Behind the Scenes

UC Theater
2036 University (at Shattuck), Berkeley
(510) 843-6267
Admission: $6.50, $4 kids/seniors, $4.50 matinee
Parking: none

The UC was the first theater in the now-dominant Landmark art-house chain (see Embarcadero). The theater was built in 1919; by the '60s, it was a Mann first-run house. As a rep it was successful from its first double bill, which paired 8 1/2 with Day for Night in 1976. While not grossing as much as it has in the past, it remains one of a handful of pure commercial rep houses left in the country. Given its high use and student clientele, no one will confuse the theater's condition with that of a palace. But the clean projection on the UC's very large screen, the unpretentious staff, and the love of movies the theater exudes combine to keep the UC on the short-list of Bay Area filmgoing treasures.

Variety Club Screening Room
480 Market

This snazzy little room is where the city's film critics see advance screenings of upcoming films. Local publicity firms, acting for the various studios, rent the room out for about $175. The Variety Club is a nonprofit group that raises money for children's charities, started by longtime S.F. movie publicist Jack Wodell.

Victoria Theater
2961 16th St.
Admission: varies by event
Parking: none
See "Last of the Independents."

3290 Sacramento (at Presidio)
Admission: $7.50, $4 kids/seniors, $4.50 matinee
Parking: none

A trip to the unadorned and unpretentious Vogue is like a visit to small-town New England. Low-tech and low-key -- the sole frills are the lovely etched portholes in the auditorium doors -- the Vogue is a comforting relic of Yankee pragmatism and neighborhood ritual. Built in 1911, the long, tunnellike theater is in excellent shape and is a serene place to see a movie. However, United Artists books the eminently civilized theater haphazardly. The Vogue is operated as a second-run house, with movies like Cold Comfort Farm ushered out midweek and replaced by Trainspotting. It's a recipe for failure.

The Werepad
2430 Third St. (at 22nd Street)
No phone; check for screening information
Admission: $5
Parking: none

The three people behind Massacre at Central Hi, a low-rent film production company dedicated to the concepts of "abstract fascism" and "whitesploitation," knew that they wouldn't find anyone in San Francisco willing to book their weird X-rated B movie, In. So two years ago they built a theater inside their India Basin warehouse. Thing is, they built it right. The Werepad is San Francisco's most technically proficient underground theater, featuring a huge screen (Massacre figurehead Jacques Boyreau says it's bigger than the Roxie's), fine sound from a pair of JBL club speakers, and crisp projection out of a 16mm arc projector. The warehouse theater, something of a Warhol-ish Factory affair, is awash with ambient lighting, odd kitsch, and collage paintings. Before the shows, patrons gather around a small bar toward the back of the room. At full capacity, 40 people can settle into a hodgepodge of couches, chairs, and row seating that looks like it was yanked out of an old bus terminal. On Wednesday nights at 10:30 the collective screens a film from its collection of 200-plus classics and B movies. It's free, but really open to only those in the know, usually a motley group of friendly filmmakers, artists, and musicians. The more occasional feature presentations, like last month's bizarre "simulvision" broadcast of Superfly and King Kong, which featured both films played simultaneously and overlapping one another, are open to the paying public to the tune of five bucks.

World Theater
644 Broadway (at Columbus)
Admission: $6, $3 kids
Parking: none

The World was built in 1960; it's now a sister theater to Chinatown's other last remaining Chinese-language film outlet, the Great Star. It's a 400-seat affair you reach through a flight or two of descending, mirrored staircases. The wide basement room -- lined with supporting posts -- isn't a terrible place to see a movie, but don't expect expert presentation or projection.

The Pits
Mini Adult Theater
Jones at Golden Gate
Phone: none
Admission: $5
Parking: none

The Mini Adult Theater is located in a run-down building at the intersection of Golden Gate, Jones, and Creepy Discomfort. There is no concession stand at the Mini; no Cokes, no popcorn. There are no tickets, no ushers, no friendly little lights on the side of the chair to illuminate the aisle. But there is a projector, and the Mini may be the last theater in S.F. to show actual porn on actual celluloid.

Five dollars ("no in-out privileges") gets you three 16mm X-rated films with titles like Strange Family Mix or Rites of Uranus playing in rotation 24 hours a day. (The bills change Tuesdays and Saturdays.) Pay your money and a loud buzzer lets you through a crusty turnstile. Duck around a curtain and you're in a too-dark room that holds less than 100 seats. The warmth of celluloid imagery is nicely offset by a muffled sound system left over from the FDR administration. Some viewers stand silently at the back of the theater; others sit, carefully spread around the room's sticky, uncomfortable seats. Settling into one yourself provides an ambience like no other. A few rows behind you may be a woman laughing to her male companion, "Open your pants, muthafucker!" Once in a while a guy stands up and disappears through a mysterious hallway to one side of the screen, then returns a few minutes later. Acting as barker to this backstage activity may be a man, occasionally lighting some type of pipe, nervously walking up and down the aisle, saying, "Male or female, come on!" Occasionally someone rises to pull up his pants.

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