One of the best things about movie theaters is that you can escape into their deliciously air-conditioned recesses on sweltering summer days. But give us a projector, a wall, the canopy of night and some natural air conditioning and we have the setting for outdoor cinema.
Bay Area audiences seeking the big picture can camp out in Marin County parks, the parking lot of Berkeley’s Pyramid Ale and the Zeum in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena. In the Mission district, Foreign Cinema pairs dinner and international classics for an elegant double feature, while drinking establishment El Rio prolongs Happy Hour once a month by hosting an open barbecue and a screening.
The sun dawdles in the summertime, so its slower descent means later starting times. Summer’s languid pace is contagious, though, so you can enjoy a daylong outing before the nighttime screening. Here is our sneak preview of what flickers in the night.
A chaise lounge might take a little maneuvering, but if you can drag it into the parking lot of Berkeley’s Pyramid Brewery, it’ll probably be one of the more hedonistic seating arrangements you can have for an outdoor cinema. You’d also be in the running for most inventive urban campsite contest, one of the many side activities for the Berkeley Saturday Night Outdoor Cinema.
The brewery chain borrowed the concept from a Washington brewery back in 1997. About 500 people can fit in half the parking lot; it’s the space reserved for the fresh-air screening. The barbecue grill starts heating up around 6 p.m., and the opening act, which could be a live band, stand-up comic or film short, starts at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, people unload blankets, lawn chairs, futons and Papasans one year a group brought a movable sofa, a couch affixed to the back of a flatbed truck. As for securing a homestead site for the canopy bed, 7 p.m. would probably be a bit late.
One might surmise that from all the sideshows, the film itself isn’t necessarily the focus and one would be right. What with all the chatter, themed costumes, Nerf footballs, contest goodies from local businesses and edible freebies (not the barbecue you have to pay for that), it’s more of a block party. As for the contests, get ready for “most obnoxious plaid” when “Caddyshack” screens, “best campsite” during “The Blair Witch Project” and “best costume” during “Strange Brew.”
The brewery would prefer it if a few dining dollars go its way at the barbecue stand, but bringing your own picnic is permitted. Lazy diners would be advised to go for the early bird 5 p.m. slot to get a sit-down meal, since it gets busy Saturday nights, and even the limited take-out menu might require some planning. To make an afternoon of it, West Berkeley is the outlet for the outdoors, including stores such as REI, North Face Outlet and Royal Robbins. Salvage hounds can excavate for finds one block away at Urban Ore, which won’t move to its new Ashby Avenue location until August, and Gilman Salvage. To go more “yupscale,” the heart of Fourth Street is barely a mile away.
901 Gilman St., Berkeley, 510-527-9090, Ext. 218, www.pyramidales.com, www.outdoorfilmfestival.com. Admission: $5 suggested donation, proceeds go to local nonprofit organizations
Films start at sundown:
July 1: “American Graffiti”
July 8: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”
July 15: “Caddyshack”
July 22: “Toy Story”
July 29: “The Blair Witch Project”
Aug 5: “Strange Brew”
Whatever people might murmur about its occasional New Age indulgences, Marin County does “quaint” very well, and sometimes almost verges on the adorable. That makes an excursion to one of the many little towns hosting Film Night in the Park a doubly enjoyable experience.
The concept of showing classic films in community parks grew from a monthly forum in a San Anselmo cafe, which showcased local works. Old were mixed in with the new, then the films moved outdoors in 1992. Now about five Marin towns set up the 10-foot-by-15-foot screens in baseball fields or by running creeks.
This year, the organization salutes Howard Hawks by showcasing six of his films in San Anselmo’s Creek Park, home of the first Film Night and perhaps its smallest but most enchanting locale. San Anselmo is also the self-billed antiques capital of Northern California. A creek indeed runs underfoot, and visitors can escape scorchers by taking the steps down and perching on a shaded rock along the shallow bed.
Baseball fields become an electric field of dreams with home plate and right field respectively serving as the screening room for Peri Park in Fairfax and Albert Park in San Rafael. In Marin City, the screen is set up next to the Manzanita Recreation Center. The more unusual backdrop in Mill Valley is the old mill itself in Old Mill Park.
While nearly all those towns demand a preview, one stop has to be the Mill Valley library. The two-story building is a haven for literature on loan, and especially alluring are the chairs set up in front of glass windows overlooking a creek.
Nearly all the parks can accommodate crowds 400 to 500 strong, but the turnout has averaged about 200. As for seating, pillows, blankets, sleeping bags and chairs all qualify, as long as everything is low to the ground. While Marin County never lacks for restaurants, picnics can also be brought onto the premises, as long as you clean up after yourselves. In the outdoors, you serve as your own ushers.
Call 415-453-4333 for all locations, or go to www.filmnight.org. Admission: $4 adult, $2 seniors and youth ages 13-17, free 12 and under.
8:45 p.m. June 17: Mill Valley, “Homeward Bound”
8:45 p.m. June 24: San Rafael, “Breaking Away”
8:35 p.m. July 1: Marin City, “The Tuskegee Airmen”
8:35 p.m. July 7: San Anselmo, “Raising Arizona”
8:35 p.m. July 8: San Anselmo, “Casablanca”
8:35 p.m. July 14: San Anselmo, “His Girl Friday”
8:35 p.m. July 15: San Anselmo, “The Thing” (1951)
8:35 p.m. July 22: Mill Valley, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
8:35 p.m. July 29: San Rafael, “Babe”
8:20 p.m. Aug. 5: Fairfax, “Endless Summer”
8:20 p.m. Aug. 11: San Anselmo, “The Big Sleep”
8:20 p.m. Aug. 12: San Anselmo, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”
8:20 p.m. Aug. 18: San Anselmo, “Scarface” (1932)
8:20 p.m. Aug. 19: San Anselmo, “Red River”
8:20 p.m. Aug. 26: San Rafael, “Grease”
8 p.m. Sept. 1: San Anselmo, “Strangers on a Train”
8 p.m. Sept. 2: San Anselmo, “Life is Beautiful”
8 p.m. Sept. 9: Mill Valley, “National Velvet”
8 p.m. Sept. 16: Marin City, “When We Were Kings”
8 p.m. Sept. 23: Fairfax, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
Spirals, circles and shades of orange and yellow seem to define the teen architectural aesthetic of the Zeum, part of an urban youth wonderland at Rooftop at Yerba Buena Gardens. The art and technology hangout combines spectatorship with personal experimentation. The 1906 Playland-at-the-Beach carousel serves as the marker for the Rooftop entrance. Besides the Zeum, a child-development center and an ice-skating and bowling center border an elegant grassy expanse.
Despite its roominess, the outdoor space doesn’t seem as if it can accommodate 250 film fans; that’s how many came last year for the debut of the Zeum’s al fresco showings. Artistic director Sheila Bergman saw the open central arena as an ideal backdrop to import the European tradition of free outdoor screenings.
The Old World tradition returns in September, when the San Francisco nights are warmer. On Friday nights at sunset, a 10-foot-by-14-foot screen unfurls in front of the Zeum entrance. Viewers tune into the specified radio setting on their own Walkmans (the Zeum hopes to get a sponsor for freebie loaners). Besides the requisite blanket and sweatshirt in keeping with the brisk San Francisco climes (thick socks, a hat and Polarfleece underwear probably wouldn’t hurt either), spectators can also bring picnics and chairs.
For daytime diversions, all of downtown San Francisco is laid before you (although BART riders might find lugging around a chair and picnic basket problematic). Across a courtyard is the mostly overrated Metreon, which has gaming and shops to command short attention spans. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s summer hours run 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (closed Wednesday, open until 9 p.m. Thursday). At the Rooftop itself, the museum and the nearby indoor sports take a less passive approach to entertainment. Oh, and you can ride the carousel twice for $2.
221 Fourth St., San Francisco, 415-777-2800, www.zeum.org. Admission: Free.
All films will be repeat broadcast 1 p.m. Saturday, free with admission to Zeum.
8 p.m. Sept. 1: “Out of the Past”
8 p.m. Sept. 8: “Shadow of a Doubt”
8 p.m. Sept. 15: “The Harder They Fall”
8 p.m. Sept. 22: “To Have and Have Not”
8 p.m. Sept. 29: “Touch of Evil”
8 p.m. Oct. 6: “The Asphalt Jungle”
8 p.m. Oct. 13: “Rebecca”
8 p.m. Oct. 20: “Cape Fear” (1962)
8 p.m. Oct. 27: “Cat People” (1942)
Faded art deco marquees still remain as a reminder of Mission Street’s cinematic past, but buildings that once held enthralled audiences are now subdivided spaces filled with discount luggage or nonprofit services. That Foreign Cinema has set up gourmet shop one building away from the defunct New Mission Theater is one of those ironies that only happens in the movies. Indeed, the old marquee is a more conspicuous landmark than Foreign Cinema’s subtle silver-colored double doors punched out with round glass windows. Once you enter the long, dim hallway flanked with glowing votives, though, the atmosphere becomes markedly more theatrical.
At the rear of the courtyard is the white cinder-block building that serves as the screen for modern Vietnamese films, Italian neoclassics and Russian silents. Clear plastic overhead shields the tables farm-style for bigger groups as well as smaller ones for intimate parties and that does interfere with visibility. Ah, but with French bistro dishes and chatting diners, the movie itself is as much of a backdrop as the building is. You can pull up the drive-in style speakers, all the better to hear the Japanese or German dialogue.
Dinner for two without drinks can easily run you $100. Besides, this is an excellent compromise for a first date you can listen to the Swedish track if the conversation falls flat. Warning: Getting reservations to an earlier showtime may be difficult, so call in advance.
Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission St., 415-648-7600, www.foreigncinema.com.
Midnight Thursday-Saturday: “Battleship Potemkin,” with 13-piece chamber orchestra accompaniment (USSR, 1925) $10
9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 9 and 11 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and June 18: “Baraka” (USA, 1992)
9 and 10:45 p.m. June 20-25: “My Life in Pink” (Belgium/UK, 1997)
9 and 10:45 p.m. June 27-July 2: “Ghost in the Shell” (Japan, 1995)
9 and 11 p.m. July 5-13, 16, 9 p.m. July 14-15: “The Red Desert” (Italy/France, 1964)
9 and 10:30 p.m. July 18-23: “Run Lola Run” (Germany, 1998)
Midnight July 14, 15, 21, 22: Late 20th-century surrealism
9 and 11 p.m. July 25-30: “Contempt” (France/Italy, 1964)
8:45 and 10:45 p.m. Aug. 1-2, 6, 8:45 p.m. Aug. 3-5: “Guantanamera” (Cuba, 1994)
8:45 and 10:45 p.m. Aug. 8-9, 13, 8:45 p.m. Aug. 10-12: “My Life as a Dog” (Sweden, 1985)
8:30 and 9:45 p.m. Aug. 15-20: “Betty and Clark” (USA, 1932-1960)
8:15 and 10:15 p.m. Aug. 22-23, 29-31, 8:15 p.m. Aug. 24-28: “Tampopo” (Japan, 1986)
11 p.m. Aug. 3-5: “Top Hat” (USA, 1935)
11 p.m. Aug. 10-12: “The Band Wagon” (USA, 1953)
11 p.m. Aug. 17-19: “West Side Story” (USA, 1961)
11 p.m. Aug. 24-26: “Cabaret” (USA, 1972)
Flying carpets transport their occupants to wondrous lands. In this more modern millennial age, the closest you’ll get to the flying carpet is the rug at El Rio, the Mission Street bar. On a screen hung between the fig and lemon trees, you get a peek into the world of fantasy or documentary, although the line between both can seem awfully thin.
Naturally for the 21-and-up crowd, El Rio does forays into experimental eclecticism the first Tuesday of every month through November. Tuesday hours are 3 p.m.-midnight: While the 8:30 p.m. showing usually ends well before the witching hour, some patrons drag out the party with music and dancing until last call.
Besides the film, the bar hosts a barbecue for the occasion, which is not a bad deal for the $7 cover charge. Sorry, you have to pay for the drinks, but that’s the nature of its business. Consider what might be its biggest compliment: “best dive bar” according to Playboy magazine.
El Rio Outdoor Cinema, 3158 Mission St., San Francisco, 415-282-3325, www.elriocine.com. Admission: $7