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.
Ten-time IOHTE contributor Michael Hawley runs the blog film-415.
2016 Favorite Bay Area Revival/Repertory Screenings
|Blow Job screen shot from Music Box DVD of The Story of Film: An Odyssey|
Andy Warhol's Silver Screen: Rarities & Restorations, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
I expected to be bored, but instead found myself strangely captivated by this infamous Warhol silent in which the camera coolly observes the face – and only the face – of a young man (DeVeren Bookwalter) angelically lit from above, as he receives a titular off-screen BJ. Shot in high contrast B&W, the exquisite new 16mm print made it easy to savor the way light plays over the planes of his expressive and continually moving face. Eventually one notices how the eyes only become visible when the head tilts back and how his pouty upper lip remains perpetually hidden in shadow. After 25 minutes a pair of arms finally rises in sweet surrender, followed by five minutes of cigarette smoking. The End. On the same double-bill was My Hustler, a 1965 two-reeler gab-fest that benefitted greatly from its astoundingly clear audio. In the first section, a gay man and his fag hag neighbor dish the Dial-a-Hustler (Paul America) lounging on the beach below. Mr. America returns in reel two as he and another hustler (Joseph Campbell) shower, shave and preen whilst discussing the finer points of their trade. I was also lucky enough to catch Warhol's The Life of Juanita Castro (1965) and The Velvet Underground Tarot Cards (1966) as part of this YBCA series.
Hospital (1970 USA dir. Frederick Wiseman)
Frederick Wiseman Restorations: Three Confrontational Classics, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Although I found plenty to admire in Titicut Follies (1967) and High School (1969), both part of this 35mm restorations trio, it was Wiseman's riveting portrait of NYC's Metropolitan Hospital that really shocked my senses. I was particularly taken by the hospital staff's compassion and advocacy for their mostly low-income and indigent clientele – and I'm fully convinced it wasn't just an act for the camera. Inone memorably intense sequence, a staff psychiatrist valiantly pleads by phone with the city's Department of Welfare to obtain help for an underage African-American transgender prostitute.
|Until the End of the World screen shot from Magnolia DVD of Steve Jobs: the Man in the Machine|
Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road, Pacific Film Archive
While I really dug this dystopian road movie 25 years ago in its 158-minute iteration, there's even more tolove now in this gorgeous 4K restoration of Wenders' five-hour director's cut, shown at the PFA with a 30-minute intermission. The film's prescience is staggering, with automobile GPS, facial ID software and inter-personal video communication all part of its near-futuristic milieu.
Loulou (1980 France dir. Maurice Pialat)
Love Exists: The Films of Maurice Pialat, Pacific Film Archive
After seeing a reunited Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu in 2015's In the Valley of Love, it was grand going back 35 years to watch them in the prime of youthful magnificence. In Pialat's slice-of-life examination of class conflict, Huppert plays a young woman who leaves her priggish husband (Guy Marchand) for Depardieu's loutish ex-con. Favorite line: "I'd prefer a loafer who fucks to a rich guy who bugs me!"
Under Age (1941 USA dir. Edward Dmytryk)
I Wake Up Screaming (1941 USA dir. Bruce Humberstone)
The Girl and the Monster (1941 USA dir. Stuart Heisler
I Wake Up Dreaming, Castro Theatre
This line-up of trashy 1941 Film Noir – courtesy of esteemed, soon-to-be ex-San Francisco programmer Elliot Lavine – was THE triple-bill of 2016. In Under Age, two down-on-their-luck sisters fall into a scheme by which hitchhiking women coax businessmen to a chain of rest stops where they're swindled by waiting gangsters. Then in I Wake Up Screaming, a publicity agent is accused of murdering the waitress he's transformed into an A-list celebrity, with a fantastically menacing Laird Cregar as the police inspector out to frame him. I was surprised by a scene in which Betty Grable and Victor Mature hide out in a 24-hour "Adults Only" movie theater. I guess that was already a thing back in 1941? Then in the ultimate cake-taker The Girl and the Monster, a man about to be wrongly executed asks a scientist to transplant his brain into a gorilla so he can seek revenge against the mobsters who prostituted his sister. Yes, you read that correctly.
Multiple Maniacs (1979 USA dir. John Waters)
I hadn't seen Waters' first synch-sound film in over 30 years so this Janus Films 4-K restoration was a true like-a-virgin experience. So many things I had forgotten – Divine's hilariously fevered interior monolog in the church scene, the climactic chase through the streets of Baltimore, the re-enactment of Jesus' multiplying of loaves and fishes (canned tuna and trashy white bread). It was a special thrill seeing it in Alamo Drafthouse's main auditorium with Waters on hand to do the intro honors.
|A Woman of the World screen shot from Janus DVD of The Love Goddesses|
21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro Theatre
Of the 14 programs I caught at this year's SF Silent Film Festival, I had the most fun watching Pola Negri as a tattoo-sporting Italian countess scandalizing a small American hamlet. The image of Negri horsewhipping the local district attorney who wants to run her out of town is now lovingly seared upon my brain. Two additional SFSFF highpoints were Shooting Stars, which marked the debut of brilliant British director Anthony Asquith (A Cottage on Dartmoor), and René Clair's farcical The Italian Straw Hat.
The Beatles at Shea Stadium (1966 USA)
This miraculous 4K restoration of the Fab Four's legendary 35-minute Shea Stadium concert was a bonus feature at screenings of Ron Howard's new documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years. (The doc was concurrently streaming on HULU, minus the Shea concert). Thanks to its being shot with 14 cameras, the viewer experiences everything from the band's dazed sprint out onto the field, right up through their being whisked away by security post-concert. Most importantly, the songs can now be heard clearly over the stadium's 55,000 screaming fans. My favorite moment saw John and George convulsing with laughter while singing back-up on "I'm Down," the concert's final number.
So This is Paris (1926 USA dir. Ernst Lubitsch)
San Francisco Silent Film Festival's A Day of Silents, Castro Theatre
My fave silent film discovery of the year was this clever and breezy marital infidelity romp featuring four first-rate actors I'd never heard of and an orgiastic Charleston dance sequence that's gotta be seen to be believed. This one-day marathon of silent cinema goodness also featured Sadie Thompson with Gloria Swanson (who kept reminding me of Kristen Stewart!), the Alloy Orchestra accompanying Eisenstein's Strike, and the first-ever Oscar winner for Best Actor (Emil Jannings in 1928's The Last Command.)
|Scarlet Street screen shot from Kino DVD|
Noir City 14, Castro Theatre
Edward G. Robinson gives a delicately sympathetic performance as a put-upon hubby and Sunday painter who gets mixed up with a prostitute (Joan Bennett) and her pimp boyfriend (Dan Duryea). It's easy to see why Fritz Lang considered this his favorite of the films he made in Hollywood. The movie wrapped up an impressive Saturday afternoon triple-bill that included 1944's The Lodger starring (once again) the great Laird Cregar as a surrogate Jack the Ripper, and 1944's Bluebeard featuring John Carradine as a women-murdering Parisian puppeteer. Noir City 14 also afforded me worthwhile revisits of Michael Powell's The Red Shoes and Peeping Tom, as well as Antonioni's Blow-Up.