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Arts & Culture

Staff Picks

Best Cinema for Your Ears

Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show

KFJC-FM (89.7), Saturday 9am–noon; 650.949.7260

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Foothill College's radio station has a lot to boast about, but surely the keystone of the station is Robert Emmet's internationally famous Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show. I've been lucky enough to be a guest on this show a few times and to get a load of some of Emmet's peerless collection of film soundtracks. Film soundtrack lovers from around the bay, and around the world, tune in to listen to compositions by Herrmann, Korngold, Zimmer, Steiner and all the other names of classical cinema. It's Emmet's endearing Midwestern lack of pretension that's kept his many fans "listening to what they watch." (RvB)

Best Place to Catch a Silent Film

Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

37417 Niles Blvd., Fremont; 510.494.1411

Before Hollywood, there was Niles Essanay, which was the home to an early West Coast film studio in what is now Fremont. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum stands as a testament to Essanay Studios, which produced silent films starring the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Broncho Billy. Since the movies were filmed locally, the museum displays a variety of silent film memorabilia. On Saturday nights, for $5, patrons can watch silent films, complete with the piano accompaniment these films were designed for. (AF)

Best Municipal Cultural Resource

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

500 Castro St., Mountain View; 650.903.6000

The city of Mountain View did a smart thing soon after opening this gorgeous high-tech performing arts center on Castro Street in 1991: It lured away the critically acclaimed TheatreWorks, which had been producing plays in Palo Alto for 20 years. In addition to TheatreWorks' productions, the MVCPA also hosts the Peninsula Youth Theater, and stages a nicely varied selection of events, including cool lectures by scientists for the nearby NASA Ames Research Center. (EJ)

Best Valley Battlefield

The Battle of Santa Clara

El Camino Real near San Tomas Expressway

Jan. 2, 1847: Two miles from the Santa Clara Mission, a skirmish breaks out between Hispanic California settlers and troops from the United States. Both sides fire at each other—and hit nothing. The rainy season is a lousy time to go out and fight; the cannon gets caught in the mud. E Clampus Vitus, historians who go where historical societies fear to tread, commemorated this battle with a plaque in front of the Moonlight Shopping Plaza. Solemnly, they tied a yellow ribbon around the official casualties list: Dead, none; wounded, none; missing, one guy who turned up later. Maybe it's not as inspiring as Gettysburg, but the gentle among us must admit that the best battles are the ones where no one gets hurt. (RvB)

Best Contribution to Truth in Advertising

House of Pain Tattoos

1610 Pomeroy, Santa Clara; 408.737.7246

The one-story cracker-box strip malls on El Camino Real include some of the most cosmopolitan—let alone coolest—areas of the valley: numberless ethnic restaurants, interesting groceries, mysterious bars, one of a kind retail shops. Next to the gas station that neighbors House of Pain, a psychic's neon motto: "Tell her nothing, she sees all." And when the trembling novice shows up at House of Pain, the sign above the door primes them for the end of the quivering needle. But it's not as bad as that. As a multiply tattooed individual, I'd say there's plenty more things in life that hurt worse: heartbreak, lost elections, watching Jennifer Aniston act. And this studio, named in honor of The Island of Dr. Moreau, has both longevity and a devoted clientele. (RvB)

Best Place to Bring a Sick Guitar

Keith Holland's Guitar Hospital

326 Village Lane; Los Gatos; 408.395.0767

While your unwell Stratocaster or Marshall amp is recovering, check out the waiting room. In addition to performing repairs and renovations, local luthier Holland sells his Los Gatos Guitars, a line of personally made solid-body electrics going for about $1,000 each—emulating the classic Fender design but, in Holland's opinion, improving on it. Each guitar comes with a three-year guarantee. The place is an authorized service center for Fender, Tacoma, Gretsch and a few other guitar makers. A visit here is the exact opposite of the intimidation that can sometimes be an unfortunate part of visiting the big-box guitar store. (RvB)

Best Sculpture Gardens

Cantor Arts Center/Stanford

Stanford; 650.723.4177

Everyone knows—at least everyone ought to know—about Stanford University Art Center's sculpture garden; the outdoor walkway includes a collection of 20 Rodins, especially the monumental Gate of Hell, capped by a small version of the original figure that became The Thinker. Here is the largest collection of work by this titanic sculptor outside of the Musée Rodin in Paris. The Cantor's grounds also boast a 320-foot-long sculpture by environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, a stone river called, appropriately, Stone River, made of sandstone debris from the earthquakes that rocked the university twice in the last century. And near Roble Hall is a Papua New Guinea sculpture garden, featuring fantastic standing figures—some 40 of them—carved on-site by 10 artists from the Sepik River region. (RvB)

Best Place to Meet a Comic Genius

Lee's Comics

1020F N. Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View, 650.965.1800; 2222 S. El Camino Real, San Mateo, 650.571.1489

Lee Hester's 27-year-old business ought to have a Grauman's Chinese–style walk of fame outside; some of the biggest living talents in the comic-book industry have made personal appearances at this well-stocked and friendly store. They include artist Alex Ross (who designed Lee's logo), Jim Steranko, national treasure Sergio Aragones, Dan Clowes, novelist Michael Chabon, Batman Adventures animator Paul Dini and more. Lee maybe even deserves more honor for bringing in people who weren't so famous but who deserved to be, such as Phoebe Gloeckner, author of A Child's Life and Other Stories and Diary of a Teenage Girl, both essential remembrances of the 1970s. When Melinda Gebbie was in town with her and her partner Alan Moore's Lost Girls, Lee's was the sole host for her American appearance. (RvB)

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