Saturday, April 23, 2011

SFIFF54 Day 3: Coming Attractions

The 54nd San Francisco International Film Festival began the other night and runs through May 5th. Each day during the festival I'll be posting a recommendation and capsule review of a film in the festival.

Coming Attractions (AUSTRIA: Peter Tscherkassky, 2010)
playing: 4:45 PM this afternoon at the Kabuki, as part of the Mind The Gap shorts program, which also plays Sunday, May 1 at 9:45.
distribution: none that I'm aware of; as an experimental short, extremely unlikely to receive any sort of commercial release in this country

As usual, Carl Martin of the Film On Film Foundation is playing watchdog for those cinephiles who are concerned with whether SFIFF films are screening on film or on video; in addition to an overall preview of the festival from this angle, he's created a very handy calendar listing all the festival screenings expected to be presented on film rather than digitally. Not only does he list the features, but even certain individual short films to be shown on film amidst a program of otherwise-video work.

Coming Attractions is one such example, the lone 35mm entry in the Mind The Gap shorts program. It's the latest by Austrian filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky, whose Outer Space won a Golden Gate Award from SFIFF eleven years ago, and whose excellent follow-ups Dream Work and Instructions For a Light and Sound Machine have played subsequent festivals.

Like these prior collage films, Coming Attractions is an optical printing tour-de-force constructed out of footage repurposed from other sources, in this case largely images from the first few decades of cinema history, from Birt Acres and Robert W. Paul's 1895 Rough Sea at Dover to Jean Cocteau's 1930 Blood of a Poet. These are re-edited, repeated, solarized or otherwise reprocessed, and organized into chapters along with more recent images from the world of advertising or art cinema- the film even ends with a humorous tip of the hat to Pier Paolo Pasolini. Whether or not the cumulative effect of these eleven segments succeeds in illuminating parallels between avant-garde film traditions and Tom Gunning's "cinema of attractions" is up for debate. What isn't is the epic, near-numbing effect of all the stroboscopic and multiple-exposed images set to a soundtrack of assaultive sound effects and playful samba beats. It's hard to image another 25 minutes of film in the festival providing as much pleasurable sensory overload as this film does.

SFIFF54 Day 3
Another option: Mysteries of Lisbon (PORTUGAL/FRANCE: Raúl Ruiz, 2010) Imagine an episode of Masterpiece Theatre, but directed by one of the world's great auteurs, free to buck all conventions of the "great books on television" genre. Instead of watching it couchside in installments, you see all 4 1/2 hours in a digital projection. Now imagine it being one of the top 2 or 3 highlights of the entire festival. I'd be skeptical myself, but that's just what happened to me and this work in Toronto last fall. Maybe it'll happen to you too at SFIFF? If so, it'll have to be today- it's only festival screening.

Non-SFIFF-option for today: Desperate Living/Polyester double-bill at the Castro as part of a John Waters birthday weekend tribute (his 65th was actually yesterday). These are almost certainly my two favorite of his films I've seen. Eric Henderson has called Desperate Living his "most divalicious work ever" despite the absence of Divine, who is at her own career-best in Polyester. Both films play multiple times during the day, so it may be possible to attend both the birthday celebration and a particularly anticipated SFIFF title or two.

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