In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

82. My Dog Tulip

Clay Theatre

Now anchoring a trendy stretch of San Francisco's Fillmore St., Landmark's Clay Theatre opened in 1910. Tied with the Vogue only a handful of blocks away, the Clay is the third oldest theater in the city still showing movies. (Jack Tillmany's Theatres of San Francisco dates the Vogue to 1912, and the Clay to 1914, but I've chosen the earlier dates reported on the corresponding theater pages.) Originally opening as the Regent, and then later known as the Avalon, the Clay's original façade had a deeper inset under an arch, with the ticket booth an island in the middle. The arch is gone, but the front still looks good (excepting that strange window with curtains and Christmas lights). Some of that exterior real estate has been ceded to the lobby, and the ticket booth is embedded in one of the sides like the turret to a castle.

Even in a single screen theater where a patron's purpose is unambiguous, I always appreciate a comfortable bench in the lobby (like at the Lumiere). If a lobby is worth having at all, why not make it attractive and comfortable to sit in? Like at other Landmark theaters, the concession stand is vegan-friendly, with veggie dogs, vegan cookies, and different tasty drinks (honest-ade, pomegranate blue). The theater's lobby and bathrooms are larger than the otherwise equally sized Vogue.

A shelf filled with postcards and schedules included Lankmark's San Francisco Film Calendar, the film guide for the Castro, and the 15th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival (now approaching its 18th year). I applaud the cooperation of theaters promoting each others' programs.

A red curtain hangs in the lobby to shield the auditorium from ambient light. Inside, red fabric walls are decorated with framed posters advertising AmelieEd Wood, and City of Lost Children, in their original French titles where appropriate. A shallow stage juts out from below the screen. The auditorium sports 320 comfortable seats for its single screen, almost identical in number (and resulting stats) as for the Vogue.

A major difference, though, is that while the Vogue showed ~69 different movies in 2010, the Clay hosted a mere ~20, the fewest of any theater in the Bay Area with daily showings. It held over Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces) for nearly two months, and three other titles for a month each. My Dog Tulip was on the disfavored side, being kept for just two weeks. The one aberration is a single showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the last Saturday of each month (I still have never seen that movie).

This was my second visit to the theater, after March of the Penguins in 2005. Just a few months before this visit, the Clay had threatened to close (source); obviously it did not, and it remains open to this day.


Oasis's "Wonderwall" played, advertising their forthcoming greatest hits album. I had not heard about them since their successful 1995 album (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, but apparently they've released seven albums in total.

Also heard "Ragdoll" by Lucy Woodward, who sounds a bit like Jessica Rabbit.

A bizarre ad for tourism in South Africa features an elderly couple on vacation, being lead on private safaris and served lunch by a multitude of waitstaff, then commenting what a great time they are having and how lovely and hospitable the South African people are. The couple seems nice enough, and sincere. But the exorbitance of their vacation is stunning; either they are spending a fortune, or people in South Africa are paid dirt wages. Mostly speaking out of ignorance here, but shouldn't I be embarrassed to purchase a service in another country which I'd be unable to afford at home? The commercial concludes with the awkward, "It's possible".


Today’s Special

Aasif Mandvi is a rising sous-chef, but must switch to preparing Indian cuisine when his father becomes too ill to run the family restaurant. With a cab driver as head chef and culinary mystic, Mandvi trades snobbery for an appreciation of masala. Other than the meat dishes, looks delicious. 115 cuts.

Cool It

Documentaries make for some of the best trailers: once they state their thesis, you’ve basically seen the film, just minus the evidence. It’s like showing the hero defeating the villain, and all that’s left is the ninety minute lead up to tell us why the bad guy deserved it. Environmentalist Bjørn Lomborg objects to the scare tactics in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, arguing that alarmism will divert research and funding toward the scariest scenarios, even if they aren't the most dangerous. If we all drove hybrid cars, we would only shave off half a percent from the total emissions we need to decrease. His alternative seems to involve water and drawings on chalk board. Though the movie is on his side, it includes interviews with people looking for his head. The montage of natural disasters, interspersed with children’s drawings of the apocalypse and a creepy child voiceover make this trailer a fun watch. 98 cuts.

My Dog Tulip

Based on J.R. Ackerley's memoir, My Dog Tulip chronicles a fifty-something man (voiced by Christopher Plummer) trying to find a mate for his German Shepherd, Tulip. He lives with his sister, a curmudgeonly meddler. The narrator's observations, and the physical comedy of pairing a sedate old man with an energetic dog, are amusing at times. But in general, the film is dull.

At its best, narration serves to fill in the gaps that would take too long to show or are otherwise missing from a story. In My Dog Tulip, the narration is the story, with the animation merely keeping step to provide a visual reinforcement of the monologue. It's as if the movie were filmed directly from the memoir, rather than attempting to first adapt it into a screenplay.

The credits disclaim, ”No paper was used for the animation of this film”, all the more impressive given the movie's hand-sketched feel with stray lines and erratic, sometimes not fully-colored shapes. With children as their target audience, too many animated films eschew human characters, instead featuring talking animals. In that context, it's refreshing to watch an old man walk his dog-like dog, no anthropomorphism in sight. The distinction in species also allows the protagonist to be intimately involved in his dog's bodily business without the audience becoming too uncomfortable.

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