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Cinema Under the Stars Returns

Yeagley's intimate outdoor cinema is nestled in Mission Hills and boasts top of the line digital technology. As you enter the garden-like theater space, gracefully curving twinkle lights catch your eye, and life-size cutouts of Alfred Hitchcock and Audrey Hepburn soon greet you. Flickering flames inside urns sit on either side of the twenty-foot screen and remind you of old picture palaces that showed Cecil B. DeMille biblical epics. There's also a pair of fish sculptures illuminated by rippling lights, and on some nights tiny bubbles float through the air.

Film programmer Ralph DeLauro says that entering the theater is a bit like "a walk down the red carpet."

Yeagley and DeLauro launched their first outdoor cinema, called Garden Cinema, in 1991 in the space adjacent to Yeagley's Tops Salon. The venue could seat 200 people and the movies were shown on 16mm film. But Yeagley lost the lease to a portion of the space and closed it down in 2000. But in 2005, he and DeLauro re-opened the outdoor arena as Tops Presents Cinema Under the Stars. It's still located next to Yeagley's Mission Hills hair salon but now it's a more intimate 60-seat venue and the 16mm projectors have been replaced by a digital projection system.

DeLauro, who also programs films at the San Diego Public Library, says, "We've shown everything from avant-garde short films to animation to foreign films to very off beat American independent films to classics. So just as space is evolving technically so too is it evolving in terms of programming."

The emphasis is on the "experience" at Cinema Under the Stars. Yeagley sees it as a convergence of "beauty, wellness and culture, and providing a really good environment for people to enjoy films." His attention to detail manifests itself not only in the theater design but also in the zero gravity seats, the comfy blankets provided if it gets cold, and the selection of teas and coffee. It's such an inviting environment that Yeagley, who lives just across the street from the theater, sometimes finds himself hanging out and watching movies till dawn with his grandson. With this emphasis on the whole film-going experience, it's not surprising to discover that the program attracts its fair share of regulars some of whom take advantage of joining up as members for a fee (which allows for certain privileges including reserving seats).

Each year Cinema Under the Stars sets a kind of theme for the programming. This year, DeLauro says "we are essentially attempting to broaden the audience and on a personal level make things a little more fun for us as we attempt to inject a little more of our personal favorites and just expand the definition of an American classic."

As DeLauro and Yeagley discuss the films, it's clear that the programming is a give and take between two people with decidedly differing film tastes but with a similar passion for film. Yeagley champions some of the more popular film titles such as Chocolat starring Johnny Depp, whereas DeLauro pushes for films by Alfred Hitchcock.

Some other films that should be especially enjoyable in this cozy outdoor environment are the Coen Brother's bowling epic The Big Lebowski with Jeff Bridges as The Dude; and Mel Brooks' comedy classic Young Frankenstein.

So pull up a lounge chair-but leave the tanning lotion and shades behind-and enjoy a great film under the stars.

Tops Presents Cinema Under the Stars runs Thursdays through Sundays from now until the end of October and is located at 4040 Goldfinch Street in Mission Hills. Doors open at 6:00pm; films begin at 8:30pm. Tickets prices: Thursdays and Sundays $12.50 per person; Fridays and Saturdays $13.50 per person. For information call 619-295-4221 or go to www.topspresents.com.

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