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.
Eight-time IOHTE contributor Terri Saul is a Berkeley-based artist.
|My Winnipeg screen capture from Criterion DVD|
Maddin visits his childhood home Winnipeg, Manitoba, which sits on the confluence of two underground rivers. There’s a feeling of going underground in order to go back in time. He dives in, doing a dramatic reading of his own childhood with noir star Anne Savage cast as his mother playing her younger self. In his fiction-is-more-truthful-than-truth approach, the narrator claims his actual mother was a local soap-opera figure who talked men off ledges, playing her part in a daily re-affirmation for the still-living to eject themselves from a freeze-frame.
The city contextualized also plays itself, growing and resisting within the crackling womb of watery and frozen history. Bubbles emerge and burst such as the 1919 general strike, a First Nations occupation and creation of a parallel city on reclaimed rooftops, and Madden’s own ride on counter-currents.
Maddin, among sleepwalkers, recalls various freedoms to fight for and frights that made him and his beloved city, awaken. My Winnipeg is a living archive, a nest of taboos, and a space for the personal paddling down rapids via the political. The Guardian called Maddin a “Canadian Lynch,” however I find his storytelling to be more confessional and plausible than Lynchian.
He makes good use of small interior spaces such as train cars and basement pools to help create a sense of muggy claustrophobia or steamy, awkward burgeoning sexuality. The tight space also brings to mind investigative journalism, or going undercover to find the anonymous or repressed sources within.
According to F This Movie, “In its initial release, Maddin toured with [My Winnipeg], performing the voice-over narration live every night in front of the screen.” The film as performance art using documentary machinations with Maddin in the theatre added to a sense of being taken along for a ride as a co-conspirator.
|We Won't Grow Old Together screen capture from Kino Lorber DVD|
This “feminist” film by a man accurately shows what it’s like to end an abusive relationship over and over again. Steeped in early 70s-era second wave feminism, and slow like Ozu portraying emptiness, its burning progression is maddening, frustrating, exhausting, yet we wait it out, thinking it might eventually change.
Maximilian Le Cain, roughly translated, has compared Pialat to “a silent hunter watching his prey with infinite patience.” By making the audience suffer in boredom and anger Pialat not only tells a bruising story but also makes an indelible mark in his painterly style. Some say his work is confessional, which doesn’t come as a surprise after seeing a number of his films back-to-back during the PFA series, “Love Exists: The Films of Maurice Pialat.”
3) I Knew Her Well (1965, dir. Antonio Pietrangeli) screened Friday 5/27/2016, 6:30 p.m. at The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.
This is one of those films that, like trauma, should come with a warning: You can’t un-see it after its over.
4) Branded to Kill (1967, dir. Seijun Suzuki) screened Friday 5/27/2016, 8:45 p.m. at The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.
With this film, Suzuki’s bad reputation was born. As a director, he was not a hit man, but his film was destined to become a cult classic and he fought for it. Not your run of the mill gangster film, everything in it is as out of place and ridiculous as the adorable baby-faced killer who fetishizes the odor of cooked rice and longs to grasp the mysterious and coveted position of number one assassin. Joe Shishido who plays Goro Hanada had his cheeks surgically enlarged to achieve his signature hamster-face look. Apparently the entire film is one long piece of improv by the director, fueled by whiskey and an anarchic spirit of collaboration with actors and the crew so it’s not surprising that the narrative doesn’t follow any kind of logic including that of space and time. Suzuki may not have known he was eventually to become number one weirdo when he was fired and blacklisted for making this movie.
|The American Friend screen capture from Criterion DVD|
Another anarchic assassin movie, this Patricia Highsmith adaptation is one of many Mr. Ripley films. This one is based on Ripley’s Game and features Dennis Hopper as Mr. Ripley, and Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Zimmermann the terminally ill hired killer. According to IMDB, seven film directors are cast as villains.
The killer is a picture framer. The actors direct pictures, via frames. Who frames and who get framed? The framing metaphors multiply. Somehow the frame shop scenes are reminiscent of a projection booth. Is it a masterpiece or a forgery, Wenders may have been asking himself as he painted moving pictures in a classic yet personal style.
At 24 frames-per-second, deadly dangerous fights in doorways of moving trains mimic film and top a category of fast-moving cinematic thrills. Wenders pulls off one of the best examples of this dance.
On another note, cinematographer Robby Müller, master of acidic yellow-green, primary red and blue, silver grey-yellow, and all kinds of lighting situations really shines here. It bears repeating what others may have said that every shot, every still, looks like a painting. According to IMDB Müller had to repeatedly refuse color corrections when his film developer failed to recognize the intentionality of his palette.
Another jarring element of Wenders films that periodically crosses over from charm to distraction, is the English language bits that jump out from the German, giving the dialog a distinctive lost-in-translation flavor. In this film it enhances, rather than degrades, the actor’s performances.
6) Kings of the Road (1976, dir. Wim Wenders) screened Sunday 6/12/2016, 6:45 p.m. at The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.
A traveling projector repairman and portraits of the strangers he meets along the East German border continue the talk of frames and piecing it all together as local movie theatres and film projection equipment are shown in various states of decay. As Jan Dawson writing for the PFA observes, the two main characters are thirty years old, thirty years after WWII. They’re both running from an unspeakable past and out of synch with their unacceptable or unknowable present. One is a suicidal psychologist and one is freer of stereotypical Freudian repressions (he defecates in a field on screen, for example). Bruno (Rudiger Vogler) has interesting comic timing and a variety of approaches to performing smiling, laughing, or musing, some silent, some out loud, which emerge slowly and fantastically during the course of his journey. Of the road movies shown during the Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road series, this is the one that made my list of ten for 2016.
7) The Left-Handed Woman (1978, dir. Peter Handke) screened Sunday 6/19/2016, 7:15 p.m. at The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.
The appearance of Rüdiger Vogler was a surprise and tied in nicely with the Wim Wenders road movies.
|Love Streams screen capture from Warner DVD of Electric Boogaloo: the Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films|
A messy film full of impossible scenes set during the hedonistic alcoholic days of the early 80s, a time of unchecked misogyny and runaway bad-boy artistic impulses, this is one of the last times Cassavetes appeared on screen and he was apparently quite ill during the shoot. Gena Rowlands is predictably astonishing as a mentally ill animal lover who adopts a zoo of friends in her lonely state. The set is a kind of impotent Noah’s ark for the Regan era piloted by an anti-hero, a two-headed sibling-monster on a sinking ship without any viable speck of nature or righteousness with which to begin anew after the flood.
9) Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993, Alanis Obomsawin) screened Thursday 11/03/2016, 7:00 p.m. at The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley with the film-maker Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki) in person.
This Indigenous grassroots documentary is so relevant right now in the context of water protectors’ success and difficulty blocking Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) permits. In Kanehsatake a small group of dissenters (protectors) grows and occupies their own ancestral lands in order to block a golf course that would cut through unceded Mohawk territory near the village of Oka, Quebec. Obomsawin shows First Nations humor in the face of white supremacy and state violence to examine how a sustained occupation can test the limits of non-violence in the face of human rights violations, acts of racism, and attempts at humiliation. It also explores the difference between sustained action, stopping and starting an action, and what some would call surrender. This film can be accessed via the National Film Board of Canada website.
|Trick or Treaty screen shot from NFB trailer|
Witnessing First Nations activism continues with teach-ins on Treaty No. 9 and the recording of long walks by Native youth and elders to call attention to treaty rights (the everlasting right to hunt, fish, and prosper on shared lands) promised in written agreements with the Canadian government and ancestors of those appearing in the film. Was Treaty No. 9 a trick or a treaty? Obomsawin reveals so much using simple means.