Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tributes, Experiments, Dividers

Noir City 7 is over, but the Film Noir Foundation is continuing the audience participation in this highly-successful festival by asking attendees to vote for "the most ignoble newsman in the annals of noir" on the sidebar of their website. As of now, the queasily likable but ruthless Chuck Tatum from Ace in the Hole is in the lead, trailed by crooked photographer Jack Early from Shakedown (played by Howard Duff in one of his three Noir City 7 appearances.) I'm a little surprised that Burt Lancaster's J.J. Hunsecker of the Sweet Smell of Success is far back in fourth place, and that's without any vote-splitting from Tony Curtis's shrimp/mouse/louse/snake/cat/dog portrayal of Sidney Sheldon in the same film. He's not even a newsman, I guess, but watching the film again on Sunday I got the sense he'd be just as loathesome and dangerous as Hunsecker if their positions were switched.

Each night of the festival, audiences were treated to a videoclip reel showcasing three great noir actors (Evelyn Keyes, Ann Savage & Richard Widmark) and one director (Jules Dassin) who died in 2008. Widmark will have a more extensive tribute at the Castro February 12, when two of his signature roles, Tommy Udo in his Oscar-nominated debut performance Kiss of Death and Skip McCoy in Pickup on South Street, directed by Sam Fuller. It's not billed as an official tribute, but Ann Savage is featured in Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, which makes its first appearance on the Castro's grand screen the day before, on a double-bill with Woody Allen's Manhattan. In fact, a majority of the films playing that screen between now and the ten-day return engagement of Milk and the week of a new print of Fellini's Amarcord will mark the recent passing of a key Hollywood player. Working backwards, two films based on Donald B. Westlake books, Point Blank and the Outfit take the screen February 13th, a pair of Charlton Heston hits play February 8, and tonight and tomorrow are devoted to Paul Newman films.

Newman figures into another tribute to a very different kind of filmmaker who also left us last year: Bruce Conner. SF Cinematheque will on March 18 and 19 present "(nearly) every work completed by this highly original, deeply American artist". Day one at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts features completed work from each decade of Conner's filmmaking, and includes Luke, a piece derived from footage Conner shot while on the set of Paul Newman's Cool Hand Luke. Day two at SFMoMA includes Conner's longest film (Crossroads, at 37 minutes), his shortest (Ten Second Film, of course) and eight more of intermediate lengths. Since I found Conner's beautiful, biting, and often hilarious films the perfect turnstile to pass through as I set on a path of discovery of avant-garde film, I confidently urge anyone with trepidations about experimental shorts to overcome them and check out these films when they arrive.

SF Cinematheque's new calendar seems particularly designed to welcome relative newcomers to avant-garde film (a category I still place myself in) this time around. A recently-published conversation between former Cinematheque head Steven Jenkins and its recently-installed Executive Director Jonathan Marlow makes this intention explicit. The calendar launches tonight with Razzle Dazzle by Ken Jacobs, recently seen appearing in his son's Sundance film Momma's Man. Other well-known filmmakers being shown include Nathaniel Dorsky at SFMoMA March 5 and Tony Conrad at the SF Art Institute April 3-5. I confess I'm wholly unfamiliar with Joseph Strick, Takahiko Iimura, Ben Rivers and Mark Street, but welcome upcoming opportunities to delve into their work. Pretty much every single program on the calendar has something that lights up an interest of mine, whether a chance to see my favorite Jean Painleve film Liquid Crystals on a large screen when it plays with more contemporary French film on March 11, or a chance to see work by Andy Warhol, Marie Menken and others from the upcoming Treasures From American Film Archives IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986 DVD set, presumably projected on celluloid as is the Cinematheque standard for films made that way. That's April 15th at Yerba Buena.

Speaking of that venue, which I've been carelessly neglecting on this blog lately, YBCA's got several noteworthy screenings coming this month. On February 12-14, the US "theatrical premiere" of Ulrich Seidl's Import Export. For the marathon-sitters among us, a nine-hour film by Lav Diaz called Death in the Land of Encantos on February 21. And on February 26th, the Frisco Bay premiere of the polarizingly bleak Downloading Nancy, kicking off an eight-film tribute to Strand Releasing which will also include the return of another real love-it-or-loathe-it film, Tsai Ming-Liang's the Wayward Cloud. I can hardly imagine the other six being as divisive as those two, but then again I haven't seen them for myself yet.


  1. I voted for JJ Hunsecker because I didn't see Shakedown and Chuck Tatum was remorseful at the end. Had Curtis' char been on the ballot, I would have voted for him over Hunsecker.

    Not sure if you had mentioned it elsewhere, but FoFF is presenting more noir at the PFA, a double feature of Ida Lupinio's The Bigamist and Outrage on March 8 at 7:30pm.

    I'm very curious and tempted by Lav Diaz's marathon. Can anyone make a recommendation/assessment on Death in the Land of Encantos?

    While not a true marathon, the PFA is screening all three parts of Masaki Kobayashi''s The Human Condition on Feb 15. I know what to do with this one :)

  2. In reference to upcoming events on your scroll, I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Cinequest has the most UNuser-friendly festival website!!! Aaaaargh!!! You'd think Silicon Valley's premiere festival would make their website more searchable, like, by country perhaps???!!

    OK, I ranted, therefore I am (on the internet).


  3. OK, I should have said User-UNfriendly, but after suffering through it, I'm really excited to see the Quebec film THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE is playing. I will definitely plan a CalTrain trip south for that!

  4. Adam, perhaps we can plan a trip together. I hope to have a post up on Cinequest soon, despite its unruly navigation (apparently there's a great iphone app for the festival program, but I'm still stuck in 2006.)

    Kaifu, I appreciate the comments. It looks like I'm going to be missing both marathon screenings myself, to my chagrin. I have never seen a Lav Diaz work but hear tell they're worth the time if you can spare it.

  5. I'm very tempted by the 9-hour DEATH IN THE LAND OF ENCANTOS (only one half-hour intermission!!!) but I don't think my ass will have recovered from THE HUMAN CONDITION in time (which is just six days earlier). Besides, that's the night Dennis Harvey is introducing Alain Corneau's SERIE NOIRE at the PFA.