I must admit I'm just not a big John Waters fan. My only real fondness for him comes from the nostalgia of the anti-smoking ad that used to air at the UC Theatre. It was a completely ad-libbed thing in which Waters smoked a cigarette while saying:
"Hi, I'm John Waters, and I'm supposed to announce that there's no smoking in this theater, which is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard of in my life. I mean, who can sit through the length of a film -- especially a European film -- and not have a cigarette? But, don't you wish you had one, right now? Mmmmm-mm-mm-mm! But ... go ahead and smoke anyway! It gives ushers jobs ... and, if people didn't smoke, there'd be no employment for the youth of today. So, once again, no smoking in this theater. Mmmm-mmmm!"The frequent patrons of the UC Theatre came to know this ad quite well, and would often recite the words right along with John Waters. Just writing down the words takes me back to those threadbare red seats with their odd lumps. You often had to look for a while before you could find two seats together that were comfortable enough to sit in. That was the UC Theatre.
But, sadly, the UC Theatre is no more. It closed on March 29, 2001, never again to show Hong Kong movies on Thursday nights or the annual Jewish Film Festival or the annual Gay Film Festival. Never again to show old film noir and obscure classics.
At the UC Theatre, I saw my first Spike and Mike Festival of Animation in 1990. It's also where I saw my very first Jackie Chan movies in a double feature of "Drunken Master" and "Drunken Master II" on New Years Eve 1993. At the UC Theatre, I saw "Le Retour de Martin Guerre" and wept copiously. At the UC Theatre, I saw the horrid "Perfect Blue" and the glorious "Wings of Honneamise" and the (in my opinion) sadly flawed "Ghost in the Shell". At the UC, I saw "Boy's Life 2", a compilation of short films which included the simply phenomenal "Trevor", which is perhaps my favorite film short I've ever seen. At the UC, I had my first experiences with Tony Gatlif's work, including "Latcho Drom", "Gadjo Dilo", and the absolutely transporting "Mondo". At the UC, I saw "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" and was disappointed, despite the fact that everyone else in the world seems to love that movie.
Okay, yeah, one time I also saw a rat run across the aisle and spent the duration of the film with my feet tucked beneath me as a result, but that's beside the point.
I honestly loved the UC Theatre. Sometimes people use the word "love" lightly, like "Oh, I love fish sticks." That's not what I'm saying here. I really mean it: I loved the UC Theatre. I saw its flaws -- refer back to that bit about the rat, for example, or the lumpy seats -- and loved it all the same. There were times in my life when I was there every week. It was an important part of Berkeley culture. And now it's gone.
Who will show Tony Gatlif's films now? Who will show "Wings of Honneamise"? Who will show compilations of award-winning short films? Who will show the old film noir and foreign classics? Who will show the stuff that's really out of the ordinary and really really wonderful?
I miss it. I grieve. Yeah, movies mean a lot to me. So do movie theatres. Especially movie theatres that don't march in step with the cineplexes.
The UC is dead. Long live the UC!