It has already been well established that I am a sentimental fool. I love old & quirky places, and at the top of that list is the Parkway Theatre. On the surface, it was just a run down movie theatre that served mediocre pizza and beer (and root beer on tap!) and showed second run films (along with their penchant for exploitation classics.) But it was so much more. It was an integral part of Oakland's cool, funky, slightly run down, urban scene and it is closing, very suddenly, this weekend.
The Parkway billed itself as a speakeasy theatre. You could order beer & pizza before the movie, that would be brought to you during the show. Most of the seating was couches, or at least comfy chairs. It had two screens, showing mostly second run films, and you could get in for $5. It was also a part of the local community. It hosted a weekly community forum where people could gather & talk about things, it did a big superbowl party, had a weekly baby brigade screening for parents with small children, an SRO showing of the inauguration a few months ago, they were the home theatre of the Black Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Film Festival and festivals celebrating blaxplotation, cult noir and short films of local auteurs. It's that sense of being part of the community that I will miss the most.
Oakland is famously the redheaded step child to San Francisco, and that feeling has lead to a backlash in the Eastbay. The movement's mantra is "I hella heart Oakland" or Oaklandish and it is all about the urban, funky, slightly run down vibe of Oakland. Where SF is cosmopolitan and swank, Oakland is gritty and real. The Parkway was the essence of that. Sure, the couches were lumpy, the heat had a strange habit of failing in the winter (the theatre handed out blankets to folks when that happened) and the screens were not the best but the sum of the experience was greater than the parts. It made movies that I was not that interested in fun.
A few years ago, they opened another Parkway in El Cerrito (an awful stripmall suburb) and the theatre is missing that great vibe. It's a much nicer movie experience, but not nearly as quirky or fun. The Cerrito has been doing better than the Oakland theatre, which is a shame because the Oakland theatre is an experience, the Cerrito not nearly as much.
We went to the Parkway last night to celebrate it's demise. Before the film, an employee had a little chat with the audience, explaining that the closing was because issues with the theatre's landlord (who he called a slumlord) had come to a head after years of litigation. It was apparently a rather sudden decision, because he mentioned that several staff members had not come in to protest the closing.
The good news is, we saw an amazing film. Let the Right One In is a Swedish vampire movie that blows any of that Twilight crap out of the water. It is stark, elegant, intelligent and spartan in that uniquely Scandinavian cinema way. It's the story of Oskar, an incredibly pale 12 year old who is bullied at school and in life. He just sort of accepts it, but afterwards lashes out in anger at his own impotence. He meets a neighbor, Eli, who is a curious girl. She is also a vampire (and not any sort of sexy, sparkling glamourous one – she is a vicious killer) who must feed to survive. She & Oskar start a friendship that turns into an innocent romance. Oskar becomes aware of what Eli is, but their friendship (and his obvious neediness) is more important to him.
The film is beautifully shot using the bleak Swedish snowscape as a backdrop. The long nights and dour 80s architecture give a sense of monolithic dread to the whole thing. A friend pointed out an interesting subtext to the movie, and I want to bring it up without spoiling too much of the film. Eli has an older gentleman who cares for her. Sort of her Renfield, if you will. The problem is he is not a killer, and every time he tries to collect blood for her it ends badly. Still, he is her caretaker. It becomes clear that this guy could easily be Oskar in 40 years, and the sadness & concealed jealousy in the man as Eli befriends Oskar is well done.
I enthusiastically recommend Let the Right One In. It is one of the best movies I have seen in awhile!
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