Best of the big screen makes a comeback in the Bay Area

A scene from the 1961 film “La Notte” playing in November at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.
A scene from the 1961 film “La Notte” playing in November at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Courtesy of BAMPFA

Remember what movies used to feel like just two or three decades ago? Before superheroes and animated penguins and dystopian teens ruled the cineplexes? When beautiful adults strolled or drank martinis or made love in what felt like real, breathing worlds, rather than computer-created fantasy lands? Remember prolonged stretches of witty, multilayered dialogue?

We call that television these days, but once upon a time, cinephiles could visit their local movie theater any weekend and see that heightened, but recognizable world projected on a wall in a dark room, and share the experience with a few hundred strangers. They weren’t looking for a ride, but a story with some attitude.

Venues programming smart, thoughtful films persist in bigger cities around the country, but the Bay Area has become a stronghold for this kind of cinematic buffet. Gleaming, just-reopened cultural palaces such as the Berkeley Art Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have launched robust film programs reintroducing audiences to a century’s worth of midnight movies, screwball comedies and classics. At the same time, people can catch films by the likes of David Lynch or David Lean at stand-alone movie theaters such as the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley and the Castro and Roxie theaters in San Francisco.

Yes, black and white, Technicolor and even documentary films are catching on again in the home of the small-screen, digitally enhanced revolution.

Where to start? The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (2215 Center St., 510-642-0808), of course. This Northern California institution has long kept the cinema torch burning, even after the old UC Theatre on University Avenue closed its doors and the Castro and Roxie across the bay focused more on current releases.

In January, BAMPFA, as it’s known, debuted its gleaming, stainless steel building with a perfectly calibrated, 232-seat screening room inside. This month, the archive has been running no fewer than three film programs, from the domestic dramas of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu to the works of Italian everywoman actress Anna Magnani.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 Third St., San Francisco, 415-357-4000) has supersized with its own new building while launching its Modern Cinema program. In October, the museum alternated between classic works such as Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” (which inaugurated BAMPFA’s theater in late January) and the documentary-fiction hybrids of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Back in the East Bay, just a few blocks south of BAMPFA, the Shattuck Cinemas (2230 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-644-2992) runs weeklong residencies, which in November includes the 1985 Japanese ramen romp “Tampopo” and the Iggy Pop documentary “Gimme Danger.”

And in Northern California’s loveliest working film palace, the Castro Theatre (429 Castro St., San Francisco, 415-621-6120), movie lovers can take in a double bill every night – just like in the old days of the UC Theatre (which recently reopened as a live music venue). Sunday, Oct. 30, features the Roman Polanski creeper “Rosemary’s Baby” paired with another New York-apartment-stands-in-for-hell shocker “The Sentinel.”

On that same day, you can catch Ozu’s 1962 classic “An Autumn Afternoon” at BAMPFA, the newly released French coming-of-age drama “Being 17” at the Shattuck Cinemas or the 1973 cult-on-the-California-coastline horror flick “Messiah of Evil” at the Roxie Theater (3117 16th St., San Francisco, 415-863-1087). That old silver screen still has some life left in it.

Off Beat in Reno


What: The Off Beat Arts & Music Festival welcomes more than 90 bands at small bars, theaters, night clubs and art galleries.

When: Events run between 1:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, through Sunday, Nov. 6.

Where: Several venues in Reno’s downtown, midtown and Fourth Street.

Cost: $18- $69 general admission; $129 all-access pass. Special room rates are available.


Travels in Turkey


What: Join the No Reservations Travel Club as Charlie Simpson talks about his recent adventures in Turkey.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1

Where: Arcade Library Community Room, 2443 Marconi Ave.

Cost: Free


Mushroom festival


What: Home to more than 3,000 mushroom varieties, Mendocino County will bloom with mushroom dinners, desserts and cooking classes.

When: Events run between 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily, Friday, Nov. 4 through Sunday, Nov. 13.

Where: Various locations throughout Mendocino County

Cost: Events cost $5 to $90 per person. Special room rates and discounts are available at participating inns and lodges.


Jessica Hice