Monday, January 21, 2013

The Two Eyes Of Terri Saul

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 Terri Saul, visual artist, writer and cinephile.

My film-viewing this year began and ended on high notes, sitting next to an aviation enthusiast. While my fiancé and theatrical co-conspirator supported my movie-watching habit, all the films we saw together now fall into one of two categories in my memory: those seen prior to surgery and those experienced after surgery. Integrated into my cinema-going life were hints of pending illness such as petit-mal seizures, periods of dizziness and sensitivity to lights, especially the flickering kind. Being able to tolerate a full-length film became a challenge that I was determined to test. I brought sunglasses with me when I was still fresh out of the hospital and just prior to my treatment. Relieved to now be able to tolerate everything from long foreign films to a twenty-minute "photo roman," I'm happy to be back in the squeaky seats of the Bay Area's finest rep houses and film archives with a newfound festival pass to life! I want to thank my partner Josh for helping me through pre- and post-production of the all-too-true thriller, the story of last year. It's over; all is well; and that quickens my heart.   

1) LA JETÉE (France, 1962)

Enfin, j'ai vu LA JETÉE with a very appreciative audience of Chris Marker's friends on December 1st, at the Pacific Film Archive, in Berkeley. Shot at an airport in France, it screened as part of the series "At Jetty's End: A Tribute to Chris Marker, 1921–2012." This slide-show inspired film appears to be entirely still except for a single eye-opening moment. It's short narrative invokes Proust, is poetic and unforgettable, inspiring other, longer remakes such as Terry Gilliam's TWELVE MONKEYS (1995). For members of the audience, it was a chance to memorialize Marker and reminisce publicly about his quirky brilliance. LA JETÉE was only one of the films by or about Marker that were featured in the series. Time travel to the PFA and see it again; it'll reset your inner pace-maker.

2) HIGH TREASON (UK, 1929)

In keeping with the theme of time travel and airports, futuristic Bowie-esque costumes fly high in this late 20s revolt, in which a flapper sheathed in silver lamé teleconferences, with deft musical accompaniment by Peter Chapman. It screened on February 24th at the Pacific Film Archive, in Berkeley, part of "Dizzy Heights: Silent Cinema and Life in the Air," curated by Patrick Ellis. Due to their mold-breaking magical and humbling artistic qualities, memories of this series in particular got me through last year's recovery.


Also zooming in on "Dizzy Heights," this madcap silent screened on February 25 at the Pacific Film Archive with live musical accompaniment by Ralph Carney and Serious Jass Project. Carney's strange muttering vocalizations elevated the audience. Who doesn't enjoy simulations of fighting crime while also climbing the Tour Eiffel with a bird's-eye view of Paris? Porquois pas? I'd see it again.

4) BREAD, LOVE, AND DREAMS (Italy, 1953)

On August 11th at the Pacific Film Archive, BREAD, LOVE, AND DREAMS, screened as part of the series "Bellissima: Leading Ladies of the Italian Screen," a painterly blending of comedy, historic-fiction, romance, and realism. Some of the films cheerleaders include those viewers who enjoy seeing Gina Lollobrigida dressed in strategically torn rags. While beautiful, there's much more than just the fleshy kind of Bellissima in Luigi Comencini's rough-hewn comedy.

5) THE LEOPARD (Italy, 1963)

Another on the 2012 list that has been called Proustian by critics and one that could be included in a list about spanning time, this epic and historic novel of a film screened on July 13th at the Pacific Film Archive. Its use of CinemaScope and its physical realism broadened the range of what a wide-angle story could encompass, literally and figuratively. Even aristocrats get covered in a thick coating of dust while traveling, the nouveau-riche laugh loudly in the face of the aging monied classes; idealists turn fickle when the tide of politics shifts; the young dance on while the once-young face old age, sickness, and death. The 186-minute restored print probably beats any shorter cuts. This Visconti should be made a part of the PFA's permanent collection if it isn't already. It's a museum-worthy masterpiece.

6) ROME, OPEN CITY (Italy, 1945)

The Guardian UK named it among "the best action and war films of all time" and "Rossellini's neorealism masterpiece." Anna Magnani brings warmth, humanity, and her signature melodrama to the crumbling post-war streetscape setting of this low budget Guernica. Co-written by Fellini, employing non-professional actors and refugees in an actual post-war setting, this film was built brick-by-brick out of ruins and those whose lives were ruined. It feels handmade and thoughtfully-crafted, even as it aims its projection towards a documentary or newsreel-consuming audience.  According to James Quandt, Rossellini called neorealism, “fiction that becomes more real than reality.” It screened on July 25th at the PFA in Berkeley.  

7) BOBBY (India, 1973)

BOBBY and AWAARA (1951), both directed by Raj Kapoor, were my two favorites of the Raj Kapoor series at the PFA in Berkeley. BOBBY screened on August 11th. I'd been awaiting my first film featuring Dimple Kapadia. Yes, that's her name. After watching this gloriously restored 35mm print, I thought perhaps Wes Anderson was influenced by Kapoor, especially by BOBBY. Not well-known in the States, it was apparently a huge hit at the time in India. I consider it a gateway genre film that will properly launch a viewer in the direction of more contemporary Bollywood. If you make it through all the costume changes, far-reaching geographic leaps, musical interruptions, and the film's colorful tonal range, you can handle anything later Bollywood hurls at you. It's been described as a candy-colored, swinging-60s fairytale. It's the most dizzying film on my list, beating out all of the silents from the "Dizzy Heights" series. Similar in its blissfully stylized staging to a film mentioned earlier, HIGH TREASON, AWAARA was also fantastic, with its own leaps into vertiginous territory, especially, as J. Hoberman notes, in terms of space-age set design. AWAARA screened on July 28th.

8) L'AMORE (Italy, 1948)

Screened on August 10th at the PFA in Berkeley, part of "Bellissima: Leading Ladies of the Italian Screen," L'AMORE is a two-part film, the Italian original showing the Cocteau-inspired portion before the darkly comic virgin-birth segment. The films aren't always presented in this order: the dramatic meditation on Anna Magnani's face as she argues with her absent lover over the phone coming first (A HUMAN VOICE), followed by Magnani playing a spiritual goat-herd who believes she's been impregnated by a charismatic biblical figure she meets on the trail (THE MIRACLE). Talk about dizzy heights, I don't know which is more wrenching: Magnani running up and down the cliffs to escape ridicule and seek salvation as the impoverished and mentally-challenged town fool raped by the false St. Joseph (played by Fellini who also co-wrote the script) or Bellissima's tears running up and down the cliffs and valleys of her face as she tears at her bed sheets for the camera.

9) PANDORA'S BOX (Germany, 1929)

On July 15th, looking forward to seeing a recently-restored print at the SF Silent Film Festival, accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble, I found 1400 people still standing in line 45 minutes after the listed start time. Some were standing in silence. Most were grumbling. It turns out it was worth the wait to be greeted by a gorgeous, legendary, frame-by-frame digitally-restored print. Nothing could be more classic, with live music both grounding, well-integrated with the action, and other-worldly. A fellow festival-goer @kurtiss tweeted: "Starting to think Pandora’s Box will be opened before the doors to The Castro’s house are." Louise Brooks in the prime of her career as Lulu shut that complaining and chaos down once the film was finally rolling.

10) TIME REGAINED (France, Italy, Portugal, 1999)

On March 18th, prior to heading to the PFA, I tweeted: "I hope my vision clears up in time to watch Raúl Ruiz's TIME REGAINED (1999) at 6pm. It did, and it gives me another opportunity to mention Proust. The film is an adaptation of the final episode of "In Search of Lost Time" and was included in the series, "The Library Lover: The Films of Raúl Ruiz." The time spent watching this film can never be regained, but the way it has framed my memory of last year can never be lost, a year in which I was dazed and frozen by flashes of light, and nurtured by periods of darkness and silence. Like Proust, Ruiz passed on leaving us with his biography, his known memories, his unknown memories, his labyrinthine imagination, and his games and puzzles.


  1. Hi Terri: I'm glad someone other than I really liked The Mystery Of The Eiffel Tower. I'm also happy to see FOUR Italian films on your list, I am torn after all my viewing as to which is the greatest national cinema- Japan or Italy. And two by one of my favorites, Rossellini. Interesting the controversial Amour shares its name with L'Amore except in both Romance languages the definite article suggests the idea of, or concept of, a thing Haneke may be up to something else with his title, supposedly supplied by Trintignant, maybe Love as a term of endearment?

  2. Thank you, Lawrence. Yes, Japan and Italy both would be at the top, maybe France as well. I'm not sure about L'Amore vs. Amour, or that Haneke intended a reference. I could only speculate. I finally did get a chance to see Amour. I'm looking forward to writing up some notes about it.