The Entertainer

The Four Star's Frank Lee on turning the Presidio into a multiplex.

When Frank Lee signed the risky deal last year to take over the Presidio Theater on Nov. 1, he sidestepped questions about whether he would divide the 600-seat house into two or more screens. The owner of the Four Star was being politic, but turning the Presidio into a multiplex made economic sense: Older moviegoers pick a movie they want to see and go where it's playing, but young people are drawn to theaters offering a batch of titles. Now Lee has indeed embarked on an expansion of the Presidio, which is closed for remodeling. When it reopens in March, it will be as a threeplex.

Lee is installing new seats in the big house on the main floor, which will hold just under 300 people. The two upstairs theaters are expected to have a capacity of about 180 each. Crucially, the building's width allows each upstairs screen to span 28 feet, which Lee notes is bigger than the Four Star's. The work includes the construction of double walls with insulation to prevent sound from bleeding between the two rooms. "It's expensive," he says with a wry chuckle. "It's a big job." Needless to say, Lee hasn't let the Presidio blueprints distract him from the Four Star, where a "Midnites for Maniacs" series kicks off Saturday with The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, followed by writer Barry Gifford introducing Lost Highway on Nov. 8.

Up the AcademyI confess a certain apathy regarding the ruckus over the Motion Picture Association of America's prohibition on screeners. The brouhaha began when the industry organization, ostensibly concerned about piracy, announced an end to the annual year-end mailings of DVDs and tapes to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (who vote on the Oscars) and the press (who dutifully compile Top 10 lists). Art-house distributors, whose pictures don't get nearly the exposure of Hollywood releases, protested that screeners are necessary for members in outlying areas (not to mention big-city critics who skipped the press screening). That stance was backed by a bevy of directors, actors, and reviewers, who view the MPAA decision as a blow to independent and foreign films. (San Francisco is one of the few places, along with L.A. and New York, where the studios and distributors schedule special Academy viewings, so screeners are less crucial for Bay Area members -- of which there are quite a few.) The MPAA has backed off somewhat as I write this, allowing VHS screeners to be sent to AMPAS members only.

What's masked by this tempest in a half-caf skim latte cup is the truth that Oscar nominations and statuettes are less a recognition of quality than a marketing tool. The screener debate is about money, not art. The system is geared to sell product, not nurture artists, and a DVD in my mailbox is hardly going to change that.

The Big PictureElsewhere on the theater front, the UA Colma closed Oct. 19. ... East Bay author Eddie Muller (Dark City Dames) was hired to collaborate with Tab Hunter on the actor's autobiography. The closeted '60s star -- who will discuss his homosexuality in his memoir -- was referred to Muller by one of those dames, Evelyn Keyes (The Prowler). ... Thanks to a corporate sponsor, the Pacific Film Archive will offer a free 5:30 screening on the first Thursday of every month, beginning Nov. 6 with The Good Wife of Tokyo. ... Magic lanterns, camera obscuras, and other early stabs at producing moving images are on display in "Magical Spectacles: Optical Entertainment of the Precinema Era," at SFO's Terminal 3 through December.

 
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