One theater opens and another one closes

I entered the Cerrito Theater Monday for the first time in more than a year, for a matinee screening of Singin’ in the Rain. After the song and dance, my wife joined me for a screening of Shadow of a Doubt. (It was not a double bill.)

This is all part of the Cerrito Classics Festival, celebrating the loosening of the pandemic and the opening up of independent theaters. Of course, it’s not opened the whole way. We still must wear masks, and half or more of the chairs are marked off.

The Cerrito proscenium

Rialto Cinemas, which owns the Cerrito, spiffed up the place while the theater was closed. The new seats are much more comfortable than the old ones, which were a real problem if you liked to sit near the front.

I could easily have watched these movies at home; I own both on Blu-ray. But the big screen and an audience made it a much better experience. People laughed at the gags. Most of the dance numbers were followed by applause.

New chairs at the Cerrito

It was an exciting day. I don’t remember when I had last seen either of these movies in a theater; maybe as much as 40 years ago. And it really does make a difference. Even in Shadow, where the laughs are rare and the dancing is a strange, slow waltz, the big screen made it special. Joseph Cotton’s closeups looked like Satan looking down on you.

There are plenty of popular classics at the Cerrito this week. Check out the festival, which closes Thursday with Rear Window.

Fort Mason Flix closing down

The pandemic was a disaster for conventional movie theaters (and almost everything else), but it created a renaissance for drive-ins. You could get in the car, drive to another location, and watch a movie (or even an opera) on a gigantic screen, without breathing someone else’s air.

And now, as our society is opening up again, we may not want to see movies in drive-ins. So, it’s not surprising that Fort Mason Flix will close on June 26.

Fort Mason Flix

Last year, Fort Mason Flix took the place of the Castro, the Roxie, and other independent theaters. The Fort became a big part of local film festivals, playing opening and closing nights. And when the festivals didn’t need it, Fort Mason Flix gave us popular classics like Dazed and Confused, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Dr. Strangelove, and more recent works like Lady Bird.

But here’s the problem: The drive-in experience isn’t much better than watching a movie at home. It’s a giant screen, but unless you’re lucky, you’re so far away that you can’t possibly get overwhelmed. The sound is no better than your car radio (as long as the battery doesn’t die first). And there’s no real audience experience sitting in your car. You can read about my own drive-in experience.

Fort Mason Flix did its job when we needed it. But that need is going away.