Thursday, January 29, 2015

IOHTE: Terri Saul

"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 Terri Saul is a visual artist and writer; she sometimes comments on new films on Letterboxd.

Screen capture from Kino Lorber DVD
1.   A Touch of Sin (China, 2013), Jia Zhangke, Saturday, March 22nd, 2014, 8:15pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA, screened as part of the A Theater Near Youseries.

A Touch of Sin is a well-choreographed chain of reenacted current events exposing, through martial dramatization, the everyday violence of life and livelihood in pockets of contemporary China.

2.    The Adversary (India, 1970), Satyajit Ray, Sunday, March 30th, 2014, 5:15pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA, was one of the films in the The Brilliance of Satyajit Rayset.

More political than the other Rays Ive seen, the Adversary reveals the small-scale warfare of everyday joblessness and revolutionary politics in the chaos of late 60s Calcutta. Literal heat inflames heated brawls and renders nightmarish hallucinations, via pitta in the chitta.

Screen capture from First Run Features DVD
3.    Photographic Memory (US, 2011), Ross McElwee, Tuesday, April 1st, 2014, 7pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA, was part of the Ross McElwee and the Cambridge Turnseries.

This documentary touches, too, on the 60s and exists in the no mans land between memorabilia, conversations, uniquely narrated musings, research, interviews, and observation. Photographic Memory travels between modern-day Cambridge and Brittany, France, then and now. A game of catch-me-if-you-can intergenerational grasping and sporting youthful play develops bit-by-bit between a father and his son. Not finding his son, he looks for himself; the son, avoiding his father in order to find himself, searches for entries and exits to and from the peering lens of his fathers world. The son and father both employ ever-more daring techniques to capture the kind of attention they both want, maybe not so much from each other, but perhaps from those outside familial bounds. McElwee has an unforgettable narrative voice-over style I find simultaneously charming and invasive.

4.    The Grapes of Wrath (US 1940), John Ford, Wednesday, June 18th, 2014, 7pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA. This show was a celebration of the restored 75th anniversary print with and introduction by Susan Shillinglaw in conversation with Gary Brechin and Harvey Smith.

New Deal preservation, related projects, and Stenibeck Studies enhanced the audiences experience. I, for one, had never seen The Grapes of Wrath on a big screen. For a poverty-conscious Californian with Okie roots, things got pretty vérité. Look under the freeway overpass near the Albany Bulb, here in the Bay Area, for the next chapter.

Screen capture from Polart DVD
5.    Night Train (Poland 1959), Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Sunday, July 6th, 2014, 5pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA, was part of Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema,a digitally restored print.

Opening in the Polish city of Łódź, this cool train mystery unspools like a 35mm film print, each secondary compartment squeezed in its own intangible rectangle rushing past until the film reel jumps its platter and hurls itself into a field with the force of a heavy truckload of film stock come unbalanced in the projection booth.

6.    A Geisha (Japan 1953), Kenji Mizoguchi, Friday, July 25th, 2014, 7pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA. This, and the other Mizoguchis on my list, were presented as part of Kenji Mizoguchi: A Cinema of Totality."

Are there some seeds of feminism in Mizoguchis version of a postwar floating world? Young womens rights and their obstructions begin to emerge in this film about the bonds of apprenticeship, money lending, servitude, trickery, and the haunted beauty of Kyoto in the 50s. Some would call it melodrama, but the films theatricality and overtly political subject matter is quietly observed by Mizoguchi in his standoffish style.

7.    Office Space (US, 1999), Mike Judge, Friday, July 25th, 2014, 8:45pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA. Part of the series Rude Awakening: American Comedy, 19902010

Where it all started and where many of us ended up.

Screen capture from Masters of Cinema DVD
8.    Crucified Lovers: A Story from Chikamatsu (Japan, 1954), Wednesday, July 30th, 2014, 7pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA.

A whirlwind, sometimes slapstick, mistaken-identity tale, like a lovers version of the whos on first routine, but this time its whos crucified first? Mizoguchis adaptation is based on a 17th-century story that has come a long way from its puppet-play roots. It now has a 50s era film noir vibe but it maintains the feeling of a morally complicated folktale on parade in the stage of the streets. The spoiler of a title doesnt ruin the storys arc.

9.    The Taira Clan Saga (Japan 1955), Kenji Mizoguchi, Thursday, August 14th, 2014, 7pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA.

A dance of underfunded samurai and selfish monastics, a Mizoguchi in colorwhat could be more perfect? This film is like story candy. It leaves me not quite satiated, and with a noisy, guilt-inducing wrapper in my pocket that, for some reason, I keep as a memento of a night when I ate dessert first.

Screen capture from Warner DVD
10.  East of Eden, Elia Kazan (US, 1955), Friday, September 5th, 2014, 8:50pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA. A part of James Dean, Restored Classics from Warner Bros.

Here comes James Dean, not the way he looked on the family TV, but digitally restored, in CinemaScope, and larger than life. East of Eden was a gritty follow-up to the earlier lesson in Steinbeck Studies after the Grapes of Wrath screening and discussion of Weedpatch Camp in Bakersfield, last June. East of Eden theres more dirt and less dust, this time in Salinas.


  1. Hi Terri: Glad to see 3 Mizoguchis among your 10, and good for you for finding some slapstick and noir in of all places The Crucified Lovers. But not sure the word "standoffish" is quite right to describe this most passionate of directors.

  2. Thank you.
    Clearly he is passionate about storytelling and the art of cinema. Maybe it's the camera's eye that feels cold, observant, and somewhat detached. There's a way the camera holds back and disappears that I'm attempting to describe.

  3. Terri: This is an ongoing critical misunderstanding which simplistically equates distance of camera from what is being shown, with reduced involvement by director (and by extension audience) Three examples: remark credited to either Chaplin or Keaton that "tragedy is close-up, comedy is long-shot." Sarris comments putting down Wellman as "recessive," "floating back in frame." And Pierre Rissient arguing at a recent SFIFF that great directors keep their camera close to their subjects. Obviously more to be said on this.