Behind the Scenes

Red Vic
1727 Haight
Admission: $6, $3 kids/seniors/ $4.50 matinee
Parking: none
See "Last of the Independents."

Regency I
1320 Van Ness (at Sutter)

Regency II
1268 Sutter (at Van Ness)
Admission: $7.50, $4 kids/seniors, $4.50 matinee
Parking: $3 validated

The high-grossing, 800-seat Regency I is on the first floor of what was once the Scottish Rite Temple, built in 1909. (William Butler Yeats spoke there in 1920.) Now it's a rather cheesy place to see a movie. It's an ornate, too-long ballroom with a balcony; from a lot of seats the edge of the balcony blocks the view. The projection is perfunctory and the sound seems echoey in the large room. It's a pretty place, though, and the lobby boasts a large lounge dotted with sofas. The sister theater, the Regency II, is actually in a separate structure, on Sutter, in a 1911 building. You get upstairs via escalator. Inside, like its sister and the Royal around the corner, it's worn and threadbare. Once the lights go out, however, it's an OK place to see a movie. None of the seats is very far from the large screen, and the sound is perfectly acceptable.

The theaters are operated by the Blumenfeld family, a seminal name in S.F.'s exhibition industry but one that is currently not entirely respected. "They do huge amounts of business, but they've done nothing to improve the moviegoing environment," scoffs one industry observer. The company was begun in 1917 by the grandfather of the three cousins who run the business now. At one time the chain totaled more than 60 theaters and stretched to Guam. Now down to the Regencies, the Royal, the Alhambra, and the Castro, the Blumenfelds operate the theaters in partnership with L.A.'s Pacific Theaters, which does the actual booking. One of the cousins, Vice President Bob Blumenfeld, disputes the notion that the Regencies and the Royal are operated poorly: "I think we have a presentation head and shoulders above that of other theaters in town," he says. The Regencies will be hurt by a sparkling new AMC operation going up virtually across the street.

3117 16th St. (at Valencia)
Admission: $6, $3 kids/seniors, $4 matinee
Parking: none
See "Last of the Independents."

1529 Polk (at California)
Admission: $7.50, $4 kids/seniors, $4 matinee
Parking: $3 validated

Built in 1916; closed at some point and reopened in the early '60s, the Royal is now run by the Blumenfelds (see Regency). The lobby is pretty, but the theater is plain; and there's a great deal of careless weirdness about the place. The ticket-taker refused to divulge the theater's real phone number: "We're not allowed to give that out." The projection was quite dark; when we approached the manager's office to complain, we found him, literally, knitting. "I haven't looked," he said blandly. "It's a new bulb," said someone else in the office, defensively. Perhaps it was, but we hadn't left the movie for an argument, and the screen was too damn dark. A group of people at the back of the theater carried on a conversation during the movie; an usher who sat just inside the door couldn't be bothered to shut them up. The Royal's a good example of how you can have things like projectionists and ushers on staff and still do a lousy job. With a new AMC multiplex going up just blocks away, industry observers don't give the Royal too much longer to live.

San Francisco Cinematheque
Admission: $6, $3 kids/seniors/students/members

The San Francisco Cinematheque, now in its 36th season, shows films September through June, Thursdays at the S.F. Art Institute and Sundays at the Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens. The group's charter is "the advancement of the art of the moving image"; it generally focuses on avant-garde, experimental, and independent work.

4915 Junipero Serra (at Serramonte), Daly City
Admission: $1.75
Parking: free

The AMC Serramonte 6 is the quintessential strip-mall cineplex. You know you're in the burbs in this place. Its lobby, theaters, and restrooms are all long, narrow, and rectangular, and it's all a little dingy. The lobby's video games are likely to have an "Out of Order" sign on them, and the dated burnt-orange and mustard colors carry through even to the theaters themselves. The movies offered are all in the late period of their release cycle (in some cases, very late). However, the staff is friendly, each theater has stereo sound, the seats are comfortable and have cup holders, and more important, every single showing of every movie is only $1.75. It beats Blockbuster any day.

2230 Shattuck, Berkeley
(510) 644-3370
Admission: $7.50, $4 kids/seniors, $4 matinee
Parking: $2 night

This eightplex was a dream of Allen Michaan (see Grand Lake). The Shattuck was originally built as a complex joint venture between Renaissance and the Pacific-Blumenfeld partnership (see Regency); while the resulting disputes meant that the theaters never fully lived up to Michaan's extravagant plans for the space, it must be said that what remains -- now owned by Landmark (see Embarcadero) -- is a delight. The walkway into the theaters, off Berkeley's Shattuck Avenue, is a bustling mix of restaurants and stores. Past the door the hall continues, with four theaters on each side. The first two on the right and left are spectacular. They're rather small (300 seats), but their generous breadth, the comfort of the seats, the lush, Moorish decorations, and the quality of the projection are wonderful; these are two of the very small number of commercial theaters whose ambience can match the quality of the city's private screening rooms. The middle two theaters on each side are boxes, with screens rather too high up on the walls, but they're not shabby. Finally, the last two are minor gems: decorated with Egyptian murals, and accented with intimate balconies. Classy.

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