Time travel is a wacky thing. It rarely works in the movies, at least if you think about it too much. Like in this past summer's "Looper," the one with Bruce Willis and that cute actor with the three names that I can't ever remember, in which bad guys in the future are transported back 30 years to the past to be instantly shot and disposed of by a team of paid assassins.
Good movie all around. But if they could send people back to a pinpoint time and location, why not skip the assassins and just drop the guys in an active volcano? Or in the middle of the ocean? Or send them farther back to the Triassic period and let dinosaurs munch on them? I'm just saying.
While time machinations may be brain-bruising concepts in Hollywood, they often occur in real life without any kind of fancy equipment. Like when you get a whiff of freshly cut wood and are instantly transported to a Sunday afternoon wandering around the Minton's Lumber Supply in Cupertino with your dad. Or when time is just plain wrong, like when your high school pal tells you a reunion is coming up and it's been XX years (censored to protect the aging) and there's no way it's been that long. Or when weird conundrums happen, like with this column -- I'm writing it in the now (to me), and you're reading it the now (to you). How can now transcend newsprint?
Flexing the flux capacitor
This past weekend I visited the past, circa the 1930s, when I was asked to cover the 29th annual Art Deco Preservation Ball, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1973 restoration of the one-and-only Paramount Theatre in Oakland, built in 1931.
Clearly all those digits, rearranged and theoretically placed relative to one another in some kind of mathematical family tree add up to the precise formula necessary to build a functioning flux capacitor in a DeLorean.
But I didn't even need that! Merely setting foot across the portal of the Paramount -- through the side entry by the box office and into the lower hall -- I was conveyed to the 1930s, caressed by halcyon lighting, lured by the haunting moan of a saxophone in the distance and surrounded by clusters of gentlemen in tuxedos and ladies in sultry satin gowns with beaded bags, white mink stoles hugging their shoulders and their lips stained a matte red, resembling rose petals pressed neatly in a book.
Since this was a celebration of the theater -- the movie palace masterpiece of architect Timothy Pflueger is known throughout the world as one of the best examples of that era -- I paid closer attention to the beauty and detail of our art deco gem: the golden naked ladies draped in flowing scarves a la Isadora Duncan and forever frozen in bas relief against the walls; the glistening ceilings and curved mirrored niches in various alcoves.
For the ball, they'd closed off the front lobby doors, set up a bandstand for Don Neely's Royal Society Jazz Orchestra and slapped down a dance floor beneath the grand staircase. In the auditorium, organist extraordinaire Jerry Nagano's fingers and feet danced on the Mighty Wurlitzer.
A previous life
I've been in the Paramount many times -- for concerts where people are clad in modern clothes, or for a classic movie like "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" where the style is chain mail and shrubberies and Levis. An anachronism within an anachronism within an anachronism. Say that three times fast.
So it was fun to have the full '30s experience, put on by the Art Deco Society of California. And, oddly, the feel was familiar. A previous life, perhaps? A premonition from the upcoming "Great Gatsby" remake? Then I realized, oh my gosh, no! This is just like that scene from "The Shining" where Jack Nicholson drowns his sorrows in the golden glow of the ballroom at the Outlook Hotel and chats with creepy ghost bartender, Lloyd. The room is filled with dressy, jovial guests, and then poor freaked out Shelley Duvall runs through screaming because they've all become skeletons covered in cobwebs and horror.
Yes, it was just like that, except for the skeletons and Duvall and the horror part. But I swear I saw Nicholson lurking around somewhere.
Alas, a rift soon formed in the space-time continuum as several swanky men in top hats and tails snapped smartphone pics of the vintage "seat enunciator" call box in the lobby, knocking me back to the present. So I got back in my Honda-SI-2007 time machine and went home.