Thursday, January 30, 2014

Two Eyes: Jason Wiener

In the San Francisco Bay Area, moviegoing is not just for the newest releases. In 2013 there were more theatrical opportunities to see films spanning the history of cinema than any one person could take advantage of. Therefore, I've asked a sampling of local moviegoers to select a few favorites seen in cinemas last year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from Jason Wiener, who blogs at Jason Watches Movies.

Usually I try to put this is some semblance of order, counting down to the best. Not that I make much of a distinction between number 7 and 8, or even 2 and 3, usually. But I kind of like giving an "award" to my number one pick of the year. But not this year. While there were a lot of great repertory film experiences, I just can't point to one that was a standout. So instead this will be in more or less chronological order.

1. Noir City, at the Castro. There are a lot of great films I could choose from this festival. Of course I could go with the classic Sunset  Blvd. (1950.) Or Blake Edwards' Experiment In Terror (1962.) For some reason Try And Get Me (aka The Sound Of Fury) from 1950 sticks in my mind. I think that's party because of Lloyd Bridges amazing performance, but mostly because I looked up the real life case it's based on and learned that our peaceful little San Jose was the site of the last lynch mob in California. But instead the one that I said at the time "might just be my favorite of the entire festival" still is. Inferno (1953,) because somehow when I'm watching film noir I decide that that the 3-D Technicolor one is my favorite. That's just the type of guy I am, I guess.

2. Cinequest, at the California Theater. A comedy pairing of Buster Keaton's short Cops (1922) and Harold Lloyd's feature Safety Last (1923.) I've seen these both so many times that logically this shouldn't make the list. In fact, logically I shouldn't have bothered to watch them again anyway. But I'm putting them on the list for the same reason I saw them--Dennis James rocking the Mighty Wurlitzer. He was, as always, magnificent. And with the Silent Film Festival seeming to cut ties with him I appreciate the times I get to hear him even more. (he didn't play at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for the first time since...ever, I think? At least since I've been going to the festival, and my understanding is that in the first few years he was their only accompanist.) He does happen to be playing at the Stanford Theatre in their current Capra retrospective, but I'll probably be at Noir City and miss him. 

3. Midnites for Maniacs, at the Castro. Romy And Michele's High School Reunion (1997.) I've attended way more Midnites for Maniacs screenings this past year that any previous years. And there are many more screenings I could have chosen (it will show up a few more times on the list, including the next item.) Like Love Actually (especially followed by Trash Humpers,) or The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (not good at all, but I oddly love that I finally got around to seeing it.) Or even the original Carrie, which I saw the same night. But for me, Romy And Michele was the perfect M4M movie. I completely dismissed it at the time, had no interest in seeing it, and then Jesse Hawthorne Ficks plays it and my interest is piqued. To my surprise, it's not just about annoying, ditzy, shallow, SoCal blondes. I mean...those are superficially their characters, but it's a modern surrealist masterpiece. One of the most ridiculously extended dream sequences ever, and then a dance scene that perfectly demonstrates the ideal of "dance as if no one is watching." It is still one of my bucket list items to reenact that dance scene someday.

4.  Midnites for Maniacs celebrating Johnny Depp's 50th Birthday, at the Castro. A triple bill of Benny & Joon (1993,) What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993,) and Cry-Baby (1990.) I just thought this was the best Johnny Depp triple-bill I could imagine. Until a couple of months later when they did The Lone Ranger (2013) and Dead Man (1995.) The Lone Ranger isn't repertory, but Dead Man should be included in the list somehow...even if I did kinda doze through bits of it.

5.  San Francisco Silent Film Festival's presentation of the Hitchcock 9, at the Castro. All the (existing) silent films Alfred Hitchcock made, and I could select any (or all) of them for this list. But instead I'll give this spot to the standout, the one that Hitchcock himself described at "the first 'Hitchcock' film"--The Lodger (1927.) There's just no doubt that it was and still is a masterpiece, and Ivor Novello is brilliant.

6. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival, at the Castro. For their showcase festival, I again could've chosen any or all of their films for my list. But there are a few standouts. I could choose Prixe De Beauté (1930) because Louise  Brooks is just phenomenal. Or I could choose Legong: Dance Of The Virgins (1935) because I'm a huge fan of native Balinese boobies in, and Clubfoot Orchestra and Gamelan Sekar Jaya were pretty amazing as accompaniment. But instead I'll go with The Weavers (1927.) Yup, I choose revolutionary class politics (and action) over tits. I think I might actually be maturing just a teeny, tiny bit. Also Günther Buchwald was brilliant as the accompanist.

7. Midnites for Maniacs, at the Castro. Rules Of Attraction (2002.) One thing is clear, I have to continue going to more M4M programs this year. This is another film that I just dismissed and didn't care about when it came out. It looked like nothing more than spoiled rich kids behaving badly. is...but a whole lot more. Not just clever camera work, story structure, and editing tricks, but a really engaging story...about spoiled rich kids behaving badly. And now I'm a little obsessed with trying to see the legendary spin-off Glitterati (the full version of the European trip that was cut down to a fast-cut 5 minute sequence in Rules Of Attraction)

8. The Wicker Man, at the Castro. I've seen it several times (including at Burning Man, which is kind of the perfect setting,) but not this big, not this beautiful. And it still rewards multiple screenings. 

9. At the Vortex Room, a Halloween night double feature of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982) and Suspiria (1977.) One of my favorite underrated horror films with one of my favorite horror film, period. And in my favorite underground movie spot (that makes the best damn martinis in town.) And to top it off, everyone sang Happy Birthday to me (I'm Jason...born on Halloween...and I'm Rosemary's horror films have a bit of a special place in my life.)

10. Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, at the Balboa Theater. The Shining (1980) with the Simpson's parody The Shinning A classic horror film, and the first time I've seen it since watching the documentary Room 237, so I could catch things like the impossible architecture, the car that almost runs into everyone before disappearing, or the fact that Jack is reading a Playgirl magazine. This was a 35 mm print, and it was...cut up a bit. In fact, it was missing the famous "Heeeeere's Johnny!" among other scenes (speculation is some projectionist long ago cut it out for his private stash.) And what was there was a bit scratchy. Some people complained, but I didn't care, it's a great film and my fetish for 35 mm film wouldn't have it any other way. Before the film--and with no introduction--they also played the Simpson Treehouse of Horror parody The Shinning (1994.) I knew they were going to do that, but I like to imagine what it was like for some in the audience to be surprised by it. I hope they enjoyed it. As Ernie Fosselius (Hardware  Wars) told me once, it's always better to see the parody first and then see the real thing.

Honorable mentions:
A. The Shining: Forwards and Back. At the New People Cinema. Also part of Another Hole in the Head, and featured in Room 237. They play The Shining forwards, and at the same time (and without sound) play the movie in reverse. And this is...supposed to reveal creepy coincidences with the movie haunting itself. I thought it was kinda cool to see it, and thematically it's interesting to overlap peaceful family scenes with future horrors (and vice-versa.) As for things "lining up perfectly" it's part coincidence and part the fact that Kubrick really liked well-centered shots (at least in The Shining.) So no, I don't buy that there are hidden meanings revealed by watching it this way.

B. Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout The Ages (1916) at the Castro. This should've made the list. It was magnificent (and I say that after being unimpressed the first time I saw it.) The only reason it didn't--anti-digital bias. If this were on film with live musical accompaniment (assuming it was good) I'm sure it would've made the list. But it was on DCP, with a recorded soundtrack. And even though at the time I wrote that "Digital Cinema Package (DCP) has arrived, and traditionalist haters be damned" I still have this pro-film bias to overcome.

C. Sallah Shabati (1964) as a special donor's event and screening for the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival at the Netflix company screening room. Who knew Topol was still alive? Well, I got really Jew-geeky so I donated enough that I got to meet him and watch this first film of his, which is still the most popular film on Israeli television every year (and which launched his international career with an award at the San Francisco International Film Festival.) Later that same day I enjoyed a sing-a-long to Fiddler On The Roof (1971) at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto (he followed that with a sing-a-long at the Castro later that day. Given the digital projection at the JCC I wish I had seen that one instead, which is why it didn't make the list.)

D. An American Tail (1986) at the Castro, as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. This was an unaccountably huge part of my childhood, watching and re-watching this movie. But (and this sounds unbelievably dumb) I never really paid attention to the Jewish content in it. What fun to rewatch it as an adult, in that context.

Dishonorable mention:
At the Roxie, as part of Indiefest, a sing-a-long to Purple Rain (1984.) I had never seen this movie, although I remember a lot of kids (mostly older, I was only 10 at the time) going crazy for it. I don't know why I had never seen it. I assumed this was just one of those classics that I might or might not get to see eventually. And I finally did. And there's no reason at all for it to be a classic. There is no objectivity in art except for this--Purple Rain is an objectively awful movie.  The acting is awful, the plot is dull, and the hero is a misogynist. The villain's music is better than the hero's. And as far as a sing-a-long, the music is much, much worse if you actually think about the lyrics. The only thing I liked is the all-girl trio is called the Apollonia Six. So there, I managed to end on a tits joke. I guess I haven't matured too much.

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