The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2015. An index of participants can be found here.
An entertainingly gruesome Halloween
6. Noir triple bill with the Stones (no, not those Stones)
35mm (I think)
The Noir City festival is always fun. But in 2015, the festival’s highlight were three thrillers made by Andrew and Virginia Stone, a filmmaking team whose work I was completely unfamiliar with until this screening. None of them were masterpieces, but they were all well-made and enjoyable. The usual Noir City audience helped with the enjoyment.
I finally saw the Apu Trilogy this year, on three consecutive nights. It’s clearly one of the great masterpieces of cinema (or, arguably, three of the great masterpieces). And it has been beautifully reborn with one of the most impressive restorations in history. The original negatives were destroyed in a fire, but L’Immagine Ritrovata at the Cineteca di Bologna physically restored much of the melted negatives to the point where they could be scanned.
4. Visages d’enfants
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
I had never heard of this film before I read the festival program. It sounded interesting, but I didn’t know until it started that I was watching a masterpiece. Set in a small town high in the Alps, in what appears to be the last 19th century, Visages d’enfants follows the difficulties of what is now called a blended family–and–as is so often the case–it wasn’t blended very well. Beautiful restoration, and Stephen Horne‘s accompaniment–on piano, flute, and I’m not sure what else–just dazzled. Before the film, Serge Bromberg gave an informative and enjoyable introduction.
The new digital restoration allows us to enjoy the movie as it was meant to be seen–and that hasn’t been available for decades. Yes, the plot is silly and some of the cowboy accents are terrible, but when you see Oklahoma! on the big screen, with an audience, you discover what a remarkable piece of entertainment it is. The songs are catchy, the jokes are funny, and Agnes DeMille’s choreography is amongst the best ever filmed. And the new digital restoration allows us to experience it in something similar to the original 30 frames-per-second Todd-AO.
San Francisco Silent Film Festival A Day of Silents
The last silent film I saw theatrically this year was one I’d wanted to see for years. The Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong finally gets the great part she deserved in this British drama about dancing and sex in a London nightclub. Musicians Donald Sosin (on piano and Macintosh) and John Mader (on percussion) put together an often jazzy, occasionally Chinese score that always served the story.
Three-Strip Technicolor Projection Experiences
Pacific Film Archive
35mm archival print & 4K DCP
In July, quite by happenstance, I was able to compare the old and new ways to project a film shot in Technicolor’s three-strip process. The first, Jean Renior’s The River, was screened pretty much as the original audiences saw it–in a 35mm dye-transfer print manufactured in 1952. The second, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann, has been digitally restored and was digitally projected. Each was wonderful in its own way.