Friday, November 30, 2007

Quick Flick Picks


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On the eve of a day-long movie marathon, I just wanted to get some items off of my to-blog list.

In my last post on silent film, I mentioned that the Berlin and Beyond festival will, as usual, be showing a German silent film as part of its 2008 program. It's just been revealed that the festival, running January 10-16 at the Castro Theatre, will present the 1929 comedy the Oddball with live musical accompaniment by Dennis James.

Some noteworthy though not-so-silent entries in Berlin and Beyond 2008 include Michael Verhoeven's the Unknown Soldier, and a three-film tribute to the recently-deceased actor Ulrich Mühe: along with his recent triumph in the Lives of Others the festival will screen a film from his East German film career, Half of Life, and his role in the Austrian Michael Haneke's 1997 Funny Games, just before the Sundance premiere of that director's apparently all-but shot-for-shot remake. The opening night film is the Edge of Heaven by Fatih Akin, contradicting the program guide on the Castro's website, which says it will be Yella. Christian Petzod's film will still play in the festival, but its opening slot was switched out for Akin's after the Castro schedules went to press.

Speaking of which, there's a lot to talk about on those Castro schedules, and I'm not even going to cover it all here. A MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS triple bill of Burt Reynolds films including Peter Bogdanovich's rarely-revived tribute to Lubitsch, At Long Last Love, plays December 7th, and another threefer starts with possibly the most heartbreaking summer vacation movie of my teenage years, which was also Winona Ryder's first film role, Lucas. That plays February 8th, the Friday before Valentine's Day (on which Marc Huestis brings Olivia Hussey for the 40th anniversary of Romeo & Juliet.)

There's another in the Castro's continuing series of classic films organized by composer, this time nine days (December 26-January 3) of double-bills scored by the great Miklos Rosza, including multiple collaborations with Billy Wilder and Vincent Minelli. January 4-9 brings the nine of the ten most well-known pairings of the "Emperor" Akira Kurosawa and his "Wolf" Toshiro Mifune. They made sixteen films together, and I wish the selection included Red Beard or some of the rarely-screened early films like the Quiet Duel and the Idiot, but I'm glad for the opportunity to see any of these again on the Castro's mighty screen. I've never seen the Seven Samurai, for example, on anything larger than a regular television set, which is probably enough to send me to the cinephile stocks.

If you're concerned about how to fit the new cut of Blade Runner playing at the Embarcadero into your schedule this week, know that it will make a return appearance at the Castro for a week starting February 15th. The early-eighties revival I'm most excited about seeing in a Landmark theatre is one I've never seen in any cut before: Jean-Jacques Beniex's Diva, which opens at the Shattuck in Berkeley as well as somewhere in Frisco December 7th.

The Roxie has a pair of films from this past spring's SF International Film Festival on its upcoming slate. One I've seen and can recommend: Les Blank's new documentary All in This Tea. Not being particularly interested in gourmet tea varieties, I was skeptical going in, but I found the film to be a fun but serious peek into the blossoming of capitalism in China. It opens December 14th. The other is one I missed in May but won't in January, when it opens on the 11th: El Violin from Mexico.

The Red Vic has its full December (highlight: the Draughtsman's Contract on the 16th & 17th) and January (highlight: the Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford on the 15th & 16th) schedules online, but its paper copy extends a bit beyond that, revealing among other things that the Battle of Algiers will play February 3-4.

More time-sensitive news is that two programs of British experimental films from the 1960s and 1970s will play at at the SF Art Institute this coming Monday evening, December 3rd. This tip comes from Jim Flannery, who left it on the cinephile bulettin board that is girish's blog. More on the series here. It's the beginning of a busier-than-usual week of public screenings at SFAI, where a cellphone film event called mini-PAH will take place December 7-8.

SFMOMA, which is currently reprising the Joseph Cornell films it showed earlier this fall as part of its exhibition on the collagist, has also been running a fascinating film series I'm sorry I haven't really mentioned here before. In conjunction with a Jeff Wall exhibition, the museum will screen John Huston's Fat City this and next Saturday afternoon, R.W. Fassbinder's proto-emo-fest masterwork the Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant December 13th and 15th, Ingmar Bergman's Persona December 20th and 22nd, and perhaps most exciting since I've never seen this legendary epic, Jean Eustache's the Mother and the Whore December 27th and 29th. Then, beginning January 5th with a screening of Point of Order, SFMOMA will run a retrospective of the films of Emile de Antonio. In the Year of the Pig plays January 19th and 24th.

The current Year of the Pig ends February 6th, 2008. You may know that the Japanese Zodiac is based on the Chinese Zodiac, though the Pig is replaced with the Wild Boar in Japan (in Thailand the Pig becomes an Elephant). But since Japan celebrates New Year January 1st like we in the West, not the Lunar New Year of the Chinese, the Year of the Boar will end sooner than the Year of the Pig. Have I lost you yet? Either way, the new 12-year Zodiac cycle will begin next year, on either January 1st or February 7th, with the Year of the Rat. Shortly after the latter there will be a Pacific Film Archive tribute to Japanese-American silent film actor Sessue Hayakawa, who was born in 1889 (the year of the Ox, like me only 84 years earlier). February 9th screens Hayakawa's star-making role in Cecil B. DeMille's the Cheat, and on February 10th the Devil's Claim and Forbidden Paths will be shown. All three will be accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano, and are presented in connection with a two-day conference on silent film called Border Crossings: Re-Thinking Early Cinema. Fascinating stuff, and I'm hopeful that there will be more Hayakawa films announced soon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Adam Hartzell interviews the director of Host & Guest


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I have to hand it to the 10th SF Asian Film Festival and the 5th Korean American Film Festival, both of which ended for me Sunday with a screening of the 1963 Korean War movie Marines Who Never Returned. Its first ten minutes felt as eerily documentary-like a depiction of combat as any I've seen on film. It makes me glad I still live in the Richmond District not far from the 4 Star Theatre, though for some of the programs hosted there in the past week and a half I would certainly have traveled much longer distances. And I was delighted to learn last Friday that the venue had booked four more days of festival fun, starting yesterday and ending on Thanksgiving, in the form of a Chinese-American Film Festival. Along with films from China and the Chinese diaspora, there will be one more Korean film in the program. Sometime contributor to this site Adam Hartzell has more:
This year, when asked to help out with the San Francisco Korean American Film Festival, I decided it was time for me to do more than simply write the program notes as I have been asked to do in the past. And do more I did, much more than a guy who has a regular day job that requires him to wake up at 4:30 AM, work 10 hour days, and travel abroad from anywhere from a month to two months should really do, but that’s what you get sometimes for volunteering. Thankfully, I worked with a great bunch of people who equally worked their butts off. But regardless of how much you work, some things just don’t work out.

And one of those things that didn’t work out was we weren’t able to get Sin Dong-il’s (alternate Romanization is Shin) wonderful film Host & Guest into the festival. This had to do with coordination difficulties across the globe, conflicting country holidays and work schedules. Let’s just say I was working outside of my skill set. But thankfully, Director Sin intervened on my behalf and Frank Lee of the 4 Star Theatre offered to open up some slots amidst his Chinese-American Film Festival that began this Monday. Host & Guest will be screening this Wednesday, November 21st at 9:30pm, and Thanksgiving Day at 5pm.

It’s been over two years since I’ve seen Host & Guest, but it’s a film that's slowly grown on me as I've sat with the images and dialogue of the bizarre coupling of a bitter, arrogant film-less Film Professor and a conscientiously-objecting Jehovah's Witness. What I recall after two years away from the film (for thoughts fresh from my viewing the film at the Pusan International Film Festival in 2005 you can go here) is that I appreciated how, although strong in its contempt for the Cheney/Bush administration, the film didn’t focus its critique solely outward, but inward as well. Host & Guest is equally as critical of the South Korean government as it is the United States. Host & Guest is equally critical of itself as it is others. In this way, what might appear clumsy in less skillful hands was gently laid to grow within my thoughts and my emotions that followed me after sharing witness with Sin’s vision.

I asked Sin if I could do an interview with him of a few simple questions over email. I offered him the option to respond in Korean if he felt more comfortable speaking in his first language. He responded mostly in Korean with an exception I will note. Along with thanking Sin for taking the time to answer my brief, amateurish questions, I must also thank Kaya Lee for her willingness to translate under a tighter deadline than I’d prefer to request. I adjusted some of her translation for flow, but I wouldn’t have been able to do this without her. Equally helpful to bringing the film to San Francisco were the SF Korean American Film Festival director Waylon McGuigan, Frank Lee of the 4 Star Theatre, Kim Hee-jeon of CJ Entertainment, and Director Sin’s sister who lives in the Bay Area but whom I won’t name because time constraints don’t allow for me to confirm whether she’s comfortable with my posting her name here.

The following is the interview.

Adam Hartzell, for Hell on Frisco Bay: The title, Host & Guest, is an interesting one. What brought you to use that title for the film?

Director Sin Dong-il: I was building the story’s plot and surprisingly, the English title Host and Guest came across my mind before the Korean title. I really loved the English title; so, I chose one of the main characters’ names as “Ho-jun” from “Host” and the other’s name was “Gye-sang” from “Guest”. I felt so much interest in the idea that two characters who have totally different ideologies respectively on the surface meet each other as a host and an uninvited guest, that is, as a visitor. As their relationship proceeds, each character becomes a host and a guest as well, and it means both are the host of their own lives.

HoFB: Could you talk a little bit about military service in South Korea to give American audiences an understanding of it since an understanding of the obligation all young Korean adults have is important to the film?

Director Sin: Korean people have been considering men’s military service as an obligation that they should accept naturally without doubt because of ideological confrontation and military tension between North and South Korea which has been ongoing for more than 50 years. Such represents that nationalism is controlling Korean people’s consciousness. It is true that people who refused the military obligation under conscience demands for peace have not been known to the South Korean public. I believe nationalism is an anachronism as the cold war composition has already collapsed around the world.

HoFB: Being a first time film director, having one character be a film professor who has never made a film makes me wonder how much he is based on your own experiences. Does that character represent your life in any way? Or is he more the kind of person you are worried you could become?

Director Sin: My life experience helped in making the film. Unlike the U.S. film market, South Korea’s independent film industry is very vulnerable. It is very hard to pursue my original thought into film without negotiating with the commercial/business world. South Korea’s film industry is focusing on box-office value too much. Actually it will bring serious risks/result in the end. I débuted with a feature film, but making a feature film is too hard. I am so gloomy whenever I think about how to get financial support for my third film. If anybody is interested in my third work after watching Host and Guest, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I always welcome producers for my work… just like a host and a guest. [laugh] It’s half seriousness and half joke. In addition, even though Ho-jun is called a professor, he is actually a part time instructor.

HoFB: If there is any kind of statement about the film you wish to make, feel free to add anything else you might want to say.

Director Sin: [Here, Director Sin Dong-il chose to type in English.]

Most people see only what they want to see. This world labels you a stranger once you trespass the standardized rules of the society. I want to open the door that is shut fast to these strangers.

If you want to look at this film closely, I would like to call your attention to Ho-jun’s snobbish elitism, deeply ingrained in his personality. Ho-jun finds himself transformed into an enemy of himself after having gone through days full of breakdowns and failures. He then meets Gye-sang, another soul, who’s also wounded by the prejudice and ignorance of the world. Thanks to Gye-sang, Ho-jun finds himself again, no longer as a "visitor" in his own life, but as both "host" and "guest."

I dedicate this humble film to those who are dreaming of a different world.