Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Five Pleasing Pieces

As June comes to a close, I'd like to take a moment to note that the month has marked five years since I began this blog. At the time I was an underemployed cinephile with a few Senses of Cinema pieces under my belt. Looking for a way to channel my cinephile energies in a locally-oriented cinema-phile way, I decided to start a blog and begin writing. I borrowed the title of a 1955 gangster film (that to this day I still have never been able to see) because I thought it sounded cool, and started posting entries, usually one or two per week. I had no idea whether I would attract readers, but pretty soon indeed I did (I suspect thanks to google and to David Hudson more crucially than any other factors). Thinking of all the super-intelligent friends I've made, both online and "in real life", all thanks to the inter-connectivity of blogging, gives me chills.

I'm no longer under-employed; in fact I work six days a week at two separate and unrelated jobs now. So I don't have the time and energy to post pieces at Hell On Frisco Bay as often as I want and should. I've been able to parlay the blogging into other film-related writing projects, and I still even contribute to Senses Of Cinema on occasion (expect something in the next issue). This inevitably siphons time away from potential blogging. And I've directed a lot of my cinema-phile energies into microblogging; my twitter feed is more than just a valve for releasing the latest breaking news on the Frisco Bay filmgoing scene. It's also something of a distraction from this blog. I'd like to find a way to bring more balance to the two activities; the blog is for better or worse a much sturdier archive than the fleeting tweets, but the latter provide the instant gratifications of being read and passed on with more apparent frequency. It's all a constant work in progress.

A fifth anniversary seems as good a time as any to go back into my archives, including those of the first incarnation of this blog (long story) to find a few pieces that feel, for whatever reason, like they deserve to be spotlighted once more. Though the information on this blog dates quicker than on many, I have written a few things that seem to me to be worth looking at again despite their age. So, here are links to five of my past pieces that I still find pleasing to read; hope you do too. In chronological order:

1. Ten Decades of Frisco In Film. If there's one theatre that inspired me to write more than any other during my first year or so of blogging, it's the Balboa Theatre, which I used to live less than a mile away from, and which for a while was bringing some of the most exciting repertory and calendared programming to town. Neither of those situations is true any longer, as I live in the Mission District and the Balboa has largely become a venue for heavily advertised first-run fare with only the occasional special event (like this Friday's). But in April 2006, they screened the second of two series devoted to films set and/or shot in Frisco, and I used the occasion to talk about some personal favorites in that huge category of cinema.

2. Open Letter. When founding Hell On Frisco Bay I thought I might adopt a more cynical, embittered tone of voice than I naturally fall into. But I quickly realized that I'm more comfortable accentuating the positive, even to the point of verging on Pollyanna-ish-ness (is that even a word?) But even I have a rant in me once in a while, as I perhaps best proved in December 2006.

3. For Those Who Have Seen Tropical Malady. I mean it with that title; if you haven't seen Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 2004 film Tropical Malady, well, first go watch it, then click the link. Though I'm extremely grateful for the time and effort donated from other writers I've been honored to share this space with over the years, and from the film people I've been able to interview, I'm particularly pleased with how this more informal collaboration turned out. In April 2007 I attended an event with a favorite filmmaker present, and reported on it while interjecting my own commentary along the way.

4. Steamboat Buster. I've contributed to a few blog-a-thon events, and generally find they inspire me to be more focused in my writing, and interesting to audiences outside my usual 'beat'. I think I'm proudest of my contribution to Thom Ryan's Slapstick Blog-A-Thon from September 2007. Thom is one I've been lucky enough to meet and converse with in person. He even provided a documentary account of our "irl" encounter.

5. The Cardinal. I don't write reviews these days, not really. It's a form I'm just not all that interested in, not when there are so many talented others out there who really care about preserving, honing, and expanding the craft of review-writing. I usually prefer writing something else a little closer to history than to criticism, or to news than to prose. This piece from December 2009 comes about close as I feel comfortable coming to writing a film review.

Note: image at the top of this post is from Bob Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces, a new print of which is part of the July calendar for both the Castro Theatre and the Pacific Film Archive.


  1. My, but we’re gaining on in years, aren’t we? I’m so happy to see that you’re celebrating five years at Hell on Frisco Bay, yet it hardly seems that long! I just wanted to thank you, Brian, for your friendship, for all the inspiration and support you’ve offered me through this blog and for how much this blog has meant to my own history as a blogger. You were also the first person with whom I became acquainted from the blogosphere that I then actually met in real life, and under such unique circumstances too— the Lone Pine Film Festival! I really feel that my own adventures would have been considerably different and less satisfying without the insight and support you’ve always provided me—you were the one who invited me to participate in what I believe was the very first blog-a-thon, the one devoted exclusively to Showgirls, which proved so instrumental in my meeting other people who would become important to me and also in giving me the confidence to write what I really felt rather than what I might have thought was expected of me.

    And many thanks too for reposting the five posts you’ve reproduced here today, potent reminders of your sensitivity and intelligence as a writer and the importance of this blog as a devoted document of a city’s love affair with the movies. If anyone wonders why I became obsessed with your blog, these five pieces are good examples why. Best wishes for as many more multiples of five years continuing with HOFB as your beleaguered typing fingers can withstand!

  2. Happy birthday, Hell On Frisco Bay!

  3. Thanks so so much, Andy & Dennis! Coming from you guys, the well-wishing means quite a lot. Dennis, I'm so glad I was able to meet you back at that funky, fun film festival between two mountain ranges. I keep threatening to visit Southern California and one of these days I really will make good on it- and you'll be first to know! And Andy, though we've still yet to meet in "real life" I consider you a real cinephile kindred spirit across the continent. Do you ever make it up to the Toronto Film Festival? I'm trying to gt my ducks in a row to attend for my first time this September...

  4. I have been to TIFF twice, in 2002 and in 2007. I'm not going to be able to attend this year's festival, but I hope to make it back there next year or the year after. So do let me know if it takes your ducks another year to line up, or if they begin lining up on an annual or semi-annual basis!

  5. Congratulations on your five-year anniversary, Brian. Glad to read you're seeking more balance between blogging and Twittering. I look forward to your upcoming Senses of Cinema piece and and essay contributions to this year's edition of the Silent Film Festival.

  6. Brian, congrats on the five years -- quite a good run in blog years, and I hope there are many more to come. Enjoy TIFF if you end up going -- it's a remarkable event in a great city at a particularly nice time of the year (I stopped going, unfortunately, but if you ever need any tips, feel free to drop me a line). Best of luck as you continue with HOFB.

  7. These days, you're blessed to have too much work. I didn't realize you have started your blog just a couple weeks after I began mine.

  8. Thank you, Michael, Michael, and Peter- three more esteemed bloggers I've had the fortune to meet in person. The balance between blogs and tweets is certainly a trivial concern when compared to the economic distress that many I know have been thrust into in the past few years. I'd much rather have one day off a week, as I do now, than four, as I did when I began this blog, or more, as so many do.

    Peter, a belated congratulations to you as well! You inspired me to take a look at some of your archived entries which show that you had a fully-formed writer's voice from the very beginning of your blogging. I'm not sure exactly when we first crossed paths online, but I do know that yours has been a particular favorite blog since I first discovered it.

  9. Brian, just caught the thread that you're hoping to attend TIFF. That would be great! Are you planning to go as a civilian or as press? If press, deadline for accreditation is July 12.