The following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote in 2010 to the then owner of the Clay Theatre on behalf of the San Francisco Film Society's effort to save the Clay.
“…Beyond the many films that I enjoyed at the Clay during the years when I lived in San Francisco,
the theater has a personal significance for me. It is where in 1975 I premiered my first documentary
feature called Hurry Tomorrow. That night the cinema was packed for two shows. People were sitting in the aisles, on the floor. The line outside the Clay went up the street and around the corner. Hundreds of people were turned away….”
In 1975 Kevin joined me in San Francisco and we visited a few movie houses before spending $400 to four-wall the Clay Theater for Tuesday night September 30th. We had test projected the film in a theater in the Tenderloin district and at the old Roxie owned at that time by a fellow who I recall showed Russian films. A big concern was that Hurry Tomorrow had a challenging optical audio track and most 16mm optical theatrical systems were weaker than the 35mm audio. Of the cinemas we looked at the roughly 300-seat Clay Theater had the best acoustics and projection capabilities.
The first review of Hurry Tomorrow that I read was by John Stark in the San Francisco Examiner. His words brought to the public consciousness perhaps for the first time a documentary link between psychiatric medicine and zombies.
“Frightening film of forced drugging …
human being turned in to walking zombies”
San Francisco Examiner, John Stark, September 29, 1975
“It is impossible not to look at the film with terror and wonderment.
What kind of
institution is the state running here?”
San Francisco Bay Guardian, Larry Peitzman, September 1975
Although the film exceeded our expectations at the box office the owner of the cinema refused to book Hurry Tomorrow. He did give me a fair rental price on another of his theaters that had just opened on Polk Street. So a month later I four-walled again. After that I looked to other cities.
“Hurry Tomorrow is a good expose of psychiatric conditions.”
Synapse UCSF Medical Center, Priscilla Hinman, October 30, 1975
The vigorous support afforded independent documentary filmmakers in the 1970s from the community and press remains a spirited memory for me. It was not simply that Hurry Tomorrow was a rare look inside a state hospital and a cry for human rights. If a truly independent documentary on any subject from poets to rodeos screened in San Francisco even for a night it usually got reviewed in the daily newspapers. Reviews could have been two paragraphs or less or a half page or more, but it was something to look forward to reading in the entertainment section. This rule of thumb proved true elsewhere in cities across the country.