Saturday, January 31, 2015

IOHTE: Adrianne Finelli

"IOHTE" stands for "I Only Have Two Eyes"; it's my annual survey of selected San Francisco Bay Area cinephiles' favorite in-the-cinema screenings of classic films and archival oddities from the past year. An index of participants can be found here.

Contributor Adrianne Finelli is an artist, curator, educator & film lover. She co-curates the GAZE film series at Artist Television Access; its next screening is February 13.

After a couple years of extended visits to the Bay Area, this past June I relocated here for love. Fortunately for me, my love of film is flourishing here as well. In the summer sun, my partner and I drove 2600 miles across the country straight to the Pacific Film Archive. Having only been here for six months of this year, I feel like I’ve missed a lot of treasures, but I’m grateful that I was able to see what I did. I’m looking forward to seeing much more in 2015. As requested by Brian Darr, whose film blog has become one of my bookmarks, here’s my list of my 10 favorite repertory film screenings of last year. Thanks to Brian and Hell on Frisco Bay for the invitation.

Favorites are fun, but they’re always so hard to whittle down:
Screen capture from Eclipse DVD

1) Sisters of Gion 
Kenji Mizoguchi (Japan, 1936) 
Pacific Film Archive  
This was my first opportunity to see a Mizoguchi film on the big screen; this screening also marked my first week in the area as an official resident. Apart from that, the film, Sisters of Gion, may be my favorite of his works and is a quintessential feminist film. Rebellious and decades ahead of its time, a critique of traditions and the clash of eras—the film looks deep into the lives and issues that the women of the Geisha tradition faced. Mizoguchi’s empathy is with the lives sold and not the salesman that are buying. Oh, that ending.  

2) A Woman of Rumor 
Kenji Mizoguchi (Japan, 1954) 
Pacific Film Archive  
Another poignant Mizoguchi feature about the personal lives of sex workers in Tokyo, that pays special attention to issues of what it means for these businesswomen to age. A fascinating portrait of two generations of women, somewhat Mildred Pierce, tragic drama of a mother and daughter in love with the same man. However, Mizoguchi does not let the man get off so easy, as the daughter’s love and empathy for her mother as a fellow woman grows and strengthens their bond. Such a beautiful film on so many levels, stunning and more mature camera, art direction and editing.

Screen capture from Ruscico DVD
3) Magdana’s Donkey 
Tengiz Abuladze, Rezo Chkeidze (USSR, 1955) 
Pacific Film Archive  
Simple and beautiful—a story about a working class widow and her day to day struggles to provide for her children. The family’s luck changes when they nurse an abandoned and abused donkey back to health, allowing Magdana to transport and sell more yogurt, but then she is brought to trial for stealing the donkey. There is definite documentary influence in this neorealistic drama, yet the rich black & white cinematography has its own style. I would love to see this film screened along side Bresson’s 1966 Au hazard Balthazar—donkeys might be the most honest animals in cinema.  

4) Sikkim 
Satyajit Ray (India, 1971) 
Pacific Film Archive  
I am so glad that I caught this, I had no idea how much I would learn and love about this film. A documentary about the sovereignty of Sikkim, a kingdom in the Himalayas situated between China and Indian, commissioned by the King of Sikkim and later banned until 2010. All copies were thought to be destroyed until one was uncovered at the British Film Institute. Very lyrical camera and sound—it’s more like a personal essay than a typical anthropological documentary of a foreign culture. Satyajit Ray’s refreshing and candid portrait has real heart and respect for the people and their traditions.

Screen capture from Columbia DVD
5) Lost Horizon  
Frank Capra (USA, 1937) 
Smith Rafael Film Center  
One of the few Capra films I had never seen, and maybe the strangest. Lost Horizon is a utopian film about an archetypal crew of five western passengers whose flight is hijacked and crashes somewhere in the Himalayan Mountains. The group is then escorted through the terrifying yet beautiful terrain to a magical palace—a warm and plentiful oasis from the harshness of the surroundings—known as Shangri-La. A dreamlike paradise where time is for passions and beauty, and no one ages. The story is bizarre and has a lot of political and social commentary embedded in it, and the set design and photography are worthy of seeing for their own merits.

6) A Night at the Cinema in 1914 
SF Silent Film Festival, Silent Autumn 2014 
Castro Theater  
A delightful collection of eclectic silent short films that were all produced in 1914 with live musical accompaniment by the brilliant Donald Sosin. A few of my favorite shorts to make note of are: Palace Pandemonium, a newsreel of Emmeline Pankhurst and 50 other suffragettes being arrested at Buckingham Palace; Lieutenant Pimple and the Stolen Submarine, endearing cardboard sets and lots of quirkiness; and The Perils of Pauline directed by Louis J. Gasnier and starring the adventurous Pearl White as a woman who wants to explore life before she gets married.  

However, the short that really stood out, Daisy Doodad’s Dial directed by Florence Turner, who also starred in the film as the main protagonist. A super silly, sassy and creative little tale about a couple that enters a face-pulling contest. The story employs a great use of the close-up and superimposition. The score that Donald Sosin composed for this film was half the joy of watching it, I wouldn’t want to see it any other way. One of my favorite things I’ve seen all year, and it was made in 1914!

7) Molba 
Tengiz Abuladze (USSR, 1967) 
Pacific Film Archive  
Like a poem in black & white, a visual metaphor with absolutely stunning cinematography and editing. Definitely one of the most unique films I have seen this year, and a film that most be seen in a dark theater, on a big screen, and on 35mm.

Screen capture from Indiepix DVD of It Came From Kuchar
8) A Criminal Account of Pleasure: The George Kuchar Reader with Andrew Lampert  
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 
Presented by SF Cinematheque 
Corruption of the Damned (USA, 1965) 
The Exiled Files of Eddie Gray (USA, 1997)  
What can I say? If you are not a Kuchar fan, then this isn’t for you. If you are, you should definitely pickup a copy of the The George Kuchar Reader edited by Andrew Lampert before it’s out of print. It’s an amazingly rich collection of journal entries, drawings, scripts, photos and other findings compiled into an impressive 336-page volume. I was so glad that I made it out to the event; Steve Polta of SF Cinematheque gave a moving account of George and introduced Andrew Lampert to read a few excerpts before the screening. Corruption of the Damned was screened on a 16mm print from Anthology Film Archives. It features a very baby-faced George in all his campy glory, and was a much more scripted and serious production than most of his later works. The pairing of this early film with The Exiled Files of Eddie Gray, a even more campy revisit or remake of sorts with some the original cast from the 1965 film, made the night for me. Shedding light, or rather pouring it, onto issues of aging and sexuality, through crude reenactments of love scenes from 32 years ago. There are no words to describe the fabulous Floraine Connors, I laughed so hard I cried.  

9) Flight of the Sparrows 
Teimur Babluani (USSR, 1980) 
Pacific Film Archive  
The first several minutes I was sure I disliked this film; it felt like a not-so-great student film—clunky, bad acting, horrible lighting. After letting my expectations drop, I was taken by surprise at what turned into a really dynamic camera matched by a fresh, beat driven pace. The story is really simple, but weird and oddly poetic and bittersweet. There are two men traveling on a crowded third-class passenger train among a large cast of characters whose diverse profiles become fixtures in the background of the confined camera. The two men are opposites, one a rough-looking rebel of few words whose only friend is the tiny sparrow he carries next to his heart, and the other a pretentious, bragging traveling salesman that leads people to believe he is a world renown opera singer. The final scene shifts to a barren landscape and a surprising battle ensues.      
Screen capture from vimeo trailer for Desire Pie
10) Radical Sex Educational Films from San Francisco’s Multi-Media Resource Center 
Curated by Herb Shellenberger 
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts  

A curious and alluring collection of extraordinarily artistic and avant-garde Sex Ed films, like a time capsule into a different, more radical era. I imagine we would all be better, more inventive lovers if we had the occasion to see these films in our health classes. Although every film different and compelling in its own right, three films really resonated and charmed me. The program opened with Jerry Abrams’ Eyetoon (1968) very easily the most experimental sex education film I’ve ever seen, a collage that combines a variety of techniques with a mesmerizing score. This film takes intimacy into another dimension. Constance Beeson’s hypnotic and lyrical Unfolding (1969) was a visual verse about the emotional side of lovemaking, a song for the two souls becoming one. Unfolding is a more sensitive portrait from a woman’s perspective, about the closeness of sex. Desire Pie (1976) by Lisa Crafts was a fun, tripped-out cartoon of the wacky and weird journey of sexual desires.  

It was also notable to see Alice Ann Parker’s Near the Big Chakra (1972) for the second time, having been lucky enough to meet her during her retrospective program at the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival. It is such a radical educational film through pure observation.    

A special shout-out to the many generous venues and to the people behind the projectors and programming that make this city and the surrounding area an amazing place for those of us that love cinema. Thank you to those that tirelessly search through the archives, those that make new work from old, those that share and connect the community.  
Craig Baldwin & Other Cinema 
Pacific Film Archive 
Artists’ Television Access 
SF Cinematheque 
The Exploratorium 
Shapeshifters Cinema 
Black Hole Cinematheque 
Oddball Cinema 
Canyon Cinema 
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 
SF Silent Film Festival 
Internet Archive 
Rick & Megan Prelinger 
California Film Institute 
Castro Theater 
Roxie Theater 
Kala Art Institute 
& the many others that made my first six months here unrepeatable.

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