Friday, August 13, 2010

Clay(No)more Mine

I read in yesterday's Examiner that Landmark Theaters is closing the Clay on August 29.

I'm saddended but not surprised. The Clay is not a theater I go to often. The last film I saw there was Cannibal Holocaust in May 2009. It only has one screen so its screening options are limited. Unlike the majestic Castro, the Clay looks like a 100 year old theater. Also, it is not conveniently located on a BART or Muni Metro line. I would have taken a bus there but the programming has not been compelling. Since it is a Landmark Theater, I figured the film would show at one of the other Landmark Theaters. I notice Landmark flms premiere at the Embarcadero and after a few weeks, move to the Opera Plaza. The Lumiere gets more of the quirky films.

I wonder if preservationists will try to save the venue as they did with the Vogue and the 4-Star. As much as I like film going, I'm largely opposed to the efforts of groups like SFNTF. The venues have shown that they are not financially viable so the owners try to sell the venue and put it better use (from an economic standpoint). SFNTF intervenes or leads protests to stop the conversion of the theater to some other use.

In the old days, the argument was that single-screen theaters couldn't compete against multiplexes except in a city with the population density of San Francisco. Some theater chains couldn't make a go of a single screen theater so they tried to sell it and met organized opposition. In the case of the 4-Star, it was a labor of love by long-time owners Frank Lee Sr. & Jr. As for the Vogue, I have to say SFNTF put their money where their mouth was and purchased the theater and still operate it in partnership with Peerless Entertainment.

Nowadays, movie theaters, big and small, are fighting for survival against movies on demand. I didn't mention DVDs because I think DVDs have lost the battle and are dead men walking.

Will movie theaters survive? I don't know. Much is attributed to the "shared experience" but frankly, my fantasy would be to see films (projected in 35 mm if that was their original format) in an empty theater - no distractions, no one lighting up the house with their cell phone to check the time, no one whispering or talking, no one sitting near me with questionable hygienic practices, etc. Maybe I would let some people in who are sufficiently respectful of each other's movie experience...

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