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 2016. An index of participants can be found here.
Three-time IOHTE contributor Lucy Laird is the operations director for the SF Silent Film Festival, co-boss at Nerd Nite San Francisco, and writer of the occasional program note for local festivals.
In chronological order:
|Image from Film Grimoire; chose it because WE HAD BEEN WAITING so long for the PFA to re-open!|
There was no way I could miss the first “regular” public screening at the PFA. Having heard tales of the before-my-time, not-built-for-cinema Gund Theater’s glory days and having worked in and fallen in love (nothing like a pre-code series to fan the flames) at the “temporary” field-house structure on Bancroft Avenue, I knew this latest iteration had a lot to live up to. Yes, this Bergman was a bit somber for a celebration, but Barbro Osher charmed the audience with her introductory remarks, setting the scene for this: the screen makes generous use of its space (suddenly taking up much more of the wall’s square footage, hurrah!), the audience gasps (or was that just me?) as the masking makes way, the Swedish master takes over, and I see this film for the first time for my third time and the PFA’s fifth time on its third screen!
|Screen capture from youtube.|
Cinemascope, black-and-white perfection. I remember renting it on VHS from Santa Monica’s great (and thankfully not quite late) video store, Vidiots, back in the early aughts, and cursing my stupidity at not waiting until it came to a theater near me in 35 to see it for the first time. But I’d just read Sirk on Sirk, so perhaps you can understand. It’s a film about loneliness and love and stunt flying, the compulsive circling of Robert Stack’s character around the pylons a bit like us cinemaniacs, circling back around to our favorite theaters, convinced the next screening—or the next—will be our most thrilling.
3/4/2016 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) at the New Mission
Technically a revival screening, no matter that it was only a few months out of the theater before it circled back again. This was my first time at an Alamo Drafthouse, but I quickly became a convert to the slightly-too-slick anti-device and -talking pre-show admonitions. Thankfully, George Miller’s dystopian crank-fest was loud enough to dampen any of my newbie annoyance at the (excellent, though pricey!) service of food and drink. Let the record show that earplugs were inserted about 10 minutes into this particular film and I then ate it up, along with a milkshake. Delicious and lived up to the hype—both the movie and the theater!
|Image from MoMA|
Gorgeous, overwrought, a denouement on a bridge that knocked the wind outta me, and a darn fine soft-titling job from a brave soul in the booth. Wish I’d gone to more of these Mexican noirs…
5/22/2016 The Red Balloon (1956) as part of BAMPFA’s free Family Day
I’d been reading my 4-year-old daughter the children’s book version (made up of stills from the film), but it had been years since I’d seen this, so we went with some friends. Still potent, still moving, still or moving, but there’s nothing like experiencing Ménilmontant avec Pascal, on the run through the petite alleyways, only wide enough for a boy and his balloon, watching with kids not yet old enough for subtitles.
|Image from cageyfilms blog|
I couldn’t help thinking I’d’a watched the heck out of this whilst in my obsessed-with-Jean-Seberg phase 20 years ago, because Stefania Sandrelli is just as compelling and has better hair—and her character works as a fabulously dressed cinema usher! What sad fun she and this film are.
6/3/2016 Behind the Door (1919) at the Castro Theatre, part of the 21st SF Silent Film Festival
I don’t have time to preview all the films we show at the Silent Film Festival, and I’m sure glad I didn’t spoil Behind the Door by distractedly watching a digital copy of it ahead of time. Perverse, beautiful, uncanny, and made all the more so with Stephen Horne live, at a late-night screening of a brand-new, tinted 35mm print, this was the rare SFSFF film I made time to watch all the way through DURING the festival, to-do lists be darned! And now here’s my unabashed plug: watch the trailer, then pre-order the DVD/Blu-ray from Flicker Alley
|Image from Theater of Guts blog|
Another of those “How can I have not seen this yet?!” films, White Dog, with its complicated history and cult following, is a movie that I’d wanted to view for the first time on the big screen. But it was oh-so-worth the wait. Such a weird and sinister atmosphere, combining some really shoddy lighting set-ups and acting (I’m looking at you, Kristy), but somehow all the better for those faults. And on Art House Theater Day, and with Fuller’s wife and daughter on hand for a post-screening Q&A, and—I later found out—in a 35mm director’s cut snagged in a twist of fate by a private collector friend. How lucky we are to live here and have access to these experiences! So why was the theater so empty? Your only excuse would be that you decided to see it at the Roxie instead.
10/23/2016 Annie (1982) singalong at the Castro Theatre
Why didn’t anyone tell me that there are GIGANTIC areas of screen covered up by the singalong lyrics? Yes, this was my first singalong experience, so maybe that’s old news. And the bags of stuff everyone gets? The bang-snaps and the glow sticks and the candy and the bubbles? Well, I was a sucker for it all, especially that goodie bag, which kept my kid happy during the (many) charmingly boring parts of this John Huston film that I remember LOVING as a kid. I think I still love it and happily belted out the stupid tunes. This is my kind of expanded cinema.
|Image courtesy contributor|
This is a bit of a cheat because a) this isn’t strictly a movie, and b) I was involved in programming this show that combined a little bit of science, a little bit of cinema, cocktail robots, and a celebration of the New Mission Theater’s 100th anniversary—but I did not book Mr. Grannell, whose bawdy, and brilliant slideshow/lecture on the history of the Bay Area’s cult film scene really livened up the proceedings. Thank Christ for Peaches!