Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Jacquot (1991)

WHO: Agnès Varda wrote and directed this, based on the childhood reminiscences of her husband Jacques Demy.

WHAT: The Pacific Film Archive's current Jacques Demy series is not just the most complete in Frisco Bay history because it's showing fourteen of the French director's films. It's also screening three films about Demy made by his wife, then widow Agnès Varda, all in 35mm. Two of these seem much like the kinds of documentaries often seen on high-end DVD releases, although The Young Girls Turn 25 is not found on the Miramax release of The Young Girls of Rochefort, and The World Of Jacques Demy can only be viewed awkwardly excerpted on DVDs for Lola, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Model Shop, etc. 

Jacquot is, by contrast, a re-enactment of Demy's childhood, a catalog of his inspirations, and the last "fiction" feature film made by Varda to this day, although she has made quite a few documentaries and shorts in the meantime. It was speaking to the camera in her superb 2008 autobiographical doc The Beaches of Agnès that she made her first public comment on the fact, known more as rumor beforehand, that her husband had died of AIDS complications. She and other friends held this secret in "affectionate silence, totally respectful of Jacques, who didn't talk about it." As other voices in the documentary relate, "back then, in 1989, AIDS was considered a shameful disease," and "it was taboo."  Jacquot was begun and completed as Demy was dying, and for the cast and crew making the film was a way of accompanying the director in his final months. According to Varda, the film finished shooting on October 17, 1990, just ten days before her husband's death.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, at 7:00.

WHY: Even if you're not planning to be a completist and attend everything in the PFA's Demy series (or, as I'm considering, at least everything unseen previously), there are many reasons to consider making tonight's screening one of your selections. First of all, Agnès Varda, the so-called "grandmother" of the French New Wave (though she was born just a few years before Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol & François Truffaut, and is in fact younger than Alain Resnais & Jacques Rivette) and one of the world's greatest living filmmakers. Of those I've seen, I can't think of a single film of hers that isn't about reflection and mortality, and though I haven't seen Jacquot, its circumstances of production seem right along that line. 

There's also Agnès Godard, who was one of three cinematographers on Jacquot (according to the PFA note, she shot "the longest segment" of the film). Anyone who enjoyed this Godard's appearance in Berkeley last month, and only wished for more examples of work from earlier in her career, this is your chance to get a look at a key work made the same year as her first of fifteen (thus far) credits as cinematographer for Claire Denis.

Finally, the general topic of French cinema. This might be the last good chance I get to mention it beforehand, so I thought I'd point out a refreshing program coming the Castro Theatre August 7th & 8th: a two-day booking of a 35mm double-bill of Jean-Pierre Melville's Un Flic starring Catherine Deneuve, and Claude Sautet's Max Et Les Ferrailleurs starring Michel Piccoli. Deneuve and Piccoli, of course, have both featured in films for Demy and for Varda, including The Young Girls of Rochefort and The Young Girls Turn 25.

HOW: 35mm print

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lesson Of The Evil (2012)

WHO: Takashi Miike wrote and directed this.

WHAT: Another one I haven't been able to to see yet. A number of observers have called Lesson of the Evil  a "return to form" for Miike, and/or compared and contrasted it against other items in his filmography such as Audition and 13 Assassins. Rob Hunter invokes a perhaps even more unlikely comparison point, Miike's first and best-known musical:
While a tonal 180 it’s easily his best film since 2001′s Happiness of the Katakuris and serves to remind us that the guy knows how to make visually impressive and affecting cinema. There’s a sharp and fluidly arresting style throughout accompanied by a blackly comic sense of humor, but when the final bloodletting begins we’re slammed into a wall of non-stop brutality.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight at 7:00 at New People, as part of the Japan Film Festival of San Francisco.

WHY: With less than a week left in the inaugural JFFSF, there are still second and third chances to see most of the selections in the program, such as Wolf Children and Rurouni Kenshin, or those you may have missed at other festivals held earlier this year, like Rent-A-Family Inc. or Himizu

But Lesson Of The Evil is the title in the festival with the biggest director-name recognition. Miike is prolific enough that many fans have given up hope of seeing every feature and television work he's released (close to a hundred in less than a quarter-century!) but unless they've given up on him completely they should be eager to investigate a work that has been singled out as exceptional.

Especially when it's playing in a space like New People, criminally under-used since the end of its stint as a year-round venue for the San Francisco Film Society nearly a year ago. Chances to see any movie in this comfortable and modern single-screen cinema aren't that frequent- the JFFSF ends a nearly two-month dry spell at the space, although there won't be as long of one after the festival ends August 4th, as a Turkish Film Festival utilizes the space on the 13th through 15th of the month.

HOW: Digital projection.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Jerry And Me (2012)

WHO: Jerry Lewis and Mehrnaz Saeedvafa are the "Jerry" and "Me" of the title: the former a comedy legend, the latter the Iranian-American film scholar (and co-writer, with Jonathan Rosenbaum, of a terrific book on Abbas Kiarostami) who directed this among other her other films and videos.

WHAT: I haven't yet seen this documentary reflecting on Saeedvafa's personal history through the prism of her lifelong relationship with the films of Lewis, from her days watching him dubbed in Farsi during her youth in pre-Revolutionary Tehran to her more recent experiences teaching college courses on him in Chicago. With endorsements from as diverse an array of critics as Scott Jordan Harris, Ehsan Khoshbakht, and Adrian Martin, I'm dying to. A brief excerpt from the review of Jerry and Me by the last of these in the must-read film journal LOLA follows:
Film history, as it has generally been written, only occasionally gives us a glimpse of this kind of shuttle-action across cultures, nations and audiences: a Latin American star such as Carmen Miranda as seen ‘back home’ via the detour of her Hollywood productions; or the cult of certain US actors in Japan. But an entire treasure-trove of spectator experience opens up once we loosen the bounds of territorial belonging, as Saeedvafa does here. It is a different Lewis than the one we are used to encountering... 
WHERE/WHEN: Screens at the Castro Theatre today at 1:15 PM, at the Cinéarts Palo Alto August 7th at 3:50 PM, and the Grand Lake in Oakland August 10th at 1:45 PM, all as presentations of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

WHY: The SFJFF is bigger than ever this year and there's much to intrigue among its 74 films programmed. But if I could only attend one day of the festival, today would be it. If I wanted to make a marathon out of it, I could arrive in the morning for a pair of Israeli road movies and stay all day until the 9PM Frameline co-presentation Out In The Dark. In between there will be two very exciting director-in-person appearances: brilliant New York documentarian Alan Berliner with his new First Cousin, Once Removed and legendary Swedish auteur Jan Troell with his latest The Last Sentence.

This afternoon's screening of Jerry And Me seems particularly important in the light of the fact that the Castro Theatre has released an August calendar filled with many tantalizing viewing options, it's once again a month without a Jerry Lewis film. Unless my memory's failing me, In the many years I've been paying close attention to its programming, not once has a film by or starring Lewis played the Castro. Not even The King of Comedy made it into the venue's 2009 Scorsese series (although a new restoration is said to be making the rounds internationally, so perhaps soon...) This may sound a bit like a cross between noticing the Castro doesn't play enough Adam Sandler or John Wayne films- the nexus of unappealing to San Francisco audiences for aesthetic and political reasons. The venue's size means it needs to appeal to large audiences in its screening offerings, and perhaps steer clear of Lewis's general unfashionability and his retrograde, borderline (and sometimes over-the-border) offensive personal comments about women, gays, and various minority groups over the years. 

But enjoying the films does not equal endorsing the man's outlook. Many cinephiles know that the best of the films Lewis made in the 1950s and 1960s simply cry out to be seen in cinemas, a fact I confirmed for myself earlier this year when I finally experienced his work in 35mm for the first time, on a trip to the Stanford to see the masterful Tashlin-directed Artists And Models. One day I'd like to see Lewis's work as a director (perhaps the Godard-influencing The Ladies Man?) on a big screen; I can't recall an instance of any Frisco Bay theatre screening any of them since Eddie Murphy's 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor inspired Marc Huestis to bring the 1963 original to the Castro with Stella Stevens in attendance (an event that predated my own intense cinephilia). In the meantime, the only chances to see Lewis on the Castro screen have been occasional bookings of It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, in which he has a brief cameo. Until today's screening of Jerry And Me, when videoclips from his films and media appearances, (including, yes, even some of his dispiriting public statements) will be viewable presented through the filter of a modern, Iranian-American feminist, washing over that giant screen. And who knows if it might whet an appetite to see the genuine article in 35mm?

HOW: Digital video projection on a program also including Dan Shadur's documentary on Jews in Iran, Before the Revolution.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

An American Tail (1986)

WHO: Steven Spielberg was executive producer and lent his grandfather's name Fievel to the main character of this film. Former Disney animator Don Bluth directed it as his follow-up to The Secret of NIMH.

WHAT: Somehow I've never seen An American Tail, and had in fact almost forgotten about it until recently reading Art Spiegelman's book Metamaus about the creation and ramifications of his masterpiece of sequential art Maus, in which he relates how the animation became entwined with his anthropomorphic Holocaust tale after its work-in-progress appearance in RAW, the magazine he'd co-founded. A couple key excerpts:
In 1985, somebody showed me an interview with Steven Spielberg that indicated he was producing a feature-length animated cartoon about Jewish mice escaping the anti-Semitic pogroms of Russia to set up a new life in America. I believed that Don Bluth, the director, had seen the Maud chapters in RAW and I just imagined the story conference that led to An American Tail: "Okay. The Holocaust is kind of a bummer, you know, but maybe if we do a Fiddler On The Roof thing with cuter mice we could make a go of it." I was terrified their movie would come out before my book was finished...
...the confusion could have left me being perceived as somehow creating a kind of twisted and gnarled version of a Spielberg production rather than what I'm quite sure was the case: An American Tale was a sanitized reworking launched from the Maud concept. And just a few years ago my friend, Aline Kominsky told me that her mother had praised me: "That Art Spiegelberg, he's such a talented boy! Not only did he do Maus, but he did E.T.!"
This inspired Spiegelman to suggest the publication of Maus in two volumes rather than one, and ultimately An American Tail's production was delayed until after part one had been released, thereby avoiding any such confusion. 

WHERE/WHEN: 10:00 AM today only at the Castro Theatre, as part of the 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

WHY: The SF Jewish Film Festival started last Thursday and runs through this coming Thursday, August 1st at the Castro before fanning out to other venues around Frisco Bay over the following week and a half. Cheryl Eddy's SF Bay Guardian article on the festival covers several of the festival's documentaries, and notes the SFJFF's broadening of its focus this year, in that "plenty of SFJFF's programs do specifically address Jewish religion and culture," but that several docs she pre-screened "simply happened to be made by a Jewish filmmaker."

In the case of An American Tail, the theme may be Jewish (it must be among the most prominent American animated features to feature explicitly Jewish characters) but the director was not; Bluth is Mormon. But the film still seems like an ideal selection to bring a "family" audience to a festival better known for showing films that appeal to viewers old enough to read subtitles and/or to digest heady intellectual topics. It's also, perhaps unintentionally, a great selection to bring to a festival that is including a documentary on the Maus-termind himself: The Art of Spiegelman, which screens next week at just about every festival venue but the Castro. I for one am hoping to be able to attend both films.

HOW: An American Tail and the August 11 showing of the The Producers (the movie based on the musical based on the movie, not the original movie) at Oakland's Grand Lake Theatre are, according to the Film On Film Foundation, the only two 35mm screenings at this year's SFJFF.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Black Pirate (1926)

WHO: Douglas Fairbanks starred in, produced, and even concocted the story (under the pseudonym Elton Thomas) for this film.

WHAT: After the heights scaled by Fairbanks in his increasingly lavish 1920s films The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood and The Thief of Bagdad, the latter a financial disappointment in relation to cost, the self-determined star dialed down his ambition for his 1925 sequel Don Q Son of Zorro. When he turned again to breaking new ground in the capabilities of Hollywood moviemaking, he did so not by attempting to outdo previous films in opulence of design, but by introducing an entirely new dimension to his work: color. The Black Pirate was not the first two-strip technicolor film made by the motion picture industry, but with Fairbanks at the center, it became the most iconic of the silent era. It had the happy side-result of highlighting the star's athleticism to a degree that had been missed by some of his fans. Jeffrey Vance puts it well in his excellent Fairbanks biography
Technicolor's inherent limitations and cost at the time had the effect of unfettering the Fairbanks production from pageantry and visual effects, thus producing what is in essence a straightforward action adventure film. The result was a refreshing return to form and a dazzling new showcase for the actor-producer;s favorite production value: himself. Fairbanks is resplendent as the bold buccaneer and buoyed by a production brimming with rip-roaring adventure and spiced with exceptional stunts and swordplay, including the celebrated "sliding down the sails" sequence, arguably the most famous set piece of the entire Fairbanks treasure chest.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum on a program beginning at 7:30.

WHY: Blog round-ups of last week's San Francisco Silent Film Festival have been rolling in for the past several days. If you're so inclined, check out wrap-ups by Donna HillPhilip CastorLincoln SpectorJason Wiener, and Lara Fowler. I saw eleven programs, which is by far my lowest total since before the festival expanded to a four day affair. I skipped all but one of the digitally-projected presentations (The Weavers, whose restoration looked nice and cleanly-scrubbed if not filmic) and also found myself bailing on The Golden Clown and The Joyless Street. Missing all of the late-evening shows probably helped me better concentrate on the multiple daytime & early-evening shows I saw, but I do have some regret over missing what I heard from more than one friend was the best show of fest: The Joyless Street with the Matti Bye Ensemble. I don't always love this Swedish combo but I thought their inexorably-rhythmed score for the Outlaw and His Wife was the musical highlight of a weekend full of contenders; others included the Gamelan Sekar Jaya/Club Foot Orchestra's SFSFF debut Legong: Dance of the Virgins, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra's setting for Gribiche, and everything I heard coming out of Stephen Horne's piano. 

Though I approve of the festival bringing in a certain amount of new accompanist blood, I don't think I'd be that excited for them to bring Günter Buchwald back again. Of the three films I heard him score, only The Weavers seemed particularly suited to his style. He's clearly a phenomenally skilled musician, perhaps the most impressive technique-wise of all the weekend's guests, but I felt his score for Tokyo Chorus often misunderstood Ozu (admittedly a tricky director to play for, but Horne and Judith Rosenberg have both done it quite successfully at screenings I've attended), and his turn at the Wurlitzer for Fairbanks's Western The Half-Breed had only fleeting moments of real effectiveness, most of them involving his use of a fiddle instead of the keyboard console. I was particularly distracted by his use of jazzy rhythms for a film set in 1880s California. I'd love to see the return of pianists Rosenberg, Phil Carli or Donald Sosin (and if the organ can be utilized, Chris Elliot, Clark Wilson or Dennis James) to the festival for their next Winter event, rumored to be expected this December.

If last weekend whetted rather than sated your appetite for more silent film screenings with live musical accompaniment, there are a good deal of opportunities to continue cinematic explorations of this still-underrated era of filmmaking. Tonight the Pacific Film Archive shows a rare 35mm print of the World War I film What Price Glory as part of its half-completed Raoul Walsh series, which I've been thoroughly enjoying - the last appearance of house pianist Rosenberg as accompanist at the venue until she takes on 9 Alfred Hitchcock silents next month. Tomorrow there's a Davies Symphony Hall showing of Sergei Eisenstein's Potemkin with Cameron Carpenter at the organ, and a Berkeley Underground Film Society showing of the Harold Lloyd comedy Why Worry?, which he made just after SFSFF closing night feature Safety Last!

But there's only one Frisco Bay cinema that screens silent pictures every Saturday, week in and out, except for the one week off taken for the SFSFF. The Black Pirate reopens the Niles Essanay Silent Film Musuem in Fremont, CA after this annual screen darkening. It's a perfect choice to screen after least two of last Saturday's Castro programs. I enjoyed The Half-Breed but some I spoke to were disappointed that it didn't include enough of the free-wheeling, spirit-of-adventure "Doug" they were used to (the same reason Tracey Goessel gave for its commercial failure in its day during her introduction), so to see him as his "usual" self in The Black Pirate may be welcome. It's also a nice comparison piece to the two-strip Technicolor photography of the surprisingly good Legong: Dance of the Virgins, released 9 years later at the dawn of major feature film usage of the three-strip Technicolor process.

The Black Pirate is not the only upcoming Niles screening with connections to SFSFF programming, either. On the August slate, every Saturday program includes at least one comedy by Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd, who were all seen last Sunday on the Castro screen (I believe it's the first time the festival programmed films featuring each of these three clown princes of Hollywood in the same year). Additionally, those who enjoyed seeing Greta Garbo in The Joyless Street or Ralph Lewis in Emory Johnson's The Last Edition should mark their calendars on August 24th and 31st respectively, as Garbo reappears at Niles for Flesh and the Devil and Lewis stars in another Johnson film called The West-Bound Limited on those dates.

HOW: The Black Pirate screens in a technicolor 16mm print with live music by Jon Mirsalis, along with prints of Harold Lloyd in Never Touched Me and Harry Langdon in Plain Clothes

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bay Of Angels (1963)

WHO: Jacques Demy wrote and directed this.

WHAT: Demy's second feature film, and his only one made with the great Jeanne Moreau as Jackie (playing opposite Claude Mann as Jean), was the first of his films I saw, back in 2002 when the Castro Theatre gave it a full week-long run. I recall really liking this gambling-obsession tale but being disappointed with the ending. But it seems high time to revisit the film. Here's an excerpt from Johnny Ray Huston's dual review of Bay of Angels and Demy's debut feature Lola, that helped convince me to go in the first place eleven years ago:
Never one to be associated with the term "fancy-free," the rumpled Moreau brings a nervous undercurrent to Jackie's impetuousness, a quality that Demy further emphasizes in the casino scenes' sound design: stretches of tense silence interrupted by the clatter of chips and the skitter of the ball across niches on a roulette wheel. These noises rarely sync up directly with an image; most often Demy focuses instead on the faces of the gamblers, who – however outlandish their attire – look grimly preoccupied rather than celebratory.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive at 7:00.

WHY: In the Spring of 2006 the PFA held a small Jacques Demy retrospective: five of his feature films plus one about him directed by his widow Agnès Varda. More than seven years later and the venue is presenting a far more complete survey of the French New Wave-era pioneer's work. This time there are ten features and four shorts by Demy, taken from all phases of his career, as well as three films by Varda (including two not included in her own 2009 retro at the venue.)

I've been slow to warm to Demy. Though I found a good deal to admire in Lola (which screened last night to open this series), Bay of Angels and Model Shop (Demy's sole experience working in Hollywood, which screens August 2nd), it wasn't until seeing his 1964 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (screening tomorrow & August 31) that I realized the director was as capable of making a great masterpiece as anyone of his generation. I now have a renewed interest in seeing and re-seeing his films, and am glad the PFA offers chances to see well-known titles like Donkey Skin (Aug. 4) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (Aug. 8 & 30), as well as more rarely-seen features like A Room In Town (Aug. 17) and his swan song Three Seats For the 26th (Aug. 24). The shorts and Varda features should bring even more richness to a very appealing series.

Speaking of appealing PFA series, the venue has recently added to its website the five Chinese cinema classics being added to Yang Fudong's An Estranged Paradise to make up the August-October series Yang Fudong's Cinematic Influences, mounted in conjunction with a mid-career survey of Yang's work at the Berkeley Art Musuem. Whether or not you're already familiar with the Chinese artist and filmmaker (perhaps best known in cinephile circles for his his Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest cycle), and whether or not you even care to be, you should know that this series is going to be special. Imported 35mm prints of seminal Chinese classics like the fifth-generation landmark Yellow Earth and the early Shanghai talkie Street Angel don't come around often at all, and as for the canonized "greatest Chinese film of all time", Fei Mu's 1948 Spring in a Small Town is such a rare masterpiece, impossible to see in even a decent home video version, I can almost forgive that it's the one title in the series expected to show via DCP.

HOW: Bay of Angels screens via a 35mm print. Though technically not a double-bill, there is a discounted admission to Patrice Leconte's Monsieur Hire, screening in 35mm at 8:45 as part of the Simenon and Cinema series, for anyone who also buys a ticket to Bay of Angels.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Muta (2011)

WHO: Lucrecia Martel directed this.

WHAT: Although this short work was commissioned as part of a series of high-end advertisements for an Italian brand of women's clothing, it's of much greater interest than most such (literally) commercial projects I've seen. Its storyline is as simple as it is enigmatic: a swarm of supermodel-shaped women behave rather like insects aboard an otherwise-abandoned ship. Interestingly, none of the women's faces are seen head-on or even in profile, which for me created an unsettling realization of the intensity of my desire to see faces attached to attractive screen bodies, which I'm sure I'd never have become aware of had it not been withheld. And though this conceit may have originated in an attempt to get viewers to focus less on the women and more on their clothes, that did not consciously happen in my case. Instead I found myself admiring the catalog of methods Martel uses to avoid showing the faces, from keeping the actresses heads turned away from the camera, or covered by a mask or hands, to keeping them out of frame, underlit, or out of focus.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens at the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts tonight and Saturday at 7:30, and Sunday at 2:00.

WHY: YBCA announced a good portion of its 2013-2014 season earlier this month, and some of the Film/Video department highlights are definitely worth anticipating. Annual events like the British Arrow Awards, the Human Rights Watch Festival, and the New Filipino Cinema series are planned to return (in January, March and June of 2014, respectively). I've mentioned before the Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective expected to run concurrently there, at the Roxie, and at the Pacific Film Archive, but now I know that YBCA's portion, at least, will happen over a three month period from October to December of 2013.

Also in November and December of this year there will be a series called "Age Limit May Vary in Certain Areas: A History of X-Rated Cinema", which, according to the promotional blurb, "looks back at a time when “adult cinema” meant something more than just porn." I can't resist speculating about films that might be brought in such a series (Visconti's The Damned? Russell's The Devils? Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris?) but the only concrete series title listed in the pdf version of the season preview is one of the last films to receive the X rating from the MPAA, and the first to receive the newly-created substitute NC-17 in 1990, Philip Kaufman's Henry and June.

But the above is only a partial list of upcoming screenings, and was presumably drawn up before the confirmed bookings of Benito Bautista's Harana, making nine repeat appearances in August after two sold-out screenings and the taking of the audience award at the New Filipino Cinema festival last month, or of a pair of documentaries on street art playing this September.

But before all that, there's this weeks' screening of Matías Piñeiro's Viola. I was as confounded as I was intrigued by Piñeiro's previous film Rosalinda a.k.a. Hold On, Rosalind at the venue three years ago; that 43-minute work was launched by Shakespeare's As You Like It while Viola relates to a play I'm a little more familiar with, The Twelfth Night. The numerous recommendations I've encountered make me very excited to see Viola, and I'm very pleased that its 65-minute run-time allowed YBCA programmer Joel Shepard to include Muta beforehand to help catch Frisco Bay audiences up with the work of two current Argentine directors at once.

HOW: Muta and Viola screen together digitally, and I'm almost certain both were shot on digital cameras.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945)

WHO: Jack Cox, who shot for Maurice Elvey before making eleven films with Alfred Hitchcock (more than any other cinematographer other than the great Robert Burks) was director of photography on this.

WHAT: Saying too much, or even anything, about the plot of this film does it a great disservice. So I'll keep mum, other than to say that although it's usually tagged with the term "melodrama" it's likely to appeal strongly to fans of Hollywood film noir, or at least to those for whom the word noir doesn't just summon up images of Bogie or Mitchum in a trenchcoat, but also of Stanwyck or Crawford fighting personal demons.

Though it doesn't feel like a heavy-handed "message picture" Made near the very end of World War II, the film contains content that may have been reassuring to men and (perhaps particularly) women awaiting reunification with their sweethearts after a long separation, which helped make it become a hit. A gypsy woman in the film has remarkable advice about the double standard, which might have been taken as permission for war wives to forgive their husbands - and forgive themselves- for any wrongs inflicted during a period away from each other.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight through Friday, July 26th at the Stanford Theatre

WHY: As the last holdout among major Frisco Bay repertory venues in refusing to supplement its regular 35mm screenings with digital presentations, the Stanford's uniqueness becomes ever more evident. But even it has begun to prepare its loyal audiences for some kind of transformation. The introductory text on its current summer calendar (reproduced here) says it all, in the venue's typically succinct house style:
Whatever happens in the future, history will surely recognize that a major new art form was created in the twentieth century and that the traditional movie theatre was an essential part of it. At the Stanford Theatre you can still experience this in its original form. Our theatre has been here since 1925. It has nearly 1200 seats, with a balcony. We still show beautiful 35 mm prints. We still use carbon arc projectors. We even have an organ that plays before and after the 7:30 show. 
This too will pass. But in the meantime you have something in Palo Alto that is almost extinct everywhere else. Come often. Let your friends know about it. They'll probably thank you.
It's not the Stanford's way to say much more than "This too will pass." Which is why it sounds so ominous- I've never seen an acknowledgment from the theatre that its model might not be sustained forever into the future (though it's no great secret that the Silicon Valley wealth of its owner David Packard has more to do with its continued operation than ticket sales do). No hint of when (this year? next? twenty years from now?) change might come, much less how (the purchase of DCP projectors? closure?), but sometime, somehow, it's coming.

Let's enjoy the venue while it lasts.

Madonna of the Seven Moons is one of four British-made films on the current calendar, and not the only one shot by cinematographer Jack Cox. The Wicked Lady is also one of his, and it screens August 7-9 with the early Carol Reed picture Bank Holiday. Five other Jack Cox-shot films will also screen at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive in August, albeit via DCP. Of course I speak of the five Gainsborough Pictures titles among the Hitchcock 9 silent series, including The Ring (Cox's first collaboration with Hitchcock), Blackmail, and the three made between those two in 1928 & 1929.

HOW: Madonna of the Seven Moons screens via 35mm print, on a double-bill with another film featuring the lovely Patricia Roc, called The Brothers.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

WHO: Guillermo Del Toro co-wrote and directed this.

WHAT: I've seen a few more stereotypical "summer movies" this year than I usually do. Perhaps it's because, with the (temporary) closure of the Embarcadero and the (sadly permanent) closure of the Bridge and the Lumiere, there are fewer arthouse options calling me to the cinema this summer than in prior years. So far my favorite of the gargantuan-budgeted studio releases, my favorite has been the widely reviled The Lone Ranger, which I hope to make time to write about before it disappears from local screens- but that day is not today. So instead, Pacific Rim. I can't say I liked it very much, other than a few touches revolving around the fairly well-handled Mako Mori character.

If you want to read a generally favorable take on Pacific Rim that is nonetheless rational about some of its shortcomings, there's probably no-one better than Vern to provide it for you. But my friend Dennis Cozzalio (from whom I have brazenly borrowed he above still, hoping he doesn't mind) sums up my impression quite nicely:
Del Toro's monster mash makes a hell of a racket, but it goes nowhere, and not particularly fast at that. The sinking feeling I got from watching the trailers, which was dissipated somewhat by some of the decent reviews, came back very quickly as I waited for the endless battle sequences to amount to something-- anything-- but the conclusion of Pacific Rim ends up as routine as everything that came before it, and just as exhausting as well.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens multiple times daily at the Balboa through Thursday, and at many other theatres throughout the area through Thursday and beyond, although its screen count will drop Friday to make way for the next would-be blockbusters.

WHY: Why feature a movie I didn't particularly care for on a day when there are interesting films (albeit unseen by me) playing at (for example) the Stanford or the Roxie?

Because it seems like a perfect opportunity to remind readers of an upcoming screening of the film that more than any other Pacific Rim owes its existence to. Of course I speak of Ishiro Honda's 1954 Godzilla, which has its own remake on the way, but more importantly screens at the the most palatial movie venue on Frisco Bay in just over two weeks.

The Paramount Theatre in Oakland was designed by Timothy Pflueger's firm and erected in 1931, making his company's Castro Theatre design from ten years prior seem like a mere warm-up. It's quite a bit larger and more elaborate, not to mention better preserved than the Castro (where the ceiling paint is noticeably peeling, as a friend pointed out to me as we sat in the balcony this past weekend). But it's not an ideal venue for movies in which making out lots of dialogue is, er, paramount to appreciation of the film (I still have bad memories of a showing of His Girl Friday there), as, last I checked, the audio track can be muddy with certain prints. Thus it's used more frequently as a concert venue (its sound problems don't seem to extend to live performances for some reason), and is ideal for silent film screenings with live accompaniment, as anyone who attended Napoléon there last year will attest.

I've never known the Paramount to screen a foreign-dialogue film with English subtitles before, however. Godzilla will screen, I understand, in its original Japanese-language version, with subtitles translated and prepared by Michie Yamakawa and Bruce Goldstein in 2004. This might work. This might be awesome. With the energy of a big enough audience there, it WILL be awesome.

Akira Ifukube's score and Godzilla's signature vocalizations should come through fine, and if the dialogue doesn't it won't be much of a problem for English-language readers. As usual at the Paramount there will be a cartoon, newsreel, and live organ performance beforehand. Best of all, the show will only cost five dollars a ticket. At those prices, your budget may be able to also afford the cocktails available to be enjoyed in style in the glorious Grand Lobby or one of the ornately Art Deco lounges,

So if your friends ask you to go along with them to see Pacific Rim, consider taking them up on it. Maybe you'll like it better than Dennis or I did. But whether you do or not, make sure to tell them to come along with you to Godzilla at the Paramount August 9th so you all can see what a time-tested kaiju eiga (monster movie) can look like on a REALLY. BIG. SCREEN. Wouldn't it be great if 1700 people filled every seat in the house for a showing of a 1954 Japanese movie?

HOW: 35mm print at the Balboa, and digitally in 2D, 3D, and (at least through Thursday) 3D IMAX (at the Metreon) and "LieMax" (at other venues using the IMAX brand) elsewhere. It was shot in digital 2D, so 3D versions are post-converted.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Oyster Princess (1919)

WHO: Ernst Lubitsch directed and co-wrote this.

WHAT: I haven't seen The Oyster Princess except in brief clips (such as those in Mark Cousins's The Story of Film) so I'll excerpt from Ian Johnston's fine review:
In Hollywood the director was famed for the so-called Lubitsch Touch, an amalgam of grace, wit, and sexual innuendo. The Oyster Princess doesn’t share the gracefulness, subtlety, and lightness of touch of Lubitsch’s best Hollywood work (is there a more perfect romantic comedy than Trouble In Paradise?), but then it’s a different kind of comedy – it explicitly characterises itself as “grotesque” – yet one that works superbly well in its own right. The setting is a strange never-never-land where some kind of German stereotypical fantasy of rich Americans is plonked down into a recognisable German world. The “oyster princess” of the title is Ossi, the daughter of the fantastically wealthy oyster magnate (whatever that may be) Mister Quaker.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Rafael Film Center at 7:15.

WHY: The 18th San Francisco Silent Film Festival ended yesterday. I saw a total of ten film programs plus the archival presentation, which means I missed six shows- a record high for me since 2005 when an unexpected disruption of my weekend made me miss most of the festival, including never-repeated opportunities to see Sangue Mineiro, Stage Struck, The Big Parade, The SideshowPrem Sanyas and It in 35mm prints (I have managed to see the last of these in 16mm at Niles in the meantime, but the others remain elusive- which is why I won't hold my breath for another shot at seeing The Joyless Street in a local cinema. At least I had a good reason for missing it). In the intervening years the festival has grown so much; it's almost doubled the number of festival programs (itself a more-than-doubling of the festival's four-program size the first year I attended) and added an annual Winter satellite program as well as special events like Napoléon and the Hitchcock 9. All this is in no small part due to the relationships the festival has built with the major European film archives, which provide them with the best possible prints of the newest restorations and raise international awareness of their work. And though it creates a gaping mid-July hole in the Frisco Bay festival calendar, it's nice we won't have to wait a whole year for the 19th edition of the festival, as a save-the-date slide advertised that next year's festival will run earlier: May 29-June 1st, 2014.

But the past weekend's bounty of silent film screenings has not quite ended. Though it's been a dormant one for a couple of years, the Rafael in Marin has had a tradition of inviting some of the musicians who fly in from out of state to perform at the Castro event to perform within a day or two of the SFSFF end. In 2010 it was Alloy Orchestra performing with Hitchcock's Blackmail and in 2009 it was the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra with Harold Lloyd's The Kid Brother, for instance. Previously these events have featured films (relatively) recently brought in by the SFSFF or another local festival (Alloy had played for Blackmail at the 2004 San Francisco International Film Festival), but The Oyster Princess hasn't been shown by the SFSFF, and has only played once, at the Pacific Film Archive, in the many years I've kept tabs on the local screening scene. Two of the musicians from the Mont Alto Orchestra will accompany it tonight at the venue.

The Rafael's new calendar also includes digital 3D screenings of Alfred Hitchcock's (decidedly non-silent) Dial 'M' For Murder this Thursday and Sunday.

HOW: The Oyster Princess screens on a bill with Buster Keaton's Cops, with live music by Rodney Sauer & Britt Swenson. These will be screened via DCP as the Rafael is unable to run 35mm prints at frame rates other than 24fps, which is really too slow for many silents.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Last Edition (1925)

WHO: Emory Johnson, a key figure in Frisco Bay filmmaking of the silent era, directed this.

WHAT: I haven't seen The Last Edition yet. Almost nobody has in the past eighty-something years. But it's a newspaper-themed drama set and shot (for the most part) in San Francisco, and thus of extremely high interest to anyone who wants a look at how this city appeared on film in the days before the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges were more than glints in its residents' eye. It also is of great interest to journalists, simply for its look inside the San Francisco Chronicle building. As historian David Kiehn writes in his exclusive essay on Johnson in the San Francisco Silent Film Festival program book (available at no cost to every attendee of the festival this weekend),
Most newspaper-themed films before and since The Last Edition have concentrated on crusading or investigative reporters pursuing the big story, but few have shown the physical process of getting out a newspaper in such detail. The film was especially popular with news reporters who knew fact from fiction.
WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Castro Theatre at 3:30, presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

WHY: The Last Edition has just been restored by a team led by SF Silent Film Festival Board President Rob Byrne, and is making its world "re-premiere" today. It's almost certainly going to be the hottest ticket of the last day of the festival today, so it may be a good idea to arrive early if you don't have tickets bought in advance. If you're still not convinced you want to see it, perusing the information and images on the restoration website, from which the above image shot at 5th and Mission Streets by the Old Mint was borrowed.

Though traditionally Sunday has been the strongest day of each annual Silent Film Festival, today's set has its work cut out for it to match Fridays and yesterday's lineups. With a comedy shorts program, a new restoration of a Swedish classic never before shown here in as complete a version, a German film about a labor uprising, and one of the most thrilling comedy finales ever filmed, all screening today along with The Last Edition, Sunday's going to put up a heckuva fight anyway.

HOW: The Last Edition screens in a newly-struck 35mm print, with piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The House On Trubnaya Square (1928)

WHO: Boris Barnet directed this.

WHAT: Ever since seeing Barnet's The Girl With The Hatbox at the 2006 San Francisco Silent Film Festival I've been eager to see this Soviet comedy that frequently gets mentioned in the same breath as that one. Since I haven't yet, I'll excerpt from Michael Fox's essay found in the complimentary program book presented to every festgoer this weekend. To read the rest you'll have to attend at least one of the shows.
An enthusiasm for location shooting enabled the director to stuff The House on Trubnaya Square with details of actual urban life, while his talent and ingenuity for devising and employing sets produced an eye-catching cutaway interior of  a five-story apartment house. More than just a striking visual device, the set underscored the film's wry worldview that good old-fashioned selfishness trumped the newly installed (but not yet instilled) communal spirit.
WHERE/WHEN: Today only at 6:30, at the Castro Theatre, as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

WHY: Yesterday was a full and fulfilling day of SFSFF screenings, all on 35mm prints. I saw a British social drama made in 1928, the same year women under 30 won the right to vote in the UK. Directed by and starring Miles Mander as a slimy would-be MP, The First Born had some parallels to The Pleasure Garden, the directorial debut of Alfred Hitchcock that the festival screened at the Castro last month (and that plays again at the Pacific Film Archive August 21), also starring Mander and written in part by Alma Reville, Hitchcock's creative and marital partner. Only The First Born has a, shall I say, more up-"lift"-ing final reel.

I also revisited Ozu's Tokyo Chorus, which I'd only seen on DVD before; on a big screen with an audience I caught gags, emotional moments and brilliant touches I'd never noticed on home video. I took another look at The Patsy, a showcase for the comic genius of star Marion Davies and of title writer Ralph Spence. With regrets I skipped The Golden Clown, in the hopes of saving strength for today's packed slate of screenings I'm extremely excited for: Allan Dwan's The Half-Breed, which was showcased in enticing clips and stills during yesterday's Amazing Tales from the Archives presentation, for the Club Foot Orchestra/Gamelan Sekar Jaya musical accompaniment for the Bali-wood spectacular Legong: Dance of the Virgins, for my first brush with a Jacques Feyder film (Gribiche), and for G.W. Pabst's The Joyless Street, which gets seen far less frequently than its status in the canon would have one expect.

But although I expect to enjoy all of those presentations of films I've never seen before, my instinct is that The House On Trubnaya Square will likely emerge as my favorite discovery of the day, and perhaps of the entire festival. Most recently I realized it's on one of my favorite of last year's Sight & Sound Greatest Films poll entries, by the excellent scholar/critic May Adadol Ingawanij. I only hope I'm not going in with too high expectations.

HOW: 35mm print from the PFA collection, screened with piano (and, so rumor goes, theremin) accompaniment from Stephen Horne.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tokyo Chorus (1931)

WHO: Yasujiro Ozu directed this.

WHAT: Made the year that Japan's first talking picture was unveiled, this is the ninth of the fully- or partially-extant films Ozu made in his first four years as a director for the Shochiku studio. He actually directed more than double that number during the period, but so much of Japan's silent film heritage is lost that we can only guess from production artifacts and contemporary accounts what, for instance, Ozu's first film as director Sword of Penitence, or his first (according to David Desser) shomin-geki or "common people's drama" film The Life of an Office Worker might be like. 

At any rate, Tokyo Chorus is almost certainly the best-known of these nine early survivors, thanks in large part to Criterion, which selected it along with slightly later films I Was Born, But... and Passing Fancy to include in its Silent Ozu DVD box set. It was a wise choice of film to include in this set (which is overdue for a sequel I might add) because its particular combination of comedy  and social commentary make it probably the ideal option of these early nine (which includes other truly great films like That Night's Wife and I Flunked, But...) to use as an introduction to Ozu, or just to this stage of his career, for a newcomer to his work.

However, it's also true that the more Ozu films you've seen, and the more frequently you've seen them, the more you are likely to get out a viewing of any of his films, Tokyo Chorus included. Veteran Ozu-philes can recognize this film as particularly rich with actors who recur in other Ozu films. Here's a rundown of the cast:

Tokihiko Okada plays the salaryman father at the center of the story. One of Shochiku's most popular stars, he had leading roles in four other Ozu films: That Night's Wife, Young Miss (now lost), The Lady and the Beard, and Beauty's Sorrow (also lost). Of his non-Ozu roles his turn in Kenji Mizoguchi's 1933 The Water Magician is probably his most famous. He died from tuberculosis at age 30 shortly after completing that film.

Emiko Yagumo plays the wife in the family and was in two other Ozu films; she played the titular character in That Night's Wife, opposite Okada, and had a juicy role as a jealous mistress to Takeshi Sakamoto in A Story of Floating Weeds.

Hideo Sugawara plays the son of the above pair, and is pictured at the top of this post. This and I Was Born, But..., where he plays the older brother and instigator of a short-lived but memorable hunger strike, seem to be his largest roles for Ozu, although he also makes a brief appearance in Passing Fancy and was also in at least two films by Ozu's fellow Shochiku director Mikio Naruse: a substantial role in Flunky, Work Hard and a walk-on in Every Night Dreams. Somewhere in my files I have a still of him grown to gangly teenagehood in a 1936 film called The Pick-Pockets' House. His filmography and biography trail off into the unknown after 1940.

Hideko Takamine plays the daughter, also pictured at the top of this post. One of the biggest child stars, teen stars, and ultimately movie stars in Japan until her screen retirement in the 1970s, Takamine worked with many great directors over the years, but was particularly associated with Mikio Naruse and Keisuke Kinoshita. I wrote about one of her signature roles for the latter director, Carmen Comes Home, for Senses of Cinema earlier this year. Takamine only worked with Ozu one more time in her career, however, alongside Kinuyo Tanaka in Ozu's uncharacteristic 1950 film The Munekata Sisters.

Tatsuo Saito plays Okada's mustachioed teacher in Tokyo Chorus. It was his 16th(!) role in an Ozu film, and there would be seven to follow, including, perhaps most memorably, the (clean-shaven) put-upon father of Hideo Sugawara and Tokkan Kozo in I Was Born, But.... Though associated strongly with Ozu, especially in his early silent period, Saito had a long career playing memorable roles for many directors such as Naruse, Kinoshita, Hiroshi Shimizu, and even Jack Cardiff and Richard Brooks.

Choko Iida, who plays the teacher's wife, is another very familiar Ozu face. She's in more than a dozen Ozu films (as well as some Naruses and Kurosawas), often playing a landlady or washerwoman. Her signature roles are probably as the mother in Ozu's first talkie The Only Son, and as the lead in his first post-World War II film The Record of a Tenement Gentleman. In real life Iida was married to Ozu's cinematographer Hideo Mohara.

Reiko Tani plays the president of the company Tokihiko Okada's character works for. He can also be seen in Ozu's Dragnet Girl, Passing Fancy (as a barber) and A Story of the Floating Weeds, among others.

Takashi Sakamoto, finally, has a small role in Tokyo Chorus as an elderly employee at the same company. His old age make-up should not obscure a familiar face from no fewer than twenty-six Ozu films. He's best known for three films in which he plays a rather similar, happy-go-lucky, lead character (but in different enough circumstances that you know they're not really the same person) named Kihachi: these are Passing Fancy, A Story of the Floating Weeds, and An Inn at Tokyo.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens today only at 4:30 at the Castro Theatre as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

WHY: This is the third Japanese feature, and the second by Yasujito Ozu, to screen at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival over its 18-year history. But though the total number is small, the frequency is increasing, thankfully. It was only two years ago that the festival screened Ozu's I Was Born But... in a comparable time slot to this afternoon's. Wait, has it been two years already? Time flies. As you know if you attended Prix de Beauté last night, every festival-goer is given a 108-page program book jam-packed with content about the films, some of their lesser-known stars, the musicians who accompany festival programs, and more. In the past I've contributed essays to these guides when they were smaller and printed on matte rather than glossy paper. My last contributed essay to this publication was for I Was Born, But..., and though I'm glad it's archived on the festival site, I'm just as glad to see that the PFA Library's Jason Sanders contributed the lovely and informative essay on Tokyo Story to this year's guide. For now you'll have to attend the festival to get a copy to read for yourself, but I assure you that Sanders' research is impeccable and his prose style matches the elegance of Ozu far better than mine does. And that's just one of the two dozen or so articles in this handsome souvenir keepsake book. If that doesn't make you want to spring for at least one SFSFF ticket this year I don't know what will.

HOW: Thanks to Carl Martin of the Film On Film Foundation, I now know that not only is Tokyo Chorus screening in 35mm, it's screening from a Janus print "struck in 2003 by Shochiko for Ozu's centennial." Martin has similarly -and more- useful data on every feature film (as in non-DCP) presentation at the festival this year, in case you're one to be interested in the historical provenance of restorations and prints. 

Pianist Günter Buchwald will make his SFSFF debut at this screening. I'm curious to hear how he sounds; accompanying Ozu is not the easiest silent film-music task.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Prix de Beauté (1930)

WHO: Louise Brooks. Is there another name, another face, that more succinctly stands for the silent film era to modern audiences than hers does? Known to but not particularly appreciated by the masses when she was making films, Brooks became the focus of a growing cult starting in the 1950s, an era when looking for treasures in film history began to become an activity more widespread than just at cineclubs and film societies. Robert Farmer has compellingly argued that Brooks in particular began speaking to mid-century audiences because she epitomized a kind of Modernism that it took World War II to create a hunger for, and French critic André Bazin to describe. This doesn't quite explain, however, why interest in Brooks would snowball after decade upon decade.

I think it's because Brooks represents a stance with regard to the Hollywood studio system, and particularly its classic era, that has taken deeper and deeper hold on the cinema-literate as we've obtained greater and greater distance from it. Brooks is not Greta Garbo, who thrived in the silent film industries of Europe and California, and then thrived again in Hollywood once the talking picture came about- so much so that her 1930s films are far better remembered than her 1920s work. She's also not Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd, whose sound pictures (with perhaps a few exceptions in Chaplin's case) critically and commercially pale in comparison their silents, but still represent fairly substantial bodies of work and do not languish in complete obscurity. Brooks is not even Lon Chaney or F.W. Murnau, whose careers ended with the silent era because their lives did, freezing their filmographies at a moment of tragedy that happened to coincide with the technological revolution.

No, the mythology of Louise Brooks is that she was too smart to want real stardom and all that came with it. That she fled the vapid roles she was forced to take in Hollywood to make a few masterpieces (or near-masterpieces) in Germany and France, but refused to come back on the terms the studios and their oversexed bosses demanded, thus sparing herself the abominably compromised life of a top Hollywood actress of the 1930s, allowing the Crawfords, the Harlows, the Davises, to take that role instead.  This narrative could use some fine-tuning, as some of the silents Brooks made in Hollywood (Beggars of Life and A Girl in Every Port in particular, at least) display real artistry from their directors even if they don't center completely around Brooks as Pandora's Box, The Diary of a Lost Girl, and Prix de Beauté  do. And she did take some roles in US talkies in the 1930s. But since they are more frequently dismissed than seen, they disturb her reputation as a rejecter of The System very little.

As celebrated as classic Hollywood is on Turner Classic Movies, at remaining pockets of repertory cinema, and on countless blogs and websites, there lies within even the most ardent fan an ambivalence about the formulas, the censorship, the politics, and the fabrications that lie behind the studio filmmaking of the 1930s through 1950s (and beyond). Louise Brooks, by essentially avoiding association with this period, positioned herself as a figure to be adored in the manner of any other beautiful bygone movie star, but whose adoration doesn't bring forth the same contradictions of complicity in a damaging and inauthentic industrial system that other performers from her generation can evoke.

Brooks's image rests almost completely upon her photographs, her own late-in-life writings on her career and those others she profiled in articles for periodicals like Film Culture and Sight & Sound (some later republished in the book Lulu In Hollywood), and the three films she made not in Europe- particularly Pandora's Box, which has become, almost like The Passion of Joan of Arc for Falconetti, a passport to intense fandom that overshadows desires to become familiar with an actor's other work.

WHAT: Prix de Beauté is the last-made and by far the least-known of Brooks's European trilogy, for a number of reasons. Though it was originally to be directed by René Clair, its production was delayed long enough for Clair to become occupied with another project, and the task fell to Italian director Augusto Genina, whose reputation has never been comparable to that of Clair's or (Pandora's Box director) G. W. Pabst. The Brooks cult of the 1950s can arguably be traced to a German-born critic and archivist then living in Paris, Lotte H. Eisner, who had no reason to mention in her 1952 monograph on German expressionism The Haunted Screen a French production with an Italian director and an American star, even one whose roles for Pabst were discussed substantially.

Probably the largest obstacle to Prix de Beauté's full canonization even among Brooks fans is the problem of version control. Shot as a silent film but ultimately released more widely as an early talkie, with Brooks's dialogue and singing dubbed in by French and Italian women, the film in its most-seen version gives us neither the opportunity to hear its star's authentic voice, nor to imagine it for ourselves in our own minds. It's a compromise almost fatal to audiences not inherently interested in the processes of early sound-film production, and perhaps especially for Brooks obsessives. However, a silent version that was released to certain unwired-for-sound 1930 cinemas, has survived to be praised by Kevin Brownlow as superior, and digitally reconstructed from available film materials by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna. A perceptive viewer of the sound version may notice that what little dialogue there is is for the most part extraneous to the plot, and sense that Prix de Beauté is truly in essence a silent film no matter how it has been more frequently viewed over the years.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Castro Theatre at 7:00 PM, as the opening film in the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

WHY: The SFSFF runs through Sunday at the Castro, and has as ambitious a program as ever, impressive considering it was only a little over a month ago that the organization hosted a weekend of Alfred Hitchcock silents at the venue. If you missed that, the Pacific Film Archive reprises all titles in August, and Davies Symphony Hall will screen his The Lodger this October. Tickets for the latter go on sale Monday along with other film-concert tickets (including a sure-to-go-fast John Williams gig).

The stalwart David Hudson has collected many of the best preview pieces anticipating this weekend's silent extravaganza, but I'd like to make particular mention of Michael Guillén's post documenting the verbal portion of a 2006 PFA event at which animation director and scholar John Canemaker dazzled a captive audience (including me) with his demonstration of the films of Winsor McCay and discussion of how they were created, how they were presented to the public in their day, and how they fit in with McCay's also-groundbreaking and brilliant work as a newspaper comic strip artist. There's nothing like learning about this with Canemaker's presence and his collected images there to visually teach us, so it's wonderful that the SFSFF is bringing him back this Saturday morning to present (and perhaps update with further research?) his multimedia show. Unless a surprise announcement is in the works, this event seems to be (though it is not being promoted as such) the equivalent of the SFSFF's annual "directors pick", which has in past years brought modern-day luminaries like Guy Maddin, Terry Zwgoff, Pete Docter, Alexander Payne, and Philip Kaufman to introduce and contextualize screenings of 1920s films. Canemaker, though not as widely-known as the above names, makes a fine addition to this tradition.

Louise Brooks fans should not want to miss other programs in this year's festival. If Prix de Beauté is a fine example of Brooks after Pabst (though he contributed to the scenario, he was not an on-set molder of the film), then Saturday night's screening of The Joyless Street is Pabst before Brooks. Instead there is Garbo, as well as Asta Nielsen Werner Krauss. I have not seen this film which did so much to build the reputations of Pabst and Garbo in particular. Surely Pandora's Box could not have been made without it having come first.

Of the figures Brooks profiled in her own articles, Pabst and Garbo were among the first, but she went on to write about Chaplin, Keaton, Marion Davies (in an article focused on her niece Pepi Lederer, a friend of Brooks who met a tragic end), and a number of other silent and early sound movie fixtures. Chaplin and Keaton appear at the SFSFF this year too, joining Felix the Cat and Charley Chase in the Kings of (Silent) Comedy program. Davies appears too, in the comic The Patsy tomorrow night, perhaps the most likely film to satisfy confirmed silent movie fans and win converts among uninitiates among any in the entire program. Although this is admittedly a dangerous claim in a program so packed with enticing programs. I plan to be there for just about all of them.

HOW: Prix de Beauté screens as a DCP presentation with live accompaniment by pianist Stephen Horne, who was recently interviewed about his process for the Louise Brooks Society.