Monday, September 30, 2013

On The Job (2013)

WHO: Erik Matti directed and co-wrote this.

WHAT: Scott Tobias wrote an on-point review of this, though I take issue with his calling it a "Hong Kong-style thriller"; though Matti surely is familiar with the works of Johnnie To, etc, both his action set-pieces and his expository domestic scenes have elements that feel distinctly South-East Asian.

WHERE/WHEN: Multiple showtimes daily at least through Thursday at the Metreon in San Francisco and a handful of other cinemas in Frisco Bay cities (Richmond, San Bruno, Union City and Milpitas).

WHY: Although the Metreon and other mall theatres where this is playing tend to let Hollywood fare monopolize their many screens, they sometimes bring in pop cinema from (usually) Asian countries as well. Right now, along with On The Job the Metreon is also screening Tsui Hark's latest action film Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon.

HOW: DCP presentation of a digitally-shot movie.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Street Angel (1937)

WHO: Yuan Muzhi wrote and directed this.

WHAT: I haven't seen this frequently-hailed landmark of 1930s Chinese cinema, but have been wanting to at least since Andrew Grant a.k.a. Filmbrain wrote an enticing review of it.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive at 5:30.

WHY: The last two films in Yang Fudong's Cinematic Influences look at cinema made in Yang's adopted city of Shanghai, including Street Angel from the 1930s when it was the greatest center of Chinese-language filmmaking, and Suzhou River, from the city's resurgence.

Other cities that have made an argument for being the international capital of great Chinese-languge filmmaking at various points in time include Hong Kong and Taipei. Both of them are highlighted at upcoming San Francisco Film Society-presented showcases this fall: Hong Kong Cinema next weekend and Taiwan Film Days this fall.

HOW: Screens as a 35mm print imported from the China Film Archive.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hand Held Day (1975)

WHO: Gary Beydler made this film.

WHAT: A lovely little time-lapse short film that invites us to observe nature in a unique way. Max Goldberg wrote a wonderful article about Beydler and his films (including this one) in 2010.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Exploratorium on a program playing at noon and 2:00.

WHY: Today is the Exploratorium Fog Festival, a day-long event featuring films, music, and a talk by Sam Green, who premieres a new performance at the museum this coming Wednesday and Thursday nights. These shows kick off a robust October for the Exploratorium's Cinema Arts Program, which runs films each Saturday but also has evening screenings devoted to local filmmakers Ken Paul Rosenthal and Paul Clipson, a showing of the documentary The Institute, and a program of Croatian animation this month.

HOW: Hand Held Day screens in 16mm on a program also including films by Michael Rudnick, Mark McGowan, and Simon Christen, the latter of whom will be on hand for the screenings.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Absent Stone (2013)

WHO: Sandra Rozental and Jesse Lerner co-directed this.

WHAT: A documentary about a giant stone carving, moved from a town on the outskirts of Mexico City to a museum in the city center in 1964. Ever since, residents of the town have felt the stone's absence has caused droughts, etc. This is from the film's website; I have not found any reviews in the English language.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the DeYoung Museum's Koret Auditorium at 6:30.

WHY: In addition to an opportunity to check out a rarely-utilized screening space, whose extreme rake makes it one of the best in the city in terms of sight lines, this is the last screening of the CINE+MAS Latino Film Festival. More film festivals are running this weekend; the Iranian Film Festival includes a film with an Abbas Kiarostami screenplay, as well as fests in Oakland and Sonoma County. Best of all, tonight's screening is free.

HOW: I believe the Koret is only equipped to project digitally.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

way (2012)

WHO: Directed by Konrad Steiner in collaboration with Oakland poet Leslie Scalapino before she died in 2010.

WHAT: I have not seen this, at least not in full (segments have been projected on video at previous screening events, but tonight is the first chance for us to see the complete film on 35mm.) but Jonathan Kiefer has and wrote a brief blurb on it earlier this month.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at 6:30 and 8:00 PM.

WHY: Part of a Local Boy Makes Good focus on local premieres of works by Frisco Bay filmmakers, ending this Sunday. Have I mentioned that Andrei Tarkovsky' Nostalghia is screening in 35mm at YBCA next week? Then the Fassbinder series, Phil Solomon, etc.

HOW: way screens in 35mm.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mikey and Nicky (1976)

WHO: Elaine May wrote and directed this.

WHAT: The one film in May's career as a writer and/or director that is not a comedy, it was apparently based on an incident that happened to a family member. Alt Screen rounded up critical takes when the film played in New York 2 years ago.

WHERE/WHEN: Today at the Castro Theatre at 4:40 and 9:10.

WHY: New October calendar for the Castro just came out, with hints of November peeking through the curtain. Last night the venue played a trailer to Moonrise Kingdom between L'Avventura and Red Desert, so we might expect the Wes Anderson pairing November 3rd to be extended to more films that month.

HOW: Mikey and Nicky screens on a 35mm double-bill with Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

L'Avventura (1960)

WHO: Michaelangelo Antonioni directed this.

WHAT: One of the top ten films of all time according to 43 critics and 14 directors polled last year; only 20 films got more such votes from critics and only 29 got more from directors.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens today only at 2:00 and 7:00 at the Castro Theatre

WHY: Support Tuesday screenings at the Castro; so far only next week's 35mm Elmore Leonard tribute has been announced for an October Tuesday.

HOW: 35mm on a double-bill with Antonioni's Red Desert.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Wadjda (2012)

WHO: Haifaa al-Mansour wrote and directed this

WHAT: The trailer calls it "the first film ever shot in Saudi Arabia", which seemed hard for be to believe. Further research into that national cinema indicates it should be billed as the first feature-length, non-documentary film shot there with an all-Saudi cast.

WHERE/WHEN: Five showtimes daily through (at least) this Thursday at the Opera Plaza.

WHY: There are still some independently-distributed films being released on 35mm prints. currently three out of four films at the Opera Plaza are being shown that way (the odd one out is Jem Cohen's Museum Hours).

HOW: 35mm.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Gospel According To St. Matthew (1964)

WHO: Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote and directed this.

WHAT: Michael Guillén has created a detailed critical overview devoted to this film, certainly the Pasolini film I'm most remiss in not having viewed yet.

WHERE/WHEN: 5PM today only at the Pacific Film Archive.

WHY; With Teorema the most famous film in the PFA's full 35mm Pasolini retrospective, that did not screen last weekend in San Francisco

HOW: New 35mm print.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Stop Making Sense (1984)

WHO: Jonathan Demme directed.

WHAT: Excellent review of what may still be the greatest-ever concert film, featuring the Talking Heads.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight at 10:00 at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: Part of an all-day Jonathan Demme tribute at the venue.

HOW: 35mm, on a double-bill with Demme's Swimming To Cambodia.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Cutaways of Jiang Chun Gen—Forward and Back Again (2013)

WHO: James T. Hong

WHAT: The Taipei Times covered a relatively recent screening of this 10-minute, wordless documentary on the effects of biological warfare.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens on a program starting at 7:30 PM at Artists' Television Access

WHY: Hard launch of SF Cinematheque fall season. Other screenings presented over the next months at various venues; presence of an asterisk (*) means I've seen and can recommend at least one film on the given program:

Ken Paul Rosenthal in person October 8th*.
Phil Solomon in person October 16th & 19th.
An evening of films by Stan Brakhage, Jeannie Liotta, Paul Sharits, Su Friedrich, etc. October 17th*.
Thomas Imbach's Day Is Done October 20th.
Abigail Child in person October 30 & November 1.
Laida Lertxundi presenting her own work along with that of Harun Farocki and others November 10th*.
Standish Lawder in person November 13th.
Nicolas Rey in person, screening his anders, Mollusien November 29th.
Alex MacKenzie in person with performance-based films December 11th.

HOW: Cutaways of Jiang Chun Gen—Forward and Back Again is a video work and will be a video presentation, with James Hong present in person.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Gomorrah (2008)

WHO: Matteo Garrone directed. operated the camera, and co-adapted the screenplay from Roberto Saviano's best-selling exposé of the Neapolitan mafia (the Camorra).

WHAT: Don't think it's possible to sum up more succinctly than Fabrizio Cilento does when he calls it "between neo-realism and neo-noir".

WHERE/WHEN: 8:45 tonight at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: Strangely appropriate booking in between the Pier Paolo Pasolini films in San Francisco last weekend, and the series opening in Berkeley tomorrow starting with the late master's most neo-realist work Accatone.

HOW: Gomorrah screens in 35mm on a double-bill with 1951 Italian neo-realist classic Umberto D.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Our Nixon (2013)

WHO: Penny Lane directed and co-produced.

WHAT: Documentary with images culled from home movies taken by Presidential aides. Interesting article highlighting my favorite moment in the film.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight and tomorrow only at the Roxie at 7:00 and 8:45.

WHY: If you like seeing home movies on the big screen. See also this and this.

HOW: Screens digitally, as no distribution prints have been struck.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

WHO: Humphrey Bogart stars in this.

WHAT: If you go to the corner of Bush Street and Burritt Alley, you'll find a plaque that reads: "On approximately this spot Miles Archer, partner of Sam Spade, was done in by Brigid O'Shaunghnessy". It must be the only plaque in San Francisco that memorializes not a historical event, but a key moment in fiction, namely the Dashiell Hammett detective novel template known as The Maltese Falcon. At least, the only one that bears no indication of its fictionhood, or that it constitutes a "spoiler" for anyone who might not have read the book or watched one of the movie versions made from it. Such as the 1941 version written and directed by John Huston.

Other versions (the 1931 one sometimes called Dangerous Female, or the 1936 Satan Met a Lady) have their points of interest, but the 1941 The Maltese Falcon is the one that became a cultural sensation and launched (with High Sierra) Humphrey Bogart's career as a leading man, Huston's as a director, and film noir as a powerful cinematic thread through the 1940s, 50s and beyond. San Francisco movie lovers are proud that their city plays such a key role in such a key film in such a key genre of Hollywood filmmaking, even if they know that apart from a few library-footage shots of the Bay Bridge and the city skyline, Huston's film does not feature actual footage of their city. As Nicola Balkind wrote in the recently-published book World Film Locations: San Francisco:
The camera descends and we are introduced to an office announcing 'SPADE AND ARCHER' where Sam Spade is working as the Bay Bridge gleams through a large window. The office interior was shot in LA but the location is estimated to be 111 Sutter Street at the corner of Montgomery in the heart of the Financial District - not far from neo-noir's favorite location: Chinatown. Although The Maltese Falcon was made in Hollywood, we're never allowed to forget it is set in San Francisco.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens daily at the Stanford Theatre at 5:40 and 9:25.

WHY: World Film Locations: San Francisco is starting to get a few reviews, such as this one in the Bay Area Reporter. It's available online and at stores such as City Lights, Moe's and even the DeYoung Museum gift shop. I'm proud to have contributed an essay on film noir in the city for the book, in which I quickly trace film noir history from Hammett and Huston to Otto Preminger's Fallen Angel and Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past, to the post-war vogue for on-location shooting and into the ways noir was transformed in the mid-to-late fifties and ultimately found expression in the still-vibrant neo-noir genre.

That's just two pages of the book's 1928, however, most of which are devoted to individual films from the silent era to relatively recent history (Steven Soderbergh's 2011 Contagion being the most current entry). Forty-six films are matched with forty-six of their most iconic San Francisco locations and presented fully-illustrated and even mapped. The pages for Greed show us the Cliff House in 1924 and today, while The Conversation is represented by One Maritime Plaza and Raiders of the Lost Ark is an excuse to show us City Hall, for example. 

San Francisco moviegoers can hardly get enough of seeing our own city on cinema screens, and there are many opportunities to do so in the coming months. The Stanford's current "Best of Bogart and Film Noir Classics" series gives us one almost every weekend in late September and October. After The Maltese Falcon this week, the venue brings Out of the Past (with the Caribbean-set To Have and Have Not) September 26-29, and Dark Passage (Oct. 10-13 with The Blue Dahlia), The Lady From Shanghai (Oct. 24-27 with Key Largo) and The Caine Mutiny (Oct. 31-Nov. 3 with Touch of Evil) each have their own entries in World Film Locations: San Francisco as well.

Two of the three features playing at Oakland's Paramount Theatre as part of its fall movie classics series are also featured in the book: Bullitt, which screens this Friday, and All About Eve, which was set in New York and Connecticut but had a key scene shot at San Francisco's Curran Theatre, screens there October 15th. (The third Paramount movie classic this fall is Huston and Bogart's Uganda-shot adventure film The African Queen on November 18th). Both of the films screening at the Pacific Film Archive's free outdoor movie series in the coming weeks also get WFL:SF entries: Harold and Maude and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And Vertigo (of course also in the book) screens November 1st at Davies Symphony Hall, with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performing Bernard Herrmann's incredible musical score live.

Perhaps the most unexpected upcoming showcase of Frisco Bay films comes courtesy the San Francisco Film Society, which is hosting at New People Cinema October 18-20 an event called Zurich/SF, which is a cinematic celebration of the ten-year anniversary of San Francisco's sister-city partnership with Switzerland's largest city. This mini-festival collaborates with the Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective coming to the PFA, YBCA and Roxie this fall to plug the Autumn's German-language cinematic gap caused by the Berlin & Beyond festival's move back to a January timeslot after a few years having a go in the Fall, by showing films such as Kurt Früh's rarely-seen The Fall and Andrea Štaka's Fraulein (both in 35mm) as well as five other films by Swiss filmmakers. But it also brings four showings of films in which San Francisco is more than mere backdrop to action but a major element of character and theme. Of these, The Conversation and The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (the latter of which will screen on 35mm) merit entries in WFL:SF, while Medicine For Melancholy is discussed in one of the other contextualizing essays in the book. As for 1970s buddy-cop oddity Freebie and the Bean, it will have to wait and see if sales on the book merit a sequel.

HOW: The Maltese Falcon screens on a 35mm double bill with Casablanca.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Premonition (1995)

WHO: Dominic Angerame made this short film.

WHAT: The completion of the new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge finally finishes the major roadway reconstruction of damage incurred during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, nearly a quarter-century after the event. With an empty span sitting there awaiting demolition, my mind turns back to Angerame's Premonition, which documented another quake-damaged structure, the Embarcadero Freeway, before its destruction. Eerie images of empty lanes of highway accompanied by an industrial soundscape makes for an almost post-apocalyptic feeling to this ten minute film made on the same stretch of pavement that has been used in Frisco films starting with The Lineup and continuing with the likes of Bullitt, The Killer Elite and Time After Time.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only on a program starting at 7:00 at the Emerald Tablet, a North Beach venue I've never attended (or, frankly, heard of) before.

WHY: This is the second of two nights of screenings of Angerame's films. I regret finding out about last week's screening too late to share with readers, or to make time to attend myself. But tonight's includes more films I've seen and can recommend. In addition to Premonition there's Deconstruction Sight, Angerame's 1990 predecessor in the "City Symphony" series, and 1997's follow-up In The Course Of Human Events, which documents the tearing down of the Embarcadero Freeway. I haven't seen the first or fifth pieces in the series, Continuum or Line of Fire, but I understand they make for a coherent cycle when shown together. And though I also haven't seen the 2013 video revision being shown tonight, his 2010 film The Soul of Things fits with the others in the series, and is a cinematographic marvel worth making Angerame an honorary modern-day member of Dziga Vertov's troupe of "Kino-Eye" photographers.

HOW: Premonition screens in 16mm along with four other 16mm shorts and two video works.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Arabian Nights (1974)

WHO:Pier Paolo Pasolini directed this.

WHAT: My favorite Pasolini film, the final film in his joyfully sexual adaptations of medieval story-cycles known as the "Trilogy of Life". One does not need to see them in order of course, but as Tony Rayns points out in a video essay for the Criterion DVD release of the trio, Arabian Nights is not marked by the religious undercurrent of The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales. Pasolini was Catholic and seemingly found it more liberating to work with stories set apart from that framework, which may be related to his decision to eschew a central narrator figure (he himself played Giotto and Chaucer in the first two films). As Dennis Harvey recently wrote, the third is "a gorgeously melancholic, serpentine lineup of seriocomic stories-within-stories."

WHERE/WHEN: Screens today at the Roxie Theatre and Sunday, October 27th at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

WHY: Seeing The Decameron on the Castro screen last night with a healthy audience was a pure delight. It's the kind of film that makes you walk away feeling great affection for cinema as a storytelling medium connected to the tale-telling that has meant so much to our species for centuries and millenia before the camera was invented. As I recall from my last full viewing, Arabian Nights is much the same and even more inspiring because it's an effort to pull away from a Eurocentric viewpoint. (The film was shot in Yemen, Nepal, and Iran as well as Italy, and the cast is multiracial.)

Even if you don't intend to make take advantage of this Fall's Pasolini-immersion possibilities (today three of his films play at the Roxie, and his full ouevre comes to the PFA starting Friday), a chance to see Arabian Nights in 35mm should not be missed. As I noted last month, Arabian Nights fits snugly into a possible Fall exploration of films that were rated 'X' at a time when that letter didn't strictly signify pornography. In that prior post I listed six at-one-time-so-rated titles planned to screen at the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts later this year, and I've been informed they will be joined by two others, also to screen in 35mm prints: John Waters' Pink Flamingos on December 14th and Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer on November 9th. 

HOW: Arabian Nights will screen in a 35mm print, and will screen with a Q&A session between actor Ninetto Davoli and Pasolini biographer Barth David Schwartz.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Medea (1969)

 WHO: Pier Paolo Pasolini directed this.

WHAT: Given that it is the only feature film in cinema history to feature an acting performance by opera legend Maria Callas, it may be odd that Medea was directed by an avowed opera non-fan such as Pasolini. But according to the author of the biography Pasolini Requiem, Barth David Schwartz, the two were perfectly in sync in not wanting to use Callas as a singing diva, but as a forceful and beautiful visual presence. Conflicts in stylistic approaches were soon smoothed over, as Schwartz writes:
Consistent with his style from the time of Accatone, Pasolini wanted to shoot Callas' face in long, slow close-up. She was used to the opera audience at a distance and begged him not to. He won. She might have been convinced to sing at some length. He asked only that she sing a short lullaby, in Greek, to Medea's baby son. She agreed but asked that it be omitted when she saw the rushes with sound track.
Music lovers might be disappointed with a Medea starring Maria Callas but not her singing voice. But Pasolini chose wonderfully striking recordings made around the world to create a haunting musical soundtrack for his mythic tale. Tibetan Mahakala chanting, a Bulgarian womens' choir, Persian santoor music, and (I think) Indonesian Kecak chants are among the borrowings made by Pasolini, complimenting the Spanish and Mexican-influenced costuming and the film locations in Syria, Turkey and Italy to reclaim Medea as not merely a Greek myth but a global one.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight at the Castro Theatre and at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley on Saturday, October 12th.

WHY: Although a 4:00 separate-admission showing Mamma Roma precedes it, this evening's screening of Medea is being called the "Opening Night Film" in a two day celebration of Pasolini at the Castro (which is also hosting a party and a 9:30 screening of The Decameron) and the Roxie (which tomorrow shows the last three films directed by the Marxist, gay, communist before his tragic and controversial 1975 death), and a large-scale prelude to the full Pasolini series starting at Pacific Film Archive this Friday and running through the end of October.

Complete retrospectives of major filmmakers have become rare in the Bay Area, even at the PFA, so this weekend celebration is worth the attention, and all the new articles and overviews written on Pasolini and linked by David Hudson today. As he says, Major stuff.

HOW: Medea, and nearly everything else playing in the Pasolini season, is screening from a 35mm print. At the Castro it will be introduced by frequent Pasolini actor Ninetto Davoli, as will most of this weekend's screenings.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Scanners (1981)

WHO: David Cronenberg wrote and directed this.

WHAT: Sandwiched between the ripe-for-analysis The Brood and Videodrome in Cronenberg's career, Scanners today seems like a comparatively overlooked entity in the Canadian filmmaker's mid-career period of rising budgets, increasing international exposure, and deepening intellectual approach to genre filmmaking. Everyone remembers the opening and closing scenes in this film about telekinetic combat between warring corporate and underground factions, but rarely are the rest of the film's plot details, or its aesthetic strategies, discussed at any length. One essay that delves into a particularly neglected example of the latter is Paul Theberge's Cronenberg-focused chapter of Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema. Here's an excerpt:
the most significant uses of electronic sounds take place in relation to the theme of telepathic power: as this power is essentially invisible, Cronenberg must turn to sound in order to make it manifest. Indeed, it is through sound that the scanning power is not only made manifest but, also, given th kind of physical intensity that justifies its enormous effects on other individuals and on the external world. Typically, the sound of the scanning tones (derived from raw oscillator sounds and other effects associated with the 'classic; electronic studio of the 1950s and 1960s) increases in intensity until its power is suddenly unleashed and its effects made visible in the cinematic image
WHERE/WHEN: Screens at 9:30 tonight only at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: With new retrospectives, film series, and film festivals being announced an an almost daily basis, we're now entering what must be the busiest couple months for Frisco Bay cinephilia. From now until Thanksgiving we can expect a bare minimum of one film festival running every weekend. It's about enough to make your head explode.

Another strand of cinephilia over the next month and a half is the annual procession of horror films programmed to get us in the mood for Halloween. What better a day than Friday the 13th to mark the unofficial launch of this particularly welcome programming thread. The Castro is a favored venue for gatherings of scary movie lovers, and is doing a great job getting us prepared for the spooky season. After tonight's Scanners screening there's a brilliant double-bill of the art-horror classic Carnival of Souls with the creepy (but not normally thought of as horror per se) Last Year in Marienbad this Sunday, Burnt Offerings and the "Amelia" segment of the made-for-TV Trilogy of Terror as part of a tribute to the recently-deceased Karen Black on September 18th, a pairing of The Shining with The Changeling September 27th, and a day of digital 3-D versions of the two most famous 50s-era 3-D horror films House of Wax and Creature From the Black Lagoon, along with a matinee screening of the 2008 documentary Watch Horror Films -- Keep America Strong

That's September 29th, but Castro's October horror programming has also been partially revealed on its website, including a new restoration of The Wicker Man October 4-5, an Isabelle Adjani (at her palest) show of Nosteratu the Vampyre and Possession October 6, Psycho (with Marnie) October 13,  Alien (with Dark Star) on the 23rd, and an early 1980s werewolf duo of Joe Dante's The Howling and John Landis's American Werewolf In London. Elegantly capping the month on Friday November 1st is a disturbingly amazing double-bill of what are probably Cronenberg's scariest films The Fly and Dead Ringers.  

The MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS website has not been updated to reflect the rumors that its October 18th Castro show will involve a pair of horror movies famously frightening for what's *not* seen on-screen, or that after its Castro screenings of Can't Hardly Wait and Rules of Attraction next Friday, September 20th, the MANiACS will be crawling to the Roxie for a very rare 35mm showing of Ted Nicolaou's dementedly Cronenberg-esque Terrorvision. There's not much else horror-related on the Roxie's latest printed calendar, except for the Film On Film Foundation's presentation of The Witch Who Came From the Sea, a 1970s exploitation rarity that involves more psychosexual melodrama than straight-up horror. It (along with another Matt Cimber-directed film called Lady Cocoa) constitutes the first FOFF presentation in over two years, and is thus a welcome return for the organization (which has dutifully maintained the ever-useful Bay Area Film Calendar in the meantime). 

I hesitate to mention Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, screening at the Roxie this Sunday, because although it is sometimes grouped with horror films because of its extremely disturbing imagery and the horrific situations it depicts, approaching the film as some kind of a forerunner to 21st Century "torture porn" horror movie rather than as the expressly political work it is, does no favors to Pasolini or to the audience watching it. The Pacific Film Archive is screening it on October 31, which seems more appropriate because it makes it the last film of the venue's roughly-chronological September-October retrospective, than because it makes for an ideal Halloween activity. The more other Pasolini films you can see before watching Salò, the better, in my book. In fact, I think it should be all-but required for a first-time Salò viewer to have seen at least one film of the director's "Trilogy of Life" (The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nightsbefore viewing his last and bleakest film. If you're a Pasolini virgin planning to see Salò at the Roxie Sunday, please make an effort to watch one of his other films playing at the Castro or Roxie this weekend before you do, or you may get a very mistaken impression of the filmmaker and the meaning of his swan song. The PFA's Pasolini chronology is a highly-recommended one.

The only real horror title on the current PFA calendar is not playing at the theatre at all, but is an outdoor showing of Phillip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers in downtown Berkeley. Other upcoming East Bay horror and horror-related screenings include the "Monster In Our Shorts" program at the Oakland Underground Film Festival, most of the digitally-projected classics announced to play the New Parkway in late September and October, and most of the 16mm programs screening at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum on October, including the German expressionist Waxworks, and the early spook-house movie The Cat and The Canary. Even the 'Rex' the Wonder Horse film playing at Niles October 5th has a spooky title: The Devil Horse.

HOW: Scanners screens in 35mm tonight as part two of an SFMOMA-presented double bill with The Manchurian Candidate.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

To Live And Die In L.A. (1985)

WHO: William Friedkin directed and co-wrote this film.

WHAT: Most people I know cite The Exorcist and/or The French Connection as their favorite Friedkin films, but I prefer a couple of films he made slightly later in his career, including this 1985 thriller featuring terrific performances from William Peterson, John Pankow and Willem Dafoe, and one of the impactful finishes to a Hollywood film of its era, if not ever. And an incredible chase sequence. As Michael Crowley wrote on the film,
It may seem at first that Friedkin is merely trying to outdo the chase sequence in The French Connection. But the car chase in To Live and Die in L.A. is utterly unique and superior in many respects to its predecessor.
The sequence that opens with the arrival of "Thomas Ling" at Union station and transforms gradually into the chase is the bedrock of the film. Everything that comes before leads towards it, and all that follows is the inevitable consequence. Many of the film's ambitions are realized in this sequence—its themes are crystallized and conveyed visually, intellectually and emotionally. The geographic and narrative incoherence that may confuse or annoy viewers the first time they see it, over time, become its defining feature.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive at 7:00 PM.

WHY: With the publication of yesterday's SF Chronicle article on the PFA's 6-film Friedkin series, tickets are starting to go fast, especially for the in-person appearances on Thursday, Sep. 19 & 21. I purchased my ticket to the screening of Sorcerer yesterday, but who knows how much longer they'll be available? Friedkin is well-known as an entertaining raconteur with an edge, and pent-up demand to see that particular film on the big screen is pretty large, as it's never been available on DVD and has screened in cinemas very infrequently since it's original, poorly-recieved release (though there was a special San Jose screening I was unable to attend this past Spring).

To Live And Die In L.A. was a hit on first release, however, and has actually already screened in San Francisco twice in the past year. The San Francisco International Film Festival screened it digitally earlier this year and Elliot Lavine included a 35mm print of it in his third annual Not Necessarily Noir series last October. (No sign of a fourth edition of this series on the latest Roxie calendar, I'm sad to note.) But I find it's always good to view great films in context with other films by the same director, so seeing my favorite Friedkin films Sorcerer and To Live and Die In L.A. in such close succession, possibly along with other films he made (I'm thinking of checking out the one title in the series I've never seen before, The Boys In The Band, this coming Sunday), should make their resonance build upon each other.

Interestingly, Friedkin's opinion on another famous car chase movie was part of yesterday's Chronicle article: 
"Bullitt is the best cop film I've ever seen," Friedkin said. "I probably watch it five times a year. But not the chase. I like it, but I don't think it's great. What they did was clear the streets and send the cars over the hills. No people in danger."
Bullitt will screen next Friday at the Paramount in Oakland, kicking off a three-film fall season. It's a great opportunity for East Bay audiences to see multiple contenders for "greatest chase scene of all time" on the big screen in a short period of time. If only Friedkin's San Francisco-set Jade, which has what the director has called "the best chase scene I’ve ever shot" was part of the PFA series.

HOW: To Live And Die In L.A. screens via a 35mm print.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Conjuror's Box (2011)

WHO: Kerry Laitala made this short film. She and I have been dating for a couple of years now; she was already a well-established experimental film and video artist before we met at a film festival in 2011. If you find my use of this blog as a promotional platform for my girlfriend's work objectionable or compromised in anyway. you can pretend I wrote instead about Abel Ferrara's Dangerous Game, which is screening at the Castro today. (I haven't seen it, and its double-bill-mate The Canyons is one of the worst new films I've seen all year.) Otherwise, read on!

WHAT: Conjuror's Box is a 35mm work of hand-made cinema, the latest in Laitala's series of films entitled the "Muse of Cinema" films, inspired by the silent era and pre-cinematic projection technologies and artifacts. In the artist's own words, it's "in effect a memento mori to the celluloid medium" as 35mm film becomes increasingly expensive for artists to work with and rare for most venues to project. Still, Conjuror's Box has screened in 35mm at several festivals and venues around the world, including at the San Francisco International Film Festival this past April and May. It was on the occasion of its screening there that the Film On Film Foundation's Carl Martin saw and briefly reviewed the film. He wrote that Conjuror's Box
uses an amalgam of techniques in its evocation of the shadowy beginnings of cinema. Sinuous abstractions (and a few recognizable objects) are photogrammed directly onto a filmstrip, then step-printed to introduce variations in tempo and bring emphasis to certain chance formations, as Stan Brakhage did with some of his hand-painted films. The striking colors of these photograms led me briefly to wonder what they would look like through the chroma-depth glasses used to view Laitala's video works, but there was already so much apparent depth to the image that it wouldn't be worth hazarding its filmic texture. Conjuror's Box is soon augmented with fanciful images suggestive of magic lantern slides (that is perhaps what they are) inserted into the masked-off center of the frame, while in the periphery the film roils on as before. 
WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, on a program starting at 7:00.

WHY: Last week I wrote about the PFA's weekly Wednesday Alternative Visions programming, and mentioned some of the animators who are expected to be at tonight's screening showing their new work, but I'll re-iterate: Lawrence Jordan with his Solar Sight II, James Sansing with his haunting Verses, and Stacey Steers with her Night Hunter will be on hand for audience interaction, as well as Laitala.

Since last week's post, I've learned about more experimental film screenings that might be of interest to anyone thinking of attending the PFA tonight. Tomorrow night Artists' Television Access hosts formerly local filmmaker Brian Frye for a screening of a number of his shorts; the next day he'll be at the Roxie to introduce a screening of the found-footage documentary he produced Our Nixon. The SF Cinematheque Fall calendar has also been revealed, and will include appearances by filmmakers like James T. Hong, Laida Lertxundi, Standish Lawder and Nicolas Rey among others, at venues like A.T.A, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Exploratorium and others.

HOW: Conjuror's Box and Verses screen in 35mm, while Solar Sight II and Jodie Mack's Point de Gaze screen in 16mm, and the other works in the program screen digitally.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Thérèse (2012)

WHO: Starring Audrey Tautou, this was the last film directed by Claude Miller before his death last year, and it features cinematography by Gérard de Battista.

WHAT: Here's a case in which another critic has written such a thorough review of a film, contextualizing it within French cinema history and insightfully identifying its strengths and limitations, that to do much more than link would seem extraneous. Without further ado, please read Julian Allen, or at least this excerpt:
Miller, aware of the audience’s expectations, opts for a more robust, risky, and modern view of Thérèse’s personality. The implication is that even if you don’t agree with or even like Thérèse, her oppression is symbolically unconscionable. In this respect at least, the film wins its bet. The final sequence, like the novel, shows Bernard battling to understand her still, but she gives us no easy reasons because she does not have them herself—she is left alone, free from the social constraints of her past life, but still in hock to her own impulsive and rebellious nature.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens multiple showtimes daily today through Thursday at the Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

WHY: Thérèse is the kind of film that once populated Frisco Bay cinema screens en masse but now has become rare enough almost to become a major event: a foreign film with a literary pedigree, a familiar (if not exactly box office gold) star, and a lack of "hip" or "high art" pretensions of any sort. It's the kind of film whose existence on American screens owes a debt of thanks to the film festival circuit, where publicity and word-of-mouth have a better chance to build than if the film simply opened cold for a week-long run. When I attended there weren't so many fellow theatregoers, but it at least posted solid enough numbers its first week at the Opera Plaza to be held over for a second. A third appears unlikely, as a brand new calendar (pdf) is coming onto Landmark's San Francisco screens (essentially the Opera Plaza, as the Clay usually books higher-profile titles and the Embarcadero is expected to remain closed for remodeling until November).

Of the nine titles on this week-by-week calendar, three (Populaire, Museum Hours and Let the Fire Burn) arrive, like Thérèse, after successful showing at the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival. A fourth, The Trials of Muhammad Ali, was one of the most widely-appreciated titles at the SF Jewish Film Festival. And a fifth, Zaytoun, (quite possibly the most currently topical of the bunch, as it's a Middle-Eastern war-set drama directed by Eran Riklis, who made the terrific The Syrian Bride) arrives October 18th after two screenings on the final two days of the upcoming Mill Valley Film Festival, which runs October 3-13 in cinemas all throughout Marin County.

You may have noted that my sidebar has exploded with links to upcoming film festivals beginning this weekend after a relatively slow late summer. The most established and most widely anticipated of them is the Mill Valley Film Festival, which announced its full program at a press conference this morning (that thankfully didn't include any poorly-presented preview clips- perhaps someone read my comment on that last year?). Now in its 36th year, MVFF has become best-known as the Northern California launch pad for Oscar-seeking Fall and Winter releases hot from their continental debuts in Colorado and Ontario. This year is no exception; if you haven't heard the "buzz" yet on titles like Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is The Warmest Color or Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave let this be your first warning: you'll be hearing about these films a lot unless you hide under a rock in the next few months. Both are slated to play MVFF this year along with other films whose distributors have a budget to try to push them into the various year-end "Best of 2013" conversations. The Marin festival doesn't shy away from playing up its possible role in these conversations; press materials note that four of the last five Best Picture Oscar winners (all but The Hurt Lockerhad their Frisco Bay debuts in front MVFF audiences.

But with over a hundred features and shorts in the festival line-up, most of the titles in the program have little or no chance at joining Argo, The Artist, The King's Speech and Slumdog Millionaire in future almanacs the world over. There's plenty of moviegoing available for fest-goers interested in avoiding "Oscarbaition" (to re-use a term I applied last year), whether they're interested in fiercely independent voices like MVFF regular Rob Nilsson (here with his new Collapse, while his first feature Northern Lights screens at the PFA November 7th) or aesthetically innovative documentarians like Rithy Panh (whose Khmer Rouge miniature piece The Missing Picture should be a festival highlight), or rediscoveries and retrospective titles like Roger Christian's long-lost Star Wars-related short film Black Angel, or Raoul Peck's 2000 biopic Lumumba.

A list of world-renowned elder statesmen directors with new features in this year's MVFF might start with Hayao Miyazaki (who says The Wind Rises will be his final film) and continue with Andrzej Wajda (Walesa, Man of Hope completes a political trilogy begun with Man of Marble in 1975), Jan Troell (who will be on hand for screenings of The Last Sentence), Yoji Yamada (who began his career working under Yasujiro Ozu and now updates that master's most famous masterpiece into Tokyo Family, which I'm told will be one of the few 35mm screenings of the festival), and Costa-Gavras (here with his latest Capital). I could go on, but let me instead turn to a younger generation of well-established filmmakers like Connie Field (her new doc is Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine) and Hirokazu Kore-eda (represented with Like Father, Like Son). And then there are brand-new directors like Françoise Charpiat; her Cheba was shot by veteran French cinematographer Gérard de Battista, who also shot 1995 MVFF hit French Twist, 1997 Chris Marker documentary Level Five, and four Claude Miller features including Thérèse.

All of the above MVFF titles may sound like they have strong pedigrees, but it will take audiences to decide whether they're actually as good as they promise to be. I haven't had a chance to see any of them myself yet. But I did see Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton in a packed Castro Theatre at Frameline, and have been eagerly awaiting a chance to send Frisco Bay friends and readers who missed it this past June to an enthralling, accessible, and un-hagiographic documentary on one of Frisco Bay's most independent spirits among filmmakers. Broughton was born November 7, 2013, so the October 6 & 9 Mill Valley and San Rafael screenings are just in time to get ready for his centennial. Whether you're totally unfamiliar with the poetic, personal films he made in San Francisco, Mill Valley and all over the world, or have memorized every last one of them, you won't want to miss out on this complicated portrait of a fascinatingly complicated man.

HOW: Thérèse screens in 35mm at the Opera Plaza and via DCP at the Rafael.

Monday, September 9, 2013

It Started With Eve (1941)

WHO: Deanna Durbin and Charles Laughton star in this.

WHAT: Though it doesn't reach the sublime emotional heights of His Butler's Sister (directed by the masterful Frank Borzage) or the Amazing Mrs. Holliday (which Jean Renoir directed for the most part, though ultimately writer Bruce Manning received his sole directing credit for the film), It Started With Eve is nonetheless one of the most satisfying of the string of class-conscious romantic comedies mid-1930s child star Deanna Durbin starred in after graduating to young woman roles. As in other films made in this stage in her career (also including First Love and Hers To Hold), Durbin's character  is romantically pursued by a handsome man outside her station, and plot points frequently turn around her desire to show off her singing voice to skeptical-to-the-point-of-unwilling audiences. But in It Started With Eve, the narrative mechanisms are complicated and commented upon by the character played by Charles Laughton. He's an uber-wealthy businessman with a deathbed wish to meet the fiancée of his reformed-playboy son (Robert Cummings from Saboteur) who is having long-before-cellphone-era trouble contacting her, so he plucks Durbin out from behind a hotel coat-check counter and brings her home to meet his dying dad.

If you've seen a screwball comedy before you know what happens next. Durbin's luminous presence gives Laughton a new burst of life, and she and Cummings conspire to conceal her true identity from the smitten old man while placating the real fiancée and her perpetually outraged mother (Margaret Tallichet and Catherine Doucet) once they arrive on the scene. The young anti-couple grow increasingly at odds in their attempts to delicately break the truth to Laughton, creating plenty of grist for comic exchanges with each other and with the supporting cast (also including Guy Kibbee as a clergyman and Walter Catlett as the family doctor). But the moment when paterfamilias realizes the deception unbeknownst to the deceivers, and immediately turns matchmaker, takes the proceedings to another level of intrigue and insight. Laughton joins the audience in observing and enjoying the lengths to which Durbin and Cummings will go to maintaining their fantasy romance, but unlike us is able to intercede when the fiction crumbles as they begin to realize how much more right they are for each other than apart. The second half of It Started With Eve reveals the architecture of the romantic comedy genre without disintegrating any of its fundamental charm.

WHERE/WHEN: Today and Tuesday at the Stanford Theatre at 7:30.

WHY: This is the final progam of the Stanford's summer calendar, and since I've already talked about the Humphrey Bogart and film noir titles arriving on the Fall calendar starting this weekend, let me iris out a bit. This program is an appropriate end to an Academic year of programming at the vital Palo Alto theatre. Last September the venue began a tribute to the century-old Universal Pictures, programming that studio's films almost exclusively during for the last months of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, when the venue showed every single feature film ever to star Durbin. She was one of the biggest box-office draws of her era, and the savior of a financially troubled studio when she hit the screen in the mid-1930s, but had fallen into near-obscurity when compared to her contemporaries, in part because she retired from acting and recused herself from the limelight in 1948, retiring to France after twelve years in the business.

Getting a chance to see her films on the big screen where they belong has been a highlight for the Frisco Bay audiences who've taken advantage of the unique opportunity. A friend who was able to attend every program last Fall was very pleased to be able to return for second helpings of six of her films over the past couple weeks. He wondered if Durbin was made aware of the Stanford's retrospective before she died at age 91 this past April. I don't suppose we'll ever know the answer to that, but I do hope her films will continue to make perennial appearances at the venue. I'd especially like another shot at seeing Spring Parade, which Jan-Christopher Horak recently wrote about in advance of a recent Hollywood screening. Although Durbin's appeal transcends Hollywood. Perhaps we could have double-bills of Durbin pictures and pictures directed by Satyajit Ray, the Bengali director who spoke of his appreciation for Durbin when receiving his Honorary Academy Award in 1992, and one of two foreign-language directors (the other being Akira Kurosawa) whose films have semi-regularly graced the Stanford screen since David Packard took it over in 1987.

As noted at The Film Experience blog, this week is the final week for the public to submit nominations for films to be considered in the next round of selections for the Library of Congress's National Film Registry. Anyone can suggest up to 50 titles per year for inclusion on the list of (so far) 600 "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films"; each year 25 film titles are added, usually a mix of silent and sound, black and white and color, narrative, documentary, animation and experimental, independent and studio, short and feature-length, well-known and relatively obscure. There are fan campaigns to push films like Die Hard and The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring into the Registry. I'm not sure if there's been a concerted campaign to get a Deanna Durbin film ont the list though. Yes, after 600 selections, not a single one of her films has been included. I definitely plan to include several of her films including It Started With Eve as contenders for possible inclusion, along with titles involving other not-yet-in-the-registry figures like Lupe Velez, Friz Freleng, Christopher MacLaine, Curtis Harrington, William R. Heick, Brian De Palma and Barbara Hammer, in my e-mail to Donna Ross ( this week.

HOW: Screens in 35mm on a double-bill with One Hundred Men and A Girl, also starring Durbin.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Grandmaster (2013)

WHO: Wong Kar-Wai directed this.

WHAT: The Grandmaster is, like all of Wong's prior feature films (at least those that I've seen; I confess to having skipped his previous My Blueberry Nights and never having caught up with his first film As Tears Go By), constructed of beautiful images. If there were such thing as a device that could project a single, held, 35mm film frame onto a wall constantly, without incurring its destruction through the melting heat of the projector lamp, there's hardly a frame in the film that wouldn't be a lovely adornment to a darkened space, ripe for study of color, lighting, and composition within the frame. Of course, such a method of looking at the film would be in conflict with what Wong does with editing here, namely that he edits the hell out of his action sequences, making them into a furious flurry of movement without compromising their narrative function.

That all said, the overarching narrative felt to me rather empty of emotion and import, unlike in his (according to me) best movies In The Mood For Love, Fallen Angels and even Ashes of Time. Watching The Grandmaster was unlike watching those films, or the "old-school" kung fu from filmmakers like Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-Leung who stripped down storytelling to archetypal forms to prevent plot complexities from overwhelming the urgency of their action. Wong is in dialogue with a very complicated history rife with Confucian and nationalistic themes, many of which I'm sure I couldn't discern on a single viewing. But watching it, at least on a 35mm print, was nonetheless extraordinarily pleasurable on a sensory level. I would like to re-watch the film after reading Shelly Kracier's persuasive review, in the hopes that I'd get more out of it on an intellectual level as well, knowing that even if I didn't, I would still have an eye-fortifying experience.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens multiple times daily at cinemas around Frisco Bay, including the 4-Star Theatre. The latter is closed for a private event on Tuesday, September 10, however.

WHY: As I intimated in my recent piece on Drug War, the universe seems just a little bit closer to balanced whenever there's a Chinese-language film playing at the 4-Star. That goes double when it's a film by someone whose work I fell in love with there, like Johnnie To or Wong Kar-Wai (it's there that showings of In The Mood For Love and Ashes of Time and to a more intermittent extent 2046 made me swoon). And it goes triple when there's (unlike Drug Warone available to screen in a 35mm print, as the 4-Star is among the last Frisco Bay theatres keeping its actual film projectors running when possible. And The Grandmaster is indeed screening there that way this week (as well as English-language films The Way, Way Back and Fruitvale Station.) I don't know if the next Hong Kong production to come to the venue will be on 35mm, but I do know it's called Ip Man: The Final Fight and it comes from two key member of the team behind another film I first saw at the 4-Star, The Untold Story. That queasy film's co-director Herman Yau is the solo director behind this, and it reuintes him once again (they've worked together a dozen times) with that film's star Anthony Wong.

More Chinese-language films are being brought this fall to the Pacific Film Archive, and to the Vogue, which, thanks to the San Francisco Film Society will be hosting two brief mini-festivals devoted to films from Hong Kong (October 4-6) and from Taiwan (November 1-3). The line-up for the latter is as-yet unannounced, but I wonder if it's hoping too much for me to imagine it to be an opportunity to see the new Venice prize-winning film from one of Taipei's best filmmakers, Tsai Ming-Liang's Stray Dogs. Possibly, since we still haven't had a chance to see Tsai's prior feature Face on Frisco Bay cinema screens.

But the Hong Kong Cinema series has its line-up set. Johnnie To fans won't have to wait any longer to catch up with the prolific director, as his Blind Detective screens opening night of the festival. Another film fresh from Cannes 2013 is Flora Lau's feature debut Bends, which was shot by Wong Kar-Wai's former cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and which competed in the Un Certain Regard section of the French festival. 

Johnnie To's production company Milkyway Pictures also lent support to a film made by students at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts called A Complicated Story, which debuted at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival and whose director Kiwi Chow is expected to attend his screening at the Vogue. I'm also interested in the new film from Oxide Pang called Conspirators; Pang made a splash early in his career as one half of the co-directing team behind the original Bangkok Dangerous and The Eye but I was less impressed with the films he made without his brother Danny Pang (and vice versa) at that time. But ten years and a pair of forgettable Hollywood films later (including the Nicholas Cage-starring remake of Bangkok Dangerous) and it may be time to take another look at the Pang Brothers solo again.

Finally, and perhaps most excitingly, Hong Kong Cinema will bring two of the best kung-fu movies made by the great director Lau Kar-Leung (a.k.a. Liu Chia-liang), who died at age 78 this past June after two decades of battling with cancer. Lau's most famous work, the action-packed but near-avant-garde in its minimalistic plot 36th Chamber of Shaolin, will screen Saturday afternoon of the festival while Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, my own favorite martial arts movie of all time, screens Sunday. I believe these will be digital screenings, but it will be hard for me to resist attending anyway as I've never seen either film on a cinema screen with an audience. I hope the booking encourages the Roxie to book 35mm prints of Lau's films (of Dirty Ho and Eight Diagram Pole Figher, at the very least) that I hear are in the possession of Dan Halsted, who brought two kung fu double-bills to that venue last year.

HOW: The Grandmaster screens in 35mm at the 4-Star but digitally elsewhere. It was shot mostly on film, but high-speed action shots used a digital camera.