Land and Freedom
"Things here are fairly unorthodox," says the Red Vic Movie House's Dennis Conroy, with a certain degree of understatement. For starters, it's increasingly rare to operate a single-screen neighborhood theater. But as a "worker owned and operated" collective of five members who philosophize and debate every title the theater plays, the Red Vic is just about the last outpost of Debs-style socialism in IPO By the Bay. Hell, the Red Vic Five are probably the last people in America still trying to figure a way to make a living without selling out.
Their strategy? Aye, there's the rub. With the Roxie, Castro, and Lumiere vying for almost every worthwhile revival, edgy documentary, indie discovery, and niche curiosity, the smaller Vic has pretty much been forced to abandon local premieres in favor of classic rep programming and second-run Hollywood movies. It's the latter fare -- Three Kings, The Sixth Sense, and Fight Club brighten the Haight Street marquee in the opening weeks of January -- that provokes the most passionate in-house debate. "In a better world, we'd show risky titles every week," Conroy says. But the annual December/January blizzard of heavily advertised (and occasionally worthwhile) Hollywood movies has a sobering effect on the prudent small theater. "It's a really hard time of year to program," Conroy concedes, "so we tend to program safer."
The Red Vic, which marks its 20th anniversary next year, has always served as a kind of postgraduate course for the hordes of bohemians who have historically migrated to the Haight. Hence the Vic's penchant for theme weeks, double features, and minifests; for example, the week after packing the house for Buena Vista Social Club, the Vic played Andy Garcia's Cuban-music doc Cachao. (When the S.F. Film Festival screened Cachao in 1993, the actor wanted his vast entourage flown in first class. Needless to say, the festival declined.) "We try to make connections so a smaller film might find an audience," says Conroy. "My whole thing is to contextualize things so people draw parallels. That's the most interesting thing to me about doing this kind of work."
Big-time congratulations to Craig Baldwin, the obsessive Mission District genius whose historical sci-fi opus Spectres of the Spectrum was selected for the ultra-big-time Whitney Biennial. ... Word on the street is that, come the New Year, Robin and Marsha Garces Williams will be moving their office to the new San Francisco Film Centre in the Presidio. Bay Area production pros and Teamsters are lighting candles this holiday season in hopes that Williams' popularity doesn't wane for a few more years. Nobody in City Hall is lifting a phone or twisting an arm to bring Hollywood features to town, that's for sure. ... You needn't have memorized every line of Aguirre: The Wrath of God to deduce that the secret Jan. 15 "Berlin & Beyond" screening on the new Castro calendar is none other than My Favorite Fiend, Werner Herzog's intimate portrait of Klaus Kinski. ... Roxie Releasing, the Roxie Cinema's indomitable distribution arm, just mainlined Black Tar Heroin, Steven Okazaki's made-for-HBO study of six young S.F. addicts. Look for the cheery documentary to return for a week on the next Roxie calendar before pricking audiences around the country. ... And may all your Christmases be white.
Michael Fox is co-host of Independent View, which airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on KQED Channel 9.