A Snapshot of San Francisco Movie Going, 1977

Peter Moore of the Roxie recently shared a bit of history with his Facebook friends – of which I thankfully am one. It’s a facsimile of the San Francisco Chronicle movie listings for Wednesday, May 25, 1977. You’ll find a photo of the complete listing at the bottom of this article.

May 25th was the day the original Star Wars (not yet renamed A New Hope) opened at the Coronet in 70mm. You’ll find that in the left-hand column of the listing, near the bottom. When the newspaper hit doormats that morning, no one knew that the movie industry was about to change.

But that’s not why Peter posted this listing. He was justly proud of his double bill for that day: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Manchurian Candidate.

But the Roxie is a small part of my reason for sharing this with you. The listing is divided into sections, one of which is misleadingly called International. That section contains not only relatively-new foreign films, but also time-honored classics – foreign or domestic.

The “International” section, rearranged by the author for easier viewing

At least eight of those theaters were screening older films that day. By comparison, today in San Francisco only the Castro specializes almost entirely on revivals.

And look at what was playing in those now-gone revival houses:

  • The Gateway, one of my favorites at the time, was screening pre-restoration versions of Lawrence of Arabia and A Man for All Seasons.
  • The CENTO Cedar, which I think I went to once or twice, had a Toshiro Mifune samurai triple bill.
  • The Avenue (now a church) was screening Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry with live organ accompaniment.
  • I don’t remember the Powell, which is unfortunate, because that day they screened The Time Machine and Forbidden Planet.
  • The Richelieu, a small theater with behind-the-screen projection, had a Chaplin double bill of Modern Times and City Lights.

Forbidden Planet

Turn away from the “International” section, and you’ll find plenty more theaters that have gone away. These include the North Point, the Regency 1 and 2, the Alexandria, and the theater that brought Star Wars to the Bay:
The Coronet.

Before we cry to much over the death of revival cinema, let’s wipe away the nostalgia and remember its considerable flaws. The prints shown in those theaters were often horrible. And the theaters tended to stick to a narrow selection of beloved classics – what I called the Three Bs of revival cinema: Bogart, Bergman, and the Brothers Marx. An exaggeration, of course – none of those names are in that day’s listing – but there was a truth to it.

And today we can see every one of those films, and much more, in the comfort of our homes. It’s not the same, but nothing ever is.