New Mission/Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

New Mission TheatreI have seen this theater being built over a year ago and was interested in seeing what a new theater in San Francisco might be like. I got the chance to experience it when my company held a night out there to see of all things, Back To The Future which came out before most of the employees were born.

It’s a lot different from other movie theaters where you walk up to a ticket booth and buy your ticket then give the ticket to someone standing at the door. You can actually walk in and the ticket seller is off in the back past the stairs up to the theaters. This seemed very odd to me at first because you could easily walk into a theater to watch a movie without paying.

As it turns out this theater is a theater where watching a movie is second place to the experience. When I first walked in there were several retro video games and a record store which going with the retro theme only sold vinyl. There was a bar in the very back and when I got up to the theater we had rented Each seat had a table with a menu. You can write your own ticket up for food or drink you’d like to order and a server will sneak by and grab your ticket and deliver your order. Kind of a cool idea since theater food wasn’t always known to be the best.

Because we were a private affair they offered up popcorn which had truffle butter [don’t worry, it’s not a link to the Niki Minaj song], garlic parmesan or kimchee coatings] as well as draft beer and champagne. After walking around a bit I noticed that they had tables set up in between the rows filled with pizza and sliders. Being an old school native these were not the classic theater foods I expected. I have to say the chicken sliders were pretty tasty and the pizza was of the thin crust California style with lots of veggies and I assume the pepperoni came from pigs who were masturbated and washed daily. In short, I wish I hadn’t eaten lunch that day because the food was really good. The popcorn was pretty addictive even though the the whole truffle thing is lost on me as I am one of those 30% of the population where truffles taste like dirt.

The New Mission is owned by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema which is a chain of all things that started in Austin, TX. Austin is a lot like San Francisco with a bit of a drawl so it fits with our culture here. The idea of getting real food and having a seriously well stocked bar on site actually made this an even better evening. I kind of felt like I was sitting at home watching a movie on my own big screen TV, but didn’t have to worry about cleaning up after my drunk friends when home. While the prices seemed a t0uch high to this old guy they aren’t really that bad compared to other places in San Francisco. Hell for today’s working class it’s down right affordable. Definitely check it out and make sure you walk all over the place to get the full experience. Stop by the bar at the end for a cocktail before you leave and don’t worry about anyone checking your ticket.

The Towering Inferno

The Towering InfernoIt’s time to go to the movies again and last night I watched the Towering Inferno to remind me of life in San Francisco back in the 70’s. This is one of those movies that you have to watch to get a feel of what the city was like back in 1975 even though it has plenty of Hollywood sheen added to it.

I first have to give props to Hollywood in that a large amount of the movie was actually filmed in San Francisco. I remember when the film came out there was a big opening night screening with lots of the cast members in attendance here in San Francisco and not Hollywood. This movie came out at a time when disaster movies were all the rage until they started being spoofed by movies like Airplane! The set designs were über 70’s chic that reminded me of an old James Bond movie more than a place were people actually lived and worked. All the men wore suits and had voices like they smoked too much [which they did back then] and women wore, well I’m not sure what the style was called, but when you see it there is definitely a 70’s fashion sense that comes through. The good thing is that women did look kind of hot back in the 70’s until you realize that the younger women in their 20’s are now pushing 70 today. The men were dashing and a bit on the overly macho side. I had to think for a minute to realize that Fred Astaire would be 114 years old if he was still around today. The lifestyle was pure decadent 70’s in this new high rise building. So decadent that the main office had a secret bedroom off to the side which Robert Wagner and Susan Flannery make use of within the first 10 minutes of the movie.

The cast is a definite who’s who of 70’s actors and actresses. If you don’t know their names you certainly will know their faces. Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are the best known and this movies just shows why people would sometimes confuse the two. Faye Dunaway is absolutely gorgeous in this movie as Paul Newman’s high society girlfriend who is always dressed to the nines throughout the film. One of the things I noticed was how white the movie was, but that was back in the 70’s and that’s the way people watching TV and going to the movies liked it back then. You have two token cast members with O.J. Simpson playing the head of security and Gregory Sierra [anyone remember him?] playing a bartender, so they got their ethnic bases covered for the 70’s. Not a single Asian was used in the filming of this movie which I thought was kind of odd since you’re in San Francisco which has one of the most well known Chinatowns in the world, yet there are no Asians on the streets anywhere. Now that I think about you saw very few Asians in TV and movies back then except for the occasional comic relief in a western or George Takei in Star Trek.

Now then, onto the plot. This is where the movie gets funny looking back. A skyscraper is built in San Francisco which is the tallest building in the world. Obviously since this was the time of disaster movies building up to code wasn’t good enough and they needed better, but they just stuck to the rules and built to code along with leaving a large pile of oily rags surrounded by containers of flammable liquid next to a main electrical box that shorts out. The fire starts on the 81st floor while a party to celebrate San Francisco having the tallest building in the world is going on at the top in the Promenade Room. Apparently back in the 70’s nobody had learned that in case of fire take the stairs not the elevator. This is shown very quickly when Steve McQueen’s character walks in calmly and takes a look at the fire then hops in an elevator three feet away that he takes up to the Promenade Room. Note this is the same elevator that ten minutes later a group of people crowd onto to get away from the Promenade Room only to have the doors mysteriously open up on the floor of the fire serving up roast human to the firefighters. My cousin is a retired fireman and I’ll have to ask him how horribly wrong the fire department handled the fire during the movie. In the end the movie sticks to disaster theme formula of I die, you die, we all die pretty much with only the most righteous believers surviving.

If you see nothing else you should at least see the opening of the movie with the helicopter ride over San Francisco. While not a car chase, the helicopter visuals were spliced together in such a way that wasn’t linear, but hits all the sites of San Francisco. Enjoy the trailer and watch the film if you can find it.

The House On Telegraph Hill

The House on Telegraph HillIt’s time to look at some more San Francisco movies and I did a little searching for some other than Bullitt and I found one I had never heard of called, The House on Telegraph Hill. It’s a 1951 movie so it doesn’t have the campiness of the 60’s movies, but there’s still a good car scene the type that you can only make in San Francisco.

If you want to read a synopsis of the movie I suggest you check out the write up at since that’s pretty accurate. Let’s just say in the cliff notes version it has Nazis, poison and car brake failure.

OK, Nazis, poison, car brakes fail…Wait, car brakes fail? Must be a good time to introduce the car scene. It seems like there was a time when if you filmed a movie in San Francisco that you had to have a car scene. This was the car driving around all crazy on the verge of crashing and if you were lucky they would drive out of Golden Gate Park and drive off the piers at the Wharf. Geography was always an after thought in movies filmed in SF and that’s usually the fun part when you can tell that Golden Gate Park does not exit onto Fisherman’s Wharf or some other strange place.

Car scenes like this are for the die hard residents who know San Francisco backwards and forwards. Just looking at the clip below I saw streets that several of my friends have lived on now or in the past. For me at least, the car scenes are why I like watching movies or TV shows filmed in SF.

Let’s Go To The Movies!

The Parkside TheaterFor some reason this popped into my mind over the weekend and I had to see if I could dig anything up on this, but back in the late 60’s/early 70’s when I was a young pup the elementary schools at the end of the school year would sell matinee tickets to your local movie theater for a Tuesday or Wednesday showing and each movie ticket cost 15¢. You would buy enough to cover you for the summer and once a week your parents would cart you off to the local theater and dump you there for the day. Life was good back then.

I’d like to say 15¢ was worth more back then and I’m sure it was, but this wasn’t breaking anyone’s bank that I remember. A small box of candy, which would be considered large by today’s standards, at my local Parkside Theater was 16¢ [the extra penny was for tax], so getting rid of your kids for a day each week in the summer was worth the price of a candy bar. I don’t know about other theaters at the time, but the Parkside also served ice cream and sandwiches which was a bit odd for back then as they weren’t pre-packaged, but hand scooped and hand made.

As I remember the movies started at around 11am or so and ended around 4-4:30pm. They’d show a cartoon movie and then a live action movie, all kid oriented of course. You could go in and watch Jungle Book followed by Treasure Island and for a little kid having the big screen to share with his friends and not having your parents around was great. Before every movie they showed a few cartoon shorts for the kids with short attention spans to help hold them over through the movie. In between movies they had an intermission which meant time to buy more candy so you could properly fuel your sugar rush for when you came home. I would be sent off with a dollar in my pocket and always get candy, popcorn and a soda and come home with change.

While I only went to the Parkside, I think the summer movie thing was done all around the city. I seem to remember using my tickets at a theater in the Richmond District once or twice because my Mom’s best friend lived there and I’d sometimes go with her kids. It’s kind of hard thinking back to those times because today you’ve got entertainment available from so many different sources. Back then we didn’t have channels to change, I don’t even think we knew what movies they were going to show. I believe the tickets just had the day and the date and 15¢. Maybe the school name was on it because it was probably a way for the schools to add to their coffers.

Now here’s the funny thing, I found out that the Parkside Theater back in those days seated 1329 people, so on a sold out matinee they would make only $199.35 from ticket sales. You couldn’t buy them at the door, you had to get them from your school. Anything extra they got was from selling foods at the snack bar. I’m sure minimum wage was awful back then since the first real job I got was in 1977 and paid $2.20/hour and at that price I bet they could barely cover the cost of the staff if they weren’t selling lots at the snack bar. Working then wasn’t too much fun because if you did something incorrectly they could cut your pay for the day and I’m sure that was over used because in the mid 70’s they made it so you had to be paid for the hours you worked. No one seemed unhappy working at the theaters back then though, but I was only 7 so what did I know.

Those days are gone now with most of the small neighborhood theaters disappearing [the Parkside was a first run theater that got the movies as they came out] and I’m sure we’ll start to see some of the larger theaters disappear as the home screens keep getting bigger and people like to eat less over processed crap that they can make cheaper at home. It’s kind of sad though because it was a very memorable time for me. I haven’t been to a movie theater now in close to ten years, mostly because I can get close to the experience for a fraction of the price without having to walk across sticky floors to sit in an uncomfortable seat and eat junk food that everyone says today will take 10 years off your life, but when you’re a kid you don’t notice those things.

Parkside Theater: San Francisco Grindhouse

I watched a movie the other day called American Grindhouse [if you’re into film making you should see this]. I’d learned more about the genre than I could from the Quentin Tarantino movie of the same name. This stirred up some memories in my mind of the old Parkside Theater which was a top notch theater in it’s day, but took a turn towards the Grindhouse genre when it was sold and became the Fox-Parkside as we all knew it.

Grindhouse films were always low budget films that focused on many seedier ideas such as T&A, gratuitous gore, racial exploitation or all of the above. For me, after seeing American Grindhouse I had to see some of these films that I wasn’t old enough to see as a kid because most were made in the early 70’s and I wouldn’t turn 18 until 1980. WOW! Now I know why people were talking about Pam Grier films. She was always having clothes come off in her movies. I couple of little know grindhouse girls who showed up frequently were Anitra Ford who was the first female model on the Price is Right. The other was Victoria Vetri who was the 1968 Playboy Playmate of the Year and born in San Francisco [and that was also the first issue of Playboy I ever got to see!]

The titles of these films pretty much told you what to expect in the films, The Big Bird Cage, Caged Heat, Invasion of the Bee Girls. You knew that there would be lots of nakedness in these films. I knew it, even though I never got to see one of them until recently. So how does the Parkside fit into this? Well when I was in 2 & 3 grade they were a first run theater or close to first run. They had a thing during the summer where your parents would buy you tickets for Tuesday or Wednesday matinees so your parents could get rid of you for a few hours. I still remember buying Mike and Ike’s, Good and Plenties or Red Vines at the food counter which were larger than a box you would buy today [the Red Vines are about the same size] and it would cost you 16¢. The extra penny was to cover tax. I may be dating myself here, but you could go to a movie with $5 get in see the movie with popcorn and a drink and come out with change.

It was a respectable theater for the most part. Not one of the bigger theaters like you’d find downtown or in higher class neighborhoods, but it was a good working class theater. Then something changed…

In the 70’s it was sold off [1976 according to my my friend Woody at the Western Neighborhoods Project]. Things changed. The seats were pulled out of the downstairs and during the day it was a daycare center for kids. At night it ran grindhouse pictures or when they could get them older movies like Dr. Zhvago [always a big one they’d show]. Blacula, SuperFly, the aforementioned movies where all weekday evening movies. On Friday’s and Saturdays it was a different kind of grind house. I think smokehouse would have been more appropriate. Friday’s the fun started at 6pm and on Saturday’s it would start at noon. They would run every rock music film from the 60’s or 70’s they could find and seating was moved to the balcony. I remember a few nights when you could barely see the screen for the amount of pot smoke floating around. You would hear the clanking of beer bottles and people would be making deals trading beer for joints or vice versa.

The bathrooms upstairs were a good place for people to exchange drugs and liquor and puke. Back then they were pretty in line people that wouldn’t throw up on the way to bathroom, but knew their limit enough to get to the bathroom first. I think because of that time I have films like Jimi Play’s Berkeley, Woodstock, Tommy, Song Remains the Same as god knows how many other movies burned into my brain. I can’t always remember their names, but I know there were a couple with Pink Floyd, Santana, Janis Joplin [not at Woodstock]. It was like I was living through the 60’s again only I was old enough to understand it now.

Note that all the movie links above are only to the Wikipedia references, but if you have NetFlix you can stream them and see how open the movie industry used to be. The only scary part about watching these films today is I remember how hot some of these women were back then only to discover that most of them are turning 70 or older this year. Yes, your Grandma had sex.

Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine

Rarely do I have an interest in watching old movies anymore, but I happen to stumble across this one on Netflix and I had never heard of it before. The reason this movie makes it to  Baghdad By The Bay is due to the fact that there is a lot of footage shot in 1965 San Francisco. This movie has one of the most hilariously ridiculous chase scenes that is almost a spoof of Bullitt.

The premise of the movie is pretty sketchy, but I guess from the title you would expect that. It stars Vincent Price [Dr. Goldfoot] as an evil mad scientist [no stretch there] who with his assistant Igor [who Dr. Goldfoot has brought back to life from the dead]. Dr. Goldfoot is making female robots that he dresses up in gold lamé bikini’s that parade around his castle/mortuary lair in San Francisco. The reason he makes them is so that they can go out and marry rich men around the world and then have them sign over all of their finances to make Dr. Goldfoot uber-rich. Incidentally, Dr. Goldfoot makes his first appearance in they typical Vince Price like garb, but wear a pair of gold lamé elf shoes complete with the ringing little bells. Fashion faux pax in my book.

The movie gets underway with Diane or number 11 being sent out to meet her first match. In the process she gets shot for no reason several times and walks into a diner and meets Frankie Avalon [Craig Gamble] who after walking up and drinking his glass of milk starts spewing milk out of the gunshot wounds. Yes, this is definitely a slapstick, campy movie throughout. We’re talking Jerry Lewis kind of slapstick with prat falls, spit takes, people falling out of windows and huge objects landing on people’s heads where they get up afterwards and shake it off.

The real fun of the movie is actually during the car chase at the end. At one point we have Price chasing Avalon in two cable cars. They didn’t realize that because they’re connected to the same cable there was no way that you could go faster so at one point Avalon jumps off and steals a car and Price just makes the cable car drive off of the tracks in pursuit all the way to Sausalito.

That was the totally weird, how stoned were the writers when they put this together part of the movie. The car on car chase scenes were pretty funny if you know the city though. At one point they drive down Lombard street and make a right and end up in West Portal where you can see the familiar signs of the Philosopher’s Club and Original Joe’s. Avalon gives Price the slip who drives into the West Portal tunnel on the wrong side only to crash into a K-Ingelside train as it exists the tunnel. Price steals another car and chases after Avalon for a couple of blocks where they make another right and end up driving past Alamo Square. Maps were apparently not necessary back then because after they passed the park at Alamo Square they make a left and end up driving past Fort Mason and down Marina Green toward the Presidio where they end up at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The good guy wins in the end because, well, c’mon it’s Frankie Avalon, he always wins. This movies was stupidly funny and I guess back then seeing two guys at a bar drinking an 8oz glass of whiskey wasn’t considered odd. If you’re a feminist you definitely won’t like this movie that has no nudity but a whole lot of gold lamé booty shaking going on with the mindless mostly blonde [there was one token Black and token Asian girl] bikini’d women serving their evil master Dr. Goldfoot. The movie had to be a spoof on the James Bond Goldfinger released in 1964 and even as bad as it was it was still a movie that I couldn’t stop watching. It gives you a look at the old San Francisco and they way of life people had back then, well, as least from Hollywood’s view point. Now I want to go out and find that castle in San Francisco, because it wasn’t Julius’ Castle.

Incidentally, there was a sequel made called Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs only this time Frankie Avalon was replaced by Fabian.


The Red Vic is Closing

I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised when I read this. The Red Vic Movie House, not to be confused with the Red Victorian Bed and Breakfast in the next block has always had trouble defining itself and attracting customers.

I’ve never been to the Red Vic, but do remember it becoming the last place to show midnight screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. This was not a place for first run movies. They were always fifth or sixth run movies with the occasional independent film from a local that was a first run because no where else would show it. When I was younger and we were far more superficial we didn’t like the idea of going to the Red Vic because they didn’t have typical theater style seating, but couches. Yes, couches like you have at home. Why pay someone money to see a movie that you could probably see at your own home for free on your own couch that you at least knew what had been spilled onto?

All of this is based solely on speculation because not only have I never even seen the inside of the Red Vic, but I can’t even find pictures of the inside so what it was like can only be conjured up in my head. My friends and I always thought of it as a movie theater for hippies because we thought at the time that hippies who thought television was bad for your brane would have to go out of their house or tent to see moving pictures. Maybe I’m right, or maybe I’m not, but I do remember the various hippies I’ve encountered over the years it was rare to see a television in any of their homes.

The Red Vic was at least a symbol of counter-culture cinema for San Francisco even if it never attracted the customer base to keep it alive. Part of me is sad to see it go, but I can’t exactly demand that it stay if I was never interested in offering any monetary support to keep it open in the first place. I’ve lost my love of movie theaters when the prices reached $10 a ticket and $20 for snacks. With our widescreen, high def, flat screen TV’s of today it kind of makes you glad to be able to watch a movies without your feet sticking to the floor and wondering what substance is making your feet stick to the floor. The Red Vic closes at the end of the month with Harold and Maude being the last movie it shows. I have to admit, that’s also a movie I’ve never seen.

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