Friday, January 30, 2015

IOHTE: Michael Guillén

"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.

Michael Guillén is the schoolmaster of the essential blog The Evening Class, and contributes to many other online and print publications.

Perhaps not surprisingly, whenever I return to San Francisco from Boise I am keen for repertory programming over contemporary theatrical releases.  Between Boise's art house cinema The Flicks and the ubiquitous multiplexes, I can catch plenty of the latter; but, there is absolutely no repertory programming in the Gem State's capitol. None. So when I return to the Bay Area, I eschew most press screenings to focus on the Pacific Film Archive, the Roxie Theatre, the Castro Theatre and miscellaneous community-based film festivals to sate my thirst.  Kudos to Brian Darr and Hell on Frisco Bay for celebrating repertory programming in San Francisco and environs.  Never take it for granted.  Take it from one who knows.

Despite mournful complaints to the contrary, the advent of digital projection has afforded opportunity for increased repertory programming, particularly at venues like the Roxie and even an archive like PFA, but nothing starts the year out like the annual Noir City Film Festival and its dedicated emphasis on 35mm film.  In its 12th edition, Noir City offered two rare Latin-American gems.

In the Palm of Your Hand (En la palma de tu mano, 1951)—I first caught Roberto "the Ogre" Gavaldón's lush melodrama at the 2013 Morelia Film Festival during their sidebar tribute to Mexican actor Arturo de Córdova and was delighted that this restored print made an appearance in San Francisco.  I brought several friends to this rare screening, which—as noted by Mexican scholar Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro—showcased not only the work of de Córdova and "the pure style" of Gavaldón, but marked an apex in Latin American film noir and "the immense capabilities" of cinematographer Alex Phillips.

The Black Vampire (El Vampiro Negro, 1953)—Connective tissue fascinates me, not only between mediums, but between films.  Argentine director Román Viñoly Barreto's The Black Vampire, based on Fritz Lang's M, premiered in Argentina in October 1953—the month and year I was born—but didn't arrive on North American shores until January 2014, 61 years later.  Talk about waiting a lifetime to see a film!  No shot-by-shot remake, Barreto stages his own interpretation of this sordid tale of child molestation and murder with moody, lustrous cinematography by Aníbal González Paz.

Screen capture from Sony DVD
T-Men (1947)—Although I've seen Anthony Mann's T-Men several times—introduced to the film by noir historian Alan K. Rode as a representative of the fine work of actor Charles McGraw—I never tire of catching it.  PFA's February 2014 series "Against the Law: The Crime Films of Anthony Mann" afforded the opportunity to watch an archival 35mm print introduced by Mann biographer Max Alvarez, who offered impressive insight into the film and its director.

A Hatful of Rain (1957)—Fred Zinnemann's Hatful was just one of several entries in Donald Malcolm's curated Roxie retrospective profiling the career of Don Murray.  Significant in emphasizing the perhaps over-earnest style of drama peculiar to the time, this study of addiction and its effect upon a young married couple addressed urban concerns with head-on honesty.  Murray acted his ass off here and it was a pleasure to watch.

Boggy Depot (1973)—Yerba Buena Center for the Arts offered a program of five shorts by San Francisco legend Curt McDowell, hosted by his sister Melinda and local film critic Johnny Ray Huston in conjunction with YBCA's seventh edition of Bay Area Now and in collaboration with Margaret Tedesco's [ 2nd floor projects ].  The entire evening was an archival delight; but, Boggy Depot was a laugh-outloud send-up of the musical genre.  Watching George Kuchar not-really-sing was almost more than I could handle.

A Kiss For A Killer (Une manche et la belle, 1957)—Donald Malcolm returned to the Roxie with a curated selection of French noir rarieties ("The French Had A Name For It") that packed the house in unprecedented numbers, proving that there is life after 35mm, and that there's a definite market for titles unavailable elsewhere.  There were several winners in this program—Bardot in La vérité (1960), Édouard Molinaro's docu-drama Witness in the City (Un témoin dans la ville, 1959), the two Robert Hossein vehicles Highway Pickup (Chair de poule, 1963) and Blonde In A White Car (Toi Le Venin, 1958), the coiled ferocity of Daniele Delorme in Deadlier Than the Male (Voici Les Temps Des Assassins, 1956) and the truest Christmas noir ever Le Monte-Charge (1962)—but the king of them all proved to be handsome Henri Vidal in the Gallic amalgam of Sunset Boulevard and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Daughters of Darkness (Les lèvres rouges, 1971)—Euro-horror came to the Castro Theatre with a double-bill of Don't Look Now (1973) and Harry Kümel's bisexual vampire cult favorite with Delphine Seyrig as the sensuous if perverse Countess Bathory.  LGBT film studies have never been the same after this glorification of the "other" as nighttime's hungriest denizen.

Screen capture from Warner DVD
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)—Val Lewton, my favorite producer-auteur, took a title given to him by a poverty row studio and turned it into a classic tale of childhood psychology with the lovely Ann Carter as a melancholy child with an imaginary friend.  I never dreamed I'd get to actually see a 35mm print of this film, and to see Ann's plaintive face in close-up on the Castro's giant screen made for perfect entertainment and a moment of thrilling cinephilia.  Not really noir, of course, but a welcome entry to announce the upcoming program and poster for the 13th edition of Noir City.

The Astrologer (1975)—Nothing in the stars could have possibly predicted that 1975 would see two films entitled The Astrologer released on an unwary cinema public; nor that Craig Denney's film—not to be confused with the James Glickenhaus film—would reappear like a Tarot card from underneath a sleeve to pleasurably befuddle audiences at a one-off screening at Another Hole in the Head.  Mike Keegan deserves a big shout-out for delivering this print to Holehead and treating SF's diehard genre fans to such a whacked-out tale of prognostication: the rise and fall of astrologer-to-the-stars Alexander (Denney), which—as Nicolas Winding Refn stated in his introduction to the film at this year's Fantastic Fest—is a movie "that pushes 'auteurism' to a whole other level."  The film has been described as "wanton megalomania" and an "auto-biopic" and a plot synopsis would only prove more confusing than the film itself, which hacks its way through the editing room with a machete.  Great fun to watch this faded-to-pink piece of delirium with fellow 35mm enthusiasts Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, Jason Wiener, David Wong and Maria Fidel.

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