My Few Short Posts of 2004

December 27, 2004
Sorry I’m a bit late, this week. Took the weekend off. Besides, there’s very little to report. Most of the theaters I cover don’t have their schedules up for January. But here’s something:

O Lucky Man
If I trusted my memory, I would give this movie, showing at the Castro January 4, a “Lincoln Recommends” checkmark. In the ’70’s, I loved this movie. I worshipped it. I wasn’t the only one. It appeared regularly on the revival houses in those days, usually on a double bill with the same director’s If…. O Lucky Man is sort of a sequel to If…. Star Malcolm McDowell plays the same character in both films. Or perhaps he plays two characters with the same name. It’s unclear. There’s very little similarity between the wild teenage revolutionary of If… and the ambitious young man clawing his way to the top of the capitalistic system in O Lucky Man.

I haven’t seen this movie in decades, but what I remember was a very funny, very dark, very British satire of the modern world. No real plot, but like Candide, it simply follows its overly-optimistic protagonist from one horrible experience to another (I also remember a bit of graffiti in the background in one scene: “Revolution is the opiate of the intellectual.”) But unlike Candide, there’s a rock band popping up from time to time to serve as a Greek chorus. I think I still have the soundtrack LP somewhere.

Newsflash: I just received word from the Castro they will be showing a restored print from 2002 (“not played much”). It will include scenes that were cut from the original American release.

December 19, 2004
The New Castro Schedule
I picked it up Wednesday night. It even looks different! And it’s shorter–only two months long. But that may simply be the result of a rush to get it out amongst all of the upheaval.

I’ll get to the movies in a moment, but first a few other interesting tidbits. The Castro has changed its domain name; it’s now Why? I suspect the Nasser’s don’t own the old domain (which still, by the way, shows the old schedule). The new site includes an explanation by the owners of their staffing changes (it “was simply a business decision”) and that “The programming itself will continue to be as diverse as ever.”

What’s more, the Castro is now for rent. If you really wish they would show that particular movie, or if you want someplace really spectacular for your kid’s wedding, you can have it there.

Okay, the movies: It’s not an official festival, but the front of the calendar is loaded with one-night stands of musicals. You’ve already missed “A Judy Garland Christmas” (Meet Me in St. Louis and some personal appearances) and Funny Girl, but you can still catch Oliver!, White Christmas, Cabaret, Moulin Rouge (the recent one), West Side Story, A Star is Born (1954), and Pal Joey. I don’t know, maybe the Nassers want movies that would attract the local gay community but still be wholesome family fare.

But if the Nassers are as puritanical and homophobic as some have claimed recently, they’re hiding it well. For three days in January they’re showing Shooting Porn, a documentary about the gay hardcore industry.

And there are festivals: the usual January Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, a Dystopia Series that looks pretty cook, and a Buddhist Film Festival.

And some really strange choices. Are there really enough boredom fans in the Bay Area to justify a three-day run for Heavin’s Gate?

Christmas at the Stanford
For personal reasons, I find it amusing that the Stanford is showing The Shop Around the Corner for most of this week, then switching to It’s a Wonderful Life for Christmas Eve. They’re both wonderful movies and well worth seeing in a good theatre with a lively audience, but I have a personal memory of these two on a double bill one December 25.

To be specific, it was December 25, 1983, at the grand old U.C. Theater (which I miss dearly). My son, Elijah, was not quite two months old. My wife and I decided to go to that movie, and since we couldn’t get a babysitter, we took the little bundle with us. We agreed that if he woke up and started crying during The Shop Around the Corner, she would take him into the lobby until he quieted down. During It’s a Wonderful Life, I would.

During the first film, he slept like the proverbial baby. But during the second, he slept like a real baby–he kept waking up and crying. We both enjoyed The Shop Around the Corner, and my wife enjoyed It’s a Wonderful Life.

December 15, 2004: More on the Castro
There’s going to be an event outside the Castro Theater this Saturday, December 18, to protest the owners’ firing of Anita Monga. 3:00-5:00 in the afternoon. If you can, be there. Click here for more information.

I’m actually going to the Castro tonight to see The Big Red One, and also to pick up a new schedule (it’s not online yet, and getting them in the east bay is near impossible). It’s kind of weird to give them money Wednesday and protest them on Saturday, but Monga scheduled this show so it makes sense.

Besides, as I said before, I’m not likely to boycott the Castro, and I intend to continue listing them on this site. But I do want them to know how upset I am about this whole thing.

Check here for more Castro information.

December 12, 2004
I got an interesting postcard in the mail, yesterday. San Jose’s California Theater, a 1927 movie palace recently restored, will be showing Casablanca next week. All seats $5, with an organ concert, newsreel, and Bugs Bunny cartoon thrown in (my guess, Carrotblanca).

Sounds like a Friday night at Oakland’s Paramount. And like the Paramount, the California won’t just be a movie house, but the new home of Opera San José and Symphony Silicon Valley.

Although the theater’s size, 1,146 seats, is well below Paramount standards, it sounds as if it looks spectacular (I haven’t seen it yet, myself). According to an article in the Mercury News from last September, “it abounds with polished marble, heraldic crests, gold-leafed fleurs-de-lis, and ceilings covered with quasi-Moorish and Navajo designs.”

The theater doesn’t have a web site or mailing list yet.

December 5, 2004
Let’s start with a little self-promotion. Check out the December issue of Oakland City Magazine for an article on unusual movie venues in the East Bay, and another on film festivals in Oakland, both by yours truly. I haven’t actually seen the issue yet, myself, so I can’t give you the titles [Update, 12/12: The big article is “Off the Advertised Track.” The short article is “Don’t-Miss Film Festivals.”] Nor the URLs, since OCM doesn’t post its articles online.

Researching the theater article last summer brought home to me just how difficult the revival business in these days of cable and DVDs. My original plan was to cover four unusual movie-viewing venues, with a sidebar in memoriam to another two that are no longer with us. But one of the current venues–Auctions by the Bay’s Movies by the Bay–died before I could praise it in print.

There were a number of reasons why this weekend classic movie series didn’t survive its first year in operation. The location–a deserted corner of Alameda’s former navy base–was lonely and hard to find (on the other hand, parking was easy). There were no concessions beyond bottled water and candy, and nowhere nearby to get so much as a cup of coffee. Perhaps the Renaissance Rialto chain, which owns the theater (used primarily for auctions) and produced the series, didn’t advertise enough.

But perhaps it’s just harder to get people to come out for a classic film. If you love an old movie, you probably already own it on DVD. A revival house today has to sell the movie-going experience, not just the movie. So what were the other three venues I discussed–the ones that survive? You’ll have to pick up a December Oakland City Magazine to find out.

November 28, 2004
Like every movie lover in the Bay Area, I’m worried these days about the Castro Theater. For those who haven’t been following the recent events, owner Ted Nasser fired programmer Anita Monga in October.

Admittedly, this isn’t as scary as the election results, but it’s definitely cause for concern. Monga scheduled, rented, and advertised the movies that have played that wonderful old palace for 16 years. Nasser owns the theater, which has been in his family since it was first built in 1922, but Monga (along with her predecessor, Mel Novikoff) made it what it is today–the Bay Area’s best location for the offbeat and the experimental as well as the old and the classic. Manager Stacey Wisnia and assistant manager Christian Bruno both resigned in protest.

There are plenty of other protests. Kino, a big fish in the small pond of truly independent film distribution, is refusing to book any films at the Castro for the time being. And Eddie Muller is moving his Film Noir Festival to the Balboa this January.

But how should we–the audience, the consumers–react? Some argue we should support the Castro through the end of the current schedule (December 16), then boycott the theater. I can see their point, but I don’t agree with it. Nasser is not going to rehire Monga. The choice isn’t between the Castro as it was and as it will be, but between the Castro as it will be or no Castro, at all. I will continue to list the Castro on this web site, and patronize it personally.

The Castro has a new programmer, Richard Blacklock. He runs a LA-based company called Exhibitor Services, and if they have a web site I couldn’t find it. He plans to stay in LA, which doesn’t make me happy. So far, Blacklock has booked oldies like Funny Girl, White Christmas, and Oliver for the second half of December–not exactly cutting-edge film booking.

Who knows? Blacklock could turn out alright. Maybe the Castro will remain a great asset to the Bay Area movie scene. I hope so. But the taint of what it once was and could have remained will always linger.

For more on the Castro controversy, see Castro Theatre in Turmoil Over Sudden Sacking in the November 3 Chronicle, Coming Soon? in the November 17 Bay Guardian, and Ruthe Stein’s column in the November 26 Chronicle; you’ll have to scroll down a bit for the article. There’s also a lively debate on the merits of distributor boycotts of the Castro on the alt.silent.movies newsgroup.