Wednesday, January 18, 2012

David Robson Only Has Two Eyes

It's impossible for any pair of eyes to view all of Frisco Bay's worthwhile film screenings. I'm so pleased that a number of local filmgoers have let me post their repertory/revival screening highlights of 2011. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from cinephile David Robson, who blogs at The House Of Sparrows.

Top ten Frisco Bay rep experiences, unranked and in no particular order:

--I can't think of a filmmaker more deserving of a PFA retrospective than Claire Denis. The series was essential viewing, propelling the previously-unseen BEAU TRAVAIL straight into my alltime favorites, and offering another look at her don't-call-it-a-vampire-movie movie TROUBLE EVERY DAY (which remains every bit as harrowing ten years later). A perfect encore came to the Castro Theatre a few weeks later, as Tindersticks performed their Denis scores accompanied by scenes from those films. I can't recall another screening this year that left me so elated.

--The cinemas of Frisco Bay conspired unwittingly to make me re-examine the films of Francois Truffaut. I'd dismissed him (quite, quite stupidly) as inferior to and less ambitious than Godard, but this is your classic apples/oranges comparison. The Roxie's screenings of the Antoine Doinel series offered a wonderful all-in-one opportunity (though I understand my girlfriend's preference to keep the final freeze-frame of THE 400 BLOWS as the last word, watching the older Doinel's misadventures in work and love was a delight). A couple of theatres offered a look at SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (which now strikes me as a superior film to BREATHLESS, certainly a warmer one). And Truffaut's gun-toting femmes (the Cahiers crowd loved their Monogram b-pics) closed out the year, as THE SOFT SKIN and THE BRIDE WORE BLACK unloaded in two different theatres (the Castro and New People, respectively). May the crash course continue into 2012. (Though Woody Allen's oeuvre also benefitted from generous Frisco Bay programming [as well as an essential two-part documentary on PBS], the Truffaut revelation was a more striking one for me.)

--Though the Red Vic eventually went into that good night, they did so with a weeks-long grand finale of great programming. The crucial screening: WINGS OF DESIRE, so much a masterpiece I had taken it for granted, yet seeing it again was like a visit with cherished, too-rarely-seen friends. I don't believe that the mortality of the space juiced my reaction to this most precious of films; the divinity of the film did help process the passing of Peter Falk later that week.

--The Castro remembered Anne Francis with an excellent double feature. FORBIDDEN PLANET felt more otherworldly in that space than it ever could on video, and the new-to-these-eyes BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK was a compelling modern-day Western. It's little wonder that BLACK ROCK director John Sturges would remake SEVEN SAMURAI; BLACK ROCK arranges its characters in monumental configurations that anticipate HIGH & LOW's forest of detectives, and Spencer Tracy leavens his usual integrity with Mifune grit. A wonderful screening, sent into the stratosphere when Castro organist David Hegarty layered Wurlitzer chimes over the Barron's electronic FORBIDDEN PLANET end music. Sublime.

--The ongoing house imprisonment/legal limbo experienced by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi occasioned the screening of his recent films, including the glorious OFFSIDE. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts programmer Joel Shepard generously threw in Abbas Kiarostami's CLOSE-UP (which is, indeed, Kiarostami's masterpiece, and as effective a demolition of the borders between film and reality as any I've seen). Those who offer knee-jerk assent to our politicians who would attack Iran would find the country's cinema an eye-opener. Entertaining, too.

--I was as delighted as anyone else when the SF Film Society took over the Viz theatre at New People. And yet I felt like the sterling Japanese programming (specifically the anime) that the Viz had provided would completely disappear (worse, no one was lamenting that possibility). I'm pleased to see that my fears were unfounded, and that New People's programming continues in that space on at least a sporadic basis. Pleased am I also to see anime continuing as a staple in that space, as there's usually at least one anime screening there that turns out to be a favorite for the year. Seeing both films in the reboot of the long running EVANGELION series back to back (essential, given the convolution of the series' plot) made for a truly epic experience, eclipsing lesser sci-fi blockbusters with more ambitious scope, utterly batshit energy, and a disarmingly emotional core.

--The Castro's screening of David Lynch's DUNE revealed it to be the MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS of his oeuvre: a seriously compromised work that nonetheless contains many of the maker's familiar tropes and tics. It's a shame Lynch has disowned it; for all of the sci-fi imagery and De Laurentiian excesses of the film, its cast, grotesquerie, dream imagery, and heroic journey are all quintessential Lynch.

--Nice as it was to finally see the original FRIGHT NIGHT and EXORCIST III on the big screen, I gotta say the most gratifying screening of the Halloween season was THE HOLE, a charming and family-friendly 3-D offering from Joe Dante. It's rife with both the creepiness that Dante's brought to earlier films and his bracing humanism. In short it's utterly accessible, and I can see no compelling reason why it's been shelved for so long - I'm kind of appalled that the screening I saw was the three-years-old-and-counting film's US premiere.

--That screening came courtesy Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' Midnites for Maniacs series, which continues to shed light on genre cinema from bygone decades. A number of fine films were revisited at the Castro courtesy that series, and it gave me (and hundreds of others) a chance to assess the famous debacle that was Elaine May's ISHTAR. Decades after the hype that killed it, the film was revealed to be a warm and funny buddy picture, and an illuminating portrait of America's cluelessness in dealing with the Middle East.

--I wish all silent film accompanists were as skilled and sonically adept as Ava Mendoza and Nick Tamburro; their propulsive but nuanced after-hours score for Roland West's THE BAT added depth, grit, and suspense to the film's artful shadows, funny but never cutesy, adventurous but always serving the film. An ambitious programming choice for SFFS that paid off beautifully, and ideal for their intimate New People space.

Plus one that got away: I'm kicking myself for not seeing more of PFA's Jerzy Skolimowski series. The three films I did see (the quietly, darkly wrong FOUR NIGHTS WITH ANNA; the tone-perfect Nabokov adaptation KING QUEEN KNAVE; and ESSENTIAL KILLING, the politically-apolitical allegory of an imprisoned terrorist on the run) were uniformly fantastic, but only barely seemed to capture the sheer breadth of Skolimowski's output and vision. How many more chances like that are we going to get?

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