Opening in 1909, San Francisco's Roxie Cinema is the city's oldest operating movie theater, and, so far, the oldest theater I've found in the Bay Area (discounting the Victoria Theatre and Fort Point Theater). In 2004 the theater expanded to a second screen, the "Little Roxie", just two doors down from the original. The theater was recently remodeled in March.
The Roxie offers an eclectic program of independent film. Despite being closed for three weeks in March, the theater has already exhibited fifty movies on its two screens this year, more than at nearly fifty other local theaters with 2+ screens (including the Century San Francisco Centre 9), and as many as at the AMC Bay Street 16. For thirty-nine of its fifty films, the Roxie is the only theater in the Bay Area to have shown that movie this year.
The lobby in the main building is small, but cozy, with a comfy couch to one side, large prints on display showing film exhibition equipment, and a cute candy counter in the middle. Like many of its fellow small theaters, the Roxie has an impressive kiosk of playbills from other theaters, including a celebration of Akira Kurosawa at the Pacific Film Archive, the Hola Mexico Film Festival at the Embarcadero, and the San Francisco International Film Festival at various theaters throughout the city.
Going on now, the Roxie is presenting twenty-eight seldom-seen noir movies in their "I Still Wake Up Dreaming!" festival. They exhibit several other mini-festivals throughout the year, listed here.
The main auditorium seats 238 in a simply decorated room, with elegant light fixtures lining the walls.
Tickets are purchased at the main box office for both theaters, but one then walks two doors down to gain admission to the Little Roxie.
An arm of the theater, Roxie Releasing, serves as a distribution branch for many small films, including those listed here, and those whose posters decorate the walls of the Little Roxie's lobby.
The auditorium in the Little Roxie, where I saw my film, seats 49 and provides ample legroom. Unfortunately, daylight from the front of the building leaks directly into the auditorium when rude patrons such as myself show up just as the film is beginning.
(Unknown. I arrived late.)
The Secret of Kells
The most recent animated movie to bring in $100M in the U.S. was Lilo & Stitch in 2002. Disney's subsequent releases, paling to their heyday of the 1990s, petered out with Home on the Range in 2004, and a declaration that the studio would henceforth concentrate on digitally animated films. With Disney bowing out of the race, and foreign features barely making a dent in the domestic market (Miyazaki's Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and Ponyo together earned only $30M in the U.S.), the domestic box office has been dominated by digitally animated films ever since (twenty-six such films have earned $100M+ in the U.S.). Does traditional animation survive? In the home market, yes, with direct-to-video features still filling a niche. (I'm a big supporter of the superhero direct-to-video sub-genre.) Aside from Miyazaki's films, though, even the international market has been drained. The beautiful, acclaimed, and diverse The Triplets of Belleville, Steamboy, Waltz with Bashir, and now The Secret of Kells together have earned less than $36M worldwide.
The Secret of Kells takes full advantage of its medium, leveraging several different styles of animation to depict its various characters and even the eponymous book, shown in such vivid detail that I fully appreciated the movie's statement that this book could change lives. Our story follows Brendan, a young monk fascinated by new arrival Brother Aidan, whose talents precede him. As Brendan's fellow monks tell it, Aidan's third eye has allowed him to create a book so beautiful that to look upon it is to peer directly into Heaven. Aidan's arrival, though, foretells danger; he is a refugee from his own monastery, destroyed by viking invaders, who even now approach Brendan's monastery, the Abbey of Kells. Brendan's uncle, Cellach (voiced to perfection by Brendan Gleeson), as abbot of the monastery and charged with protecting its citizens, has been employing all the labor in his control to build an enormous wall around his village, hoping to repel the imminent attack through shear defensive superiority. Despite the fall of Aidan's home, Cellach alone seems to comprehend the danger they are all in; he labors tirelessly to complete the wall, and derides all attempts to continue the monks' more traditional roles (such as authoring books).
Disobeying his uncle's orders, Brendan begins to secretly apprentice himself to Aidan, to aid in completing Aidan's magical book. To this end, Brendan is dispatched into the forest, beyond the wall, to gather ingredients for the different inks the book requires. Once in the forest, Brendan meets Aisling, a forest apparition who can appear as a young girl or a white wolf. Together the two work to fulfill Aidan's list, but this brings them to some ancient ruins where the Dark One resides, waiting to be awakened. Brendan applies his educated knowledge of the past to rebuff Aisling's superstition about the place, but Aisling knows first hand that the Dark One is real.
Every frame of this film is vivid, interesting, and beautiful. And make no mistake, this movie isn't for young children, despite its young protagonists and flat animation. The film's various conflicts are intense and graphic. Brendan's relationship with Cellach is especially difficult to watch, because the movie doesn't demonize Cellach. He is flawed, but stewards the best interests of his constituents; and Brendan, for his part, is immature. Cellach and Brendan represent the central conflict of what is most valuable; to Cellach, it is human life, thus the importance of completing the wall; but to Brendan it is art and knowledge, thus his quest to finish Aidan's book. Though the movie sides with Brendan by virtue of following him more closely, it doesn't shy away from making us uncomfortable having to choose.
Though the vikings are depicted as purely evil, killing for its own sake, there is an interesting double contrast between their barbarism, the civilized culture of the Abbey, and the pagan naturalism Brendan finds in the forest with Aisling. From Aisling's perspective, Brendan's people, walling themselves off from the world, are no more righteous than the vikings who want to bring down that wall.
The movie ended too soon for my tastes; I could have stayed under its spell much longer.