The ol’ Vic-trola

Pub date June 14, 2011
WriterAndre Torrez

SOUND TO SPARE The potential closing of Haight Street’s Red Vic Theater has unsettled me. With one less place to go out and enjoy, what’s a shut-in-prone type like me to do?

Fortunately, when I spoke to Sam Sharkey, one of the co-op’s managing partners, he offered a ray of hope by saying that the Red Vic Movie House is here, organized — it just partnered with the Haight Street Fair and the California Jug Band Association for a benefit — and best of all, still screening movies, some of them music-related.

Let me take a breath for a minute to reflect and appreciate some of the carefully curated films I’ve encountered at this fine establishment. I’ve transcended the mundane through Ziggy Stardust’s gender-bending, screwed-up-eyes stage persona in Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Director D.A. Pennebaker, better known for documenting Bob Dylan in the 1960s, tried his hand at capturing the Bowie in full glam garb during a 1973 tour. Mick Ronson shreds on guitar to undeniably comical proportions. I recall the audience cracking up, something you just don’t get when you’ve opted to Netflix at home.

The less acclaimed — but equally gorgeous — somber sounds of a pop-star- turned-recluse proved to be quite a treat. Scott Walker: 30th Century Man (2006) was one of those films I didn’t know I needed to see, until the rainy day someone sent me a YouTube link to his song “It’s Raining Today.” The opening atmospheric sounds alone on this track are enough to captivate, but as it moves forward into Walker’s commanding crooning voice, you realize that he has the ability to convey dread and beauty at once. The film is a concrete testament to his influence on contemporary musicians.

Later I was given the soundtrack to boxing’s “Rumble in the Jungle,” set in early 1970s Zaire, where a showcase of mostly familiar soul artists pulled off a hugely successful stadium concert. Soul Power (2008) sort of serves as a musical counterpart to 1996’s When We Were Kings, which was the cinematic predecessor dealing with the same Ali vs. George fight. The symbolic implications of the event for African and African American pride are brought to the fore, and the concept of power is examined, whether it is achieved physically, politically or even musically.

Sharkey said that declining attendance was the Red Vic’s main obstacle. Single-screen theaters aren’t as much of a sustainable business anymore, as evidenced by the number that have closed in the last 10 to 20 years. The Castro Theatre and the Roxie in the Mission seem to be surviving, though — I wondered why people weren’t coming out for movies in the Haight anymore. Was it a bad rap from all the sit-lie buzz? Sharkey didn’t seem convinced on that argument, trusting that his patrons wouldn’t buy into that hype. He leaned toward more technology, calling this an age of competition and noting that the accessibility of movies via broadband Internet is just too convenient.

If you’re a music fan who wants to help curb the trend against local establishments falling by the wayside, then the no-brainer is to hit the Red Vic for the following music films. Rock out for the cause — or you may end up drowning in a sea of Whole Foods.

June 26-28, Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune. The unsung 1960s antiwar folksinger (who doesn’t mind taking a backseat to Dylan) gets the full doc treatment.

July 14, The Hippie Temptation. Vintage 1967 footage of the Haight-Ashbury scene in its glorious heyday as seen through the eyes of CBS News. Originally aired on TV, this “hilariously biased” take on flower power should have you craving the street peddlers’ wares immediately after the show.

July 15-16, Stop Making Sense. Classic Talking Heads circa 1984 at L.A.’s Pantages Theatre. Watching a jittery David Byrne working the crowd in his oversized boxy white suit should be worth the price of admission alone.

July 19-20, The Last Waltz. This one’s cool for a couple of reasons. First, it’s directed by Martin Scorsese and, second, it captures The Band’s final show at San Francisco’s old Winterland Ballroom, a place I’ve often dreamed of seeing a show.