Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Additional notes on Yellow Submarine

There's a direct connection between the fair city of San Francisco and the availability of the 35mm print of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine, and that connection is the one and only Anita Monga, one of the most gifted film programmers in the world.

In 1999, after the film was restored and enhanced (all of the music was remixed in Dolby 5.1, and an excised scene was put back in the film), MGM planned to have one public screening of the 35mm print in London, then shelve it, figuring that VHS and DVD was the only market for the film. Monga, who was programming the Castro Theatre at the time, latched onto her connections at MGM like a bulldog, and after months of wrangling, finally got them to come through with the print for a limited screening. The sell-out houses at the Castro convinced other repertory houses to ask for the print. By the time the unplanned theatrical release ended, it had played in 87 theaters throughout the U.S., grossing nearly half-a-million dollars, according to Robert Heironimus' book Inside the Yellow Submarine (Krause Publications, 2002).

So, were it not for the inspired work of Monga, MGM would probably have shelved, forgotten and lost their expensive, digitally-restored money-maker.

The sad and ironic end to this tale is that the management of the Castro Theatre chose to sack Monga in 2004, for no good reason that they've ever provided. In her 16 years of programming the Castro, she built the reputation of that theater, and helped to make San Francisco one of the best movie-going towns in the world. To what should be their ever-lasting shame, the San Francisco International Film Festival skipped over Monga when filling their executive director position last year, in favor of a publicist from New York, supposedly because hiring a San Franciscan would be seen as "too provincial." This is loony thinking, and betrays the actual provinciality of the board of the SFIFF, especially given that Monga was the protege of Mel Novikoff, the man who made the SF International Film Festival a success in the first place.

So, as you're watching The Beatles do battle with the Blue Meanies this Sunday, keep a kind thought for Monga, and skip the concession stand at the Castro.

There, the rant is over now.

Copyright 2006 by Richard Hildreth. All rights reserved.

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