A Pageant play
Chico’s popular art-film theater under new management
After 35 years of operating the Pageant Theatre, Chico’s home for art-house films, Tim Giusta is handing over the keys to a fellow named Miles Montalbano. That name, not so coincidently, is the same as that of Giusta’s longtime partner in cinematic adventures at the Pageant, Roger Montalbano. Miles is Roger’s son who’s moved back to Chico from San Francisco after 30 years in the Bay Area.
“I had been feeling discouraged with the city for a long time and was looking to move when the news that the Pageant would be closing came,” the younger Montalbano said in a recent interview. “I felt that the theater was an important community institution that needed to be kept alive and so I decided to step in and take it on.”
He said he is looking forward to expanding the theater’s offerings with late shows on Friday and Saturday nights, screenings of restored classic films, and adding Saturday matinees and Sunday evening shows. The theater also will offer free screenings of what Montalbano deems “important political and environmental documentaries,” as well as special events with guest filmmakers and live music.
Miles has his own notorious place in the theater’s history. He was working at the Pageant in the early days when they were showing the 1981 punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization.
“I was a young punk and I had the key to the theater,” he said. “So one day some friends and I cut school, stole a case of beer off of a beer truck and went down to have a private matinee screening. Unfortunately, we ended up blowing out the theater’s speaker system. It was traced back to me as we had left behind an incriminating trail of beer bottles. I was fired that night. Now 30 some years later I’m given my chance at atonement.”
While hoping to maintain the theater’s longtime core audience, he said he will also offer programming to try appeal to a younger audience as well and include a student-discount admission.
The first film he’s booked, opening Friday, is A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which he described as “an Iranian-hipster, feminist-vampire romance, [a] post-punk blend of horror, film noir and spaghetti westerns.”
Giusta and Roger Montalbano took over the Pageant in 1980 from the late Al Mitchell, who at the time was a sponsor of their CARD softball team. Roger bowed out as an active partner about a dozen years ago.
“It’s been 35 years and Tim is ready to move on,” the elder Montalbano said in a recent interview in Duffy’s Tavern, of which he is co-owner.
“After our softball games we used to go to the old [Caffé] Malvina and Mitchell would come in and we’d buy him beer because he was our sponsor,” Roger recalled. At the time Mitchell had recently purchased another theater in downtown Red Bluff.
“One night he said, ‘I’m pretty busy with this other theater and I’m going to go dark with the Pageant. Does anybody know anybody who would like to run a theater?’ Tim and I looked at each other. We had played softball together, but weren’t really close friends at that time. I said, ‘Well I’m interested’—I’ve always had a film background—and Tim said, ‘Yeah, I’m interested too.’”
Early on he and Giusta would stand outside the theater to greet passersby and try to usher them inside
“If 10 people showed up, we were cheering,” he said. “We were dying until we got Ordinary People [in the fall of 1980], which was a huge hit. We played it for like three months. But after that we went back to not being so successful and decided to take a chance on some alternative.”
The alternative was switching over to foreign and independent films, and the move proved successful.
Giusta, in a recent phone interview, said he’s been working with Miles for the past month and that he will remain in touch in the immediate future should problems arise.
As for his decision to step down: “I’m old and tired. I’m 67 and I’m supposed to retire.”
The theater will remain in Giusta and Roger Montalbano’s names, but Miles is “going to be running the place and making all of the decisions,” Giusta said. “He’ll have carte blanche.” He said the younger Montalbano brings the energy needed to keep Chico’s art-house theater intact.
Giusta does have mixed feelings, though. “I’m going to miss some of it,” he said. “I’m not going to miss all of it. I’m going to miss the booking of the films, but as far as actually being there, running the projector and making the popcorn, I won’t miss that.”