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The Big Screen was the first to break the news: Landmark's Ken Cinema will celebrate its 100th birthday this year. Am I the only one who thinks it's a big to-do that our town boasts one of the few 100-year-old single screen movie houses still in operation?

For years the company website claimed the theatre was built in 1946. (They have since corrected the mistake.) While visiting The Ken, as I am wont to do, the theatre's manager first hipped me to the pending centenary celebration.

There is only one man in this town who can help solve the mystery.


It took a moment for him to place my name, but retired Reader critic Duncan Shepherd was gracious enough to reply to my email. Sensei Shepherd expressed doubt that The Ken was showing movies 3 years prior to the release of The Birth of a Nation.

A 1990 University of San Diego Graduate History Survey on file with the San Diego Historical Society shows that The Ken was indeed built in 1912.

According to the survey's findings, "The Ken was the first theatre built for film outside the downtown San Diego area. As such, its purpose was entirely to bring films and some small stage productions to what was in 1912 the 'boonies.' It's first owner was Juan Arraztra, who sold it to J. V. and Maud Ruch in 1925, who changed the theatre over to a 'talkie' immediately upon acquisition. In 1946, it was sold to Sam and Eddie Skolnik, who made further improvements in the sound system, the screen, and physical facility inside."

Sadly, no photos survive, but both the San Diego County Assessor's Office and the County Recorder's Office confirm the news.

For a theatre of this early vintage to remain almost as originally built is unheard of. How does Landmark plan on celebrating this remarkable achievement?

Perhaps a one month festival that changes features daily and comes complete with a calendar similar to those that for decades adorned the refrigerators doors of every film lover in San Diego? Nope. 10 films, one per decade, that will play Saturday and Sunday mornings at 11 am.

Here's the schedule:

  • September 1 & 2: D. W. Griffith's Intolerance
  • September 8 & 9: Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush
  • September 15 & 16: Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz
  • September 22 & 23: Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity
  • September 29 & 30: Billy WIlder's Some Like it Hot
  • October 6 & 7: Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird
  • October 13 & 14: Federico Fellini's Amarcord
  • October 20 & 21: Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future
  • October 27 & 28: Shitberg's Jurassic Park
  • November 3 & 4: Rob Marshall's Chicago

Wow, what a great way to honor a legend. It's like celebrating Scorsese's 100th (God willing He should live so long) with a dinner at the Olive Garden.

I can overlook Back to the Future and Jurassic, two films that frequently play The Ken's Midnight Madness series. Considering there are only 10 films up for discussion, there is no need to duplicate directors. One Wilder would have been enough, and it should not be Some Like it Hot. I know. It was shot in part at the Hotel Del and therefore is the only Wilder film revived with any regularity in this part of the world. Enough already! Show Kiss Me Stupid instead.

Chicago? Are you fucking kidding me? CHICAGO?! Werner Herzog helped to build this theatre and instead of showing Aguirre or Heart of Glass they book a film by a hack director that wouldn't otherwise have played The Ken on a bet.

It gets worse. I'm sensing that many, if not all of these features will be shown on DVD.

People who turn movie theatres into video screening rooms and use a dartboard approach to booking a festival of this magnitude are the same types that would perform acts of violence in their grandmother's neighborhood. Landmark should be ashamed of themselves for doing such a great dishonor to one of the crown jewels in their theatrical stable.

This is not a midnight series geared for fanboys and fangirls who probably don't know the difference between a pixel from a sprocket hole. Show a little class and get 35mm prints or at least screen DCP copies on your brand new Sony 4K.

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monaghan Aug. 16, 2012 @ 2:01 p.m.

I LOVED seeing "Chicago," Scott, and litigator Richard Gere's courtroom soft-shoe. What doesn't belong on the Ken's centennial list are "Jurassic Park" and "Back to the Future" and two Billy Wilder films.

But no Herzog "Nosferatu" at Halloween, no Kurosawa, no Bergman, no Kubrick, no western like the Coen brothers' "True Grit?" What about Preston Sturges? And no Hitchcock?

There's still time: the Ken could fix this. (And the women's water-closet that is living testament to the building's true age.)


Scott Marks Aug. 16, 2012 @ 2:47 p.m.

When last I checked, The Ken is San Diego's home for art, foreign, and independent films, not multiplex fodder. It would be like AMC running "Salo" for their anniversary presentation. "Roxie Hart," yes. "Chicago," never. They should only show films that originally played at The Ken. Doesn't that make sense? And speaking of not making sense, don't tell me you favor "Chicago" over "Some Like it Hot" or "Double Indemnity," both of which played the theatre when they were a revival house that changed double-features daily. I really didn't take them to task for their selections. What stinks is that they are planning to charge $10 to watch a DVD. You can buy a copy for the same money and it's going to look like crap when blown up on that screen.


Dorian Hargrove Aug. 17, 2012 @ 7:34 a.m.

"October 27 & 28: Shitberg's Jurassic Park"

Hilarious! I wonder if they know that this gem from Shitberg can be seen all day every day on USA or G4, or one of those cable channels. Great article!


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