Friday, January 30, 2015

IOHTE: David Robson

"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 David Robson is "the editorial director of, a site that offers a smarter search for movies to watch online. Yet his moviegoing takes place almost entirely offline; he documents his viewing with increasing semi-regularity at the House of Sparrows, and he cohabitates with those adorable simian cinephiles at Monkeys Go To Movies."

My year in San Francisco rep began and ended with screams. In between it was an insanely lively and robust year for rep programming, with fine fine series of movies showing pretty much straight through the year. Even without the stuff I missed there're a lot of things to choose from, so in the interests of covering a breadth of films within the space limits imposed by Mr. Darr I'll limit myself to one movie per series/festival.

Screen capture from Code Red DVD
--The first movie I saw last year was Teenage Mother, a last-minute replacement for a film in an early January teensploitation series at the Roxie. The 16mm print was loaned to the Roxie by L.A.'s Cinefamily, who promised that it was an "audience destroyer." Sure enough, when the educational-film-level-acted story of a crusading sex ed teacher at an uptight, whitebread high school gave way to some clinical footage of a surgical birthing procedure, holy crap, NO ONE in the house was unaffected. I don't remember ever being quite so shattered by a year's first screening, and like the slashed eyeball in Un Chien Andalou it set a nice fever pitch for everything else to come in 2015.

--I don't often discuss Noir City in these roundups, as most other sets of Two Eyes have it covered and I'm somewhat at odds with the yuk-yuk showmanship with which the series is presented. But 2014's Noir City offered an international focus on that most American genre, with a heavy emphasis on rare movies discovered by the Film Noir Foundation during its trips to Argentina. Some of these movies screened at Noir City in their first appearances ever in the US. Yet for all of the truly wonderful international gems unearthed for the series, my most indelible memory of Noir City 13 is Macao (internationally-set, but American made). There was incredible and palpable good will during this final Noir City screening, to the point that it felt like Jane Russell was actually in the house, performing "One for the Road" live for the Noir City faithful. Some of us in the Castro audience aren't as quick to applaud movies as others, but sometimes there's no other way to process what one's feeling.

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--A second time through the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men revealed nothing new: I still felt the movie was technically accomplished and smoothly suspenseful, but that Cormac McCarthy's nihilism was a disappointing, over-praised cop-out. The real revelation of the night turned out to be the B-picture: A Serious Man's search for meaning in what's clearly an uncaring (and viciously playful) universe felt more honest and real than No Country, and its depiction of a specifically 1960s suburban weirdness and sensuality rang true, and made this feel like one of the Coens' most personal pictures. And George Wyner's narration of the story of the Goy's Teeth (accompanied by Jimi Hendrix) felt like a setpiece I'd been waiting most of my life to see, though damned if I know why.

--Jonathan Demme's quirkily-charming--til-it-gets-real-honkin'-dark Something Wild made its first appearance in ages at the Castro. It's a strong piece of 80s nostalgia, and its soundtrack includes some of my favorite deep cuts of that decade (Jerry Harrison's "Man With A Gun" especially). But its story of a New York financier grappling with sudden freedom from responsibility, and yearning for a less-stringent, more carefree life resonated strongly here now, its nouveau riche characters poised to seize Manhattan from working class bohemians. And the SPECULATORS OUT! graffiti scrawled across the movie's downtown Manhattan spoke to a very real crisis happening just outside the Castro's doors.

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--I'd waited for YEARS to share The Blues Brothers with my good friend Aaron. A nice pre-show meal just up-street from the Castro, a good print of the movie, and the experience of a personal favorite that holds up three decades later (with new things revealed through the laughter and conversation of a good, smart friend seeing it for the first time) all made for a great night out. The movie itself remains a fond homage to the city of Chicago, the greatest iteration of the Belushi/Aykroyd chemistry, and possessed of fine musical performances by some of rhythm & blues' finest performances (as well as a climactic chase that still must be seen to be believed).

--Waiting for The Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto to announce a new calendar can be a frustrating experience. I doubt I'm the only Bay Area cinephile to check the Stanford's website multiple times daily for any sign of forthcoming programming, only to be frustrated as Gone With The Wind is held over for another week. Then another week. But when they finally announced their late summer calendar in 2014, the floodgates just opened: no dark days, rarely screened movies jamming the calendar, with silents every Wednesday. The big attraction for this moviegoer was a damn-near-complete set of the Universal Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series (programmed Thursdays and Fridays alongside Charlie Chan movies, a risky programming choice to which the Stanford worked diligently to provide context). It was difficult to make it to all of them, but I made damn sure to get to The House of Fear, a mystery as atmospheric as any of Universal's classic horror movies, boosted by unusually bold photography and art direction, and the fact that the normally-dim Watson figures the mystery out before we do. Good times!

Screen capture from Loving The Classics DVD
--Yerba Buena Center for the Arts film programmer/local-and-national-goddamn-treasure Joel Shepard threw the doors open wide to the YBCA screening room in 2014, inviting ten Bay Area cinephiles (including this one) to select and introduce a movie for screening during the varied and spectacular Invasion of the Cinemaniacs! series. Sad though it is to limit myself to one selection from this series, as every movie in the series (and be certain: I saw Every. Movie. In the series) offered up its own unique revelations, if pressed I'd probably pick Max Ophuls' The Exile as my favorite. An excellent pairing of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (attempting to make the kind of swashbuckler that made his father famous) and Max Ophuls (capturing the emotion and Shakespearean complexity of the story with style and grace), with Maria Montez and Nigel Bruce (the latter offering a Falstaffian gravitas absent from his Watson to Rathbone's Holmes) in fine support. Presenter David Wong schooled us on the mechanics of Ophuls' style, and their emotional payoffs, in one of the most mind-expanding film intros I've ever had the good fortune to witness.

--The offbeat Canadian fantasy Strange Behavior had been one of those movie grails, often heard talked about yet never experienced. Finally caught up with it at the bottom end of a pre-Halloween double bill at the Castro. If in the end I wasn't swept away by a newly discovered classic, I was certainly captivated by its consistently odd choices, with its low budget necessitating not just an economical approach but what sometimes felt like an eccentric and deliberate rejection of cinematic realism. All this and a costumed dance party sequence at least as beguiling as the "Loco-Motion" scene in INLAND EMPIRE.
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--Strongly suspect that the 16mm print of Godzilla on Monster Island seen at Artists Television Access in November was the same print used for the KTVU broadcast that I taped and watched many, many, many times as a kid in the mid-1980s. Juvenile but charming kaiju insanity, with imagination outweighing a low budget and atrocious dubbing. A nicely rounded bunch of human heroes counterbalancing the Godzilla/Angilas team-up, too.

--The final rep screening in SF turned out to be a lovely little Christmas gift from the Castro Theatre. The Mario Bava centennial had been celebrated at a number of venues around the world, and I was a bit miffed that the year had gone by with none of the venues in San Francisco honoring the occasion. But the Castro, just under the wire (and maybe just coincidentally), screened Bava's final feature Shock! (known also as Beyond the Door 2), a minor Bava but one I'd never seen before. The screams from the audience during the movie's truly deranged final reel were enough to fill even the most Scroogelike cinephile with the joyous bounties of the holiday spirit.

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