The 16-month closure and overhaul of the Castro Theatre now looms, and this weekend will see the final film screenings at the Castro Theatre as we know it — with the 1932 horror masterpiece Vampyr Friday, and a Sunday double-feature of Blade Runner and Robocop.
Update: The Chronicle reported on Friday that the Castro Theatre has added one more screening on February 4, the 1982 comedy Victor/Victoria!, with a pre-show perfomance by D’Arcy Drollinger and Matthew Martin.
The nearly two-year debate over concert promoter Another Planet Entertainment (APE) taking over programming at the Castro Theatre introduced us to terms like “fixed theatrical seating” and “motorized raked floor.” Those previously confusing phrases entered our lexicon in the contentious discourse over APE’s plans to remove the Castro Theatre’s orchestra-level seats, and replace them with tiered platforms and temporary seating for screenings and seated events at a remodeled Castro Theatre that would function more as a conventional concert hall. And after 17 months of months of movie house drama, SF City Hall approved APE’s renovations plans this past June.
The Castro Theatre now has a closure date for its upcoming renovation by Another Planet Entertainment, and it's in early February. The reopening is now planned for Summer 2025. https://t.co/uPY9E3G0hu— Hoodline (@Hoodline) December 11, 2023
This all means that the Castro Theatre is about to close for remodeling for nearly a year and a half (if not longer). Hoodline reported last month that the Castro Theatre would close for the next 16 months for these renovations, starting February 4. And as APE themselves projects, the “Completion (is) Scheduled for Summer 2025.”
Looking at the Castro Theatre schedule, that means this weekend will host the final film screenings at the theater as we know it, before it gets renovated into its next incarnation. Yes, there are live Sketchfest 2024 events scheduled at the Castro after this coming weekend: Eric Idle (January 18), Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (January 21), and Marc Maron (February 3).
But this weekend represents the last opportunity to take in a proper film screening at the Castro Theatre until the summer of 2025, or sometime thereafter. Here’s what’s playing:
Vampyr, 1932, Friday, January 12 (7:30 p.m.)
It’s the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s swan song at the fixed-seated Castro Theatre. And ironically, the Silent Film Festival is playing one of the earliest internationally renowned “talkies,” the 1932 surrealist horror classic Vampyr. It’s Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first sound film, though utilizes more sound effects than actual dialogue.
And what a show it will be. They've got the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra led by renowned silent film composer Timothy Brock, and they’ll be performing an interpretation of Wolfgang Zeller’s original 1932 score.
Blade Runner and Robocop, Sunday, January 14 (4:15 p.m.)
The final movies to play at the Castro Theatre as we know it will be Sunday’s double feature lineup of the 2007 final cut of the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, and a restored 4K director’s cut of the action-splatter romp Robocop. It’s a Movies for Maniacs show (formerly Midnites for Maniacs, which also has a 20th anniversary screening of Scumrock Thursday night at the 4-Star, and a 4K restoration of Donnie Darko Friday night at the 4-Star), so there will be raffle prizes, “a 35mm trailer reel of rare science fiction films,” and of course our good friend David Hegarty playing the organ.
“Anyone who’s ever moved to San Francisco knows the feeling of coming to the Castro and seeing these movies that supposedly everyone has seen, and yet maybe you’re embarrassed to say that you’ve never seen Blade Runner, much less that there’s five different versions, and which version is this going to be,” Movies for Maniacs host and curator Jesse Hawthorne Ficks tells SFist. “I have been thrilled with the fresh faces that have been packing the theater these past two years.”
“Blade Runner was [originally] released with narration that Ridley Scott had not approved in 1982,” Hawthorne Ficks explains. “So it has gone through a series of re-releases. There was one in the 90s called the director's cut. This one was released in 2007 and it’s called the final cut, which is the fifth version. The final cut is director-approved, and it has footage from all the different versions.”
Hawthorne Ficks also teases that this version has “a very specific sequence that was never in any of the other versions, which has opened up perhaps one of the most interesting debates surrounding the film.”
And a neat coincidence, this version of Blade Runner had its San Francisco premiere at the Castro Theatre in 2007. “It’s a nice full circle back to the 2007 release,” Hawthorne Ficks says.
Then at 6:45 p.m. Sunday your admission fee also gets you into the unrated director’s cut of the action satire Robocop. “It’s the unrated director’s cut,” Hawthorne Ficks tells us. “It’s about a minute longer of sex and violence.”
“In the late 80s, even just trimming off a couple of seconds — most fans of horror or exploitation films know all it takes is two and a half seconds to lose something really unique,” he adds. “All of those minor changes have been added back into this, and this was director-approved by Paul Verhoeven. And it’s a 4K restoration as well.”
Movies for Maniacs will indeed be returning to the Castro Theatre when it reopens in the summer of 2025. “So many people have been hoping and wishing and dreaming that someone with $30 million could just appear and save the Castro Theatre. I’m genuinely thrilled that Another Planet has done that,” Hawthorne Ficks tells us. “I see this as a lifesaver.”
As KQED points out, those who’ve opposed APE’s changes to the Castro Theatre also have the option of a Thursday night panel discussion at the Roxie called The Fight for the Castro Theatre: Lessons for Queer Preservation — that's this evening at 6:30 p.m.
Yes, the Castro Theatre will lose something historic when its orchestra-level seats are removed. But APE’s reported $20 million remodel will also restore the theater’s decorative ceiling, proscenium, historic light fixtures, and central chandelier. And APE also gave preservationists a number of concessions for the remodeled theater: promising to activate the space at least 180 days a year, devote 33% of their programming to film, and no less than 25% of their programming to LGBTQIA-themed acts and events.
So we’ll hope that all happens when the newly remodeled Castro Theatre reopens in the summer of 2025.
Image: Steven Bracco, Hoodline