Archive for November, 2018

Remembering the “clap-along” at Century Theaters

November 26th, 2018


Century Theaters clap-along video

 
If you watch movies in the Bay Area (or anywhere in the western part of the US, really) there’s a good chance you’ve been to Century Theaters. Formerly known as Syufy Theaters, Century typically operated multi-screen cineplexes in out of the way locations. Around the year 2000 or so the chain began pivoting away from this model, closing their old freestanding theaters and opening new cineplexes in malls and shopping centers. Today Century Theaters is part of Cinemark but still operates as an independent brand.

Those who lived in the Bay Area in the 80′s and 90′s probably remember a peculiar crowd phenomenon at Century just before the movie started — the clap-along song.

Truthfully it wasn’t even a song, so much as a cheesy rhythmic backing track playing during a pre-film bumper explaining all the ways you could spend your money at the theater, in case you forgot to buy popcorn or drop quarters in the video games at the “Starcade.”

The song’s rhythm contains a repeating bass and brass section that goes something like this:

Doo doo doo… DO-DO-DO, DO-DO-DO

At many showings the audience would spontaneously clap along to those last six beats: clap clap clap, clap clap clap!

Sort of like “the wave” at sporting events, it’s difficult to pinpoint who started this in general, let alone who started it at any individual film screening. For my part as an individual I never felt singled out for not participating in the clap-along, yet it was somehow embarrassing if I was the only one doing it.

The only time anyone outright laughed at other participants is if they clapped at the wrong time. Due to the timing of the song the clapping part isn’t completely consistent throughout the song, you had to know when it’s coming in order to get the timing right.

From what I recall the clapping phenomenon was more prevalent at certain Century Theaters, and tended to happen more at late night screenings and almost never during matinees.

But the oddest aspect is where the audience tended to clap along to the song. It seems almost unknown outside of the Bay Area, and yet Century Theaters can be found throughout California and many other states.

According to one former Century Theaters projectionist:

It was always a fun bit of unprompted audience participation that made moviegoing feel like something that overlapped the feeling of kindergarten with the feeling of being in a fun-loving cult.*

*Funnily enough, a friend who grew-up in Ventura County said that she encountered the Century Theaters clap-along ritual when visiting relatives in Northern California as a kid and it freaked her out.

I can’t say this “ritual” ever felt cult-like to me, just a whimsical piece of Bay Area lore that never meant anything. It was a funny way to pass the time while waiting for the movie to start — sometimes more fun than the movie itself if my memory of sitting through Waterworld is anything to go by.

Ultimately the clap-along video was replaced by a new video with a less memorable song that nobody claps along with.

If the 90′s era video at the top of this post doesn’t seem familiar, check out this older version that’s a little before my time:

Windmill spins at Golden Gate Park

November 12th, 2018


 

Yesterday I went on the SF City Guides Golden Gate Park: West End tour. Among other points of interest the tour stops at the park’s two windmills — the Dutch Windmill to at the northwestern corner of the park, and the Murphy Windmill a block or two south.

Most of the time the windmills are completely still — not due to a lack of wind, but the potential for too much of it. If they were allowed to spin freely they could break apart and become a safety hazard, so they’re typically latched in place.

For whatever reason the Murphy Windmill was spinning yesterday morning, as you can see in the video above. I’d never seen either windmill spinning in person before; the motion makes the windmill look even larger and more majestic than when it’s sitting stationary.

Why does Golden Gate Park have windmills? They were built in the late 19th and early 20th century as the park’s irrigation system, pumping water out of wells up into lakes in the park. Unfortunately for the windmills, electric pumps became available shortly after they were built. No longer needed, the windmills began to decay and the metal in the internal mechanisms was salvaged for scrap.

But San Francisco’s love for antiques meant there was interest in preserving the windmills, similar to how the cable cars avoided destruction. The Dutch Windmill was restored in 1981 and the Murphy Windmill much more recently in 2012. For more details on the history of the windmills and the preservation efforts, read this 2007 paper from University of Vermont student Sarah LeVaun Graulty, which also includes historic photos and illustrations.

My favorite bit of trivia I learned from the City Guides tour is also mentioned in the paper. Golden Gate Park’s windmills are Dutch-style, but are far larger than those in the Netherlands. So what do Dutch windmill enthusiasts call this pair of unique windmills? What else could they be called — the “San Francisco Giants.”

Last Stop / First Stop

November 11th, 2018

Last Stop/First Stop
 

While hanging out at Ocean Beach and the west end of Golden Gate Park today I happened to notice something new; the funny little building at the N-Judah turnaround received an updated design recently. If you never noticed this small building before it’s located directly across Judah Street from Java Beach Cafe.

The new design features the words “Last Stop / First Stop” written in large capital letters painted at an angle. A quick Google search revealed this to be the work of local designer Jeff Canham. Canham’s designs can be spotted all around the city, including Mollusk Surf Shop a couple blocks away from the N-Judah turnaround.

Unreal Garden review

November 4th, 2018

Unreal Garden
Entrance to the museum… or an acid trip?
 

On a stretch of Market Street between Civic Center and Powell is a fairly plain looking two story white building. Up until recently the sign on the front said “International Art Museum of America.” That alleged museum recently vacated the ground floor lobby to make way for Onedome Global, a mixed-reality exhibit space.

In this context, mixed reality means there’s a physical space to walk around in and look at seemingly fixed 3D art projected in front of your face with a Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality headset.

I decided to check out their current exhibit, Unreal Garden. For my part I purchased tickets and signed a waiver online, but in practice it seemed like none of that was strictly necessary as the place wasn’t terribly busy and tickets can be purchased on site.

I’d never used a HoloLens before — let alone seen one in real life. To put it on you rotate a dial to adjust to your head size, tightening as needed. Onedome has super friendly employees to help you through the process. Once you’re in they’ll show you the basics. The primary interaction is to use your finger to “touch” the 3D objects. This aspect worked surprisingly well considering I wasn’t holding a controller or anything.

Without spoiling too much, the Unreal Garden artwork is largely organic-looking animated 3D objects, some of which are activated by touch.

While the art was fun to look and poke at, the rest of the experience is sorely lacking for two reasons. First, HoloLens has a shockingly small field of view. It’s about the size of a business card held a few inches in front of your face. In a way this works out for the best, since you can easily see the other visitors walking around without bumping into them. Perhaps in the future HoloLens will come with a better screen. The only aspect of the headset that really impressed me was the tracking ability — it always seemed to know which way I was looking and what I was touching, but this can’t eliminate the shortcomings of the screen.

The second limitation is the Onedome space itself. They left the weird jungle-like interior of the “museum” lobby largely intact. This makes the entire thing look cheesy; they should have ripped it all out and let the 3D art speak for itself without the physical distractions. This change also would have allowed for a larger exhibit area with fewer tripping hazards. As it stands now, the exhibit only takes around a quarter of the total floor plan, if not less.

It’s not well advertised but there’s also a fairly large cafe in the back that I believe is open to the public. It was deserted when I was there.
 

My recommendation: Skip it. The technology’s barely ready, and Onedome deserves a better interior for their exhibits.

How I got mentioned in an art history dissertation

November 2nd, 2018

It’s been brought to my attention that yours truly is mentioned in a master’s dissertation — and even cited as a source.

On the surface this seems surprising since I hold a master’s in computer science. I’ve never written a serious academic paper on art, let alone history. But as you’ll soon see it’s not that kind of citation.

Last year an art history major named Kat Lukes-Caribeaux at York University wrote a dissertation titled The Epistemology of Elsewhere: Space and Play as Laboratories of Multivalent Participatory Knowledges in The Games of Nonchalance. In it she describes the events of Games of Nonchalance (aka The Jejune Institute) in great detail while examining its interaction with its own surrounding public space and how that fits with the concept of play.

The final act was at the Hyatt Recency San Francisco in 2011. In Lukes-Caribeaux’s description of the event:

On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, the Games of Nonchalance-dedicated Unfiction forum hosted a spark of new activity. The Jejune Institute had just announced a Socio-Reengineering Seminar for April 10th at San Francisco‚Äôs Hyatt Regency [...] In the two days preceding, 300 registered persons were emailed with a room number at the Hyatt and an appointed time for a “pre-screening” examination conducted by representatives from the Jejune Institute. Tasked by the Elsewhere Public Works Agency to infiltrate the Jejune Institute one last time, participants were instructed to retrieve a small round object called a Bio4ce Globe from the pre-screening room without detection by the examiner. Regardless of what happened, the instructions warned participants to under no circumstance place the Globe in water. After their operatives retrieved the globes, the EPWA hoped to kidnap Octavio Coleman Esquire.66

 
On April 10th, ticket holders were greeted by Antoine Logan, the seminar’s featured speaker (fig. 12). After four hours of various team-building activities that included breathing exercises, parachute games, watching a video of a “dolphin telling jokes,” and yelling “yes!” at a stranger while the stranger shot back varying intonations of “no!,” Antoine faced the crowd with a knowing look. “Some of you brought something with you…”67 This produced a documented anxious response amongst participants who had successfully retrieved a Bio4ce Globe from the pre-screening, an anxiety that only heightened when Antoine asked they reveal it, and then drop it into a supplied glass of hot water. In a video posted by MrEricSir on YouTube of the incident, an audience member is heard shouting defiantly “why?,” protecting their Globe. “Because,” Antoine calmly replies, “that is how we make tea.”68

You’ll have to read the paper (linked above) to see all the relevant citations, but you can see my video of the tea ceremony below. The moment described above occurs at about one minute in:
 


 

For the record, I’d only pulled out my phone to shoot this video a couple minutes after Antoine first asked us to put the ball in the water. Silence and hesitation filled the room for quite some time — like everyone else, I had no idea what would happen if I chose to make the tea or resisted. It was easily the hardest “should I make tea or not?” decision I’ve ever faced.

Either way I’m glad I shot the video, if for no other reason to do my little part for Lukes-Caribeaux’s interesting dissertation.