Monday, February 8, 2016

Michael Hawley: IOHTE

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

IOHTE contributor Michael Hawley runs the film blog film-415.

Favorite Bay Area Repertory/Revival Screenings of 2015
Screen capture from Flicker Alley DVD
Cibo Matto: New Scene (San Francisco International Film Festival, Castro Theatre) 
My top repertory highlight of 2015 was this inspired pairing of fave rock band Cibo Matto with seven avant garde shorts, including Marcel Duchamp's 1928 Anemic Cinema, the 1970 adaptation of Oskar Schlemmer's trippy, geometry-obsessed Bauhaus-era Das Triadische Ballet, and most fabulously, Yoko Ono and John Lennon's Fly.

The Honeymoon Killers (Noir City, Castro Theatre) 
I was gobsmacked by this revisit to one-film-wonder Leonard Kastle's 1969 American true crime shocker, shown at Noir City in a pristine 35mm print. François Truffaut once called this his favorite American movie. I'd always gotten a kick out of it, but hadn't realized what a god-damned masterpiece it was until now.

Rebels of the Neon God (Landmark's Opera Plaza Cinemas
Perhaps the most unlikely commercial re-release of 2015 was slow-cinema, Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang's 1992 debut feature, which I missed seeing at the 1993 San Francisco International Film Festival. It was worth waiting 22 years for a second opportunity.

The Happiest Girl in the World (Romanian Film Festival, Coppola Theatre, SF State University) 
I had read many terrific things about Romanian New Wave director Radu Jude, but none of his features ever came to town (nor had any reasonably priced, small screen options presented themselves). I was therefore thrilled when this previously unknown-to-me festival, now in its fifth year, finally brought Jude's droll 2009 social satire to town last fall.

Screen capture from Miramax DVD of My Voyage To Italy
Two Women & The Gold of Naples (Castro Theatre) 
Cinema Italia San Francisco brought a one-day, five-film Vittorio De Sica retrospective to the Castro in late September. The program featured two spanking new 35mm restorations, including Sophia Loren's Oscar®-winning performance in 1960's Two Women followed by 1954's The Gold of Naples. The latter was comprised of six self-contained short stories set in Napoli, the best of which starred De Sica himself as a pathetic gambling aristocrat.

54: The Director's Cut (San Francisco International FilmFestival, Castro Theatre)
While hardly the "minor masterpiece" some critics wanted us to believe, this reconstruction of Mark Christopher's 1998 ode to NYC's famed discotheque, featuring 44 previously unseen minutes, was the most fun I had at the movies last year. In addition to director Christopher, stars Ryan Philippe and Brecklin Meyer were on-hand for the revival's U.S. premiere. They were ogled both on-screen and on-stage by a whooping, exuberant Castro audience. 

It's a Gift (Sunday Funnies: Laurel and Hardy and W.C. Fields, Pacific Film Archive)
W.C. Fields is a hen-pecked hubby trying to get some sleep on the back porch in this raucous, 1934 featurette from director Norman Z. McLeod. It's my favorite comedy of all time and I'd never seen it on a big screen (let alone in 35mm) until last summer at the PFA.

Screen capture from Warner Archive DVD
Noir City, Castro Theatre
In addition to The Honeymoon Killers, there were other perverse delights at last year's Noir City. I was particularly taken by the Saturday afternoon triple bill of nail-biting suspense dramas The Steel Trap (1952), Julie (1956) and Cry Terror! (1958), all from Hollywood husband-and-wife filmmaking team Andrew and Virginia Stone (he wrote and directed, she produced and edited). Who knew that Doris Day singlehandedly landed a jet plane 19 years before Karen Black? Other Noir City 2015 flicks I'm still thinking about one year later include Ossessione (Luchino Visconti's 1943 homoerotic adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice), Robert Siodmak's The Suspect (1944) and Douglas Sirk's Shockproof (1949).

San Francisco Silent Film Festival (Castro Theatre)
The world's second most prestigious silent film showcase celebrated its 20th edition back in May with a tremendous 21-program line-up. What I remember most fondly are three comedies. In the UK/German co-production Ghost Train (1927), hijinks ensue when passengers take refuge in a haunted railway station overnight. Harold Lloyd's final silent film Speedy (1928) featured Babe Ruth in a supporting role (as himself) and an unforgettable 20-minute sequence set in Coney Island's famed Luna amusement park. Then in Amazing Charley Bowers, preservationist/showman Serge Bromberg introduced us to the surrealistic genius of American comic Bowers and his insane combinations of live action and stop-motion animation. At that same festival I was also blown away by the intense eroticism of John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in Flesh and the Devil (1926) and the immense spectacle of Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925).

Backstreet (Melodrama Master: John M. Stahl, Pacific Film Archive)
While I didn't get to the PFA as often as I would've liked in 2015, I'm sure glad to have caught this low-key but intensely moving 1932 adaptation of Fanny Hurst's novel, starring Irene Dunne as a career woman who spends 25 years as a married man's mistress.

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