Saturday, March 29, 2014

Missed Opportunities and Places to Visit

Recently, I went to The Magick Lantern in Pt. Richmond.  Yes, it's spelled with "k."  I'll write more on that in a later post.  The only thing I will say about that is that the actual "theater" (or more accurately screening space) left a lot to be desired.  It got me thinking about the area's movie theaters that I want to visit but have not been to...yet.

One theater I will not be able to visit is the Century 21 in San Jose which is currently the home of The Retro Dome.  Their lease at the Century 21 ends in March and will not be renewed.  Their final screening (at least at Century 21) will be tomorrow with a 7 PM screening of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I won't be able to make it.  That's twice the Retro Dome has closed on me without my ever having ventured to the South Bay to visit.

This time, the Retro Dome's closing is playing out in the background of the closing of the three dome theaters on Olsen Drive near the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.  Century 21, Century 22 and Century 23 are domed theaters on the same block of Olsen.  The property owners have sold the property and all three will cease operation by March 31.  There has been a petition drive to Save the Domes but it appears to have become unsuccessful barring any 11th hour miracle.

Scratch the Winchester Domes from my list of theaters to visit.  What's left on the list?

1) Grand Lake Theater in Oakland.  I have seen the iconic roof top sign, I've driven past it many times and I was anxious to see The Master there but somehow I have just never gotten there.

2) Los Gatos Theater in Los Gatos.  Presently, this theater is closed but its reopening is imminent although the specific date has yet to be announced.  Previously operated by Camera Cinemas, the Los Gatos has been closed for over a year for extensive renovation.  It's unclear if Camera Cinemas will be the operator after the reopening.  The Los Gatos is a grand movie palace being restored to its previous glory.

3) Cerrito Theater in El Cerrito.  Previously operated by the owners of the Parkway Speakeasy, the Cerrito underwent an renovation several years ago.  The cost of the project combined with the lease provisions led to the demise of both Speakeasy theaters.  It's now operated by Rialto Cinemas, they same outfit which operates the Grand Lake.

4) Alameda Theater in Alameda.  The Alameda is a 1930s era, art deco, movie palace which was "redeveloped" about a decade ago.  The complex is now a multiscreen cineplex but I am referring to the original theater which looks fabulous from the photos.  Of the first four theaters, this is the one I have been in the vicinity of most often.  I don't believe I've ever been to Los Gatos or El Cerrito and I'm not often on the Grand Lake side of Lake Merritt in Oakland but I have driven past the Alameda quite often.  These first four theaters top my list as much for their architecture and interior design than their film programming or nearby locations.

5) Vine Cinema & Alehouse in Livermore.  Livermore is another place that I have rarely visited.  I recently read an SF Chronicle article on this establishment.  I was struck by how the description of the theater reminded me of the New Parkway which in turn reminds me of the Alamo Drafthouse.  The Alamo Drafthouse (which is scheduled to open in Q3 in the New Mission Theater) would rate high on this list if it was already open.  I'm somewhat concerned that its opening will have deleterious effects on the Roxie.

6) Camera Cinemas Pruneyard in Campbell.  By all accounts, this 12 year old cineplex looks no different than any other cineplex.  However, I would like to visit as it is the only Camera Cinema operated theater I have not been to.

7) Monte Rio Theater in Monte Rio.  I could not locate Monte Rio on a map before last year.  I have little desire to visit Monte Rio.  However, this quonset hut theater received a lot of media attention last year when it was on the verge of closing before Zach Braff saved it.  In the general vicinity of Guerneville, a town I have been to twice in past 22 years, I'm not sure if I'll ever visit but I'm certainly intrigued.

8) Cameo Cinema in St. Helena.  I used to go to Wine Country more frequently but even when I used to go, I'd almost always stay on the Sonoma side.  St. Helena is on the Napa side so I don't even recall the building.  Favorable press coverage of Cathy Buck (the owner) and a attractive lineup of foreign and art house films has me want to take a trip to Napa sometime.  Ideally, I could pair it up with a trip to Sonoma International Film Festival or Wine Country Film Festival (great tag line - In Kino Veritas).  SIFF will be held April  2 to 6 and I will not be able to attend.  WCFF is usually in the autumn.

9) Del Mar in Santa Cruz.  The Del Mar is operated under the Nickelodeon Theaters chain which consists of the Nickelodeon (aka The Nick) and Del Mar in Santa Cruz and the Aptos in Aptos.  The Nick and Del Mar are just over a block apart.  From photos, the Del Mar seems to have retained more of its original design elements.  The Del Mar still looks like a movie palace whereas the Nick & Aptos look no different than a Century or AMC screening room.

10) The Marina in San Francisco.  To the best of my knowledge, the Marina is the only theater in San Francisco (with daily screenings) which I have never visited.  I recall going there once to see a film but I had confused the theaters.  It was playing at the Presidio a couple blocks down on Chestnut.  The Marina, the Presidio and the 4 Star are operated by Frank Lee and his Lee Neighborhood Theaters organization.

11) Capitol Drive-In in San Jose.  I cannot remember the last drive-in movie I was at.  I believe it was no less 36 years ago that I was last at a drive-in.  I'm not sure how watching a movie would be from a car seat (or am I supposed to sit on the roof of the car?).  If single screen theaters have one foot in the grave, drive-in theaters have one foot and four toes in the grave.


Not quite a theater but holding interesting weekly screenings was the Berkeley Underground Film Society (BUFS).  Note that I used the past tense of the verb "is."  From their website, "BUFS...was an all ages club for collectors, researchers, and film enthusiasts in the East Bay and San Francisco area. Our goal was to review and share a selective film history of movies on film. We screened buried, rarely projected, or otherwise obscure 8mm, Super 8, and 16mm prints in our collection. 2010-2014."  I recall seeing film listing for February.

BUFS screened films (typically 16mm) most Sunday afternoons at the Tannery.  Unfortunately, I never attended a screening by BUFS.  I'm not sure if BUFS has been reincarnated or their programming assumed by Lost & Out of Print (LOOP).  From their website, "LOOP is an all ages movie night of obscure films in 16mm and other film formats of all genres.  The film series is in connection with the Berkeley Underground Film Society (BUFS) at The Tannery in Berkeley, CA."


I guess I should chime in about Le Video which is facing closure.  It has started an Indiegogo campaign to save itself.

I have been to Le Video before; several times actually.  Like most of its customers, it's been several years since I was there.  My guess is that I haven't been there since the 1990s.  Unlike most customers, I stopped renting videos because I started going to the movie theaters more often.  My VHS player broke many years ago and I considered buying a DVD player but I wanted record capability.  DVD recorders were very expensive back then so I decided to wait until prices came down.  That roughly coincided with my embracing my inner cinephilia.  To this day, I do not own a DVD player.  When I want to play a DVD, I plug my laptop into the TV and watch it that way.

I find that I do not have the patience to watch a film when I have control of the fast forward button.  I frequently fast forward past uninteresting parts of films or stop the film for various reasons and resume watching hours or days or even weeks later.  My personality is not well suited to watching movies at home.  That's part of the reason I like movie theaters.  It forces me to be more disciplined.  I have account for travel time to the theater, I am forced to watch the film as the director intended and I pay attention more closely because if I miss something, I can't rewind.  In fact, in most cases, I won't have an opportunity to watch the film again.

Back to Le Video.  Considering that I haven't given them any business in a decade and a half, it seems crocodilian for me to now shed a tear.  In fact, even if they survive, I doubt I will frequent Le Video more frequently.  I simply don't watch videos at home; no VHS, no DVD, no Blue Ray, no streaming videos, no video-on-demand, etc.  Still I can't shake the feeling that it is penny wise, pound foolish to not support their continued operation.

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