When the stars came out at the Clay

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IN THE SPRING of 1985, the Clay Theatre on Fillmore hosted the premiere of the spaghetti western parody Lust in the Dust. It starred Tab Hunter, Divine and Cesar Romero, who were at the Clay for the screening.

After years of tales about the event, photographic evidence has now surfaced, courtesy of Tab Hunter’s partner, producer Allan Glaser.

Hunter and Glaser came to the Clay last year for a Q&A session about the new film, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. When he walked through the door of the theater, Hunter said: “I was here 30 years ago — what a great place.” During the interview, Hunter spoke about the years he lived in San Francisco’s Richmond District, including a stint working at the Bull Pup enchilada stand at Playland.

Glaser remembered they had photos from the premiere of Lust in the Dust at the Clay, and recently shared the images with the theater staff. They show the crowds lining Fillmore Street as the actors arrived in a black limo. Film lovers were excited to see Tab Hunter and Divine share the screen again; they had starred together four years earlier in John Waters’ film Polyester.

After introducing the film, the actors took seats in the back row and watched the movie with the audience. Beforehand, they planted their handprints and footprints in cement outside the theater in the style of the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

“We have no clue where the prints ended up,” says Michael Blythe, who works at the Clay. “We would love to find them.”

New plan to revamp the Clay

clay-night

A  NEW PLAN is in the works to remodel the historic Clay Theatre on Fillmore Street by expanding the concession area in the lobby and offering additional food and beverage options, including beer and wine.

The plan abandons earlier efforts to carve the Clay into three smaller screening rooms and build townhouses above the theater and an adjacent building, with a garage excavated underneath.

“We’ve been trying to figure out a way to get the theater revitalized and bring some life back to the boulevard,” said architect Charles Kahn, who is collaborating with the owner of the building, Blagobind Jaiswal. Jaiswal also owns the building next door housing the Alice + Olivia boutique and the Cielo clothing boutique a few doors south.

“This is all about saving the theater,” Kahn said. “It’s a much more modest project than where we started.”

A public hearing on the plans will be held on Monday, January 4, at 7 p.m. in Calvin Hall of the Calvary Presbyterian Church at 2515 Fillmore.

Kahn said the new plan calls for relocating the restrooms now in the lobby to the back of the theater behind the screen. That would free up space for an expanded food and beverage operation. Seating would also be upgraded and accessibility improved.

Kahn said no changes are planned to the facade of the theater.

UPDATE: The public hearing on January 4 left local supporters of the Clay Theatre optimistic about the future of the 110-year-old movie house. The owner of the building, Blagobind Jaiswall, and his architect, Charles Kahn, said they were “absolutely committed” to renovating and continuing the theater.

Film fans at the meeting questioned plans to move the restrooms inside the theater behind the screen, but no one objected to other renovations, including an expanded concession area serving beer and wine.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to increase the hours the building is open,” Kahn said after the hearing. “I collected some very valuable information.”

Staffers from the Clay attended the meeting and offered a number of suggestions. Afterward, the head of Landmark Theatres, which operates the Clay, said he was encouraged by his talks with the owner and architect.

“So far, so good,” said Landmark CEO Ted Mundorff. “I think it’s the beginning of a plan. If we can get a better theater out of this, then it’s a great plan.”

The question remains how to pay for it.

“That’s gonna be the rub,” said Mundorff. “There’s not this big cash cow that walks in the door when you sell beer and wine.”

Kahn said he will bring detailed plans for remodeling the Clay and expanding its offerings before the city Planning Commission in the coming months.

Landmark announced in August 2010 it would close the Clay, but a last-minute deal kept the theater in operation.

EARLIER: “How the Clay dodged a bullet

Sundance sells Kabuki cinemas

Sundance revamped the Kabuki complex when it took over in 2007.

Sundance revamped the Kabuki complex when it took over in 2007.

ACTOR-DIRECTOR-PRODUCER Robert Redford and his investors have sold their five Sundance movie houses — including the eight-screen Kabuki cinemas at Fillmore and Post.

The new owner, Carmike Cinemas, based in Columbus, Ga., is the fourth-largest theater chain in the U.S., now with 274 theaters in 41 states and ambitions to expand further. A Carmike official said no immediate changes are planned in the operation of the Kabuki cinemas.

Redford at the Kabuki in 2012.

Robert Redford at the Kabuki in 2012.

Sundance revamped the Kabuki complex when it took over in 2007, upgrading the decor, seating and sound and adding expanded food and beverage options.

“We have no intention of eliminating the popular beer, wine, cocktail and food programs offered at Sundance Kabuki,” said Brian Dobson, director of restaurant operations for Carmike. “The current arrangement works.”

Dobson said his company will continue Sundance’s reserved seating program, which allows tickets to be purchased online in advance, and will continue to show no ads before screenings. Sundance’s “custom content” messages projected before films begin will remain, said Dobson.

Ticket prices won’t change, Dobson said, but there may be more “alternative programming” — ballet, theater, opera and small indie films of the type that first put Redford’s Sundance Film Festival on the cinematic map.

Carmike bought all five Sundance theaters — the others are in West Hollywood, Seattle, Houston and Madison, Wisconsin — for $36 million in cash. Carmike will continue to operate the five theaters under the Sundance name, but may not expand the Sundance brand, according to statements both firms issued announcing the deal.

Neither local Sundance spokesperson Nancy Gribler nor Kabuki general manager Michael Spring responded to repeated requests for information about any effects of the sale on the Kabuki’s operations. Spring was said to be on a long conference call with his new bosses in Georgia.

The bail bondsman is an artist

 

ART & FILM | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Toward the end of Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish, we see Barrish, San Francisco’s most famous bail bondsman, at his 50th high school reunion. He is shocked to find most of his Lincoln High classmates retired — “playing golf or something” — while he is still in mid-career.

Even Angels Get the Blues | Jerry Ross Barrish

That’s a phrase you hear more often in an art museum, when an artist is given a “mid-career retrospective” of his work. And, in fact, Barrish is an artist himself. Now in his 70s, he has shut down his bail bond office across from the Hall of Justice. But he is only a little past mid-career in creating his detritus-based sculpture — what the Fresno Art Museum called “Art Drecko” in its exhibition of his found-art assemblages in 2008-2009.

Barrish creates figures of people and animals from castoff plastic and other junk he scavenges, and all of a sudden it seems he’s the man of the moment.

Two dozen of his plastic sculptures are on view in a new exhibition, Sculptures from the Plastic Man, at Studio Gallery on Pacific. And William Farley’s 75-minute Plastic Man documentary is part of this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, with screenings in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Berkeley.

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A noir thriller set locally

HOLLYWOOD COMES to the neighborhood April 10 when a new film, Man From Reno, has its San Francisco premiere at the Sundance Kabuki Theater.

ManFromRenoActually, Hollywood is coming back to the neighborhood, since much of the film was shot nearby at the Majestic Hotel and on the streets of Japantown.

It’s the story of a famous Japanese crime novelist drawn into a murder mystery of her own while hiding out from the paparazzi. It stars Ayako Fujitani, Steven Segal’s daughter, and Pepe Serna, a veteran actor with more than 100 film credits, including Scarface. Dave Boyle directs.

Man From Reno fascinates,” wrote a New York Times reviewer, and “nods to noirs from Chinatown to Vertigo.”

In addition to its setting, the film has other local connections. Neighborhood resident Ben Lyon is a co-producer and veteran actor Karl Heinz-Tauber, also a longtime Pacific Heights resident most known for his role in Amadeus, has a scene-stealing role.

“This will be one of the most fun things to happen in the neighborhood in a long time,” said Lyon: “an award-winning independent film made in our own back yard.”

Man From Reno will screen daily from April 10 through April 16.

NICHI BEI WEEKLY: “Identity and authenticity
EARLIER: “The Majestic: living up to its name

‘The city’s most charming theater’

Michael Blythe at his frequent post behind the Clay Theater concession stand.

Michael Blythe at his frequent post behind the Clay Theater concession stand.

Q & A | MICHAEL BLYTHE

Michael Blythe has worked at the venerable Clay Theater at 2261 Fillmore Street for nearly a decade. In that time he’s had the opportunity to lavish his love of old theaters on the Clay, which is now more than 100 years old.

On New Year’s Eve he helped launch a new venture as the Oasis nightclub on 11th Street began a new life. But he’s not entirely leaving the Clay behind.

What first attracted you to the Clay Theater?

I come from a lighting background. When I was a kid I was obsessed with lights, and still am. I was a nightclub lighting director in San Francisco before I moved to Minnesota, where I honed my craft running large moving rigs for a couple of clubs downtown, including shows I did at the legendary First Avenue nightclub.

When I returned to SF I got the job at the Clay that allowed me to have the freedom to work shows, but also get into one of my other longstanding obsessions: old theaters.

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Woody Allen’s latest opens at the Clay

Director Woody Allen (center) with stars Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin.

Director Woody Allen (center) with stars Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin.

Woody Allen’s new film, Blue Jasmine, opens today at the Clay Theater on Fillmore Street. It’s set mostly in San Francisco, and some scenes were filmed locally in Pacific Heights. Blue Jasmine “seems to me the best film Woody Allen has ever made,” says film critic David Thomson, a neighborhood resident, writing in The New Republic.

EARLIER: Woody Allen filming in Pacific Heights

A race to the finish line

The 78-minute documentary debuts this month in San Francisco.

The 78-minute documentary debuts this month in San Francisco.

FILM | Barbara Kate Repa

JIM TRACY, longtime running coach at the neighborhood’s University High School, never set out to be a film star. But when life conspired to deliver a record-setting team, a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s Disease and a community that rallied around it all, he could be no other.

The result is Running for Jim, which screens this month at the San Francisco Independent Documentary Film Festival.

One race in particular provided the dramatic high point of the film. The University High School girls’ cross country team, having recently learned their beloved coach had been diagnosed with the fatal disease, was set to compete in the 2010 state championship, a 3.1-mile race run on a cold damp day in Fresno. Team captain Holland Reynolds gathered the team for the usual rallying cheer: “Go Big Red! Go Devils!” Then they added, more like a prayer, “Let’s do it for Jim.”

The race was a nail-biter from the start. One of the team’s top runners, Jennie Callan, fell at the 100-yard mark and slipped to last place, then rallied to finish 16th in the roster of 169 runners. Other team members also ran their hearts out. Adrian Kerester, who had never run in a state final meet, placed 25th. Lizzie Teerlink beat her personal best time. Bridget Blum led for more than half the race, finishing third.

But Holland Reynolds, the team’s fastest runner, slowed around the 2.5 mile mark, then hit the wall. Three yards from the finish line, dazed and dehydrated, she collapsed and fell to the ground. A race official hovered over her, explaining she either had to complete the race without help or withdraw. An agonizing 20 seconds of film shows Reynolds crawling over the finish line before being swept away to a waiting ambulance.

Her explanation: “Of course I was going to finish. I just knew I needed to do it for Jim because we needed to win state for Jim.”

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Mostly British Film Fest returns

Actress Minnie Driver will be present for opening night festivities January 17.

FILM | Ruthe Stein

Jack Bair — a co-founder and director of the Mostly British Film Festival, which opens at the restored Vogue Theatre at 3290 Sacramento Street on January 17 — leads two lives, at least. His day job is as senior vice president and general counsel of the San Francisco Giants, a team that had a good year. With the festival celebrating its fifth anniversary, Bair says this also promises to be a good year for the Mostly British Film Festival.

Working for a baseball team, how did you also become involved in saving old theatres and presenting a film festival? I first became involved in an effort to save the old Cinema 21 Theatre on Chestnut Street. I saw the theatre boarded up as I was walking back from a softball game at Moscone Field. My reaction was immediate: I had to do something. Fortunately, the effort was successful and gave life to the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation. The old Cinema 21 has been reincarnated as the Marina Theatre and is alive and well.

With the Bridge Theatre and Lumiere Theatre closing, there are very few neighborhood theatres left; the Clay on Fillmore is a surviving exception. We have approached the owners of the Bridge Theatre and made an offer to keep it open, so we hope there is still a chance to save it. Fortunately, there are still a few neighborhood theatres left. We own the historic Vogue Theatre on Sacramento Street. The Vogue just celebrated its 100th birthday and is one of the oldest movie theatres in the world. We also took over the lease at the Balboa Theatre to keep it alive. 
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From Muybridge to Facebook

Q & A | Film critic David Thomson

By Mark Mitchell

David Thomson’s The New Biographical Dictionary of Film is considered a must-have reference by almost all serious movie buffs. But Thomson is more than just a film critic, more even than a film historian. His works include a biography of novelist Laurence Sterne, an account of the Scott Antarctic expedition and a brooding meditation on the state of Nevada, along with a few novels and some autobiographical works. In his ambitious Have You Seen…? Thomson presents his take on 1,000 films, pointing out the wonderful ones like a favorite uncle showing you something shiny.

Born in London in 1941, but a San Francisco resident for the last three decades, he still speaks with a soft English accent. Farrar, Straus and Giroux has just published Thomson’s 23rd book, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies — a good time to catch up on his ruminations about life, film and the future.
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