The Red Vic may be dying, but Jonathan Richman's virtuosic performance proved a very enjoyable death rattle.
On July 25, the collectively-owned Haight Street cinema will close its doors on a dwindling but loyal band of customers. On Saturday, Richman bid a farewell to the Vic with a bull and jam session set to the tune of a bizarre and passionate Spanish movie called Vengo, a thinly-plotted revenge drama that mostly functions as a flamenco jukebox.
Richman, known for his goofy grin and catchy songs like "I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar," didn't actually play very much. He was there, he said, because the Vic reached out to "local color" to introduce movies for its last month. A longtime patron of the theater, Richman chose to present Vengo with his flamenco guitar teacher Kenny Parker, a self-proclaimed New York Jew who mastered the Gypsy music in Spain (and who is also a licensed psychologist in Oakland).
The result, in front of a packed house, was a freewheeling tribute to both the genre and the theater. Richman and Parker chatted and strummed their way through a history of flamenco during the film's 90-minute run time. Afterward, Richman called the Vic's demise "just plain sad."
"This place will be missed," he added. If so, it will be because of the Red Vic's idiosyncratic programming on nights like his.
All photos by Sabrina Ramos.
Rising rents are not directly at fault for the theater's death. In fact, the building is owned by one of the theater's four owners. But the Haight's ongoing gentrification played a part, as did larger factors -- competition from multiplexes, the convenience of Netflix -- making it harder for all of San Francisco's small independent movie theaters to survive.
Claudia Lehan, one of the Red Vic's four co-owners, reflected on the theater's passing, telling HuffPost she knew it was time to close when she and her team were forced to skip paychecks.
"That's when it really brought it home," Lehan said. "We're like, 'Okay look, we all each have to pay our rent at home, and my landlord's a great guy, but I can't really not pay my rent at all.' It always was a kind of a labor of love, you're never going to rake it in, working at a movie theater, but yeah it got personal, it got a little personal, and we have managed to pay ourselves lately."
Fundraising efforts begun last year were also unsuccessful.
Lehan hopes that something new will spring up in the Vic's place. The neighborhood can't just be head shops and shoe stores, she said, adding, "something that the Haight does need is some real culture."