September at the Castro

Have you checked out the Castro‘s Coming Soon page? Here you’ll find the September schedule–sans links to more details. A few events worth noting:

  • The month begins with the end of a three-day run for Lawrence of Arabia, which should look wonderful with the Castro’s new 4K projector. August 30-September 1.
  • Not surprisingly, Robin Williams gets two double bills (the first two Sundays of the month, plus another mid-week appearance). The movies are Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam, and The World According to Garp.
  • If…, a favorite from my youth, plays Wednesday, 9/10 on a double bill with The Chocolate War. I guess that works, but everyone who went to the movies in the 70s knows that If… belongs on a double bill with O Lucky Man, which is sort of a sequel.
  • The very next day, they’re screening the wonderful Dog Day Afternoon, with something called The Dog. Maybe they should bring in Rin Tin Tin.
  • Antonioni’s great study of pollution and madness, Red Desert, plays a double bill with Mickey One on Wednesday, September 24.
  • My favorite Samuel Fuller flick, Pickup on South Street, plays Sunday, 9/28, with Park Row and something called A Fuller Life.
  • Stepping into early October, we have Jaws 3-D. I’ve never seen it, and like all of the Jaws sequels, it has a horrible reputation. They shot it in 3D (very rare in those days) because back then calling a movie Title of a Past Hit 3 was considered a confession that it was a really lousy picture.

The Castro now has 4K projection

Top technology has been an important part of the Castro‘s appeal for a long time. The theater was, I believe, the first rep house to get Dolby stereo, digital sound, and DCP-compatible digital projection. I believe it’s the only local rep house that can project 70mm film, and one of only two that can handle 50’s-style,dual-strip 3D.

And now they’ve added the digital equivalent of 70mm film–4K projection. 4K projects four times the resolution of standard 2K. I’ve never seen a side-by-side comparison of the two, and I’ve heard conflicting opinions from experts on this. But I suspect that the difference is significant, especially if the film was shot in a large format and if you’re sitting close to the screen (as I usually do).

Last year, I was delighted to learn that the Pacific Film Archive had a new, 4K projector. But the PFA has a small screen–too small for an immersive experience. Not so with the Castro’s large screen.

Back in May, I wrote about a stuck pixel that marred the Castro’s digital screenings. At the end of that article, I disclosed that I had "emailed my Castro press contact about this issue, but he could only give me information off the record." Now I can tell you what he told me: that they might simply fix the problem, or they might instead upgrade to 4K projection. Today, he revealed that "We have completed installation of the 4K projector."

I am, of course, delighted.

When can you see the new projector in action? The Castro will screen Double Indemnity off a DCP tomorrow night, but that one is probably 2K (although I honestly don’t know). However, they’ll be screening The Leopard in 4K on August 24, and Lawrence of Arabia that way August 30 and September 1. Both films were shot in large film formats (Technirama and Super Panavision 70 respectively). I suspect that both films will look great in 4K projection.

The UC Theatre to be born again (but not as a movie house)

According to a Berkeleyside article by  Frances Dinkelspiel, the UC Theatre is coming back to life. That’s the good news. The bad new–admittedly from my personal perspective–is that it’s not going to show movies.

For 25 years, the UC Theatre was my favorite temple to the cinematic arts. I saw hundreds of films there, from the great masterpieces to the most ludicrous junk. There were years where I visited the UC three or four times a week. See The UC Theatre: A Memory for details.

The UC closed in 2001. This summer, the Berkeley Music Group will start renovating it. They have a website and everything, and plan to turn it into a music venue. David Mayeri, the man behind the project, is describing his vision as a Berkeley version of the Fillmore.

That all sounds well and good. I love live music–I’m even married to a musician. But I would have rather seen it turned into the Berkeley version of the Castro.

Well, maybe they’ll show an occasional movie. After all, that’s what the building was designed for.

Film, Digital, and the Current Castro Calendar

Early every month, I visit the Castro‘s Playlist page to see which classics they’re showing digitally rather than on film. 

And no, I don’t do this to get angry. I love film, but I also love DCP (the digital standard that’s replaced film in theaters). It’s more a matter of curiosity.

As I understand it, the Castro’s management usually screens classics on film if it’s available. But I’m sure there are exceptions. For one thing, DCP cuts shipping costs significantly. If a classic has undergone a major digital restoration, DCP will always look superior. It often looks superior even without the restoration, but not always.

Purists who disagree with me will be glad to know that 35mm has the upper-hand on the current calendar–at least if we ignore new films. But not by much. Over the course of April and early May, the Castro will screen 19 35mm prints, and only 14 DCPs of older movies.

A few noteworthy selections:

The Red Shoes (April 10, DCP): This ballet melodrama uses the 3-strip Technicolor format better than any other film I’ve seen, so you want to see it with the best image quality. It was recently restored digitally, so I feel safe to say that DCP is the right choice.

Groundhog Day (April 11, 35mm): I know for a fact that there’s a DCP for this title. I’m guessing that the Castro had both options and picked 35mm.

Ben-Hur (April 13, DCP): This 1959 epic was originally shown in a special, anamorphic 70mm format. Since it’s unlikely to be shown that way again, DCP is the best choice. However, this is the sort of movie that makes me wish that the Castro had a 4K digital projector–which does better for large-format films.

Sorcerer (April 17, DCP): This remake of The Wages of Fear has just been restored. Of course it’s now digital.

Johnny Guitar (April 23, DCP): I’m really glad they’ve bothered to digitize this gem, which deserves to be better known. I hope they did a good job.

Emperor of the North (April 27, 35mm): I haven’t seen this film, but the Castro is promising an archival print. I’ll generally  take that over a DCP.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (May 3, DCP): This was shot in the same very wide, large-film format as Ben-Hur, and should ideally be projected the same way. Some years back, United Artists struck an anamorphic 70mm print, and the Castro screened it, using special projection lenses supplied for the engagement. However, that wasn’t the complete movie. The original cut has now been digitally restored, and is thus on DCP. For what it’s worth, I loved this movie when I was ten; I can’t stand it now.

Rare Lubitsch in New York

I’m in New York City right now, visiting my son and daughter-in-law. This evening, we went to an art house cinema I didn’t know existed to see a Ernst Lubitsch film I had never heard of.

The theater is the Antohology Flm Archives in lower Manhatan. The movie was Broken Lullaby, also known as The Man I Killed–the name on the 35 print screened.

Like the Pacific Film Archive near home, the AFA is a non-profit that doesn’t sell food and frowns on your taking it into the theater. And like the PFA, it organizes its calendar around series. One series, Essential Cinema, is in theory the basic, common classics, although much of what they include here are pretty obscure. Other series in the current schedule includes New York’s Chinatown on Screen, a Richard Fleischer retrospective, and In the Flesh: Porn Noir (’70s porn with a noir twist).

Broken Lullaby was part of Auteurs Gone Wild–films by major directors that are not in the director’s usual style. Probably the best-known films in the group are Hitchcock’s Under Capricorn and Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris and A Countess from Hong Kong.

Broken Lullaby, made at Paramount in 1932, was not your usual sparklingly amoral Lubitsch comedy, but a serious anti-war melodrama set immediately after the end of World War 1. A young French veteran (Phillips Holmes), deeply guilty about killing a German soldier on the battlefield, seeks out the man’s family to apoligize. But once there, his courage fails him and he lies about his connection to their son. He also falls in love with his victim’s fiance.

Unfortunately, the very good-looking Holmes’ acting chops weren’t up to the part. He overplayed to the point of deep annoyance. Top-billed Lionel Barrymore, as the dead man’s father, plays his role beautifully, as does the rest of the cast.

Lubitsch and the four credited writers manage to avoid every cliche that they seemed to be headed towards. The ending is moving, emotionally complex, ambigious, unexpected, and perfect.

The film contains one great Lubitsch touch sequence–a montage that follow a rumor throughout the neighborhood.

i’m glad I caught it, and I hope someone in the Bay Area decides to screen it.

 

The Castro in April

I just checked the Castro‘s Coming Soon page to see what’s playing in April. The information is limited, but it has some intriguing offerings.

Sing-Along Beauty and the Beast: For a split second, I thought this might be Jean Cocteau’s post-war masterpiece, which would be odd since that one isn’t a musical. On the other hand, Philip Glass wrote an opera designed to accompany the movie, so perhaps the audience is expected to sing along with that. Or, far more likely, it’s the Disney version.

Harold Ramis Tribute: Over two days, you can see Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, Vacation (I assume that’s the National Lampoon movie), Stripes, and Animal House. Of course, I could see Groundhog Day over and over again.

Palm Sunday spectacular: On April 13, you can see Ben-Hur, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Resurrection. I have no idea which movie called "Resurrection" they’re showing, but I doubt it’s Alien: Resurrection or Tupac: Resurrection. Whatever version it will be, putting Ben-Hur on a triple bill will test anyone’s faith.

Sorcerer: I’ve never seen this remake of Wages  of Fear, but I’ve heard good things about it. I understand it’s recently undergone a major restoration.

The New and Improved Embarcadero Multiplex

This fall, Landmark shut down, refurbished, and reopened their Embarcadero Center Cinema multiplex, which has become their San Francisco flagship. This morning, I visited the Embarcadero for a press screening. It was the first time since the makeover.

Here’s my report:

If you turn right after entering the theater, you’ll see the concession stand where it’s always been. It’s bigger, and the line probably moves faster on a Saturday night.

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But if you turn left, you’ll see something really new: a bar. Alas, when I arrived at 10:00 on a Thursday morning, it was closed.

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I liked the pattern on the rug, but I honestly can’t tell you if it was new. [12/6: I've been informed that the rug is indeed new.]image

The seats are new, and comfortable, but in the larger auditoriums they’re not really that exceptional.

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But the seats are exceptional if your movie is playing in one of the four “Screening Lounges”–as was the case with the press screening. These small theaters come equipped with soft, wide, faux-leather recliners. Press a button on the thick armchair, and the leg rest rises while the back comes down. These are easily the most comfortable movie theater seats I’d ever experienced.

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But the bugs aren’t completely worked out. I got a tea at the concession stand. And when I put it into the cup holder, it damn near disappeared. The cup holder is simply too deep for an 8oz paper cup.

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The screen was huge, and high, with a 1.85×1 aspect ratio. Since the film I was there to see (John Sayles’ Go for Sisters–I’ll tell you about it later) was also 1.85, I expected it to fill the screen. But it didn’t. There was visible blank screen on both sides and on the bottom.

I asked about that after the movie. An employee explained that the screen was too large for the auditorium, so they couldn’t use all of it. And the auditorium has no masking.

The image was still quite large, so I can’t really complain too much about the unfilled screen. But Landmark advertises the Embarcadero as a premium theater. Tickets cost $12.50 and come with reserved seating. The lack of masking really makes the theater look cheap.

Like I said, there are still bugs in the system.

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