WHAT: I hope I never get so wrapped up in the investigation of sophisticated works of cinema by important auteurs that I can never find time to appreciate a silly, broad comedy. It's true that most Hollywood-produced comedies over the past fifteen years haven't made me laugh nearly as hard as everyone (me, the filmmakers, anyone I watched the film with) had hoped I would. Pootie Tang is a notable exception. I missed seeing it in a theatre- it opened the same weekend as the much-anticipated A.I. and quickly disappeared from screens, so a lot of cinephiles missed seeing it that way. But upon being turned onto the film shortly after its video release, I soon found myself rewatching it frequently and spreading the Pootie Tang gospel with anyone I could find who wasn't simply put off by the title. That admittedly was not a lot of people. It doesn't sound like a movie title but the punch line to a very nasty and unfunny joke. Even co-star Chris Rock used it as such when he hosted the Academy Awards one year.
When comedian Louis C.K. starting becoming widely famous a few years later, I was late to realize it, as usual with pop culture figures. Friends would talk about his stand-up or his television show and I'd pipe in with, "oh, the writer-director of Pootie Tang?," which sometimes got me strange sideways looks. But more and more I find myself meeting out-of-the-closet Pootie Tang fans, some of whom have been fans at least as long as I have. It's easier to be a proud Pootie Tang lover as respect for Louis C.K. and Wanda Sykes increases. Occasionally I still encounter resistance from skeptical cinephiles. That's when I point out that Pootie Tang's cinematographer was Willy Kurant, who shot Masculin-Féminin for Jean-Luc Godard, The Immortal Story for Orson Welles, Under the Sun of Satan for Maurice Pialat, Trans-Europ-Express for Alain Robbe-Grillet and Dinky Hocker for Tom Blank.
WHERE/WHEN: 10PM tonight at the Castro Theatre, presented by SF Sketchfest
WHY: Sketchfest is in its final days but there are still quite a few events of interest to movie fans. Just before tonight's Pootie Tang screening, Peaches Christ will present a screening of Welcome To the Dollhouse with star Heather Matarazzo on hand. Tomorrow afternoon there's a showing of The Naked Gun with David Zucker and Priscilla Presley attending, followed by two sold-out shows (thanks to Patton Oswalt's involvement methinks): Twilight and Army of Darkness.
Though I'd had mixed experiences with Sketchfest shows in prior years, I'm feeling very good about the popular event after Wednesday night's Roxie screening of Animal House, before which Inside Joke's Carl Arnheiter spoke with the film's director John Landis. Arnheiter struck just the right balance as interviewer, I felt, between making wisecracks and encouraging Landis's joke-telling instincts (this is a comedy festival after all), and eliciting some incredible stories about his first years in Hollywood, working in the Fox Studio's mailroom, rubbing elbows with George Stevens (who bought him lunch because he was a rare young American who could name his films), Bruce Lee (whom Landis did a looney impression of), and Robert Altman (who was apparently a hard man to find on the M.A.S.H. set). Best of all was Landis's demonstration of just how new the art of the motion picture is: his frequent editor George Folsey Jr, is the son of the cinematographer George Folsey, who during one of his conversations with Landis casually spoke about interacting with Edwin S. Porter, inventor of much of narrative cinema language before D. W. Griffith or anyone. This was pure cinephile catnip, and I'm so glad I was able to be there, even if Animal House isn't exactly Pootie Tang.
HOW: 35mm print, thankfully. Now that it's become difficult to pry 35mm prints out of the clutches of certain studios unless the screening involves the presence of the talent who had worked on the film, it feels like a wasted opportunity when a festival invites talent yet screens from a digital copy. So I'm pleased that although Sketchfest only involved one 35mm screening two years ago (Broadcast News), this time around they conduct four of them. Animal House was shown in a practically pristine print, and Welcome to the Dollhouse and The Naked Gun join Pootie Tang as shows expected to use 35mm prints.