Arts and Entertainment
FILMS CRITICS DON'T just dish it out; they've got to take it, too, and critics of film critics are usually the most merciless vipers around. Early on in my tenure here at the Bay Guardian, I attended a party for film types, where I heard someone addressing me with what was probably meant as an insult: "Look it's that shill for the Roxie." I accepted such slander gladly, and I've worn it as a badge of honor ever since.
I moved to San Francisco in 1990, and the first film I remember seeing here was Aki Kaurismäki's Ariel, a tough-minded Finnish rethink of a 1940s Warner Brothers potboiler that seemed perfectly suited to the Roxie, a hole-in-the-wall-with-heart in a part of town where parking, way back then, wasn't much of a problem. I became a quiet Roxie regular, often showing up alone to be wowed by one-night-only revivals and foreign curios. The first Roxie-booked film I covered in these pages was Claire Denis's No Fear, No Die, which I adored. I've been branded a shill for the Roxie ever since.
In the years that followed one particularly life-changing evening on 16th Street congregating with other stunned film buffs on the sidewalk in 1996 after the theater's first revival screening of Floyd Mutrux's Dusty and Sweets McGee my regularity at the Roxie quadrupled. I seemed to be forever in the theater, at press screenings (great early-morning bonhomie, terrible coffee) or in the Roxie offices, talking forgotten films and filmmakers with programming ace Elliot Lavine.
I'll never forget the way irritation turned into astonishment when the creep next to me in the dark, talking back to Christopher Walken on-screen in King of New York, turned out to be the film's director, Abel Ferrara, grooving to his own movie as if he'd never seen such imagery before in his life. A year or so later, things got even weirder in the daylight, as Lavine and I delivered Peter Fonda to the airport after a lost weekend of rare screenings, onstage discussion, and backstage indulgence. The ponytailed, pre-Oscar'd Fonda climbed out of my 1971 Cougar, stared up into the sky, shouted "Fuck you, Mom!" to no one in particular, and strode off into history. That was the kind of crazy magic the Roxie, then alone in San Francisco in its dedication to cinema's seamiest characters, could produce. There are plenty of great places to see films in the Bay Area, but the Roxie wasn't just about the images on the screen it brought movies down to street level. Nobody can close the doors on all those memories, and in the hearts of those who stood by the Roxie no one will ever dim its lights.
Chuck Stephens, film critic