Saturday, February 6, 2016

Maureen Russell: IOHTE

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2015. An index of participants can be found here

IOHTE contributor Maureen Russell is a cinephile and a volunteer for Noir City.

Screen capture from Warner DVD
1) NOIR CITY 13: 'Til Death Do Us Part - A festival of unholy matrimony
The Castro Theatre, January 16 - 25, 2015
The marriage theme of this year's festival made for a fun take on noir. There were many strong, interesting women's roles. I liked the variety from the tense thriller Cry Terror! to the steamy Ossessione, but I particularly loved the Thin Man comedy double feature. Nothing like watching it in a full house at the Castro appreciating William Powell and Myrna Loy's wise-cracking, martini-downing and sleuthing, with my favorite film dog, Asta.
The Thin Man (1934)  
After the Thin Man (1936) - the couple returns to San Francisco

2) San Francisco Silent Film Festival 
Castro Theatre, May 28 - June 1, 2015 
I enjoy the variety of films and live musical accompaniment at this festival every year. Highlights included: 
Directed by Ted Wilde, USA, 1928 Cast Harold Lloyd, Babe Ruth 
I loved the New York City locations, the scene with Babe Ruth, and the visit to Coney Island. Live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
The Amazing Charley Bowers 
Live musical accompaniment by Serge Bromberg 
Four short films from 1926 - 1928 
I hadn't seen any Charley Bowers' films before - inventive surreal shorts that included puppet animation and stop-motion techniques 
Also The Swallow and the Titmouse was a beautifully shot story, mainly taking place on a barge - documentary like at times with a dark story emerging.

Screen capture from Edgehill DVD of Rock Milestones: David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust 
3) Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars
Part of Cracked Actor: David Bowie on Screen
Director: D.A. Pennebaker  
David Bowie as his gender-bending alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, in his final performance given at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1973. (1973/82, 90 min, 35mm) 
This stood out when I considered my top ten list last year, before we lost David Bowie. I'd seen the film before but was enthralled seeing it again. D.A. Pennebaker's multiple cameras and planning during the previous night's show make it as close to being there as you can get. 

4) Mel Novikoff Award: Lenny Borger: Monte-Cristo  
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas   
San Francisco International Film Festival
Rediscovered silent masterpiece, France, 1929
Director: Henri Fescourt
Two-part epic adapting Alexandre Dumas' novel. The 218 minutes went by quickly. There were some stunning sets and shots and an engaging story.  

5) Wanda  
Director, writer, star: Barbara Loden (USA, 1970) - shot in 16mm - restored 35mm print screened SF International Film Festival, Castro Theatre

6) Roar! 
1981 Dir. Noel Marshall 
The Castro Theatre 6/11/15, DCP Scope
The story of how the film was made is as incredible as the film is. The audience was awestruck at 100 large wild cats interacting with actors. It had some indelible shots, like the giraffe racing a motorcycle..

Screen capture from New Line DVD
7) Grey Gardens 
New Restoration - DCP 
A film by David and Albert Maysles (1976) 
Pink Flamingos (1972, 108 min, 35mm) John Waters, director 
This is the 25th anniversary edition with bonus footage added post-film. April Fool's Day double feature at the Castro A great way to re-watch two films that became cult classics.

8) Army of Shadows 
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, DCP, 145min, 1969, France / Italy 
The Roxie 10/21/15 new color restoration 
145 minutes of intrigue with a great cast and film team. There is an incredible rescue scene.

9) Brandy in the Wilderness  
SF International Film Festival 
Director: Stanton Kaye, USA, 1969 
35mm restored print The Roxie, 5/2/15 
Rediscovered film "diary" about the aspiring filmmaker and his girlfriend. 

Screen capture from Universal DVD
10) The Big Lebowski
(35 mm) The Castro - 4/16/15 
Jeff Bridges double feature with Cutter's Way 1998, USA Directors: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen 
My first time seeing the Big Lebowski! I'd been wanting to see it, but wary of audiences shouting out lines at party screenings. This was a great way to see it, on 35mm, and paired with the interesting Cutter's Way. I was not the only one getting a White Russian at Twin Peaks Tavern after the screening.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Carl Martin: IOHTE

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2015. An index of participants can be found here.

IOHTE contributor Carl Martin runs the Film On Film Foundation's invaluable Bay Area Film Calendar.

Image courtesy Noir City film festival.
January 22, The Castro (Noir City): The Sleeping Tiger.  On this second viewing, Joseph Losey's bold sleight of hand stood out.  What looks like dubious psychology is a misdirection.  As in Ride the Pink Horse (seen later in the year in Elliot Lavine's series at the Castro), at film's end a female character comes to the fore and proclaims her centrality.

March 13, The Castro:
Dead People (aka Messiah of Evil).  An ecstatically-shot slice of American Euro-trash.  The print was fragile and it was a privilege to be in its presence.

March 16, private screening:
Darby O'Gill and the Little People.  This Disney live-actioner is notable for landing Sean Connery the lead in a certain iconic spy franchise, for its remarkably effective forced-perspective effects, and, if you make allowances for the somewhat watered-down ending and in your mind allow the film to be what it wants to be, for being pretty goddamn devastating.

April 24, The Stanford:
Devil and the Deep.  I don't make it down (up?) to Palo Alto much but trust David Packard('s programmers) to turn up delightful obscurities like this.  The titles make a big deal about introducing Charles Laughton, who had made films before, but no matter.  He makes a meal of the scenery in this underwater potboiler. Gary Cooper and Cary Grant are also featured.

Screen capture from Warner DVD
June 1, The Castro (SFSFF): Ben-Hur: a Tale of the Christ.  I also revisited the Wyler (Heston) version, which is quite good, but the Niblo version has it beat.  The color sequences (with boobs!) are breathtaking.  Unusually for the Silent festival, a recorded score (by Carl Davis) was used, but it was brilliant.  To digress, I'm sad that the new restoration of Napoleon will exclude Kevin Brownlow and Davis, and of course that it isn't being done on film.

June 10, The Castro:
Body Heat.  No great rarity i guess, but i'd never seen this wonderful and hilarious neo-noir.  Ted Danson's shining moment.

August 12, The Castro:
Blue Steel. Kathryn Bigelow, paradoxical lady master of the male gaze, is on a hot streak with her third feature.  Gorgeous print!

August 27, The Castro:
Dementia.  A movie from another planet!  Nothing about Dementia fits into a standard narrative of film history. Who are these people who think they can make a feature with no dialogue?  Even Chaplin was making talkies at this point.

October 2, The Castro: Assault on Precinct 13. Laurie Zimmerman is one of many totally badass things about this early John Carpenter slow-burn actioner.  It is Night of the Living Dead with gangs instead of zombies.

And, lastly, 3 small-gauge selections from different shorts programs.
March 5, Exploratorium:
The Mysterious Villa (forgotten formats program).  A program of oddball film gauges unearthed this 28mm corker.  Hilarious!
June 18, The Lab:
Postcard from San Miguel (See a Rose Hear a Bomb: films by Lawrence Jordan). The promise of the film's title is fulfilled: the beautiful amalgam of image, music, and text (by Garcia Lorca) had me "wishing I 
was there".
Screen capture from Fantoma DVD
November 9, New Nothing: Puce Moment (Other States: a program of films selected by Paul Clipson).  I must have seen this Anger film before but here its parade of sparkly dresses, brought by the simplest of tricks to life, struck me as a magical cinematic gesture.  The anachronistic psych music (added decades after photography) casts an eerie spell over the proceedings.

I Only Have Two Eyes 2015

El Sur screen capture from Spirit of the Beehive Criterion DVD (disc 2 supplement)

Though June 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of this blog, I didn't feel a strong desire to mention it at the time. Sometimes I wonder about the utility of an amateurly-put-together, ad-free site with an outdated design in today's era of feeds and streams and an increasingly video-centric online culture. But around this time of year (slightly later than usual, sorry) I remember one of the main annual joys I get to experience as founder and proprietor of Hell On Frisco Bay: collecting and posting repertory round-ups from some of the most thoughtful and devoted local cinephiles in my "I Only Have Two Eyes" project, so-named because it's impossible for one person to witness every great film screening occurring in a Frisco Bay cinema in a given year.

Unbelievably, this is the ninth consecutive year that I've conducted this survey, and this year's responses are as wide-ranging and reflective of the cinematic highlights of Bay Area revival/repertory screens as ever, in my opinion. Huge thanks to each and every one of the contributors this year! Without further ado, the list of entries (which will grow multiple times daily for the next week or so):

2/1/2016: Max Goldberg, archivist and critic whose writings are collected at
2/2/2016: Claire Bain, Canyon cinema filmmker, artist and writer. Her website.
2/2/2016: Brian Huser, high school teacher & film/media studies graduate.
2/3/2016: Lincoln Spector, proprietor of Bayflicks.
2/3/2016: Terri Saul, Berkeley-based artist.
2/4/2016: Ben Armington, who works for Box Cubed and participates in this podcast.
2/4/2016: David Robson, who blogs at the House of Sparrows.
2/5/2016: Adrianne Finelli, artist and co-curator of A.T.A.'s GAZE film series.
2/5/2016: Carl Martin, who maintains the Film on Film Foundation' Bay Area Film Calendar.

Adrianne Finelli: IOHTE

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2015. An index of participants can be found here.

IOHTE Contributor Adrianne Finelli is an artist, a Prelinger Library guest host, and co-curator of A.T.A.'s GAZE film series. 

1. Otar Iosseliani's Early Films
Akvareli (1958) Song About a Flower (1959) April (1962) Cast Iron (1964)
Pacific Film Archive
Thursday, January 22, 2015

The early short films of Otar Iosseliani are all poems in their own right, but paired together this quartet evokes a full spectrum of feelings and styles. Cast Iron is one of the most beautiful documentary films I have ever seen. I tried to attend as much of the Discovering Georgian Film series as possible because there was so much amazing work that I had never encountered.  This screening was no different and it stuck with me for weeks.

2. Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966)
The Honeymoon Killers (Leonard Kastle, 1969)
Castro Theatre, Noir City 13
Sunday, Jan 25, 2015

This was the craziest double feature I have ever seen in a grand movie palace. Thank you to Noir City for pairing these delightfully strange films together. Seconds is among my favorites, but I had only ever heard of The Honeymoon Killers by way of its influence on John Waters’ garish style. Wow! I was speechless.

3. My Grandmother (Kote Mikaberidze, 1929)
Pacific Film Archive
Saturday, Februrary 7, 2015

Also part of the Discovering Georgian Cinema series at the PFA, My Grandmother was banned for fifty years for its pointed mockery of Soviet bureaucracy. It was by far the most surreal and inventive film that I saw this year, and features a surprising amount of experimental animation techniques.

4. Inevitability of Forgetting: Films of Lewis Klahr––Memory and Collage
False Aging (2008) Engram Sepals (2000) Helen of T (2013) Daylight Moon (2003) The Occidental Hotel (2014)
SFSU August Coppola Theatre
Thursday, February 19, 2015

This was a special screening as Lewis Klahr was there in person to present his work, thanks to SF Cinematheque and the
Cinema Department at San Francisco State University. I have been a fan of Klahr’s films ever since seeing Altair (1995) several years ago. His style of collage animation is almost tactile and his characters, although sourced from old comics and magazine advertisements, somehow capture the mysteries of humanity. The strong sound design and musical choices transport you in and out of places from your own past, and there is something very fragile about the materials, like memory, fading and fleeting. This screening resonated with me on a deep emotional level.

5. The Bittersweet Films of Mikhail Kobakhidze

The Musicians (1969) The Wedding (1965) The Umbrella (1967) En Chemin (2001)
Pacific Film Archive
Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Bittersweet Films of Mikhail Kobahidze are exactly that, bittersweet. Each celebrates the pleasures of life while also recognizing the sorrows. Although all four of these films have elements of humor and whimsy, The Musicians pares down the story to just two characters set in an infinite white space, in which a cartoon-like battle ensues between them. The Wedding (1965) reminded me of The Graduate in part and had a more similar feeling to the young-love story of The Umbrella. Kobakhidze’s films all resemble the visual and physical worlds of Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, and Norman McLaren. There is so much to love about these films, and I am grateful to the PFA for their wonderful Discovering Georgian Cinema series for this introduction.

6. The Donovan Affair (Frank Capra, 1929)
Castro Theatre
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Saturday, May 30, 2015
Live Theater Event produced by Bruce Goldstein performed by the Gower Gulch Players: Glenn Taranto, Rick Pasqualone, Hannah Davis, Ashley Adler, Steve Sterner (also on piano), Yelena Shmulenson, Allen Lewis Rickman, Bruce Goldstein, and Frank Buxton.
I was a little nervous going into this screening, I just didn’t know what to expect with a live soundtrack performance and was prepared for something like dinner theater and felt ready to dislike it. Much to my pleasant surprise the whole production was brilliant, from the cast to tiniest details in the live sound effects and the musical score. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the entire team that was involved in this performed version of The Donovan Affair provided an unforgettable and entertaining experience to all at the Castro that night.

7. Ivan's Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962)
Pacific Film Archive
Saturday, June 27, 2015

My partner and I managed to see several of the Tarkovsky films at PFA, but neither of us had ever seen Ivans Childhood and we were just blown away. While I love both The Mirror (1975) and Stalker (1979), there was something about Ivans Childhood that shook me to the core. This was the most powerful and haunting film that I have seen all year.
8. El Sur (Victor Erice, 1983)
Zero For Conduct (Jean Vigo, 1933)
Pacific Film Archive
Friday, July 31, 2015

This screening marked my last night at the old Pacific Film Archive’s theater on Bancroft Way, which made it special in its own right, but sitting directly behind director Victor Erice and his family made it an extraordinary time. Victor Erice gave a beautiful introduction that was as moving as his films, and revealed that watching El Sur pains him, as it is only half of the film that he intended to make. It was fascinating to then occasionally watch him watching his work. Another treat of the night was directly following El Sur there was a screening of the great Zero for Conduct in a program called Cinema According to Victor Erice.

9. For the Eyes: Canyon Salon with Amy Halpern
Assorted Morsels (2012) series – 
Three-Minute Hells
By Halves

New Nothing Cinema
Monday, October 5, 2015

I was new to Amy Halpern’s work and left this screening in awe of her stunning cinematography. All three shorts were shot and screened on 16mm film, the photography was some of the most vivid and intimate that I have seen this year. Most of Halpern’s work is silent, allowing you to focus purely on the color and light; yet, Three-Minute Hells had an exceptional sound design. Halpern screened her work along side some of my favorite experimental films: All My Life (1966) by Bruce Baillie, Fever Dream (1979) by Chick Strand, and Fog Line (1970) by Larry Gottheim, and Bad Burns (1982) by Paul Sharits. This was an exceptional program and I am hoping to bring Amy Halpern back to San Francisco for an upcoming GAZE screening sometime this year.

10. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock , 1946)
Paramount Theatre
Friday, November 20, 2015
I remember seeing Notorious for the first time as a kid and feeling more stressed out about the plot than any film I had seen before. I have returned to Hitchcock time and time again for a good dose of suspense, and it always amazes me that you can watch a film half a dozen times and still feel as anxious. I am a big Ingrid Bergman fan and Notorious has been a long time favorite, but I had never seen it on the big screen before this night at the amazing Paramount Theatre in Oakland. The Paramount is one of the most beautiful and lavish movie palaces I have ever stepped foot in, and it always makes any film feel even more magical.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

David Robson: IOHTE

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2015. An index of participants can be found here.

IOHTE contributor and cinephile-at large David Robson documents his offline movie-viewing at a number of online film sites, like his own blog the House of Sparrows, and he cohabitates with those adorable simian cinephiles at Monkeys Go To Movies.

I usually limit myself to one movie per filmmaker for these, but Max is great enough to list twice. Ever since David Wong introduced The Exile during the Invasion of the Cinemaniacs! at YBCA I've been "collecting" the films of Max Ophuls, i.e. seeing every damn screening of his movies that I can. I was delighted that the hard-bitten mofos at Noir City basically book-ended the year with Ophuls, showing the exquisite Caught during the Noir City festival in January and The Reckless Moment during their winter preview in December. Watching Ophuls navigate his camera thru the psychological extremis of his characters is one of classic cinema's most savory delights; James Mason is pretty grand in very different roles in both movies, too.

Even after three viewings I continued to struggle with Godard's Goodbye to Language. And yet the ongoing struggle seemed to cleanse the palate for a lovely 35mm print of his mid-80s, Cannon Films-produced King Lear, which played fast and loose with Shakespeare's play but resonated with surprising, often graceful, clarity on all of its subjects. Amid all of Godard's theorizing and deconstruction his cast land their marks with considerable emotion and grace. No surprise that Burgess Meredith should make his Lear-infused gangster resonate across both genre and Shakespearean lines, but Molly Ringwald (who made this movie amid the John Hughes teen flicks that landed her permanently in the 80s firmament) is equally graceful, and, in a bit part as a shady editor,  Woody Allen registers with a conviction and gravitas no one else bothered to ever mine in him. A theatre friend with whom I saw the thing called it a terrific piece of devised theatre, and he's right. Bonus: the quick but graceful callout to Orson Welles in reel 2.

Yerba Buena Center's Cracked Actor series offered a fine retrospective of the film performances of the late David Bowie. The Prestige turned out to be the eye-opener in the series, showcasing not just Bowie's fantastic supporting performance (suggesting his particular charisma is best served by such roles) but a surprisingly emotional mid-career opus by its maker, Christopher Nolan. Nolan's work had always left me more impressed than touched or moved, but between this and Interstellar (seen in glorious 70mm at the Castro early last year) I'm reconsidering my bias.

It was pretty genius, the pairing of Hitchcock's The Birds with Larry Cohen's Q. Very much a yin/yang pairing: whereas the lives of carefully delineated characters in a realistic setting are disrupted by an unexplained bird attack in the Hitchcock, Cohen offers a carefully explained series of attacks by a winged serpent on New Yorkers and fills the rest of the movie with a bewildering rogues gallery of engaging weirdos and apparently improvised moments - Michael Moriarty's singing of his own song "Evil Dream" is just the beginning of a performance more like a jazz solo than any other piece of film acting I can recall, but David Carradine finds his own space to add accents around Moriarty, even as he can't quite believe what the hell is going on in front of him. And the undercover mime should have become a franchise. Hitchcock's ambiguities let his movie linger in the mind, but Cohen's never-ending and increasingly lunatic pre-Giuliani NYC smorgasbord is just as fulfilling.

Sure, the Silent Film Festival offered more monumental, moving and graceful works, but when, during the Charlie Bowers comedies, the stop-motion squirrel fished all of the shit out of her purse in search of a nutcracker, I absolutely lost it. And that's just one little throwaway incident amid four works bristling with avant-garde fearlessness and boundless imagination; Bowers is exactly the kind of unique but under-known talent that rep cinema is supposed to introduce to its audiences.

As is Robert Montgomery, perhaps, whose Ride the Pink Horse attained true cult status last year. I'm grateful to Elliot Lavine for booking a lovely print of the movie during his Castro noir series, allowing this sweaty and nuanced yarn to breathe new life.

A startlingly well-built Wim Wenders retrospective began making the rounds of the US late last year, and the Castro gave up all of its November Mondays to many of the movies. As nice as it was to see them all (including many a cinephile's holy grail: the five hour cut of Until The End of the World), The State of Things resonated most strongly with me. Seen in the context of Wenders' other largely-improvised movies, The State of Things (inspired strongly by delays on another movie) reflects beautifully on the ongoing conflict between art and commerce, and the everyday lives of those caught between. Even the car chase, beautifully executed within a single longshot taking in several city blocks, seems to have picked up on the movie's quiet, laid-back resonance. Lovely performance by Samuel Fuller as the practical but all-knowing cinematographer.

I suspect many found it dated or had other reasons for not engaging with it (the buzz one feels after a movie grabs an entire audience, then gently releases them, seemed utterly gone), but goddammit, I'd grown up watching Laurie Anderson's concert movie Home of the Brave on video, and finally seeing it projected, on 35mm, and HEARING it, was that rare experience of seeing a movie one knows by heart for the very first time. Obviously there's a bias on my part that lands this movie, a crucial influence and touchstone on my youth, on this list. But even if its gorgeous and awe-inspiring reveals - the yonic chasm that Anderson's sampler/violin tears thru the climax of "Smoke Rings"; the detonation of the full vocal sample at the end of "Late Show"; the siren that I found, THIS WHOLE TIME, had been baying unobtrusively but insistently behind Adrian Belew and David van Tieghem's otherwise spare and quiet duet - meant nothing to to one in the theatre but me, I felt reconnected, inspired, restored, alive.

And if Home of the Brave connected me to myself, David Lynch's The Straight Story (my final 2015 Frisco Bay screening) connected me: to Doris, a fellow Lynchian as psyched to see this never-screened gem as I; to Richard Farnsworth, the elderly and frail but determined star of the movie, given another curtain call; to Lynch, crafting one of his most personal works, a G-rated Disney family movie that no one but David Lynch could have made; to Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, whose intro didn't mention "neo-sincerity", his patented term for his non-ironic approach to older movies, but was instead delicately, movingly, simply, sincere; to my family, the bundle of sticks that don't break; to my fellow cinephiles and other interested parties in the rep theatres of San Francisco; to the coming holidays; to the very universe itself. David Lynch's The Straight Story, it turns out, remains one hell of a movie. Can't wait to see what's next.