Cinema, Verily 

Roland De La Rosa loves movies and he has plenty to share.

Roland De La Rosa loves movies. He surrounds himself with movies, talks about movies, studies movies, and watches his favorite movies upwards of two hundred times each. With his wife, Susan, Roland is co-owner of Movie Image, a Shattuck Avenue video-rental store that has just relocated southward, near Durant Avenue. But his life has been immersed in film almost from the beginning.De La Rosa grew up in the East Bay --Pittsburg--in the 1950s. It was there that he first got hooked on movies.

"Our movie theater changed movies every week," he recalls, "so if I wanted to see anything I had to see it that Saturday or Sunday, or I was out of luck. Then one week in 1956, when I was eight years old, I had a horrendous fever. But The Girl Can't Help It, the first great rock 'n' roll movie, was playing that Sunday. With Little Richard, Fats Domino, all those guys --and Jayne Mansfield. And I loved rock 'n' roll. I managed to convince my mother that I was doing just fine, and I got away with it. I had a boost of energy when the rock 'n' roll started."

From then on, he started going to the movies twice a week. That lasted "ten years, until the end of high school. I used to keep file cards of every movie I watched." By 1961 he had to stop. He had eight file cabinets full of cards.

At San Francisco State, "I started taking film classes. My major was drama, but when I knew a particular film was being shown in a film class I'd sneak in and sit in the back. I had a very sympathetic drama teacher who wrote for Film Comment. He let me do a film project, for which I talked to Coppola's company"--American Zoetrope, which was based in San Francisco. De La Rosa ran a film series at the university for several years called the Cosmic Late Show.

"Every Friday we would show a double bill. My ego was involved. I programmed movies I was interested in seeing--a mixture of classic films and foreign films." San Francisco in the '70s, he says fondly, was a great movie town.

His favorite theaters in the City were the Surf and the Surf Interplayers. The Surf specialized in classic foreign films. The Surf Interplayers showed only American movies: "They would have a month of nothing but Hitchcock, then a month of Warner Bros. movies. It was a great place to learn the history of movies. These theaters were my home away from home."Can a person in his position have a favorite film? "Citizen Kane," De La Rosa says at once. "I've seen it two hundred times. But every time I see it, I always find a few moments I've missed. For example, they film Kane's wife's operatic debut twice; you see the same stuff twice, and it looks like the exact same thing. But he has little things going on in the background, and it isn't the same thing. The dialogue is different, and the angle is different. We're dealing with two people's memories--Joseph Cotten's character remembering the opera and Susan Alexander's character remembering her debut. If you watch it closely, there's different bits of dialogue and different characters peeking into the frame. You can always revisit a good film. You'll see a little moment, a look, a glance, maybe a camera angle, and it's like a revelation."Even though Citizen Kane is his favorite movie, Hitchcock is his favorite filmmaker. De La Rosa loves "even his most minor British melodrama, even his early silents. The guy's done pirate movies, even a musical biography of Johann Strauss. But even when it's material that turns him off, the camera is very fluid. And you get an impression of Hitchcock himself. With a truly great filmmaker like that, you're aware that there's a presence behind the camera, a guiding force. You watch Hitchcock's films and you understand the man. When you're watching a Fellini movie, too, you know it's Fellini. American movies tend more towards anonymity."

He prides himself on being nonjudgmental.

"I like every kind of film. I can find value in Revenge of the Creature as well as The Passion of Joan of Arc. It's all art. Art can be in the wastebasket as well as at the Chateau Marmont. There's no reason why Dirty Harry and Lawrence of Arabia can't both be great films. A lot of people think film has to say something or be meaningful, but movies that are there to entertain can be visually delightful. You can wallow in a little bit of trash but still appreciate it. It can still be great cinema."

If De La Rosa could be Humphrey Bogart, "I'd be a happy guy. His characters always have an aesthetic about what they're doing," De La Rosa says. "They have a plan. They live in a world where they're constantly having to assert their values. Other characters around him have less integrity, and he sees through their veneer. He hates any kind of phoniness--you can tell." It's not surprising that someone so totally immersed in film would have met one of his heroes in the flesh. One day when he was a student at SF State, Clint Eastwood was on campus. "He was going around shaking everybody's hand, and I thought: My God, I've got to think of something really quick here ... he's going to shake my hand. So instead of just gushing over him and saying I thought he was such a great actor, I looked at him quizzically and said, 'Um, I know you.' And I picked the most obscure movie I knew that he was in, and said, 'Weren't you in Revenge of the Creature?' He laughed--he didn't think anyone remembered that one. So I had a momentary hit with him."I actually heard, but didn't get to see, Alfred Hitchcock. His last movie, Family Plot, was filmed near where I lived on Sacramento Street in the City. It was a very cold night and he didn't want to go outside to direct the actors, so he was in a car. He directed from the car. You could hear his voice--a very distinctive voice. There were people keeping me away, but it was a kick. I was leaning forward and arching my body. He was in the dark, barking out instructions."

Yet despite his love for movies and his constant involvement with them, the young De La Rosa didn't think he'd be working with movies for a living.

"After college, I kind of floundered a bit. I worked freight-forwarding, clearing things from customs, stamping documents. Boring. For years."

It was his wife "who realized how unhappy I was." The pair tried to think of "things that we could do that would make me happy. It had to be something related to film. I could try to go to Hollywood, but I wanted to stay here; I love the East Bay and San Francisco."

He was almost going to open a theater, but his partners backed out at the last moment, so instead he opened a video store.

Movie Image opened in 1991. "My kind of store will work only in a city like Berkeley. It's very niche-oriented --a lot of foreign, avant-garde, and classic films. Somewhere else I'd have to have 35 copies of Battlefield Earth. But I'd rather have 35 different movies than 35 copies of the big-budget megathrill epic. For me, the kick of it is the creative aspect: just picking the movies that I want to see in the store. Talking to people about movies. If I ran a movie theater, what would I say to a customer? 'That will be five dollars, please. Seating is down at the lower left.' Thank God I didn't open up a theater."


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