Sunday, April 6


The Big Screen Jones

Last Sunday I learned something that surprised me. I was not only surprised, but also surprised at just how much I was surprised. I learned it while at work, and I almost immediately had to take a few minutes just to collect my thoughts. And it's taken me several days to be able to collect them into bloggable form. Anyway, enough with the prelude: what I heard is that the Castro Theatre is planning to show Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull from May 22nd until June 18th, the day before the opening of the Frameline festival.

With weeds growing on the site of the former Coronet, the traditional favorite place for the opening of a Lucasfilm production, the Castro has become Frisco's largest remaining single-screen theatre in operation. There's a lot of logic to this booking. A quick survey of friends who I know are eagerly anticipating this fourth installment of the popular series revealed that there's no place in town they'd rather watch the film on opening weekend than at the Castro, though none guessed that they'd actually get the chance to do so.

As exciting as this will undoubtedly be to a great many people, I must say that my initial reaction was not one of excitement and anticipation, but of anxiety. I pictured the Death Of Repertory in my city, which has for so long been a supportive home to revivals, retrospectives and just about all of that which makes up repertory film programming. It felt as if the other shoe of the 2004 Anita Monga firing furor, from which cinephile morale regarding the Castro was seemingly slowly, but surely, recovering, had finally been dropped. And somehow, despite various signs of warning, from meager attendance levels at bookings like the week-long run of Last Year At Marienbad to a widely read newspaper article, it was completely unexpected to me. The Chronicle article, written with that air of self-fulfilling prophecy that so many news articles on cultural trends often contain, and eloquently rebutted here, seemed to foretell changes at the Castro, but I would never have guessed them to include the booking of first-run would-be blockbusters. It appears I was lacking the imagination to envision the theatre as anything other than a "safe zone" from the latest and most-hyped Hollywood conglomerate-driven product.

After wallowing in pessimism -- an unverified rumor that left me in a funk for an entire evening -- I awoke to a more serene and open view on the matter. I realized that it's just a four-week booking, and an experiment of sorts. One that I'm about as curious as anyone to see the results of. The potential of the theatre to reach out to audiences that have never been inside its walls (how often it is that I'll mention the theatre to a fellow Frisco resident who has of course heard of it, but never attended) is exciting in that it could potentially even strengthen repertory in the long run.

The Castro is not only unique among Frisco theatres (in the ways I touched on here, and more) but also an aberration among the remaining theatres of its kind across the country- no other house its size is showing repertory and festival films for as many days out of the year as the Castro currently is. With a 1400-seat capacity, it's a bigger gorilla on the block than other cities with healthy repertory scenes, such as New York and Los Angeles, have to contend. Is it possible that, with the fragmenting of niche cinema audiences, the existence of such a large repertory venue in town may actually be stunting the ability of smaller venues to develop interesting programming and interested audiences?

I'm not sure I'm going to check out Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at the Castro or anywhere else -- the upcoming popcorn movie I'm more intrigued by is actually Iron Man, which is scheduled to be one of the first films to play at Frank Lee's re-modeled, re-christened Marina Theatre when it re-opens its doors in May -- but I will spread the word to people excited about the Spielberg-directed film that the Castro is the place to see it.

In the meantime, I hope to take great advantage of the Castro repertory bookings between now and late May. There's a Joseph Losey double-bill on Wednesday, and on Saturday three reunion gigs for the Club Foot Orchestra, once a perennial attraction for its performances of scores to the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and other silents in that space. A 33-film tribute to United Artists for the studio's 90th anniversary opened last Thursday and runs intermittently through May 4th. As if to commemorate the life and death of Charlton Heston, May 6th and 7th will provide a chance to see the original Planet of the Apes in a brand-new 35mm print struck for the film's 40th anniversary. And May 9-15 will bring a week-long opportunity to see one of Jean-Luc Godard's greatest films, Contempt.

Even if the Castro management decides to go first-run on the strength of a successful Indiana Jones engagement, there are enough summer festival bookings that such a change doesn't seem likely to be immediate. In addition to Frameline (June 19-29), the Silent Film Festival (July 11-13, partial line-up found here) and the Jewish Film Festival (July 24-31) are going to be at the venue. And at Friday's MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS screening of John Carpenter's lo-fi sci-fi spoof Dark Star, Jesse Hawthorne Ficks announced a July 19 marathon of films in which animals attack humans, including Jaws, Phase IV, Alligator, and more.

Perhaps the film revival I'm most excited to see on the Castro screen in the next few months is John Stahl's Leave Her To Heaven, a so-called "technicolor noir" which has apparently been newly restored to its 1945 glory and is knocking film festival audiences dead. It's a film festival presentation here in Frisco, too, part of the six days that the 51st SF International Film Festival will be spending at the Castro during its two-week run here and in Berkeley April 24-May 8. Palo Alto has been cut out of the program, which I'm pleased about for purely selfish reasons- the result is more screenings of the films I want to see at the festival's Kabuki Theatre host venue, far more convenient to me than the Aquarius. South Bay residents will have to subsist on word that there will be a one-night SFIFF event in an unspecified South Bay location. If that doesn't do it for you, try the 2-down, 34-to-go Bette Davis centennial tribute running at the Stanford through June 6th. And of course there's always CalTrain.

Other SFIFF Castro screenings include, but are not limited to: Roy Andersson's You, the Living on April 25th shortly before Black Francis takes the stage to perform alongside the 1920 slice of German expressionism the Golem, the North American premiere of Jet Li in the Warlords on April 26 (right after Leave Her to Heaven) and the closing night film, Alex Gibney's latest documentary Gonzo: the Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a screening which serves as a benefit for the Natural Resources Defense Council. That ought to put festival-goers in a partying mood on the last night of the SFIFF. The full SFIFF program was announced at a press conference last Tuesday, and I'll be pointing to more films I've seen or am excited about in the upcoming days. In the meantime, sf360 has an initial preview piece up.

Hi Brian,
I understand and share your anxiety about the Castro booking a first-run Hollywood blockbuster, but I think it would be an interesting experiment. I know having the new Indiana Jones movie play there greatly increases the likelihood of my seeing it at all. Of course, it would be a disaster were it to be so successful that the theater's rep programming fell by the wayside.

By the way, I went to the first matinee of Last Year at Marienbad on Easter Sunday and was surprised to see about 50 other people there. Sorry to hear the rest of the run was less well attended.
Thanks for the comment, Michael. Obviously I wasn't at every single screening of Last Year in Marienbad but the report I heard through the grapevine was that it was pretty anemic overall. The showing I went to was a Wednesday matinee, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were less than thirty people there, though I wasn't exactly counting heads.

It was wonderful to see the film though, as well as the Contempt trailer.
It looks like it's not just a one-time booking, according to this article, which indicates that repertory and festivals will stay at the Castro, but that more first-run releases will be coming in its wake (August, huh? Is that another Lucasfilm hint?)
Great piece as usual Brian. It is hard to swallow h'wood blockbusters at the Castro but I sure prefer the Castro staying in business and at least some of the time getting to see art/rep films there. And I can't say I'm sorry to hear about an upgrade to their equipment - man that last sound system was bad the day they put it in!

BTW there's one more series of interest playing this month at the YBCA called NO BORDERS, NO LIMITS which celebrate the golden age of Japan’s oldest and boldest film studio, Nikkatsu. Check it out:
It actually starts tonight and if you make it I'll see you there.
I can't really comment on the Castro, being a Boston boy, but I found myself in a similar position watching the Kendall theater programming 300, and Ocean's 13 among others. I can understand needing to earn a little income so they can do the tiny films you can't find anywhere else, but it still feels like a piece of their soul is gone.
Glad to get your reactions, Jennifer and Dan. Dan, how's the Brattle doing these days? I visited it on my last trip to your state back in 2005, taking in a crack double-bill of Winchester '73 and High Plains Drifter. Later I heard it might be in trouble but I haven't heard updates.

Jennifer, good points about the sound system and the trade-off of catering to cinephiles and staying in business. Also, thanks for the reminder about the YBCA series. It was great to see you and so many other filmy friends at the screening, and I fear it may be the only one in the set I'll be able to attend.
The Brattle definitely was in trouble, but, from what I understand, they've climbed out of the hole. They still have amazing programming, especially with their Elements of Cinema series. Elements of Cinema is a free screening of a classic film on the second Saturday of every month. This month it's Ousmane Sembene's Black Girl. So good . . . I think I may love the Brattle too much.
Our friend who shared that information with you is upset that she got you so upset at work. It was felt that you ought to know as soos as possible.

And it needs to be said: The San Francisco Chronicle was pleased to put the Death of Rep story on its front page, and not even review LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD.
You're right, and thanks for saying it.

As for the friend who shared the scoop, let her know not to be upset; I had to find out sometime, was glad to get it out of the way, and in fact I was between tasks at that moment anyway.
Better news: Yummy bananas are a wonderful source the potassium your body needs.
Yeah, but they're no-no's for locavores living in temperate climates.
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