Reel World

Odds Against Tomorrow
There's no way to break this to you gently: As tipped in this space three weeks ago, the Alhambra and Royal theaters are closing. Blumenfeld Theaters, which has managed the two Polk Street single-screen houses for the last 25 years, has elected not to renew its leases when they expire Feb. 28. The last shows, however, are set for Sunday, Feb. 22, after a final weekend of business. Staffs at the two theaters were recently informed about their imminent layoffs, although it is hard to imagine the employees being caught by surprise; rumors of the theaters' impending demise have circulated for months.

The Blumenfeld chain once numbered 60 screens; now it's down to the two Regencys and the Castro. The company rarely talks to the press, and didn't return our calls. The theater buildings are owned by the Nasser family, under the Consolidated Theaters Inc. rubric. The Nassers are an institution in the local exhibition industry; the family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the '20s building spectacular motion-picture houses like the Castro and the Alhambra. Theodore D. Nasser, Consolidated's current president, wasn't in a state of depression when Reel World caught up with him. "I can be upbeat because we have a number of parties who are interested in both sites," Nasser said. "Yes, both theaters are closing, but our feeling is it's only temporary. It's not an uncertain future." Nasser has received inquiries from groups exploring the Alhambra as a live stage and as a movie house; the latter inquiry, he confided, came not from United Artists or Landmark but from a small chain not presently in the San Francisco market. (He ruled out Robert Redford's new Sundance network of art houses.) The Alhambra, a Moorish minaret-topped extravaganza designed by Timothy J. Pflueger in 1926, is a lovely room in excellent shape; Disney money helped renovate it in 1988. It's possible that it may survive as a movie theater.

But it's likely that this is curtains for the Royal, at least as a movie venue. "The Royal is closer to all the competition coming in," noted Nasser, referring to the upcoming AMC Van Ness 14-plex a few blocks away. The most likely use for the site is a shopping center; Blockbuster is said to have its eye on the marquee. The Royal is shabby and has been run haphazardly, but it is a large room with a balcony from an age when movies were movies and not multiplex fodder. Back in July, the Northpoint wrapped projection on a drizzly, sparsely attended, and melancholy Sunday night; the same fate seems to await the Royal. Reel World asked Ted Nasser how he felt about the end of an era. He hesitated for a moment and replied, "I haven't had the time to sit down and be emotional."

Howard the Duck
At the other end of the commercial, social, and cinema spectrum, George Lucas dispatched Lucasfilm exec Gordon Radley over the bridge in a torrential downpour earlier this month to accept San Francisco magazine's annual arts achievement award in film on his behalf. A morass of self-serving gibberish, Radley's sermon -- er, speech -- hailed the demise of photochemical production (film, in other words) and the ascension of (celestial chimes, please) digital technology. Unmentioned in his robotic spiel was a single quality that people have always sought from movies -- old-fashioned stuff like plot, emotion, characters, story, or, heaven forbid, art. Sequestered in their high-tech Marin bunker, Radley and his boss have forgotten that audiences are unmoved by million-dollar eggbeaters.

By Michael Fox

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