|Screen shot of City of Sadness clip from Music Box Films DVD of The Story of Film|
WHAT: Almost certainly the most widely-acclaimed of Hou's seventeen feature films. As I wrote on this blog after my first viewing of City of Sadness back in 2009:
Every shot in the film is impeccably framed and lit, each scene impeccably staged, often in a way that stresses the relationship between the weight of history and the ordinary life of citizens living it. For example. As a group of students or intellectuals sit and debate politics, Wen-ching and pretty, young Hinomi (played by Xin Shufen) sit to the side of the room, exchanging notes with each other while a folk song plays on the phonograph. Hou situates his camera in the space between the table of students and the clearly smitten couple. It could be a point-of-view shot from the position of one of the debaters, but that seems unlikely. The students are swept up in their discussion and do not seem to be paying attention to the room's other occupants and their activities. No, this shot isolates the spirited discussion from the would-be lovers' attempts to lead a normal life unhindered by the intrusions of politics. At least for this moment, the two are able to exist in their own world; this sense is accentuated as the sound of the conversation subtly drops out and all we hear are sonorous musical notes as they are released from the record grooves.WHERE/WHEN: Screens today only at the Pacific Film Archive at 7:00 PM.
WHY: As excited as I was that the PFA had programmed a full Hou Hsiao-Hsien retrospective this Fall, I must admit I've attended far less frequently than I'd hoped. I forget that Fall is always by far the busiest time of the year for me when it comes to non-movie-related responsibilities, and that even screenings I wish with the whole fiber of my being I could attend, often slip through my fingers. I fear I may have missed my last-ever chance to see 35mm prints of highly-acclaimed films like A Summer At Grandpa's or A Time To Live and A Time To Die but I'm glad to at least have been able to view three exceedingly rare items in Hou's early filmography. His second film Cheerful Wind, made in his "pop cinema" period, was no masterpiece but had a fascinating reflexive quality as it followed a commercial film crew on location in a small Taiwanese village. The Boys From Fengkuei, his fourth feature, was a brilliant statement of autobiography and independence that launched Hou's long phase of working almost exclusively with non-professional actors, and feels like a thematic template for another Taiwan auteur's debut, Tsai Ming-Liang's Rebels of a Neon God. And Dust in the Wind, Hou's seventh feature, lives up to its reputation as one of Hou's most formally controlled and emotionally heartbreaking works.
Kathy Gertitz, the curator who organized the PFA's participation in this touring series, has been emphasizing in her introductions for these screenings the difficulty of including Hou's ninth and tenth feature films, City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster, in the retrospective due to rights issues that have kept them out of American cinemas in recent years (although the PFA did show City of Sadness, at least, in 2010, I'm almost certain The Puppetmaster has not been seen in a Frisco Bay cinema since 2000). To screen these particular films, the PFA would have to keep the showings entirely non-commercial and educational in nature, which means the tickets are all free, and Friday's The Puppetmaster showing will include an introduction and book-signing by Richard Suchenski, a Hou expert who has recently edited a lovely volume of essays on the director. Initially the plan was to only offer tickets to tonight and tomorrow's showings to Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive members who signed up in advance, but in the past weeks the PFA has decided to offer remaining tickets on a first-come, first-served basis to anyone who arrives at the door starting at 6PM each evening. So head on over to Berkeley and experience a pair of 35mm screenings that, unless some legal wrangling is able to be managed in the near future, are very unlikely to repeat themselves anytime soon.
HOW: The entire PFA Hou Hsiao-Hsien series screens via 35mm prints from here on out.