Monday, February 9, 2009

Time to Unclog the Backlog

Indiefest is up and running, and as usual Jason Watches Movies is the go-to site to get the latest screening reports. I haven't been this year yet myself. Because I didn't want to miss the scarcely-screened an American Tragedy and Dishonored in the Pacific Film Archive's Josef von Sternberg series, I had to skip the other night's screenings from Indiefest's I Am Curious (Pink) selection of Japanese "pinku" films, and I'll be missing next Saturday's follow-up in favor of the Cat and the Canary at the Silent Film Festival. But I do hope to sample Indiefest selections Woodpecker, Great Speeches From a Dying World and Idiots and Angels if I can. We'll see. February is shaping up to be a very busy month for attractive filmgoing experiences. Following are a list of festivals and screening venues which have (relatively) recently announced new programs over the next several weeks, with a few particular highlights from my perspective.

The Stanford Theatre has a new calendar running through April 27th. This is the premiere Frisco Bay venue devoted almost exclusively to classic Hollywood and British films 4-5 days a week (closed Tuesdays, Wednesdays and occasionally Thursdays this season). Silent films with top organ accompaniment play on select Fridays; in each case well-known titles programmed with a rare and somehow related talkie as second feature, e.g. both versions of Seventh Heaven on March 13th, and King Vidor's silent masterpiece the Crowd with his 1934 Our Daily Bread on March 27th. The venue steps out of the English-language comfort zone with day-long screenings of Satjajit Ray's Apu Trilogy, perfect counter-programming for Oscar weekend for anyone tired of hearing about Slumdog Millionaire. Other noteworthy picks include but are not limited to Edgar G. Ulmer's the Black Cat with Mitchell Leisen's Death Takes a Holiday March 19-20, and Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's a Matter of Life and Death and a Canterbury Tale April 18-20. Powell & Pressburger's the Life and Death of Colonel Blimp plays April 23-24 with the original British version of Gaslight.

These are not the only chances on the horizon to see Powell & Pressburger's tremendously enjoyable films on large cinema screens in the coming months. Their (to my mind) greatest masterswork I Know Where I'm Going! comes to the Vogue in Laurel Heights on March 1st, and Powell's sans-Pressburger film Age of Consent screens in what's billed as "a pristine archival print" at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael March 3rd. This is in connection with the Mostly British Film Series held at those theatres February 26th through March 5th. The majority of offerings will be recent films from the U.K. (and/or Australia and Ireland, thus the "mostly" in the series title), such as opening night's Genova by Michael Winterbottom and the much-laureled closer Hunger from artist Steve McQueen. But another retrospective at the Vogue is the Friday February 27th showing of Christopher Nolan's first feature, from 1998, Following. Though its time-jumping narrative is arguably less graceful than that of his first American breakthrough Memento, it's still an intriguing and relatively assured debut that may be even more interesting to view in the light of a subsequent highly successful Hollywood career.

The Balboa Theatre celebrates its 82nd year of operation February 22 at 1PM with a screening of Mary Pickford's final silent film My Best Girl, released in late 1927. At about that time halfway around the world Pickford appeared on screen, without her knowledge, in a film called a Kiss From Mary Pickford. A newsreel camera had captured brief footage of her planting a kiss on actor Igor Ilyinsky while she and her husband Douglas Fairbanks were traveling in the pre-Stalinist Soviet Union. A screenplay fictionalizing this incident was written for Ilyinsky, last seen on Frisco Bay screens in the PFA-programmed Carnival Night, where he plays the crusty-old-dean role in a school pageant film. Here he's 30 years younger and apparently hilarious. I'm excited for this chance to see a Kiss From Mary Pickford at the Castro Theatre, and then a "real Mary Pickford film" from the same year at the Balboa the following weekend.

The Red Vic's current calendar is no longer new anymore, but's it's starting to get really interesting. This week Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre remake plays February 11th and 12th, all the better to get us in the mood for original Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau's Sunrise at the Castro on February 14th. At the Red Vic that day, and the day before, is the theatre's annual Valentine's Day booking of Annie Hall. February 22 & 23 is the Muppet Movie (the first, best, and Orson Welles-iest of the Henson movies) and more Henson magic comes April 1 & 2 with Labyrinth. Frisco filmmaker Kevin Epps has a new documentary the Black Rock premiering February 27-March 5, and it will be directly preceded by a one-night stand of his first feature Straight Outta Hunters Point. Arthouse revivals take over the venue for much of March, starting with Brazil on the 6th & 7th, and continuing with Belle de Jour on the 10th & 11th, Stranger Than Paradise on the 17th and Down By Law the following two days, Two-Lane Blacktop on the 25th & 26th, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her on the 29th & 30th, and finally the Jerk on April Fools Eve. Okay, so perhaps "arthouse" is a stretch for that last item. But on the subject of comedy, I think the Red Vic screening I'm most looking forward to is tonight's midnight showing of one of the most misunderestimated films released during the previous Presidential administration, Pootie Tang. It's part of a Full Moon Midnight series that will next stop at The Room March 11th. Like most people I've never seen Pootie Tang on the big screen, but unlike most I've enjoyed it countless times - under the influence of no illicit substances, mind you - on video. It's almost impossible to make it sound like something worth watching but still its cult following grows for some reason. Sepatown.

SFMOMA's Chantal Akerman series rolls along to its conclusion February 28th, a screening of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles with Akerman herself in attendance for a post-screening q-and-a. In March and April the museum's screening room gives itself over to a science-fiction series entitled the Future of the Past: Utopia/Dystopia, 1965-1984. It ranges from Godard's Alphaville and Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 to Michael Radford's 1984 with stops at a Clockwork Orange, Fantastic Planet, Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker and more.

Finally, more film festivals have announced schedules in the past week or two. There's the Ocean Film Festival Feb. 19-22, with its subject focus on science, ecology and recreation on the world's waters. The Noise Pop Film Festival (Feb. 25- Mar. 1) is another subject-specific festival, gathering music documentaries of interest to the loyal attendees of the live performances that have made Frisco a late-February destination for touring bands and music obsessives for years now. I've never attended these so I can't exactly vouch for them, though they've lasted long enough to be considered successful, and to have attracted loyal supporters.

Almost a year ago I trekked to San Jose to attend a few screenings at the most prominent film festival in the most-populated (at night, anyway) city on Frisco Bay, Cinequest. What felt like a novelty last year may have to turn into a tradition, as there are several films in their program I've been anticipating, and I'm not at all confident all of them will find their way into a more Northerly cinema. Kiyoshi Kurosawa's new Tokyo Sonata, plays Cinequest twice, both times at the beautifully restored California Theatre in downtown San Jose. But I know it's going to be distributed theatrically later this year, and it's expected to be among the films programmed for the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival when their own schedule is unveiled tomorrow. So I probably won't endeavor to catch it at Cinequest. On the other hand, El Camino from Costa Rica, intriguingly synopsized by David Bordwell, and Alejandro Adams' Canary, his genre film follow-up to Around the Bay, seem like they might be just the sorts of films that play Cinequest but otherwise slip through Frisco Bay cinephiles' fingers this year, no matter how good they are. I hope not, but one can't be too sure and I'm seriously contemplating a road trip on March 1st, when they both play at venues across the street from each other.


  1. Dude,

    Check out the Vogue, rolling with the Big Boys now.

    Btw, I'm sure you know this, but SFIAAF announces tomorrow. Can't wait!!!


  2. Oh wait, I see that you do know that. Ugh! Reading too fast.

  3. Indeed it announced today, Adam.

    Highlights jumping out at me:

    7-film Kiyoshi Kurosawa retrospective, including Tokyo Sonata, Pulse, and five of his lesser-known works.

    Jia Zhang-Ke's latest 24 City.

    So Young Kim (whose In Between Days was a highlight of the 2007 festival) has a new film Treeless Mountain.

    A screening of Lust, Caution with Ang Lee in attendance.

    And more...

  4. Brian, thanks for making me aware of Mostly British. Like Adam said, it's nice to see the Vogue getting into this kind of programming. (When I moved to SF in 1975, my first apartment was around the corner...first film I saw there was Glenda Jackson in HEDDA).

    I'd love to see the new Winterbottom, but unfortunately have to work on Tbursday nights (same for HUNGER, but I know that's getting a Landmark release around April 3rd). I might only end up seeing Ozon's ANGEL, which got trashed at Berlin last year, but I wanna see it anyway (it has no U.S. distributor as far as I know). If I go on Monday, March 2, I might stick around for NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, the doc on 70's/'80s Australian exploitation films.

    $12.50 seem kind of pricey for a film these days, although $75 for a series pass is a deal of deals ($5.00 per film if you see all 15 programs).

  5. Michael, where do you get information about the upcoming Hunger release? I'm glad to know it's April 3rd.

    I think I've only been to the Vogue 3 or 4 times, and the best movie I saw there was the English Patient. That's not saying so much about that picture's quality as it is the other films', though. I'm glad for the chance to see some films more to my liking there.

  6. I think I saw Hoop Dreams at the Vogue. I'm not sure I've been there since. Maybe once, but I can't remember what I saw.

  7. According to Jack Tillmany's indispensable book, "Theaters of San Francisco," The Vogue is the 3rd oldest still-in-operation cinema in SF, having begun operations as The Elite in 1912. The Victoria (which occasionally shows films) opened in 1907 and The Roxie in 1909. The Clay comes in at #4, having opened in 1914.

    If I remember correctly, the last film I saw at The Vogue was Denys Arcand's STARDOM in 2000. The theater is perhaps most famous for its 70-week run of THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY in 1984-85. I saw it there and remember sitting stone-faced while everyone around me laughed themselves sick.

  8. That is a terrific book, but according to its entry on the 4-Star, it predates the Clay, having opened in 1913 as La Bonita. Of course, on my sidebar I have it listed as opening in 1912, which is what several other sources indicate. If that's so, it may predate the Vogue as well. However, I wonder if I should switch it to Tillmany's designation as he's a reliable researcher.

    Other films I've seen at the Vogue: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Proof of Life, and (not 100% certain of my memory on this one) the Family Man. Yeah, I Know Where I'm Going! beats the stuffing out of all those...

  9. Today's SFFS newsletter mentions "Mostly British" and also says "Film Society year-round members with valid membership cards will receive a discount on tickets at the box office."