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  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Matías Bombal on the set of his Internet movie-review show, “Matías Bombal’s Hollywood.” The 1930s microphones on the set all still work. Bombal shoots the show in his garage.

  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Matías Bombal moved back into the Pocket neighborhood house in which he grew up after his father, piano tuner Antonio Bombal, died in 2009. Above, he stands with the family’s prized 1899 Blüthner piano in the home’s library. Bombal keeps the library much the way his father left it, and views himself as guardian of Antonio’s floor-to-ceiling collection of books in several languages.

  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Bombal saw this 1935 microphone, which is visible in his Internet movie-review show “Matías Bombal’s Hollywood,” years ago in the window a Sacramento’s antiques store. He knew the microphone’s price tag of a few hundred dollars was a steal, he said, but he lacked the cash to buy it. Bombal’s friend, the late Jo Babbitt, bought it for him as a gift. Bombal added a microphone “flag” with the call letters of his name – Matías Antonio Bombal.

  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Bombal said he bought this 1959 industrial 16-millimeter projector, right, once owned by the Walt Disney Co., from the family of late Bay Area cameraman Lester Thompson. Bombal met Thompson, a newsreel shooter, when Bombal worked at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre. Thompson, whom Bombal said once worked as Walt Disney’s personal camera man, would lend the theater old newsreels to show before classic movies.

  • Manny Crisostomo /

    An old record plays on the 1928 phonograph Bombal purchased as a teenager with his first paycheck from his job as a video-store clerk. He began collecting records at age 7, when his grandmother gave him her collection of 78s.

  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Matías Bombal’s father, Antonio, inherited his 1899 Blüthner, which sits in Bombal’s library. It was built for the king of Saxony, Bombal said, and carries the king’s coat of arms.

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  • More information

    “At home with ...” is a recurring article spotlighting the living spaces and possessions of some of the region’s most interesting and prominent personalities. Know someone you’d like to suggest as a subject? Please email Features Editor Tim Swanson at

At home with ... film critic and showman Matias Bombal

Published: Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 - 12:00 am

Matías Bombal wants to show you something.

A visitor is attempting to take in the breadth of Bombal’s collection of old 78 records when he gently interrupts. He wants to point out a different item: a rare photograph of silent screen star Ramon Novarro.

Bombal’s Pocket-area home, though nondescript on the outside, brims with entertainment treasures inside. Bombal is as excited to share these objects with guests, just as he was eager, as the Crest Theatre’s teenaged, tuxedoed manager in the 1980s, to introduce cinephiles to classics on a big screen.

Bombal, 46, also worked at the Tower Theatre and Oakland’s Paramount, managed a Oregon movie house and hosted radio and television shows. He’s a popular emcee for live events, particularly those with historical flavor.

His regular current gig is hosting “Matías Bombal’s Hollywood,” a black-and-white Internet program in which he reviews current films within the context of Hollywood history.

He shoots the show in a corner of his garage made to resemble an old radio studio. He delivers opinions from behind a desk and into a 1930s microphone that still works.

Off camera lie shelves of 16-millimeter and 35-millimeter prints of films, including “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Smallest Show on Earth,” an obscure 1957 Peter Sellers movie about a couple who inherit a decrepit movie house. Among the prints are those he “saved from the garbage,” Bombal said, when TV stations began showing movies on video.

“I don’t get rid of anything,” Bombal said.

He jokes about his place being a mess. But his records and films are stacked neatly, as are the many books collected by his late father, Antonio, a literature teacher turned piano tuner for the Sacramento Symphony. (Matías Bombal grew up in this house, and moved back into it after his father, who was long divorced from his mother, died in 2009).

But there are a lot of records, movies and books.

You might have seen Bombal, still fond of tuxedos and of suits with 1940s tailoring, driving around town in the black, beautifully maintained 1959 Mercedes he inherited from Antonio.

The car and clothes are not for special occasions. Bombal’s a showman every day. But one who stands slightly to the side of the spotlight, pointing with panache to what’s in it. It’s a lost art – from the days of radio and television “presenters” – Bombal revives on a daily basis.

“I never fancied myself an entertainer in my own right,” Bombal said. “I always thought that what I loved to do was set the stage. I love creating the environment in which people have a wonderful experience, theatrically or socially or personally.”

Whether he is introducing movies on his Internet program or introducing the Bay Area’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra on stage, Bombal savors and wants to spread a sense of “theatrical anticipation.”

“Years ago, when movie theaters had curtains, you did not know (at first) if the curtain was going to rise or split apart,” Bombal said. “When you hear the whir of a motor and slowly the curtain opens – that little motor noise is exactly the moment of anticipation.”

So is that moment after he hand-cranks his 1928 Brunswick phonograph, places the needle on the record and lets friends hear that “little bit of noise” just before the entertainment starts, he said.

He demonstrates with a comedy record, its sound warm and crackly, from the 1920s. On it, comedians poke fun at radio clichés of the time.

“It was the ‘Saturday Night Live’ of 1926,” he said.

Bombal’s record collection leans toward the pre-swing orchestrated jazz of band leaders like Paul Whiteman and Eddie Duchin. He discovered records at age 7, when his grandmother gave him a stack of 78s. He combed thrift stores for more.

Objects helped occupy him as a child, he said. He was born in Chile to Antonio, who is Chilean, and Judy, an American. The family moved to Sacramento in 1976.

Antonio came from a prominent Chilean family, and his son dressed like a little gentleman.

“I never felt in sync with my contemporaries,” Bombal said. “They were listening to what, KC and the Sunshine Band, in the 1970s? I have been wearing coats and ties since I was a little kid. … It was hard for me to assimilate.”

Objects provided company, and eventually, an education. Though unmotivated academically, he would study the movies, music and genres he liked.

“I would find every example of it, I would learn it completely and thoroughly, and make it part of my life,” he said.

“Little by little, experiences happened to me that were so wonderful I wanted to enjoy them, but not just for myself but to tell everybody else: ‘Look how great this is.’ 

He first advocated others’ artistry to the public in the early 1980s.

“My very first job was as a clerk in a brand-new business at that time – a video store,” Bombal said. He delivers the line retro-radio style, the final three words treading on italics.

With his first paycheck, he bought something more lasting than Beta, or VHS, or video stores – that phonograph that still sits prominently in his living room. He spent $200 at a neighborhood antiques store.

Like all the objects in Bombal’s collection, the phonograph has utility.

“I collect things that entertain me, that are functional,” Bombal said. “It’s not like a Cabbage Patch collection.”

Bombal’s movie-review show incorporates working 1930s ribbon-velocity microphones. One came from MGM. Though Bombal cannot say with certainty Judy Garland used it, he saw a photo of the young Garland singing into a similar microphone while at MGM. Close enough.

Bombal buys media artifacts but never sells them. The same goes for his father’s books, some dating to the 16th century, and other family heirlooms from South America that his father left him.

“I am of the mind-set that I am really the caretaker of these objects,” Bombal said. “I don’t own them. It is my responsibility to preserve them and get them to the right person when the time comes. You want to use them and then share them with people.”

He has kept his home’s lodge-like library much the way his father left it, with books running floor to ceiling.

The library’s showcase piece is an 1899 Blüthner piano. It was made for the king of Saxony but ended up with the Bombal family, who lived in a German colony in Chile.

Antonio had the room wired for sound. Bombal recalls his father’s professional-musician friends coming over to play the Blüthner.

Matias was not trained formally in music, but he can “listen and pick out a melody” to play, he said. On this day, though, the instrument betrays him.

“It’s horribly out of tune,” he said.

Antonio was the piano tuner in the family. But the son continues the family tradition in a broader way.

Like his father, Bombal has devoted himself to enabling others’ talents to thrive.

Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.

Read more articles by Carla Meyer

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