Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Casablanca (1942)

WHO: Michael Curtiz directed it. Conrad Veidt, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Dooley Wilson star in it. Oh yeah, and there's the love triangle too: Paul Heinreid, Ingrid Bergman and a guy called Humphrey Bogart.

WHAT: One of the most famous movies of all time. It's almost impossible to pay attention to film without hearing someone make mention of it. Just the other day I heard a podcast interview with Cissy Wellman, who relates Howard Hawks's commonly-told and well-refuted story of a swap Hawks and Curtiz (who according to the story was the originally assigned director to Sergeant York) made between their directing projects. I think it says a lot that Hawks would tell this story in the mid-1960s after he'd begun being celebrated by critics as an auteur, a status denied him during the first few decades of his career. It's as if to say that by walking away from making Casablanca he denied himself the chance at a competitive Oscar and the kind of immortality that came from having made one of the most beloved classics ever, but that perhaps the kind of immortality Hawks was starting to enjoy as a developer of a career worth poring over might be preferable to being thought of as a relatively anonymous if highly competent workman like Curtiz.

WHERE/WHEN: Today at 1:30 & 7:00 at the Kabuki, or at 2:00 & 7:00 at Cinemark Theatres around the nation, including the Bay Area. Also screens at 2:30 & 7:00 on April 28th at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: Both the Kabuki and the Castro will be venues for the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival April 25-May 9th. Tickets, now on sale to members, become available to the general public this Friday. I'm not going to draft a typical festival announcement piece when there are others to read. I'll undoubtedly be devoting a good deal of attention to this event over the coming weeks, though not to the exclusion of others. Michael Fox opens his article on April's screenings with an interesting perspective about the usual role of a big international film festival in the film culture of a city. With presentation of new works by Kiyoshi KurosawaKim LonginottoBernardo BertolucciAndrew BujalskiSophie FiennesOlivier Assayas and scores of other established and up-and-coming international filmmakers, there's no question but that this year's SFIFF is a crucial event for those of us who try to keep reasonably current with trends in world narrative and documentary cinema-making.

But what does the festival provide for those of us interested in keeping current with trends in restoration and re-evaluation of cinema from the past? The festival's repertory selections must provide quite a bang if they're going to be worth a ticket-buyer's bucks, especially with this year's price increases. For a San Francisco resident, a trip to a typical repertory film at the Pacific Film Archive or the Stanford Theatre (which has just released its next calendar) is about the same cost as a non-member SFIFF ticket- but only if you factor in the cost of public transportation.

There's potential here. I'm thrilled that the SFIFF is offering rare chances to see great films from the sixties, seventies and eighties, like Marketa LazarováTo Live and Die in L.A. and Invasion of the Body Snatchers and reputedly-great films like The Mattei Affair, Eight Deadly Shots, and Downpour. What I don't know is whether any of the above will be presented in the film formats that they were originally made for, rather than via a digital delivery system. So far the festival has only made available the screening format information on one retrospective program: a 16mm showing of three rarely-seen early documentaries by Les Blank. This will be one of the first tickets I purchase. The others, I may hold off on until I hear whether they'll be shown on 35mm or not. I know this almost certainly mean I won't be able to get a ticket to To Live and Die in L.A., as that screening will include a live appearance by its legendary director, William Friedkin, and is being held in cinema (New People) with less than 200 seats. But that's okay; I saw a 35mm print of it last fall at the Roxie, and am  in no way going to allow myself to miss the other revival that it takes place on the same night as: the Castro showing of Waxworks. Again, I don't know if this will be a digital or film screening, but I do know I want to be there to find out what Mike Patton and his cohort of three percussionists plan to pull off as a musical accompaniment for the Paul Leni film starring Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt.

Conrad Veidt! Oh yeah, I knew there was a reason I wanted to talk about this stuff under a post about Casablanca. Why see Casablanca tonight? To get in the mood for another Veidt film coming your way.

HOW: I know that the Castro showing of Casablanca will be sourced from DCP, and I believe the Kabuki & Cinemark showings will be sourced that way as well.


  1. Brian: Carl Martin is posting the info on which SFIFF programs will be on film. There are only nine, and of the retrospective titles you mention, just Waxworks and Marketa Lazarova (PFA's print) will be celluloid.Helsinki Forever (2008) will also be presented in 35mm.

  2. Thanks, Larry. Since this comment, I received word from the press office that there are currently 15 films expected to show via film formats. But that includes shorts, which certainly count in my estimation. (They better- my girlfriend made one of them!)