Red Vic Movie House in San Francisco to close
The already endangered repertory movie scene in San Francisco is taking yet another hit.
Later this month, 31 years to the day after it became an instant landmark in the Haight-Ashbury, the Red Vic Movie House will close.
"Our closure is 100 percent certain at this point
," co-owner Claudia Lehan said. "On July 25, our birthday screening of 'Harold and Maude' will be our last, I'm sad to say."
The Red Vic opened on July 25, 1980, at Haight and Belvedere streets. Its first film was the 1977 Canadian indie "Outrageous!" about the friendship between a gay hairdresser and pregnant mental patient, which set the tone for three decades of eclectic repertory and second-run fare.
The theater was created and operated by a six-member employee-owned collective that rented space for 80 seats, including its signature worn couches, from the Red Victorian Bed & Breakfast.
In 1991, the Red Vic moved a block west to its current location at 1727 Haight St., renovating the former Full Moon Saloon and expanding to 143 seats - this time padded benches and theater seats - and a concession stand featuring organic treats. Danny Glover was a regular, bringing his own green bucket to handle the gourmet popcorn.
Glover, who once introduced "Places in the Heart," was merely one of many celebrities and industry professionals who showed up in person for Q&As. Legendary cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs presented "Easy Rider," and more recently Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the Oscar-winning musicians and stars of the film "Once," performed after a screening of the film. Of the original six collective members, only Jack Rix is currently involved. Lehan has been in the collective since 1998; the other current members are Susie Bell and Sam Sharkey.
"We had various benefits, and individual donors contributed via PayPal," Lehan said Tuesday night by phone as she was working a shift at the theater. "We had some support, but not enough to make it sustainable."
Instead, the modern factors that have taken down many independently owned theaters - home video, HD cable and on-demand TV and movies, and streaming video from websites such as Netflix - appear to have finally doomed the Red Vic.
The liquidation process has begun. A movie poster and collectibles sale is scheduled for Saturday afternoon ("We have sooo many posters, it's really out of control," Lehan said).
The theater's lobby area will be absorbed by its next-door neighbor, the Alembic Bar, which plans to expand, according to general manager Daniel Hyatt. There are no plans for the auditorium itself.
The San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation estimates about 25 to 30 neighborhood theaters have closed in the past 30 years. Among repertory houses, only the Castro and Roxie theaters remain. The Roxie has remade itself as a nonprofit.
But there is a new kid on the block: The San Francisco Film Society recently reached an agreement to operate the New People Cinema in Japantown beginning in September. Repertory programming is part of its mission.
The Red Vic was a true original with a vibe that was perfect Haight-Ashbury. Movies remaining on the schedule include the Talking Heads concert film "Stop Making Sense," the Orson Welles classic "Touch of Evil" and a few Bay Area-filmed movies, such as "The Last Waltz," "What's Up, Doc?" and of course "Harold and Maude," which had become the theater's annual birthday movie.
"It's a sad thing," Lehan said. "We held on for a long time. I'm so grateful to have been a part of it. A really great gig. Love it."
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