The Last Night at the Red Vic

I arrived at the last showing of the last film to be played at the Red Vic movie house about two hours before it was scheduled to open and noticed the sign saying “Sold Out”, and a slowly budding line by the door.  I placed myself in it firmly and waited, occasionally talking to the people around me.  Every now and then people would walk by and ask if something was happening here, or comment sadly on its closing, or, with some bitterness, scold us line-waiters, saying, “You do this now, but if you did this more often before, the Red Vic wouldn’t have closed.”  I could only smile sadly, knowing the truth in the statement and having thought it myself.

Eventually, about 15 minutes after the film was supposed to start, the line began to move, and they said that they can only take 10 people, everyone else should go.  Naturally this didn’t discourage me at all because I knew it would discourage everyone behind me; when I saw that I was correct, and that perhaps 60 people or more suddenly dispersed, I watched the door expectantly.  They slowly accepted more and more until they get to me; they asked if I am solo, and I replied in affirmation.  They reluctantly told me to go inside.  I thanked them and hurried in, forgetting completely to pay.

The theatre was completely full – the first time I had ever seen this at the Red Vic.  I will admit that I had only gone to it three times in the past, for Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Breathless, and Rubber. My excuse is that I was far too poor to worry about anything but food and rent for my first year in San Francisco.  I took a place in the back, next to someone from the San Francisco Chronicle, and began taking photos.

We didn’t have to wait long.  Someone from the collective which worked on and owns the Red Vic got on the stage and began to speak, not without emotion, about the Red Vic’s past, and especially about the people who took part in it.  Then the group of the collective took the stage; the speaker said several things about several people, and then some people spoke, albeit with brevity.  One person quipped, “Thank you everyone for coming, thanks to the audience, the press – you finally made it.”

Another person (or perhaps it was the same person? I was somewhat swept up by the emotion of the whole thing to carefully notice details; I also didn’t know the people on stage as I hadn’t been much of a part of their community) told an anecdote: Back in the beginning of the Red Vic, they got their first 70mm film and put it on, but soon noticed that all the characters were stick-figures.  Everything was squished.  They realized that they needed to put on an anamorphic lens, and attempted to do so.  After struggling with it for some time, they gave up and offered the audience a refund or a free ticket to another show.  He said that, to their great relief, almost everyone chose to get a free ticket, and he said that due to this the Red Vic actually sold more tickets that day than they had in the past.

We then attempted to watch a short film which was made by one of the main three collectivists who started the Red Vic; there were some technical difficulties, so we jumped right to the main film, “Harold and Maude”.  This was the first time I had seen it, so I jumped into a seat and enjoyed it.

After the film was over, they tried again to show the short film.  It appeared that the technical difficulties were that they couldn’t get the sound working; they played it anyway this time.

The short was of the three main collectivists, all of whom were present, basically fiddling around with all the equipment in very innocent clever ways – dancing with the reels, making too much pop-corn; one funny gag included them throwing various things, cutting to them being caught, until finally they threw mugs and cut to them crashing on the floor.  From the film, one could get a sense of this amazing sense of excitement of these people starting their own collectively run movie theatre.  I couldn’t help but look around behind me at the faces illumined by the flickering film projected onto the screen, and notice how this somber feeling of the closing Vic juxtaposed with the innocent hope in the film.  One could not feel this moment, that great, slowly crashing feeling of the end of an era.  I felt privileged to be able to view it with them, even though I had not been a part of its creation and had not done much of my part to support its continuation.

After it was over we all got up and left; I went to the ticket counter and told them that I forgot to pay at the beginning and paid my ticket.  He laughed and said, “You just want to be able to say you were the last one to buy a ticket.”

It’s a very sad thing to see such a theatre as the Red Vic close.  Support your local movie theatres!

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