The historic Clay Theatre closed on Sunday, as announced, and it spent its final hours screening an Oscar-nominated documentary, and the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which had been a featured midnight movie at the cinema going back decades.
As SFist reported earlier this month, the management at the Landmark Theatres chain decided to shut down the Clay without further explanation or fanfare as of the 26th. In the ensuing weeks, the Chronicle spoke to Landmark President Paul Serwitz, who said that the theater had been losing money for six consecutive years.
"Much of Landmark’s DNA is in older theaters like the Clay, but we’ve put many efforts into making the Clay work and are unable to operate it viably," Serwitz told the paper.
Landmark's publicist Chris Principio explains to SFist this week, "After long consideration and much effort, we regret that we are unable to continue operating the Clay Theatre. The changing theatrical landscape and challenges to independent exhibition are the major contributing factors." Principio added, "We will continue to offer independent film choices at the Opera Plaza and Embarcadero Center theatres."
Longtime projectionist Michael Blythe said he was "heartbroken" over the closure and the loss of this historic movie house. As he told SFGate on Monday, "I'm so emotionally and physically drained. All I can hope is that something good is going to come out of all of this."
It remains to be seen what the landlord may decide to do with the building and the cinema space.
Sunday afternoon, the Clay screened the Oscar nominated Honeyland, about beekeepers in Macedonia (trailer below). And on Sunday night, at midnight, there was one final showing of Rocky Horror, for fans who came to say goodbye to the Clay one last time.
As SFist noted earlier, the Clay was the site of San Francisco's first ever midnight movie screening, which was John Waters' Pink Flamingos in 1972. The theater went on to be a local home for Rocky Horror fanatics, and then later the place you could regularly catch screenings of Tommy Wiseau's so-bad-it's-fascinating B-movie The Room — hosted by Blythe, and occasionally with appearances by Wiseau himself.
As longtime fan T.J. Fisher tells SFGate of those screenings at the Clay, “I just remember there was this sign, like, ‘Absolutely no refunds, you'll see why.’”
So, sayonara Clay. The next generation will have to find their midnight movies elsewhere.