DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre

By Josh Eliot

 

“Deep Inside” is a series in four parts that Will Seagers and myself are writing. The first in the series focuses on San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, where Will and I both spent a lot of time during the 1980’s. Although Will Seagers and I have never met formally, I am convinced that he sold me my first VCR at Eber Electronics in 1984. I can’t say for sure, but that photo of him at Eber’s from his blog “The Stereo Maven of Castro Street” convinced me, because he looked very familiar. After purchasing the VCR on a payment plan I remember running across Market Street to Captain Video to rent a couple of VHS tapes, most likely a horror movie and a porn.

In 1984 my friends and I were incredibly lucky when we found and rented our flat at 629 Castro Street. It had three bedrooms, was located just above the corner of 19th and we paid $750 per month. Our landlord Marlene got sole ownership of the three level building and a nearby house in her divorce settlement. Our unit was located on the middle floor with an artist (painter) and his roommate above, and a leather couple below. The neighborhood had so much to offer with bars and restaurants on every block. 18th and Castro was the main intersection; to the right was your coin-operated laundry and Cala Foods Supermarket, to the left was The Midnight Sun video bar and Moby Dick (where Will Seagers was known to DJ).

 

Will Seagers and Eber Electronics

Will Seagers and Eber Electronics

 

Near the Corner of Castro and Market Street was The Castro Theatre, which is my focus for this blog as it was truly the heart and soul of the neighborhood. This landmark represented a place where the gay community could come together and show appreciation for their favorite films and icons. They hosted premieres like Milk, the story of Harvey Milk, and more recently The Matrix Resurrections, complete with cast and crew appearances. There was a constant array of new releases as well as classics that were shown, providing quite a wide variety of constant entertainment for the neighborhood. Inside this majestic palace the architecture was astounding and much was coated in gold leaf. There was a balcony, of course, and the main level consisted of three sections, the right side being the “smoking area.”

 

Milk and The Matrix Resurrections premieres at The Castro

Milk and The Matrix Resurrections premieres at The Castro

 

Suddenly Last Summer was the first movie I saw there. I was surprised and delighted when, prior to the beginning of the movie, the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ rose from the floor on a platform. The sound quality was amazing and when the player finished his performance with the song “San Francisco” (open your golden gate) the crowd sang along from the top of their lungs. What was this place? This experience was already so much more than just going to a movie house. Suddenly Last Summer was my first “real” introduction to Montgomery Clift and Katharine Hepburn, but it was Elizabeth Taylor with her 22” waist and pointy bra that stole the movie for me. I’d only ever seen her in films like Night Watch where she was, what?, late forties? Well in Suddenly she looked stunning from the moment she graced the screen in her insane asylum uniform. Even though the gay undertones in the movie were “way over my head,” just being in the packed house with a mostly gay audience was a thrill. The place exploded in applause when the real nut, Katharine Hepburn, rode up the private elevator in her gothic mansion at the movie's end. I’m sure they could hear the cheers and applause down the block!

 

Suddenly Last Summer and the Castro Theatre interior

Suddenly Last Summer and the Castro Theatre interior

 

There was always something going on at the Castro Theatre. We saw the premiere of Lust in the Dust with Divine and Lanie Kazan, and though the audience was every excited, the movie was a bit disappointing as we really expected a John Waters classic, but he didn’t direct it, Paul Bartel did. Joan Collins came there in person for An Evening with Joan Collins, a live on stage interactive event. I’m not sure if she was pushing a book or just riding the Dynasty wave, but it was incredible and we all thought that her head looked too big for her body. When her car drove off after the event, the street was so packed with queens screaming her name and banging on her car it could barely move down the road.

I even sat through four consecutive nights of Berlin Alexanderplatz (A 15 ½ hour , 14-part West German crime television miniseries, set in 1920s Berlin and adapted and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder) with Fritz, my boyfriend at the time (though he never admitted it). I thought he would see how invested I was in our relationship by showing my commitment to his viewing choices, since none of his other friends would sit through 15 hours with him. It didn’t really work, as you might have read in my recent blog, “Everybody’s Free To Feel Good.” I actually was blown away by Fassbinder’s work and became a fan, seeing a lot of his movies.

The best time ever was seeing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, it would play there a few times a year and we would always go again and again and again. All those classic lines, which of course the audience all knew and yelled out! And that face, those Bette Davis eyes surrounded by all that white make-up on that giant screen! Nothing could beat that movie with a live audience!

 

Lust in the Dust, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane & Berlin Alexanderplatz

Lust in the Dust, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane & Berlin Alexanderplatz

 

Today I just so happened to go to the Castro Theatre’s website to see if they are still going strong and I am happy to report that they are! It looks like APE (Another Planet Entertainment) was chosen to partner with the owners of the Castro Theatre to implement significant improvements to the sound, lighting, customer and artist experience. They acknowledge the Castro Theatre is an icon of the LGBTQ+ community and a treasured space for film, music and live performance. It looks like they’ve got An Evening with Elliott Gould, a screening of A Mighty Wind (got to love Catherine O’Hara and Parker Posey!) and a performance by Shangela, made famous from RuPaul's Drag Race. The diverse schedule of events is in full swing. It’s great to see some things never change, they only get better!

 

 

Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002. 

 

You can read Josh Eliot's previous blogs for Bijou here:

Coming out of my WET SHORTS
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment
That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!
The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor
(Un)Easy Riders
7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER
Super NOVA
Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?
Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?
DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake
We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?
Don't Wear "Short Shorts" on the #38 Geary to LANDS END
How Straight Are You Really?
BEHIND THE (not so) GREEN DOOR
The BOOM BOOM Room
CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone
Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD
SCANDAL at the Coral Sands Motel

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CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone

By Josh Eliot

 

I remember my first Tom DeSimone movie: Reform School Girls. A large group of us were going on a Friday night and the film was a lot of fun, especially when Wendy O. Williams rode on top of a bus after barreling through the gates. In San Francisco, 1980s, when you had moments like that on film, the whole audience would scream and applaud in delight. My friends and I were constantly at the Castro or Market Street movie houses that would regularly show John Waters, Andy Warhol and other cult movies. When I saw actress Pat Ast was in Reform School Girls, I knew we were in for a good time. I remembered her from Andy Warhol’s movie Heat, shot mostly at the old Tropicana Motel in West Hollywood, where my friends and I stayed on previous visits to L.A. Tom made many popular mainstream movies including The Concrete Jungle, Hell Night, Prison Girls and the cult classic Chatterbox, to name a few.

 

Reform School Girls poster and stars Pat Ast and Wendy O. Williams
Reform School Girls poster and stars Pat Ast and Wendy O. Williams
 
Posters for The Concrete Jungle and Chatterbox

Posters for The Concrete Jungle and Chatterbox

 

Once I moved from San Francisco to West Hollywood and got settled into the Catalina offices, it was a fun surprise to find out that Catalina released and distributed gay adult movies made by Tom DeSimone, under the name Lancer Brooks. In my first blog: “Coming Out Of My Wet Shorts” I wrote about how much that movie poster influenced me. Wet Shorts, Flesh & Fantasy, The Dirty Picture Show, Skin Deep, NightCrawler and Bi Bi Love (with one of my favorite scenes ever in a bisexual movie, featuring Crystal Evans) were all sold by Catalina. I would say my VHS tapes of Tom’s movies were like a “video tutorial” on how to make a great adult movie. His movies had just the right combination of comedy, drama, and titillation, seamlessly edited to create these gems. In Wet Shorts it was the traveling salesman scene, Flesh & Fantasy the jacuzzi scene and Skin Deep’s minimalist yet multilayered story of a writer who befriends a sex worker spoke volumes about his internal thought process. It goes without saying that I was truly inspired. Where John Travis taught me the value of lighting and cinematography, Tom DeSimone’s movies inspired me to write and direct stories with a quirky flair to them. I know the adult movies of today don’t really embrace the “storyline” concept, but we did back then and I always tried to make the most of it.

 

Tom DeSimone DVDs from Catalina

Tom DeSimone DVDs from Catalina

 

After completing my final movie for Catalina Video called Hot Buttered Cop Porn in 2006, my partner Tony and I moved to Palm Desert and continued editing and remastering Catalina movies for release on DVD, until the company was sold to Channel 1. One random afternoon, I spoke to my friend Kurt about how I was remastering Skin Deep for DVD release and out of the blue he told me that he knew Tom DeSimone from The Desert Film Society, as Tom was a founding member and served on the board. I was shocked and elated when Kurt followed up to tell me that Tom said I could contact him. The order of things is a little fuzzy but meeting Tom was so exciting for me, and Chi Chi LaRue (who of course I told immediately when this all came about). I was working for Channel 1 Releasing at this point and Chi Chi was part owner. In addition to being a warm and wonderful guy, Tom was very generous in sharing his experiences within the adult and mainstream industry. Channel 1 gave me the go ahead to set up video interviews with Tom discussing the behind the scenes working of his movies released by Catalina. We shot four interviews, one for each movie - Wet Shorts, Flesh & Fantasy, The Dirty Picture Show and Skin Deep - which were added to the DVD releases of each movie as “Bonus Extras.” Chi Chi and Tom sat on my couch and we recorded them conversing with each other while watching NightCrawler, which then became a “Bonus Director’s Commentary” on that DVD. It was all very exciting to have our Idol (excuse the pun) spending time with us. Tom even invited us to a party at his house where he projected a classic old movie on the big screen in his backyard to a large group of partygoers. I have both the Skin Deep interview and full interview on my YouTube channel if you would like to view them.

 

Tom DeSimone's Skin Deep interview

Tom DeSimone's Skin Deep interview

 

Having access to Bijou Video's amazing streaming service, I recently watched the restored and remastered version of The Idol, and now I know what all the hype is about. This is one great, timeless classic which felt very much like a mainstream movie. Bijou’s streaming catalog also includes many other Tom DeSimone movies like: Dust unto Dust, Confessions of a Male Groupie, The Frenchman & The Lovers (formally titled: The Harder They Fall), Station to Station, and of course my personal favorite Hot Truckin', with Gordon Grant! The Bijou catalog’s vast number of movies never ceases to amaze me! So much content! I’ve heard through the grape-vine that Tom DeSimone’s Catching Up is a real crowd pleaser as well. That is the next one on my list to stream this weekend. Look at this, here I am retired from adult video making and yet I am still obsessed with watching more Tom DeSimone movies to see if I can still learn more from one of the best!

 

Catching Up poster and Tom DeSimone editing

Catching Up poster and Tom DeSimone editing

 

For more on Tom DeSimone's career, see also Bijou's 2019 interview with him: Part 1 and Part 2

 

Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002. 

 

You can read Josh Eliot's previous blogs for Bijou here:

Coming out of my WET SHORTS
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment
That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!
The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor
(Un)Easy Riders
7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER
Super NOVA
Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?
Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?
DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake
We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?
Don't Wear "Short Shorts" on the #38 Geary to LANDS END
How Straight Are You Really?
BEHIND THE (not so) GREEN DOOR
The BOOM BOOM Room

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