Sunday, February 22, 2009

Adam Hartzell: A Little Knowledge Can Be a Suspenseful Thing

Greetings from Portland, Oregon! I've been sampling films at the Portland International Film Festival, and visiting with family and friends. I even got to meet one of the bloggers I most admire, Thom of Film of the Year, who has vividly recreated our encounter here. Thanks, Thom! Now, as I wait for the beginning of an Oscar party I'm attending this evening, I have a few spare moments to work on Hell on Frisco Bay. With Oscars in mind, I'd like to mention that The Daily Plastic, online home to a couple of Chicago's finest film writers, Robert Davis and J. Robert Parks, has been kind enough to publish a piece I wrote on the first-ever Academy Awards, announced February 1929. Last weekend's presentation of Sunrise at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's special Valentine's Day event was preceded by a slide show I prepared on the same topic.

But I'm especially excited to present a piece by Adam Hartzell on the inter-cultural content of one of the key front-runners at this year's awards ceremony, Slumdog Millionaire. If you have not seen the film yet and don't want surprises robbed from you, please refrain from reading. If you have however, I think you'll be interested to read what Adam has to say, no matter what you think of the film:

* * * * *

Cricket is a game many make fun of in the United States. Some time ago, I decided to stop making fun of sports I don’t fully understand, just as I decided to stop ridiculing music genres that provide no inspiration for me. In fact, when traveling abroad, I try to acclimate myself to local sports cultures by reading what I can and asking the locals about their loyalties and passion for their games. I have tossed aside the snarky comments of my youth and replaced them with curious inquiries about other athletic pursuits. So when my work brought me close enough to the Antipodes where the trip to Australia and New Zealand wasn’t obnoxiously long, I decided it was finally time for me to learn “the game of eleven fools”. (That’s not me being snarky, it’s George Bernard Shaw speaking of the game lovingly, I think.)

Cricket is a tough game for someone like me reared on baseball to understand. When discussing the rules that pertain to a batsman and/or explaining how runs can be scored, I keep coming from a baseball reference point that only seems to confuse me more than help. I won’t go into trying to explain the intricacies of a cricket match here because I’m limited in my own overview and such a wide description is unnecessary to this essay anyway. For those interested, I suggest checking out Harry Ricketts’ How to Catch a Cricket Match, part of the fantastic Ginger Series (so much more respectful a name than the For Dummies or Idiot’s Guide series) published by AWA Press in New Zealand. I picked this book up while in New Zealand during the Cricket World Cup in 2007. The Cricket World Cup wasn’t happening in New Zealand. It was taking place in the West Indies. But every shop with a TV had the matches on. So there were ample opportunities for me to watch and learn while having a flat white at an Esquires Coffee House (actually a Canadian chain) in Auckland or a pint of Tui at a pub in Wellington.

One way to acclimate towards an unfamiliar sport is to latch on to a sporting celebrity. As David Beckham has done for those in the States trying to acclimate to what people in the U.S. (and Australia and Canada) call soccer, the player of the moment for me to identify with the sport of cricket was, and likely still is, Australian Ricky Ponting. One of the things I do when I travel is buy jerseys from the teams of the towns I visit. When in Australia for the first time, I purchased a Ricky Ponting jersey. Whereas the true football fan might look disapprovingly at those wearing Beckham jerseys, considering such people posers, I’m not sure if cricket fanatics feel suspect of my traipsing around in the sport celebrity of the moment’s jersey. I think cricket fans are just happy to see a Yankee try to understand the joy fans find from cricket. My knowledge is limited, but I feel as if I’ve picked up enough to enjoy the game now. I don’t have the stamina to enjoy a whole match, but I can discern the actions beneficial to each team. I am not like the language learner laughing with the locals a tell-tale second too late. I reacted with the crowd watching the telly, rising up to spill my tall black in perfect time with the proper defensive play.

So when I went into Loveleen Tandan and Danny Boyle’s film Slumdog Millionaire, I arguably had more cricket knowledge than the average United States American. Because of this, I feel I experienced a layer of tactical trickery that most of my fellow citizens did not.

Brian has properly alerted you to spoilers, so you either know the pivotal scene about which I'm speaking, or, like me, you don't need to maintain ignorance of plot points to enjoy a film. The scene I'm referring to is when the game show host presents Jamal with a cricket-related question. I don't remember the exact question, but it has to do with who has the most 'centuries' ever in the sport. A 'century' is when a single batsman acquires at least 100 runs in his innings for a particular match. ("Innings" can be singular or plural in cricket.) Again, I don't remember all four answers offered, but B is Ricky Ponting and D is Jack Hobbs. Before the answers were reduced to just those two (if I remember that properly too), I remember leaning over to my wife and the friends who were with us and whispering 'It's Ricky Ponting.' Yes, I was trying to impress my wife and my friends by dropping some heavy cricket knowledge. When the choices were reduced to B-Ricky Ponting and D-Jack Hobbs, a commercial break is imposed and Jamal and host venture off for a pee break.

It is here where the host appears to assist Jamal when he writes the supposed answer on the wall, or mirror as it may, telling Jamal to choose B-Ricky Ponting. It is here where I believe I was fooled more than most US viewers because my limited cricket knowledge is tied too dependently to Ponting. I thought the host was truly Jamal's buddy, not because of character development, but because I thought I knew the correct answer. In fact, we later learn that the host was assuming Jamal would trust him. The host was attempting to exploit this non-existent trust. The host was letting his competitive and classist demons get the best of him, while Jamal was void of any similar ambitions. Yet, my limited knowledge leading me to be incorrectly led by the guest host reveals an even more devious underlying plan by the host. The host assumed a young man such as Jamal would only have a contemporary knowledge of cricket and not know that the elder statesman Jack Hobbs, aka Sir John Berry Hobbs, was the true holder of the record. I was tricked by the host due to the very assumption he made of Jamal. Such added to the suspense of the scene for me, thus adding to the surprise, thus adding to the elation when Jamal picks the correct answer by countering the guest host’s tactic. The scene still works for those completely ignorant of cricket, and it works on a different level for those well-versed in the history of the game. But I feel like my incomplete knowledge of cricket led me to layers of intrigue within the scene unavailable to those with a perfect knowledge or a complete lack of knowledge. I thought he was helping Jamal because I was naively confident in my knowledge. I was more naïve than Jamal. I was the impressionable Jamal the host thought Jamal was. Talk about breaking the boundary of the fourth wall.

The unpredictable knowledge demonstrated in dialogue and character in this scene underscores the unpredictable knowledge of the international viewer, exhibit A - myself. This is very much what adds to the pleasure of globe-traveling cinema for those of us who travel to see it. If Tandan and Boyle had a US audience in mind, they’d likely have ditched the cricket question, since our batsman pad themselves with steroids not tea. That, or else their producers or other movie company honchos would have demanded it be stricken from the record. Whereas, if I had come to the theatre with the typical US sports provincialism our media encourages by ignoring any sporting tradition outside of the USA, I wouldn’t have found that scene as utterly mesmerizing, as so intricately layered, as I did. And as I still do. My limited knowledge is what led me to not just enjoy that scene, but to freaking love that scene!

My experience with the events of that scene reinforced for me how globalization is too often too simply discussed. As films travel across the world, they run up against an unintended audience’s incomplete knowledge and the stories become different experiences for each individual viewer. Slumdog Millionaire is just another opportunity for the global to be localized within the reflexive contexts of the experiences of each individual audience member. Each audience member part of the local and global simultaneously.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival's special Valentine's Day event runs all day at the Castro Theatre today. Jonathan Kiefer has a fine article at sf360, but let me run down the schedule here as well. Eight films: Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality preceded by Alice Guy's short the Detective and His Dog at noon (doors open at 11:30 AM). A Kiss From Mary Pickford, which shows "America's Sweetheart" to be an understatement, preceded by Guy's Matrimony's Speed Limit at 2:40 PM. Both programs accompanied by Philip Carli at the piano.

Then, after a dinner break, F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, accompanied by Dennis James at the Wurlitzer organ, preceded by Alice Guy's Falling Leaves at 6:30. And finally at 9:30, early Universal Horror film the Cat and the Canary with Dennis James behind the organ and local foley artist Mark Goldstein providing live sound effects, preceded by a fourth Guy short the Pit and the Pendulum (the first known film version of Poe's classic tale).

Each attendee of the festival gets a program guide that includes five substantial essays on the selected films (one covering each of the features, and a fifth on Alice Guy.) I wrote the essay on Sunrise that appears in the program, and I also prepared a slide show on the origin of the Academy Awards and the first awardees, a group that included Janet Gaynor (Best Actress) and Charles Rosher & Karl Struss (Best Cinematography) of Sunrise. The film also won the Academy's first and only "Unique and Artistic Picture" award- for more detail on that particular award, you can read my contribution to the 1927 Blog-a-Thon.

Not everything I researched and wrote about Sunrise made it into the final version of the essay. In fact, a lot had to be left out for space reasons. I began my research focusing on the director Murnau, a fascinating figure who is making his first appearance at the SFSFF with this program (not literally, of course- he died just as the silent era was coming to a close.) Some of the first and best sources I consulted were Lotte Eisner's still-unsurpassed biography and the articles and DVD extras of UCLA scholar Janet Bergstrom.

But as I delved deeper into the project, I found myself becoming particularly fascinated by the studio mogul who made the uniqueness of Sunrise possible, William Fox. Upton Sinclair's biography of the man became a fascinating starting point for a totally new direction of research that culminated in a viewing of the new Murnau, Borzage and Fox documentary upon its DVD release, that played as confirmation and review of information and perspectives I had already become familiar with (at least when it came to the Murnau and Fox material.) I felt like I really began to understand how Fox's nickelodeon operation in Brooklyn transformed into a successful if generally unambitious movie factory in the late teens and early twenties, and then into one of the most, if not the most prestigious and powerful motion picture studio by the late 1920s. And what a spectacular fall from grace for Fox himself! Hopefully some of that comes across in the essay.

Anyway, I better get my rest for the big day now. If you go to the festival (or if you watch Sunrise or another festival selection at home) and have a free moment to leave a comment here, please do so!

Friday, February 13, 2009

27th SFIAAFF Planning Guide

The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival schedule is now available on line, complete with a few important changes from the printed schedule. The festival runs March 12-22 in venues all over Frisco Bay, and tickets can be purchased Monday by non-members (member tickets are already on sale). This year's festival is somewhat scaled-down in some respects but it still looks extremely robust, with a strong mix of new works by Asian-American filmmakers and Asian auteurs, and a diverse selection of retrospective screenings.

The latter category includes Diamond Head, a 1962 film about interracial romance in Hawai'i featuring a cast including Charlton Heston, France Nuyen, Yvette Mimieux, George Chakiris, and Philip Ahn. It was directed by Guy Green, who got his start as cinematographer for David Lean's early films. Ang Lee will be at the festival to screen and talk about his 2007 film Lust, Caution on March 17th. SF Cinematheque is co-presenting two programs of 16mm and video work by Japanese experimental filmmaker Takashi Iimura, including 1962's Ai, featuring a soundtrack by Yoko Ono. And the tradition of spotlighting the filmography of a recent film festival powerhouse from East Asia (after 2007's Hong Sang-soo retrospective and 2008's 3-film Edward Yang tribute) continues with a 7-film spotlight on Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Kurosawa is expected to attend the festival himself. Five rarely-seen works from his fertile 1997-1998 period will screen- this period produced Cure, which was the first of the director's films to be widely seen in the West. Cure will not screen, but his perhaps most chilling hit Pulse will. Pulse premiered at festivals in 2001 but was buried for being too prescient of September 11, and unearthed with less fanfare than it deserved. It played in Frisco cinemas a few years ago but I'm sure many missed it and caught up with it on video if at all. Suffice to say its visual frights are more effective in a communal screening environment.

Kurosawa's latest film Tokyo Sonata will screen as part of the series as well. Though his two prior features, Retributionand Loft have still never shown in Frisco Bay cinemas (and I can't pretend I don't wish the SFIAAFF had been able to squeeze them into the festival to catch us up, even while I appreciate the opportunity for immersion in the early films), Tokyo Sonata is stopping that streak in a big way. Not only is it playing the SFIAAFF, but it has two screenings at Cinequest in San Jose, and is planned for a late-March theatrical release in the area. It certainly deserves it. Tokyo Sonata takes Kurosawa's work squarely outside the territory of supernatural horror he's known for inhabiting, by mining the dramatic and comic potential of Japanese family constructions deconstructed. A father clings to his authority when his position is outsourced, by hiding the development behind his salaryman routine, even though he now is standing in unemployment and food lines. His wife is locked into a submissive 'pleaser' role, while their two sons rebel in very disparate ways. The set-up is masterful, and in the final reel or two events breathlessly unravel. A second (perhaps third) viewing is certainly in order. SFIAAFF provides two chances, March 13th and 14th.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing several other new feature films on the program. The closing night film, Treeless Mountain is So Yong Kim's follow-up to the lovely low-budget In Between Days, and like that film is a U.S./ South Korean co-production. The opening night film is a U.S. premiere, also from Korea: My Dear Enemy, which joins director Lee Yoon-ki (of Ad Lib Night) with actress Jeon Do-yeon (of Secret Sunshine) in their first collaboration. The Centerpiece film is the directorial debut of Colma: the Musical actor/songwriter H.P. Mendoza. It's another indie musical shot in Frisco called Fruit Fly, and it plays at the Castro Sunday March 15th, followed by the SFIAAFF's annual Bollywood extravaganza; following last year's audience-award-winning presentation of Om Shanti Om, heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan is back in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Bong Joon-ho of the Host fame contributes to a portmanteau film with Frenchmen Leos Carax and Michel Gondry entitled Tokyo! And one of the biggest commercial hits of recent Thai cinema, a gay teen romance called The Love of Siam is on hand to represent mainland South-East Asia (there are no features from Vietnam, Malaysia, or Cambodia in this year's program.)

It's going to be hard to fit all of this and everything else intriguing into a workable viewing schedule so picking and choosing is mandatory. But I certainly don't want to miss 24 City, the latest from Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-Ke, who was the subject of a complete retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive last autumn. The PFA is an SFIAAFF venue from March 13-21, and will play 24 City on Saturday afternoon, March 14th - opposite the only screenings of Kurosawa's License to Live, the Love of Siam, one of the two unique Iimura programs, and a conversation with my elementary school-mate Alex Tse (now a successful Hollywood screenwriter with Sucker Free City and Watchmen on his list of credits). Yikes! That's going to be a tough time slot to navigate! Luckily 24 City is also playing at the Kabuki on Sunday March 15th.

Of course I couldn't cover it all here tonight- there's also two competitive sections, one for narrative features and one for documentaries, that I haven't touched on at all. The International Showcase includes many titles I'm wholly unfamiliar with in addition to the ones mentioned above. There's always copious shorts programs, panels and parties as well. Better not make other plans for March 12-22!

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.

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.