Out of the Fog

Elliot Lavine, who emerged as one of the top rep programmers in the country during his 13-year tenure at the Roxie Cinema before stepping down early this year, has resurfaced at the Auctions by the Bay theater, ABTB's Movie Palace Auction Sales Room in Alameda. Built in the '30s, the art deco movie house on the former naval base was recently renovated by Renaissance Rialto's Allen Michaan (Reel World, Aug. 6), who reduced the number of seats from 850 to just under 400. "He did it with an eye for the comfort of the moviegoer," Lavine says. "All I could do was sit there and think about all the movies I wanted to put up on that screen."

Lavine's mandate is to create a calendar of classics and not-so-classics, building on the repertory programming that Michaan began in July. "It was the sort of thing that happens at a diner," says Lavine about his pact with Michaan. "It wasn't very elaborate." Lavine will draw on his contacts in L.A. and elsewhere for first-rate prints of rarely screened gems, but his challenge -- the ample parking notwithstanding -- is building an audience. "Maybe we'll have a Spooky Black-and-White Movie Festival when the weather gets weird," he says half-jokingly, touting the theater's location by the water.

The pristine Auctions by the Bay Theater is open only Friday through Sunday, and it doesn't sell popcorn, which makes the tricky economics of a single-screen house even more problematic. "All you can think of is the movies you want to put in, and you don't even think of the bottom line yet," Lavine says. "That way of thinking, to me, is a pretty righteous path." The ABTB schedule is at www.auctionsbythebay.com, although Lavine's hand won't show there for a couple of weeks. As part of the deal, incidentally, Lavine will program a film noir festival Sept. 26-Oct. 9 at Michaan's Grand Lake in Oakland.

Lust for EcstasyThe S.F.-based National Film Preservation Foundation (Reel World, May 28) and the Film Foundation (established by Martin Scorsese and other history-conscious directors) awarded a grant last week to NYC's Anthology Film Archives to preserve nine 8mm shorts made by locals Mike and George Kuchar from 1958 to 1963. These underground spoofs of Hollywood melodramas, tarted up with operatic soundtracks and grandiose titles like Pussy on a Hot Tin Roof and I Was a Teenage Rumpot, are pop-culture touchstones: They mark the beginnings of camp.

"I'm a product of comic books and [seeing] Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox movies in theaters that were palaces," says Mike when I break the news to him during a phone conversation last week. "What I do kind of reflects what I was fed, but somehow it comes out a little differently. It's like setting up your tent on an already established amusement park or recreation park. You keep using that terrain. What do you do when you do that? You have fun."

Mike, who goes back and forth between the East and West coasts, isn't as well known locally as his twin, George, a popular teacher at the S.F. Art Institute. (George was vacationing in Brooklyn when I called.) But they share the same lack of interest in Art with a capital "a." "Never thought of that," Mike declares raspily. "I would rather not think of that anytime. You just do what you do, and whatever it is, it's the outside world that decides." So what's the appeal of making films? "I'm shy sometimes, and it helps me to talk -- I talk in pictures and then I don't have to open my own mouth."

THX 1138A longtime pioneer of cerebral installations and videotapes that employ new technologies (such as virtual characters) to explore their lack of human qualities, Lynn Hershman Leeson is gradually making the transition from Euro-gallery darling to U.S. art-house success. "I think that [my works are] getting more accessible, because the production is better," muses the S.F. writer/director of Teknolust, reviewed above. "They're not quite as raw. The holes in the narrative appear to be closing. There were a lot of gaps in the early works. The installations were made out of fragments and throwaway things, and the early videos were fragmented and had a lot of raw edges and seams showing. [Now] the essence of the stories is becoming clearer. Also, I feel a little more confident, so I can take risks and make things funny."

Unlike many conceptual artists, Leeson can also laugh at herself. At a recent preview of Teknolust at the Delancey Street Screening Room, she confided to the crowd, "[French painter Marcel] Duchamp said, 'If you have three ideas in your lifetime, you're lucky.' I've had one idea. Since they're in different media, most people can't tell that it's all the same idea."

 
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