Reel World

Ace in the Hole and On the Town

Ace in the Hole
The Chronicle's long-standing -- though selectively observed -- policy is to review every film that opens for a week or longer. In recent years, however, as a new wave of revivals and restorations of vintage movies has crested, the paper's approach has become increasingly arbitrary. In the last few months alone, the Renoir masterpiece Grand Illusion, the offbeat reggae drama Rockers, and Mel Gibson's nut-cracking debut as Mad Max all opened without the benefit of a Chronicle review.

"We're deciding each revival on a case-by-case basis," says Ruthe Stein, assistant arts and entertainment editor. "We're not going to routinely review every one that comes back to San Francisco, nor do I believe we have in the past. When there's something new about a revival, we'll report that. We're not going to treat [an older film] as if it just came out. That doesn't make any sense." A general-interest newspaper is constrained by limited staff and space, Stein explains. Adding to the pressure on film coverage, she points out, is the dramatic increase in original made-for-cable movies.

Although the Examiner and countless alternative weeklies, regional dailies, Web sites, and local radio and TV programs cover the local film scene, the Chronicle still has the broadest reach. So the paper's attitude toward revivals is beginning to have a chilling effect on the bookings of some local theaters. "You need daily coverage for a one-week run" or you risk a financial bath, says one programmer. "There will be a certain amount of reluctance to go through with some of these engagements."

Another programmer, although still bemused by the Chronicle's extensive coverage of the pointless 1998 Grease revival, concedes, "I understand their point of view, in some ways. But there are a lot of people who would really value seeing restored or rediscovered movies if they weren't beneath their radar. Daily coverage would be good for San Francisco and would help guarantee that distributors did more revivals."

On the Town
The Belic brothers' Genghis Blues made the list of 12 semifinalists for the documentary Oscar. The five nominees will be announced next month, along with the rest of the Academy Award hopefuls. ... SFMOMA is on the verge of hiring a new media arts curator to succeed Robert Riley, who left in December after 12 years on the job. Riley and curatorial associate Kathleen Forde organized "High-Minded: Conceptual Art in Moving-Image Media," an exhibit of video work from the '70s and '80s that opens Jan. 29. ... Congrats to the S.F. IndieFest, which racked up five sellouts in its second year. Better yet, says founder Jeff Ross, "We didn't have as many walkouts as last year." ... The Key Sunday Cinema Club begins its fourth season (and its second in the big house at the AMC Kabuki) on Sunday, Jan. 23. The eight-movie subscription series costs $115 ($110 if you pay by check). B. Ruby Rich leads the post-flick discussion. ... Raise a glass to the Casting Couch, a grand experiment that ended on Dec. 31.

Michael Fox is co-host ofIndependent View, which airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on KQED Channel 9.

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