Closing Thoughts: Independent Theaters Take a Final Curtain Call

The Red Vic in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood (Photo courtesy of the Bay Citizen)

Art imitates life as San Francisco pays homage to an arthouse icon and A USEFUL LIFE

On Monday, July 25th, San Francisco’s iconic and eclectic Red Vic Movie House will roll its reels for the last time. After 31 years filled with unconventional programming, squeaky bench seating, and a spice rack filled with popcorn accompaniments, the theater’s first film, “Harold and Maude,” will become it’s last. It’s a sad day for film lovers in San Francisco.

Rumors of closure had been swirling since last year, but financial troubles and dwindling attendance numbers finally conquered the beloved movie house. Of course, just because it’s been a slow goodbye doesn’t make it any easier. In an interview with the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Red Vic collective member Claudia Lehan called the process “’kind of like doing a bit of grief counseling. People who you tell are really sad about it. I think for us we’re sad but we’re kind of at the acceptance stage…. It’s just a different world.’”

Jorge Jellinek bids a fond adieu to Cinemateca Uruguaya in A USEFUL LIFE

Lehan is right. What is happening here in San Francisco is not an anomaly—unfortunately, independent theaters all over the world are seeing their end credits appear. In fact, one of the films from the currently touring Global Lens film series focuses on that very issue: A USEFUL LIFE, directed by Uruguayan filmmaker Federico Veiroj, follows the closing of Cinemateca Uruguaya, which leaves its most devoted employee to adjust to a life outside the theater.

It’s a bittersweet story, as the closing takes away a man’s sense of purpose but allows him to fill the void with fresh feelings and new experiences. This dual nature applies to theater closings happening in the real world as well—we’re sad to see them go, but it also gives us a chance to honor and pay homage to these places we hold so sacred.

It’s not all bad news, though! Next week we’ll be bringing you an anecdote to these unfortunate happenings: an interview with Jennifer Christman of the Pelham Picture House in New York’s Westchester County, which is actually making the transition from a commercial, first-run theater to an arthouse venue. In the midst of blockbusters and megaplexes, this story will give new hope for the independent underdog.

Stay tuned, and we’ll see you at the movies…

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