|A scene from Lewis Klahr's SIXTY SIX, playing at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, on April 21 - May 5, 2016. Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society|
WHAT: "I don't think of myself as an animator. I think of myself as a re-animator". Lewis Klahr said this at a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts screening in December 2011 which inspired me to write, shortly after:
Klahr's collage films can provide a closer look at vintage comic book art than even the most finicky collector is likely to take unless scrutinizing that line between "very fine" and "near mint". We see the visual DNA of colors and shading magnified, and at the same time we read between the panels, guided by the filmmaker's temporal and spatial dislocations. The standout of a strong set of new-ish work Klahr brought for local premieres this year, Lethe is a remix of a 1960s Doctor Solar story that becomes a noirish drama set to Gustav Mahler.I still agree with all that, but the brief paragraph doesn't begin to convey how Klahr's films and videos aren't really for comic book obsessives (though they might appeal to some of the more adventurous among them, and I'd love to see what would happen if Pony Glass -which I briefly described here- screened before a showing of one of those big-budget spandex-fests that all the kids go crazy for these days), but use their detritus to tap into universal emotions and conditions. Such as Helen of T, which is clearly more about the ravages of human aging than paper aging. Klahr screened it at an SF Cinematheque show in February 2015 and detailed how the main character was torn from the pages of an unusual comic book with a science fiction theme, I believe (I don't seem to have taken notes at the screening and am relying on memory). Or Ichor, which screened in an SFIFF program two years ago, and which marries a narration of fortune-cookie-esque pronouncements to cut-out images of midcentury men on the lam, weaving a fractured narrative on the theme of fate. The images he employs once told one story, but now they've been decontextualized and appropriated for Klahr's own purposes. This must be what he means when calling himself a "re-animator".
Ichor, Helen of T, and Lethe are among the twelve short works that Klahr has collected together to create Sixty Six, his new multi-chapter feature-length film set precisely fifty years ago, hence the title. Others (that as far as I am aware are making their Frisco Bay cinema debut at tonight's program) include Mercury, Mars Garden, Saturn's Diary, Jupiter Sends a Message, Venus (I'm starting to detect an interplanetary theme here), as well as Erigone's Daughter, Ambrosia, Orphacles (or is it a Classical mythology theme?) and The Silver Age (seeming reference to the comic books of Klahr's childhood). I'm excited to see them all together tonight. Manohla Dargis wrote a great review of it in the New York Times a few months ago, in case you're curious to hear more.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens 6PM tonight at the Roxie and 8:30PM Saturday at BAMPFA, presented as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.
WHY: When SFIFF announced that its 2015 program would be divided into categories like Marquee Presentations, Masters, Global Visions, etc. I wasn't so sure I liked the idea. It felt like a clear borrowing from the Toronto International Film Festival, SFIFF Executive Director Noah Cowen's former stomping ground, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I remember well my (sole) visit to that festival, and how much more attention and emphasis was given to programs in certain sections (Gala Presentations, Midnight Madness) at the seeming expense of the (to me) much more interesting things going on in sections like Discovery, Visions and Wavelengths. Noting that all the 2015 Marquee Presentations selections were either Anglophone or Francophone films, and that nearly all the Masters filmmakers were made men just a little bit more annoyed by the division.
But then I remembered that sectional programming like this is nothing SFIFF hadn't tried before; in fact the first year I really found myself delving into the program back in 2001, the festival had a Masters section (which helped guide me to great films by Agnes Varda, Jan Svankmajer and Bela Tarr, for instance), as well as Big Nights, Next Wave, Global Views, etc. And I realized how useful one particular section was for the festival: Vanguard. Though at TIFF this section name refers to cutting-edge genre films that are perhaps not quite so outré or outlandish to deserve Midnight slots, SFIFF is using it more to signify the most formally experimental films in the festival. Sticking with 2015 as the example, it was clearly quite helpful to the screening I attended of Jenni Olson's The Royal Road, for instance, that the film was positioned as something other than a straightforward documentary about Junipero Serra and the California-spanning thoroughfare he established. Audiences knew to expect an experimental essay film visually composed of landscape shots with no people in them, and seemed to respond well to what they saw.
For 2016, I'm pretty sure the Marquee Presentations are still limited to Anglophone and Francophone films (and that there are even fewer of the latter than there were last year). There are still too few female Masters (but at least the ones they've got are totally inarguable: Barbara Kopple and Chantal Akerman). But I'm fine with the categorizations now, if only because I've grown used to them after a year. And if the existence of the Vanguard section helped make it possible for the festival to program Sixty Six and target it to an appreciative audience, I'm more than fine: I'm all for it!
Unfortunately nearly all the other Vanguard presentations at the festival have already passed. Other than Sixty Six's two showings, the last one remaining is Guetty Felin's "chorale for several voices in the wake of the Haiti earthquake", Ayiti Mon Amour, which screens once more at 9:15 tonight.
HOW: Digital screening with filmmaker in attendance.
OTHER SFIFF SCREENINGS: Today is the last chance to see screenings like Wild by Nicolette Krebitz, Southside With You by Richard Tanne, Les Cowboys by Thomas Bidegain and (as mentioned above) Ayiti Mon Amour, all at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission.
NON-SFIFF SCREENING: Tonight Oddball Films hosts its 99th monthly 16mm iteration of "Strange Sinema", this time on the theme of "Psycho Science". The program includes The Electric Eel, Sun Healing: The Ultra-Violet Way With Life Lite and Living in a Reversed World (which I've seen, the last of them at SFIFF- all are extremely weird and entertaining) and Edgar G. Ulmer's Goodbye, Mr. Germ, (which I have not). Seems like the perfect program to warm up for Penny Lane's NUTS! (which I also haven't seen yet.)