Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jolly Holidays

As 2008 winds down, a number of the local screening venues on Frisco Bay are entering a quiet period. But there are still a number of unique film screenings over the holiday season. Bring your visitors and show them that Frisco's got a filmgoing scene unlike most anywhere else in the country. If they insist on It's a Wonderful Life, it's playing tonight in two South Bay venues: the Stanford and the California. But there's a lot more going on if you dig a bit deeper...

Gus Van Sant's biographical narrative Milk is no longer at the Castro Theatre, which is sure to disappoint a lot of people who didn't get around to seeing it on the most poignant screen in the nation on which to view it. It's still playing at other theatres around the city of course, but it's also worth noting that the terrific documentary on Frisco's first openly-gay supervisor the Times of Harvey Milk is showing at the Little Roxie for the foreseeable future. As for the Castro, it's Sing-a-Long (emphasis on Long) Sound of Music from December 26-30 (by the way, more Julie Andrews song-and-dance in the form of Mary Poppins is at the Paramount in Oakland this Friday and at San Jose's California on Saturday and Sunday), then Singin' in the Rain, a Henry Mancini collection, and a chance to see all four Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall collaborations January 10-11. Be sure to think of Bogie on his 109th birthday tomorrow- more of his films appear at Noir City 7 later in January.

SFMoMA is continuing their Saturday afternoon screening series: this Saturday continues their Las Vegas film & video series mentioned here before. Caveh Zadehi's I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore plays at 1PM on the 27th, followed by a set of short works by Scott Stark, Catherine Borg and others. Then on January 3rd, early shorts by Chantal Akerman and her feature Je, tu, il, elle launch a two-month focus on the director -- who, I'm embarrassed to admit, I have never seen a single film by -- culminating in two screenings of her most widely heralded film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles on February 26 and 28.

The 4-Star Theatre has booked Johnnie To's Sparrow for a week starting Christmas Day- it just placed at #8 on indiewire's critics poll of undistributed films, so take advantage of this extended run while (and where) you can.

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont is showing John Ford's Three Bad Men at 7:30 PM on Saturday December 27th. I have not yet seen this film, apparently a favorite of Akira Kurosawa's, but it was remade by Ford in 1948 as Three Godfathers and (loosely) by Japanese animator Satoshi Kon in 2003 as Tokyo Godfathers. Both remakes are Christmas-themed, and I understand the 1926 version showing in Niles is as well, in case that's a draw. [Oops! I had this film confused with an earlier Ford silent Marked Men. 3 Bad Men is not directly connected to 3 Godfathers. It's a splendid entertainment and full of Ford touches though. -Brian, 12-28-2008] It plays with short films the Great Train Robbery and Hal Roach's Shoot Straight. Sunday afternoon December 28th will follow Roach into the talkie era with Laurel & Hardy in Babes in Toyland along with a couple shorts.

Two more silent screenings are Grace Cathedral's New Year's presentations of the original Universal Pictures gothic horror clasic the Hunchback of Notre Dame with organ accompaniment by Dorothy Papadakos echoing through the cathedral's huge chamber. It's being billed more as a concert than a film screening, in fact, which seems appropriate. Considering that the film is not known to exist in 35mm prints, I'm sure that the image will be sourced from a DVD, as it was last year when Grace brought Papadakos to play for another Lon Chaney picture the Phantom of the Opera. For a more authentic 1920s-style pairing of silent film print to organ accompaniment, Frisco Bay enthusiasts will have to wait until February 14th, when the Silent Film Festival brings F.W. Murnau's masterpiece Sunrise and Paul Leni's "old dark house" film the Cat and the Canary to the Castro Theatre with the incomparable Dennis James behind the Wurlitzer, as well as two piano-accompanied comedies Our Hospitality and a Kiss From Mary Pickford, each preluded by an Alice Guy Blache short. More on that festival in a later post.

More goodies to expect in 2009: the Berlin and Beyond festival of German-language films, amply previewed by Michael Hawley at his new must-feed blog film-415. I'm, as might be predicted, most jazzed up by the revival selections in the festival. Wim Wenders perhaps-greatest film Kings of the Road plays as part of a tribute to the "German New Wave" pioneer; on January 20th he will be on hand to answer questions following a screening of his newest film Palermo Shooting, which I must admit I found too faux-mystical for my liking. But I feel Kings of the Road is a masterpiece, even if one I've still only seen on a crappy PAL transfer videotape. A chance to see it on the giant Castro screen January 18th is extremely tantalizing. Another exciting archival screening is the film that gave Marlene Dietrich her start and director Josef Von Sternberg his place in all film history books, the Blue Angel. As Lincoln Specter notes, the 1930 film will ironically be screened at Berlin and Beyond in its rarely-projected English-language version, while the more familiar German-language version plays as part of a nearly-comprehensive Sternberg retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive February 1st. I'm so excited by this retro that I must admit I'm unable to concentrate much on the other fine offerings on the next PFA calendar. But there's a lot of choice programming happening there in the second half of January and February, that's for sure. More on that later, too.

Finally, on the subject of my favorite East Bay destination, the PFA is usually thought of as a venue for public screenings, but last week I took advantage of the PFA Library's small screening facility. All it takes is a small fee and a legitimate research purpose, and it's possible to view certain 16mm prints and videos from the archive's collection, as long as one arranges it with the helpful staff with plenty of lead time. A week ago I watched a set of canonized American avant-garde films (by Anger, Brakhage, Baillie, Benning/Gordon, and Conner) with fellow filmblogger Ryland Walker Knight, and we discussed the experience shortly after. You can listen to a podcast recording of our conversation here. It was something of a send-off for Ryland as he departs Frisco Bay for the East Coast. I'm glad we got to try it out before he left, and I hope people who listen can forgive my awkwardness with the microphone and my misstatements (listen for one in particular regarding Stan Brakhage's Anticipation of the Night. Clue: I did not remember it had been made before Window Water Baby Moving.)


  1. I'm gonna miss you, too, Brian. Thanks, as ever, for the fun and for the talk. I'll email you about "Joe", okay?

  2. Sounds great, buddy. I'll always be just a click away over here...

  3. Brian, thanks for linking to my B&B piece. There are at least a half dozen films I'm very excited about seeing this year.

    I was just looking at SFMOMA's Chantal Ackerman series and wondering what was worth seeing. Like you, I've never seen any of these (actually, I've never even heard of them with the exception of "Jeanne Dielman," which I really hope to see on Feb. 28). Does anyone have any recommendations or must-sees - especially for Philistines like myself with a somewhat low threshold for "experimental" films.

  4. Michael, the one I've heard mentioned most often other than Jeanne Dielman is News From Home, but I don't know if it leans more or less "experimental" than others. I suppose you're already aware that acquarello has written on several of her films. They Shoot Pictures, Don't They has a nice page on her as well.

  5. Thanks, Brian. Those two links should be very helpful.

  6. Guys, you must must must check out as much of the Akerman series as possible. She's a major filmmaker, and I'd love the chance to catch up with a few of these. She consistently and intriguingly explores themes of personal space as it relates to identity -- and that space could be a room, an apartment, a city, a country -- so that even her seemingly frivolous comedies or lesser works (like Tomorrow We Move, which is on DVD) are rich additions to her body of work.

    The Man with the Suitcase is in my top 18 films of all time, but there are several in this SFMOMA series that I haven't seen, including her latest!

  7. Thanks for the strong encouragement, Rob. I will do my best to fit as much Akerman in as I can- though I also want to delve as far as I can into Sternberg over the next couple months too. Hopefully I can do both without jeopardizing other facets of life...

    On another note, I went to see 3 Bad Men and realized I had it confused with another Ford silent called Marked Men which was later remade as 3 Godfathers. Rather red-faced right now. On the other hand, 3 Bad Men was terrific for most of its running time. It's certainly epic in scale- the land rush scene is astonishing and makes a similar scene in Cimarron, the 1930-1931 Best Picture Oscar winner, seem a lot less impressive. Also, George O'Brien is almost unrecognizably youthful, only a year before he starred in Sunrise.

  8. I finally got a chance to see MILK, and sadly not at the Castro. [I'm quite certain it'll return on a regular basis.] I was anxious to see not only people I know and recognize in the cast as well as my home which pops up at least three times in the background. I will always be impressed with how QUIET the filming was outside my window all night long.

    Hope to run into you at the theatre sometime soon at one of these many upcoming opportunities.