, in an unfamiliar city. You are on your way to your sister’s home for dinner, minding your own business in the racket of buses and car horns. You dance around puddles and pedestrians, trying to keep warm and dry, and suddenly you behold what looks like a Neo-Baroque cathedral in Mexico City. But it’s not a church; it’s a theater, and you are not in Mexico, but in Portland, Oregon. In an instant, fifty years evaporate into the rain and you become ten years old again, fascinated by the promise of a magical world behind the ticket seller’s booth.
In spite of the promise of a warm house and good food, I shivered under the awning of a furniture store and made these two preliminary sketches:
Later that evening, I returned, wearing a heavier coat, and spent an hour drawing in more detail:
During the months after these sketches, I created a series of monoprints of theaters, which I’ll share with you in future posts. Meanwhile, you might like to know that the Hollywood opened its doors during the summer of 1926, and for the last ninety years, it has been a landmark on Sandy Boulevard on the East side of Portland. The surrounding district was named Hollywood in honor of the theater.
You can visit the Hollywood and see wonderful films, but not The Museum of Love, nor The War of All Against All, nor any of the other titles on the marquee, because those films don’t exist. Except for Texas Medicine, which comes from a line in Bob Dylan’s song, Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, I made up all the titles.
Are there any words more enchanting than those that traditionally begin stories: “Once upon a time…”? Not for me. Stories on the screen offer a world of wonders. Inside a theater we share a collective dream with the rest of the audience. Films offer us adventures in the of the lives of other people, their laughter, anguish, joy, desperation, fear, happiness, their loneliness and their grief. In a theater, it’s possible to open up our selves to other worlds, to live comedies and tragedies that, for a short time, can become our own.