Wednesday, September 8, 2010

No Time Like Cinema Time

The are only two days left to see Dogtooth on the San Francisco Film Society Screen at the Sundance Kabuki. I had hoped to write a full review of this remarkable, unsettling film about one family's bizarre home-schooling experiment gone to the extreme, which I was able to catch at the Greek Film Festival back in May. A modern-day application of classical Greek philosophy- particularly Plato's concept of The Cave, it's one of the best films I've seen all year, and it demands to be seen on the big screen, where one is held captive to cinema's traditional nature as a purely time-based medium (a quality compromised by the existence of the DVD player's pause function). Unfortunately time has not been on my side on this matter, so I must refer you to recent reviews by Cheryl Eddy and Dennis Harvey instead.

On Friday, Dogtooth will be replaced by Change Of Plans on the SFFS Screen, and also joined at the Kabuki by a weaker new opening, Zhang Yimou's A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop. The latter is a remake of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple that is at least (at most?) interesting in that it's more faithful to the original film in some of its aesthetic approaches, including a long wordless segment that mirrors the Coens' achievement, and even a recurrent sound effect surely intended to replicate the Balinese chant on the original film's soundtrack, than it is to the overall milieu, plot, tone, or character design. More broad Chinese-style slapstick than we Westerners are likely to forgive makes this remake a rather jarring one, even if certain individual scenes are impressive.

As the SFFS begins unveiling its Fall Season, it's also trying to negotiate a takeover of the Clay Theatre on Fillmore Street, which was expected to close near the end of last month but was spared for the time being; a French film Mademoiselle Chambon opens Friday. Michael Krasny recently hosted a fascinating radio program on the fate of the Clay and other single-screen theatres on Frisco Bay, in which the SFFS's Graham Leggatt outlined his hopes for the 100-year-old venue. In the meantime, R.A. McBride and Julie Lindow's book Left In The Dark has begun appearing on the shelves of Frisco Bay bookstores (City Lights and The Green Arcade, for two). I was honored to be quoted in a piece by Sam Sharkey, formerly of the Clay, now of the Red Vic, on the future of moviegoing; other essays by Chi-hui Yang, Eddie Muller, Gary Meyer with Laura Horak, and Sergio de la Mora help make this book a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Frisco Bay cinemagoing, but it's the superb photography by R.A. McBride which makes it a must-own for anyone with a coffee table or a bookshelf.

Another Frisco bay-centric film book entitled Radical Light focuses on the many permutations of experimental cinema made and screened here over the second half of the last century. After purchasing it at the Berkeley Art Museum Store on Friday, I've only been able to get about halfway through it so far, but it's absolutely required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in American avant-garde filmmaking, of which Frisco Bay has been the major center for much of the time period covered in the book (1945-2000). And since, despite having twice as many pages as Left in the Dark, it's actually got a cheaper list price, at least in paperback, I have to say I'm even more satisfied with this purchase (as unfair as it feels to compare these two very worthy and exciting publications). The Pacific Film Archive and SF Cinematheque will hold a spectacular array of special-guest laden screenings in conjunction with the book release over the next several months, beginning with a PFA screening September 19th that I cannot recommend more highly. Aesthetically diverse masterpieces from Dion Vigne's North Beach to Bruce Baillie's All My Life to Chris Marker's Junkopia will play together, and filmmakers Ernie Gehr and Lawrence Jordan will appear in person. BAM will also open a gallery exhibition of documents related to the book and to the experimental film scene on October 6th.

Among other tasks that took up my time in recent weeks was a very enjoyable one: writing a review of the new Josef Von Sternberg box set published over a week ago at GreenCine Daily. As I begin the review, Criterion has traditionally not been a major force in releasing American silent films, but with this set (of Underworld, the Last Command, and the Docks of New York), and its upcoming Charlie Chaplin releases, it seems intent on becoming a major player in this field after all. Criterion's affiliated company Janus is bringing five days full of Chaplin films to the Castro Theatre later this month, and I can't wait to see these films on the big screen.

Although I must admit, I may be a bit exhausted by the time the Chaplin series begins with his still-underrated The Circus September 18th. I'll have just returned from over a week at the Toronto International Film Festival, my first-ever visit to this festival, or indeed this city. In fact, I'd better wrap up this post now if I want to make my flight! See you in a week and a half!


  1. Have a great time at the TIFF!!!

  2. Thanks, Michael! So far I've been having a blast. Favorite films include (in approximate order of preference) Mysteries of Lisbon, a Useful Life, Ruhr, Poetry, Behind Blue Skies, and The Strange Case of Angelica, as well as several of the Wavelengths shorts.