Photo by Steve Boland (SFCityscape on Flickr)
“Movie Houses of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week, I’ve chosen one of my own favorite theaters, or at least the return of an old favorite. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.
Location: 474 24th Street, Oakland, CA
Opened: November 30, 2012 (original Parkway Theater existed at another location from January 1997 through March 2009)
No. of screens: 2
Current first-run titles: Trance; Olympus Has Fallen; Disconnect
Repertory programming: Regular repertory series include “Family Classics” (next weekend they’re showing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), “Spectrum Queer Media” (not always rep, but today they’ve got The Wiz Sing-Along), the “indoor” drive-in themed “Thrillville Theater” (tonight is Mothra) and general “Parkway Classics” (this month’s selections include Shaun of the Dead, Heathers and Pink Flamingos).
Special Events: Besides all those great repertory screenings every week, they’ve also got a “Doc Night” on Tuesdays where a documentary is shown and then usually followed by a discussion. This month’s titles include new releases Bidder 70 and The Institute (another doc, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners is showing this month as part of “Spectrum Queer Media”). Less common events include parties for the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards and an Easter brunch. This morning there’s a Mother’s Day double-feature brunch with Mildred Pearce and Mommie Dearest. Last monday, they held a live big-screen showing of the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race. They have “Baby Brigade” screenings for people to bring their little ones along on Mondays and on Wednesdays two people get in for the price of one, which is the specialist kind of event ever. Non-movie events include live music, trivia night, arts and crafts and board game nights.
Why I worship here: Actually, I’ve never been here. Nor to the original Parkway Speakeasy. But I did go to its sister cinema in El Cerrito whenever I was in the Bay Area during the mid-oughts, and I considered it my favorite movie theater in the world for a while. This was before I’d ever been to an Alamo Drafthouse, and I figured it was pretty much the next best thing. But it was better, in fact. For one thing the price, which is still only $6 per ticket ($3 if you go with someone else on a Wednesday). For another thing, their popcorn was better (and similarly served in a giant silver bowl). I also liked the community atmosphere and attitude from the owners, who would introduce every screening with a pre-taped video. Finally, local craft beers in Northern California are better than those in Texas. Also, their casual couch-filled environment. But I don’t mean to diss the Alamo, which is also really great in so many ways. I just really missed the Speakeasy theaters (I used to write about them all the time in cinema columns at other sites), was super sad when I heard they got closed down and was happy to just recently learn that this New Parkway had opened up last fall. Now I just need to find a new excuse to visit the East Bay.
Recent screening of note: Not recent, but a screening I’ll never forget at the Cerrito Speakeasy was seeing Synecdoche, New York on “Baby Brigade” night. It was accidental that my companions and I went to a show where people could bring their kids, but I wasn’t in town long and I couldn’t not pay a visit while there. Fortunately, I’d already seen the film before — not that it didn’t seem an especially weird way to see it (and I wonder if it affected any of the babies’ minds). But nobody I was with had. Read the whole story in an old column I wrote at First Showing.
Devotion to the concessions: As I noted above, I loved the popcorn. I’m a popcorn junky, and that might have been the best I’d ever tasted at a cinema outside of NYC’s Film Forum (my longtime favorite). I also enjoyed the pizzas and of course the draft beer. Looking at their new menu, though, I’m very, very intrigued by their “Seven Dollar Mystery Meal,” which is described as “could be just about anything…a square meal and a gamble.”
Last word: Hopefully I’m not steering anyone wrong by telling them to check out the New Parkway. As I said, I haven’t been to a Speakeasy in years, in part because they’d closed and I’d stopped regularly visiting the area. But I presume it’s still as great if not better, and my optimism is sourced somewhat in an email I received recently from Telluride Film Festival Co-Director Gary Meyer (also a co-founder of Landmark Theatres in the ’90s) alerting me of its return and recommending I visit soon. I hope to.