Monday, January 21, 2013

The Two Eyes Of Lawrence Chadbourne

If you didn't attend some wonderful repertory/revival film screenings in 2012, you missed out. As nobody could see them all, I've recruited Frisco Bay filmgoers to recall some of their own favorites of the year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from Lawrence Chadbourne, a film buff and video collector now avidly using Twitter.

2012 was the year where the pace accelerated for conversion of Bay Area theatres to digital projection, and with noble exceptions like the Stanford. most of our rep/revival venues which still showed 35 and 16mm, going along with the crowd, succumbed too frequently for my taste to the temptation to book a DCP. There were several series on film, however, that expanded my horizons and I prefer to focus on these.

In February the Pacific Film Archive included in its interesting "Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life In The Air," curated by grad student Patrick Ellis, a rare 1927 Julien Duvivier treat, The Mystery Of The Eiffel Tower, that had not been in Susan Oxtoby's superb 2009 retrospective there on that French director. I had looked at the movie before on a bootleg DVD, but it really came to life with a trio of local musicians. I wasn't aware that this work had been an influence on the Tintin graphic novels. Though much of this mis-estimated filmmaker's oeuvre is now under my belt, it still offers riches like this to be discovered.

In July and August the PFA under Kathy Geritz's supervision offered a larger program on documentarian Les Blank, who possibly because he has gotten a fair deal of exposure, as a local, I had somewhat taken for granted. These combinations of lively regional music and mouth watering ethnic food were pure joy and were appreciated by the savvy Berkeley crowd who knew their rhythms and their cuisine. My favorite of those I saw was In Heaven There Is No Beer, from 1984, which was co-directed by Maureen Gosling, 50 minutes of rollicking polka that had me tapping my toes if not dancing in the aisle. Blank and Gosling added their insights to the Q & A's at a number of the shows.

Starting in September, and continuing into the winter, Landmark Theatres brought a welcome return of Studio Ghibli Japanese anime, only a couple in the vulgarized English versions, many of course by Hayao Miyazaki but others by his less well known colleagues. My top choice was Ikao Takahata's Pom Poko from 1994, an environmental fantasy about some pretty wild raccoons. This cycle started at the Bridge (now closed) and moved to the California in Berkeley (now one of the digital conversions mentioned above) where it did well enough to be extended, but the memory of this entertaining event is touched with sadness at those changes.

In November the enterprising Joel Shepard at Yerba Buena Center For The Arts brought some treasures by the Czech surrealist master, Jan Svankmajer, whose achievement as with Les Blank I hadn't fully caught up with,. The highpoint here was his Lunacy, from 2006, a critique of an asylum based on the Marquis De Sade, with images of pieces of meat moving of their own accord that I try to forget when I am buying dinner at my nearby Andronico's!

In December the Rafael Film Center in Marin under the aegis of Richard Peterson seized the opportunity when a recent restoration of comedies by the gifted French clown Pierre Etaix became available. The series was unfortunately, unlike all the others I described, poorly attended, I spotted only one familiar fellow buff, the former coordinator of the Mendocino Film Festival, George Russell. Fortunately for those who missed the prints a Criterion box set of Etaixes is being prepared. I had seen a bit of his work way back in the 60s and 70s so was curious to find how it would hold up. These films, with the exception of one somewhat awkward documentary are so great it's hard to pick one but I would choose The Suitor, from 1963, one of the most devastating but also sweet of romantic comedies.

Last, while the purpose of Brian's blog is to celebrate our still rich local rep/revival scene, I wanted to mention a discovery of sorts I made, in this my first year using a computer, while streaming on the Europa Film Treasures web site: The French A Woman Has Passed, from 1928, where the director and the actors were so obscure I had never heard of any. It turned out to be a little gem, one of those later silents like Sunrise or Variety where the story may be relatively simple, even elemental, but the resources of style that had been developed by that point were incredibly expressive. In an ideal world, a movie like this would have turned up, instead of on a monitor, on the big screen at the Castro's silent film festival, instead of (as was the case this year) their umpteenth revival of Pandora's Box or video versions of Wings and Lubitsch.

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