Tuesday, December 24, 2013
WHAT: You'd have to be living under a lump of coal not to know about this film, by now probably the most widely-loved Hollywood movie made before 1950 with the possible exception of Casablanca. You may have heard that it was a flop on its initial release in 1946, which is not exactly true, as it was nominated for several Oscars including Best Picture, and sold enough tickets to place it in the top 30 box office draws of the year. Just not enough to turn a profit on its unusually high (for its time) production cost.
You may also have heard that it was forgotten for decades until someone realized its copyright had not been renewed, thus making it a cheap buy for television stations which soon began broadcasting it frequently, turning it into a classic. I'm not sure how truly forgotten it was (as a former Best Picture nominee it must have been known to some people), but it apparently was unknown enough that a classroom of film students including my favorite classic film podcaster Frank Thompson had never heard of it when Capra himself came to screen it in Boston in the early 1970s.
But It's A Wonderful Life has never really let up its grip on our collective cultural memory loosen since those days. Now annual screenings in cinemas and on television stations are joined by annual internet articles about the film's history as a target of anti-Communist investigation, about its surviving cast, and more. My favorite new-for-2013 piece of It's A Wonderful Life effluvia is a newly re-cut trailer put together by the Cinefamily (formerly Silent Movie Theatre) in Los Angeles for its current week-long 35mm run of the film. Enjoy!
WHERE/WHEN: Screens at 2 & 7 today only at Century Theatres around Frisco Bay (and beyond). It also screens at 9PM at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, but this annual showing is, as always, sold out. I warned you!
WHY: Merry Christmas!
HOW: 35mm at the Stanford and digitally elsewhere.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
WHAT: Though released a year beforehand, We Were Here makes an ideal compliment to David France's 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary How To Survive A Plague. The latter is comprised almost entirely of archival video footage of East Coast AIDS activists, the overwhelming majority of them white, male, and connected to ACT UP New York. It's a film filled with inspiring anger, caustic wit, ferocious energy, and quite a bit of rousing chanting. We Were Here includes some archival footage (the above screen shot is from one ACT UP moment on Castro Street) but is on the whole far more calm and even contemplative. It relies almost exclusively on sit-down interviews and still photographs, and focuses on San Francisco rather than New York and Washington, but takes a broader historical look at the history of AIDS from its mysterious and alarming beginnings, includes more oral histories of women and people of color, and gives at least as much attention to the role of caregivers and support networks as to activists in the the fight against the disease's ravages. That at least two excellent documentaries of such disparate styles and approaches have been made on the topic in the last few years is a sign that the subject of the AIDS crisis is likely to yield a wide range of more valuable films to come.
WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Castro at 7PM.
WHY: Today is World AIDS Day. A good day to hold in mind the many filmmakers the world has lost to the disease (a partial list here) and wonder what beautiful works might have been created were they still with us. The Castro observes the day with a special screening of We Were Here at which Weissman (who also produced the film) and some of the cast will be present to answer questions afterward.
It's also the first day of December and a new calendar for the theatre, which aside from the glimpse in the above image is also mentioned by one of the We Were Here interviewees, who recalls first learning about the "gay cancer" on his way to a double-bill of Golden Age classics Casablanca and Now, Voyager. Neither of those films are on the December docket, but quite a few Hollywood Studio-System era films of the sort that have grown somewhat scarce within the Castro walls make appearances: To Catch A Thief, Dial 'M' For Murder, It's A Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz, Some Like It Hot and Singin' in the Rain screen via the new-fangled DCP technology, while Blast of Silence, Christmas Eve, The Fortune Cookie, A Night at the Opera and Duck Soup will show on 35mm prints just as they would have on their original releases or as revivals during the 1980s. The month's sole foreign-language offering is the 1946 French classic Children Of Paradise (not Phantom of the Paradise as I was led to believe earlier) and it will screen from a DCP.
Films made in 1968, 1977, the mid-eighties, early-nineties and beyond each get their own 35mm double-bills sometime during the month: The Tbomas Crown Affair and Bullitt December 21st, Eraserhead and Killer of Sheep on the 13th, Gremlins and Lethal Weapon (both Christmas-related actually) on the 19th, True Romance and Pulp Fiction on the 27th, and the MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS pairing of Home For The Holidays and Love Actually on the 20th of the month. More recent fare includes the documentary on the John Waters collaborator I Am Divine (for which David Weissman is thanked in the credits- perhaps related to the fact that he and Weber's prior film before We Were Here was The Cockettes) December 9th, 3D showings of Gravity on the 10th and 11th, and (in a preview of early 2014) Blue Jasmine January 2nd.
December has more than the usual number of days in which the Castro will be used for something other than motion pictures, but of particular interest is a December 16th Holiday Benefit Concert intended to help raise money to prevent the theatre from losing its Wurlitzer organ. There's also the traditional Christmas Eve Gay Men's Chorus concert of course, which recalls that you've always wanted to sing along to a movie at the Castro, you have several chances over the coming week, including this afternoon. I'm more interested in finally attending another audience-participation screening event; Every year I've had to work during Rick Prelinger's Lost Landscapes of San Francisco programs of local home-movie and other "ephemeral" footage accompanied by the sounds of audience members calling out questions and comments about the Frisco Bay history unfolding before them on the screen. This year I have the night off and wouldn't you know it the event is sold out already. Look for me in the walk-up line for unclaimed tickets with my fingers crossed.
HOW: Digital production and presentation.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
WHAT: When people talk about the pre-code gangster films Hollywood brewed out of the early-1930s confluence of Prohibtion, the Depression, and the sudden celebrity status of the likes of Al Capone and John Dillinger, they always seem to leave out this film. The first Marx Brothers movie conceived of for the silver screen (as the prior The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers has been based on stage shows) is perhaps more often thought of as "the one on a ship" than "the one with gangsters" but the latter form a key part of the film's completely unimportant plot. Just because it's an absurd comedy doesn't mean it shouldn't go down with other 1931 films like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy as important films made before the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping turned Hollywood away from on-screen gangster depictions for a while. It' not for nothing that the illustrious Dave Kehr once decribed the comic aspects of Howard Hawks's Scarface by invoking the image of "Chico Marx let loose with a live machine gun."
WHERE/WHEN: Today through Sunday at the Stanford Theatre at 6:00 & 9:15.
WHY: Happy Thanksgiving and Hannukah. You've probably already heard about how an unusually late-in-month Thanksgiving and an unusually early-in-Gregorian-year Hannukah have converged today for the first time since the nineteenth century, making for a once-in-lifetime double holiday. Being a goy myself, I'm not one to proscribe holiday traditions, but if a rabbi says watching Marx Brothers movies is a good way to celebrate Hannukah, I'm happy to pass it along.
Thanksgiving being a big moviegoing day to begin with, there's few classic comedy masterpieces that seem as well-suited to the holiday as The Lady Eve, with its uproariously funny banquet set piece. The pairing of Monkey Business on a double-bill with an equally ship-board and crook-filled comedy seems so perfect that I almost wonder if the Stanford noticed the Thanksgiving/Hannukah collision on the calendar and decided to build its current Preston Sturges/Marx Brothers series inspired by it.
HOW: 35mm as always at the Stanford.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
WHAT: For my money, Christmas In July has as much as a claim on the title of "Sturges's greatest film" as any of his others. Perhaps it doesn't usually get such respect because it's at just over an hour long the shortest of the director's films, or perhaps simply because it was only his second film after his promotion from screenwriter into the director's chair. But at least one major critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, seems to agree it's among his best, and has called the film "a riotous satire of capitalism that bites so deep it hurts" and placed it on his 100-film deep counter-canon to the 1997 AFI 100 list which included no Preston Sturges films at all. (The 2007 update saw Sullivan's Travels added to the list.)
WHERE/WHEN: Today and tomorrow at 4:20 and 7:30 at the Stanford Theatre
WHY: Relax. I know it's still not even Thanksgiving (or Hanukkah- or indeed Thanksgivukkah), so it's arguably too early to watch Christmas movies. But this is not a Christmas movie despite having the word in the title; it's set in the middle of a New York summer (hence the "July" part of the title), and the "Christmas" moniker refers only to the bounty associated with the season.
But though it may still be to early in the year to see Christmas movies, it's not too early to make plans to see them. The Stanford will start selling tickets to its annual December 24th 35mm screening of It's A Wonderful Life on December 7th, only at the theatre box office (nice extra incentive to see a terrific double bill of Sullivan's Travels and Horse Feathers that day or the next.) Tickets always sell out in advance for this event.
The Castro will be showing It's A Wonderful Life in December too this year, though it's not yet been announced whether this will be in 35mm or not. At any rate that happens December 22nd. Other X-mas-related films to play that theatre next month include Gremlins and Lethal Weapon on the 19th and Love Actually on the 20th courtesy of MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS (billed with the Thanksgiving-themed Home for the Holidays and an unnanounced Roxie midnight show)
HOW: Christmas in July screens on a 35mm double-bill with the Four Marx Brothers in Animal Crackers.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
WHAT: Of the nine surviving Hitchcock silent films which circulated as a group around the country earlier this year, The Lodger is probably the best choice to see on Halloween: its atmospheric depiction of night, of fog, and of a mysterious stranger stepping out of it while an entire section of London is terrorized by a "Jack the Ripper" style killer, makes it the earliest of Hitchcock's films generally thought of as possessing the identifiable signature of the future "Master of Suspense" in just about every scene.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at Davies Symphony Hall at 7:30 PM.
WHY: Every Halloween night for the past several years the San Francisco Symphony has taken the evening off and brought in a concert organist to perform a live score to a classic film from the silent era. Past titles have included The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Phantom of the Opera, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This year the Symphony decided to expand the tradition by building four days of Hitchcock music & film programming into its Halloween season, but tonight's annual organ performance is for many the centerpiece of the week, as unlike last night's Psycho screening, tomorrow's Vertigo showing, or Saturday's Hitchcock grab-bag, it doesn't involve the reconfiguring of a sound mix originally approved by Hitchcock.
More silent films, most of them with live musical accompaniment, screening in Frisco Bay venues in the next months:
As I mentioned recently, the Rafael Film Center is showing the 1922 Nosferatu: a Symphony of Horror tonight, and will hold another silent film program December 12th; only the latter will have live musical accompaniment.
The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont has just revealed its November-December schedule (as a pdf) including its traditional Saturday night screenings for November.
The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley is showing the last purely silent film starring the so-called "Chinese Garbo" Ruan Lingyu, The Goddess, on November 8th, as well as her first (sort-of) talkie New Women November 9th and Stanley Kwan's acclaimed film about Ruan starring Maggie Cheung, Center Stage, on November 29th.
The Castro Theatre will host the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's next event: a January 11th day-long tribute to Charlie Chaplin on the 100th anniversary of his filmmaking career. Titles were just announced earlier this week, and include The Gold Rush, The Kid and a program of Mutual two-reelers..
Finally, the SF Symphony continues the 2014 Chaplin celebration April 12th by performing live the actor/director/writer/composer's own score for a screening of City Lights.
HOW: Since 2010 the Symphony's Halloween screenings have all been digital presentations. Tonight's features Todd Wilson on the organ.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
WHAT: When I first saw the bulk of Kenneth Anger's films all in one go at a Castro Theatre screening with Anger present, this was the one that I was most drawn to, not because I have any particular interest in the occult or Satanism (though I love Halloween, and was always fascinated by the black house a few blocks from mine growing up, which is where LaVay lived and reportedly kept a pet tiger) but because the combination of its alienating soundtrack and its unusual editing effects seemed most "of a piece" to a budding cinephile. Since that day twelve and a half years ago I've grown more appreciative of other Anger films but this one still retains its eerie power. Here's a great blog collecting writing on the film.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight on a program starting at 8:00 at Oddball Films
WHY: Tonight's Oddball program is Satanic Sinema: The Devil Gets His Due. Also featuring animation like the Betty-Boop-in-Hell cartoon Red Hot Mamma and the 1970s Canadian TV special that haunted me as a youngster, The Devil and Daniel Mouse, as well as devilish live-action curiosities featuring burlesque dancer Betty Dolan, occult icon Sybil Leek, and future president Ronald Reagan.
It's part of a full week of screenings at Oddball, a venue that normally opens its doors to the public only on Thursdays and Fridays, but is going full-throttle for Halloween week, with a screening of the definitive Bible-Belt haunted house documentary Hell House Wednesday night, a shorts program including the Mario Bava-esque oral hygiene scare film The Haunted Mouth on Halloween itself, and a spooky animation spotlight on Friday, November 1st.
HOW: All of tonight's films are expected to screen on 16mm.
Friday, October 25, 2013
WHAT: There's Raoul Walsh, who directed Gun Fury. There's John Ford, who directed (uncredited) the final scenes of Hondo when John Farrow was contractually forced to give up his director's chair to go make another picture. There's even the little-remembered Herbert L. Strock, who directed the science fiction picture Gog. But of all the one-eyed filmmakers of the 1950s, the one most famous for making a 3D picture is André de Toth. This is probably because he was first out the gate; before House of Wax no major studio had released a color 3D picture, and the horror film became an immediate sensation. De Toth secured his legacy as a stereoscopy specialist by following House of Wax up with two 3D Westerns starring Randolph Scott, 1953's The Stranger Wore A Gun and 1954's The Bounty Hunter, although the latter was filmed but never shown in 3D as by the time of its release the 3D craze was already over- to lie dormant for decades.
WHERE/WHEN: 5 screenings: Tonight, Sunday and Monday at 6:30 PM, and tomorrow and Sunday at 2:15 PM, all at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.
WHY: A big week for special screenings at the Rafael; in addition to these five shows there's also a 30th anniversary screening of the epic astronaut drama The Right Stuff with director Philip Kaufman tomorrow night at 7:00. Both showings seem timed perfectly with the popularity of current 3D astronaut movie Gravity. The rest of Halloween week at the Rafael is filled out by a Tuesday tribute to television horror hosts and two showings of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu with a recording of Hans Erdmann's original 1922 score for the film on Wednesday and Thursday. In addition, seven screenings of the so-called "final cut" of director Robin Hardy's 1973 cult film The Wicker Man occur between tonight and Thursday. Some good comments about the latter item were made by my friend David Robson.
All of the above are digital screenings, but the Rafael plans to flex its capability to screen 35mm prints at least a couple more times before the year is out, according to the latest calendar (pdf). On November 10th local filmmaker Rob Nilsson brings a new 35mm print of his ultra-naturalistic 1979 Cannes-prize winning film Northern Lights to the Rafael November 10th (shortly after showing it at the Pacific Film Archive). And on December 12, Randy Haberkamp returns for an annual visit to Marin to screen Lois Weber's astonishing Suspense, D.W. Griffith's The Mothering Heart, and other films and excerpts from "The Films of 1913" with live music from pianist Michael Mortilla. At least some of the films will screen via a vintage 1909 hand-cranked 35mm film projector.
House of Wax was a remake of the 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum, itself influenced by the 1924 German film Waxworks, which screens tomorrow at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. If San Rafael or Niles are to far-afield for your Halloween screening excursions, the Roxie is hosting a Saturday night "Spooktacular Slumber Party" but has not revealed any details of what it will be showing. My curiosity is piqued.
HOW: House of Wax will screen using modern digital 3D technology; it would be nice to see it in its original dual-35mm-projector version but Frisco Bay theatres haven't screened prints this way in years (the Castro in 2006 and the Stanford back in 2000) and there's no sign they'll start again anytime soon.
Friday, September 13, 2013
WHAT: Sandwiched between the ripe-for-analysis The Brood and Videodrome in Cronenberg's career, Scanners today seems like a comparatively overlooked entity in the Canadian filmmaker's mid-career period of rising budgets, increasing international exposure, and deepening intellectual approach to genre filmmaking. Everyone remembers the opening and closing scenes in this film about telekinetic combat between warring corporate and underground factions, but rarely are the rest of the film's plot details, or its aesthetic strategies, discussed at any length. One essay that delves into a particularly neglected example of the latter is Paul Theberge's Cronenberg-focused chapter of Off the Planet: Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema. Here's an excerpt:
the most significant uses of electronic sounds take place in relation to the theme of telepathic power: as this power is essentially invisible, Cronenberg must turn to sound in order to make it manifest. Indeed, it is through sound that the scanning power is not only made manifest but, also, given th kind of physical intensity that justifies its enormous effects on other individuals and on the external world. Typically, the sound of the scanning tones (derived from raw oscillator sounds and other effects associated with the 'classic; electronic studio of the 1950s and 1960s) increases in intensity until its power is suddenly unleashed and its effects made visible in the cinematic imageWHERE/WHEN: Screens at 9:30 tonight only at the Castro Theatre.
WHY: With new retrospectives, film series, and film festivals being announced an an almost daily basis, we're now entering what must be the busiest couple months for Frisco Bay cinephilia. From now until Thanksgiving we can expect a bare minimum of one film festival running every weekend. It's about enough to make your head explode.
Another strand of cinephilia over the next month and a half is the annual procession of horror films programmed to get us in the mood for Halloween. What better a day than Friday the 13th to mark the unofficial launch of this particularly welcome programming thread. The Castro is a favored venue for gatherings of scary movie lovers, and is doing a great job getting us prepared for the spooky season. After tonight's Scanners screening there's a brilliant double-bill of the art-horror classic Carnival of Souls with the creepy (but not normally thought of as horror per se) Last Year in Marienbad this Sunday, Burnt Offerings and the "Amelia" segment of the made-for-TV Trilogy of Terror as part of a tribute to the recently-deceased Karen Black on September 18th, a pairing of The Shining with The Changeling September 27th, and a day of digital 3-D versions of the two most famous 50s-era 3-D horror films House of Wax and Creature From the Black Lagoon, along with a matinee screening of the 2008 documentary Watch Horror Films -- Keep America Strong.
That's September 29th, but Castro's October horror programming has also been partially revealed on its website, including a new restoration of The Wicker Man October 4-5, an Isabelle Adjani (at her palest) show of Nosteratu the Vampyre and Possession October 6, Psycho (with Marnie) October 13, Alien (with Dark Star) on the 23rd, and an early 1980s werewolf duo of Joe Dante's The Howling and John Landis's American Werewolf In London. Elegantly capping the month on Friday November 1st is a disturbingly amazing double-bill of what are probably Cronenberg's scariest films The Fly and Dead Ringers.
The MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS website has not been updated to reflect the rumors that its October 18th Castro show will involve a pair of horror movies famously frightening for what's *not* seen on-screen, or that after its Castro screenings of Can't Hardly Wait and Rules of Attraction next Friday, September 20th, the MANiACS will be crawling to the Roxie for a very rare 35mm showing of Ted Nicolaou's dementedly Cronenberg-esque Terrorvision. There's not much else horror-related on the Roxie's latest printed calendar, except for the Film On Film Foundation's presentation of The Witch Who Came From the Sea, a 1970s exploitation rarity that involves more psychosexual melodrama than straight-up horror. It (along with another Matt Cimber-directed film called Lady Cocoa) constitutes the first FOFF presentation in over two years, and is thus a welcome return for the organization (which has dutifully maintained the ever-useful Bay Area Film Calendar in the meantime).
I hesitate to mention Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, screening at the Roxie this Sunday, because although it is sometimes grouped with horror films because of its extremely disturbing imagery and the horrific situations it depicts, approaching the film as some kind of a forerunner to 21st Century "torture porn" horror movie rather than as the expressly political work it is, does no favors to Pasolini or to the audience watching it. The Pacific Film Archive is screening it on October 31, which seems more appropriate because it makes it the last film of the venue's roughly-chronological September-October retrospective, than because it makes for an ideal Halloween activity. The more other Pasolini films you can see before watching Salò, the better, in my book. In fact, I think it should be all-but required for a first-time Salò viewer to have seen at least one film of the director's "Trilogy of Life" (The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights) before viewing his last and bleakest film. If you're a Pasolini virgin planning to see Salò at the Roxie Sunday, please make an effort to watch one of his other films playing at the Castro or Roxie this weekend before you do, or you may get a very mistaken impression of the filmmaker and the meaning of his swan song. The PFA's Pasolini chronology is a highly-recommended one.
The only real horror title on the current PFA calendar is not playing at the theatre at all, but is an outdoor showing of Phillip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers in downtown Berkeley. Other upcoming East Bay horror and horror-related screenings include the "Monster In Our Shorts" program at the Oakland Underground Film Festival, most of the digitally-projected classics announced to play the New Parkway in late September and October, and most of the 16mm programs screening at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum on October, including the German expressionist Waxworks, and the early spook-house movie The Cat and The Canary. Even the 'Rex' the Wonder Horse film playing at Niles October 5th has a spooky title: The Devil Horse.
HOW: Scanners screens in 35mm tonight as part two of an SFMOMA-presented double bill with The Manchurian Candidate.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
WHAT: I've seen a few more stereotypical "summer movies" this year than I usually do. Perhaps it's because, with the (temporary) closure of the Embarcadero and the (sadly permanent) closure of the Bridge and the Lumiere, there are fewer arthouse options calling me to the cinema this summer than in prior years. So far my favorite of the gargantuan-budgeted studio releases, my favorite has been the widely reviled The Lone Ranger, which I hope to make time to write about before it disappears from local screens- but that day is not today. So instead, Pacific Rim. I can't say I liked it very much, other than a few touches revolving around the fairly well-handled Mako Mori character.
If you want to read a generally favorable take on Pacific Rim that is nonetheless rational about some of its shortcomings, there's probably no-one better than Vern to provide it for you. But my friend Dennis Cozzalio (from whom I have brazenly borrowed he above still, hoping he doesn't mind) sums up my impression quite nicely:
Del Toro's monster mash makes a hell of a racket, but it goes nowhere, and not particularly fast at that. The sinking feeling I got from watching the trailers, which was dissipated somewhat by some of the decent reviews, came back very quickly as I waited for the endless battle sequences to amount to something-- anything-- but the conclusion of Pacific Rim ends up as routine as everything that came before it, and just as exhausting as well.WHERE/WHEN: Screens multiple times daily at the Balboa through Thursday, and at many other theatres throughout the area through Thursday and beyond, although its screen count will drop Friday to make way for the next would-be blockbusters.
WHY: Why feature a movie I didn't particularly care for on a day when there are interesting films (albeit unseen by me) playing at (for example) the Stanford or the Roxie?
Because it seems like a perfect opportunity to remind readers of an upcoming screening of the film that more than any other Pacific Rim owes its existence to. Of course I speak of Ishiro Honda's 1954 Godzilla, which has its own remake on the way, but more importantly screens at the the most palatial movie venue on Frisco Bay in just over two weeks.
I've never known the Paramount to screen a foreign-dialogue film with English subtitles before, however. Godzilla will screen, I understand, in its original Japanese-language version, with subtitles translated and prepared by Michie Yamakawa and Bruce Goldstein in 2004. This might work. This might be awesome. With the energy of a big enough audience there, it WILL be awesome.
Akira Ifukube's score and Godzilla's signature vocalizations should come through fine, and if the dialogue doesn't it won't be much of a problem for English-language readers. As usual at the Paramount there will be a cartoon, newsreel, and live organ performance beforehand. Best of all, the show will only cost five dollars a ticket. At those prices, your budget may be able to also afford the cocktails available to be enjoyed in style in the glorious Grand Lobby or one of the ornately Art Deco lounges,
So if your friends ask you to go along with them to see Pacific Rim, consider taking them up on it. Maybe you'll like it better than Dennis or I did. But whether you do or not, make sure to tell them to come along with you to Godzilla at the Paramount August 9th so you all can see what a time-tested kaiju eiga (monster movie) can look like on a REALLY. BIG. SCREEN. Wouldn't it be great if 1700 people filled every seat in the house for a showing of a 1954 Japanese movie?
HOW: 35mm print at the Balboa, and digitally in 2D, 3D, and (at least through Thursday) 3D IMAX (at the Metreon) and "LieMax" (at other venues using the IMAX brand) elsewhere. It was shot in digital 2D, so 3D versions are post-converted.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
There isn't a day between now and Thanksgiving in which at least one film festival can't be found somewhere here on Frisco Bay. This has actually been the case since the United Nations Association Film Festival began on October 18th. It ends tonight, while the Chinese American Film Festival ends tomorrow, and the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now series runs until this Tuesday, October 30th (I can recommend the closing night selection Sister by Ursula Meier of Home notoriety, who will be on hand for the screening. Check Film-415 for more suggestions). The upstart Silicon Valley Film Festival comes to Santa Clara beginning Halloween night, and the venerable American Indian Film Festival begins here in San Francisco two days later. Before that's over, SF IndieFest's 11th Annual DocFest will have begun its two-week run at the Roxie and other venues. In the midst of all of these festivals are... more festivals, like the California Independent Film Festival in Orinda and Moraga, and the SFFS's Cinema By The Bay and New Italian Cinema here in Frisco proper. I count twelve in all, and that doesn't include Not Necessarily Noir III, the excellent series running through Halloween, where I've already seen brilliant neo-noir gems like To Live And Die In L.A. and Miami Blues as well as an extraordinarily rare 35mm print of Monte Hellman's 1974 Cockfighter. Perhaps I ought to think of that as a festival, as it self-identifies as on the Roxie website, as well. Anyway, after this dozen-festival (or baker's dozen?) streak ends on November 21st, we're likely to be in for a month or two of comparative festival drought, with only the Another Hole in the Head genre film festival and the touring Found Footage Festival detected by my feelers until Noir City opens in late January. Noir City's full line-up will be revealed at a December 19th Castro Theatre double-bill screening of as-yet-undisclosed titles.
With two big writing deadlines (for forthcoming publications, more details later) and other activities, October's been busy enough for me that I haven't been able to go out to the cinema as much as I'd normally like, much less post on this blog. Because I've got big plans for celebrating Halloween with a family member's wedding on that day, I won't be able to see any of the horror movies playing during the last few days of October, like the double-features playing the final two days of Not Necessarily Noir III, the one playing Tuesday at the Castro Theatre, the screening of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (and the Cameraman's Revenge) with live organ accompaniment at Davies Symphony Hall that night, or the screenings of the original John Carpenter Halloween at the Balboa Theatre Tuesday and Wednesday.
Luckily for a busy groomsman like myself, there will be many opportunities to celebrate Halloween belatedly with plenty of special horror movie screenings throughout November and even into December. Of foremost interest is probably the Stanford Theatre, which has just extended its published calendar until the end of next month, continuing with the Universal Pictures centennial celebration it began in September by moving from the 1920s & 30s into the 1940s. As I mentioned in my last post, Universal horror rarities Werewolf of London and Secret of the Blue Room will screen on Halloween, but also on the following day before being switched out for a print of the famous Lon Chaney, Sr. silent Phantom of the Opera on Friday, November 2. Now we know that Universal's 1943 Phantom starring Claude Rains will play November 3-4 alongside Cobra Woman, a film that rarely gets labeled a horror movie, but that in my mind connects directly to RKO supernatural thrillers of its era like Cat People and The Leopard Man. November 14-16 brings a double-bill of the Karloff-less 1940 reboot The Mummy's Hand and the Lon Chaney, Jr. star-maker The Wolf Man from 1941. The rest of November at the Stanford showcases Universal's range, bumping a Hitchcock thriller (Saboteur) up against a W.C. Fields farce (The Bank Dick), placing a Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes favorite (The Scarlet Claw) with an Ole Olson/Chic Johnson vehicle in which they make a cameo (Crazy House) , and devoting double-bills to Robert Siodmak noirs, or Abbot & Costello musical-comedies. A complete Deanna Durbin retrospective is promised for December at the venue.
Back to horror movies, the Napa Valley Film Festival is showing two of the scariest ones ever made alongside documentaries about them. Stanley Kubrick's The Shining screens November 7th just after the Frisco Bay premiere of Rodney Ascher's much-anticipated investigation into the film's cult and scholarly following Room 237, while George Romero's Night of the Living Dead screens after the last of three showings of what looks to be a more traditional making-of documentary, Year of the Living Dead. Less "traditionally" a horror movie, but no less horrific, and (in my view) no less great a film than Romero's, is Ted Kotcheff's Wake In Fright, which similarly finds one man up against a threatening army of individuals who want to turn him into one of their own (in this case brain-numbed alcoholic Australians rather than brain-eating zombies). It currently screens in 35mm at the Opera Plaza through at least November 1st. It also plays at the Shattuck in Berkeley, but I'm not sure that venue still has 35mm projection equipment on hand after a recent digital makeover, which I've been told has also left the California Theatre without 35mm capability, and the Embarcadero with only one of its screens 35mm-capable.
The films of Jan Svankmajer are frequently labeled as horror films, justifiably so, I think. There's little more cinematically unsettling than the visceral visions on display in films like Alice, Little Otik, etc. The Yerba Buena Center For The Arts devotes most of November in its screening room to the Czech animator, and is screening works by a perhaps-similar animator named Nathalie Djurberg in the galleries through January. The aforementioned Another Hole in the Head (HoleHead) festival has moved its festival from its traditional early-summer slot to bridge November and December, specifically in order to improve its position in the festival marketplace for for horror films particularly (undoubtedly the fest has made some spotty picks in the past), and is bringing such titles as The Killing Games, Road To Hell, and Deadball. The latter is HoleHead favorite director Yudai Yamaguchi's return to the scene of the crime of his first feature, Battlefield Baseball: the baseball diamond. San Francisco Giants fans should turn out in droves to see a splatter movie about a pitcher with a literally deadly arm, but note: one of Yamaguchi's previous film projects put him afoul of a Yomiuri Giant in 2005.
Atypically, the HoleHead offering I'm probably most curious about is actually not a film at all but the opening night party entertainment: a one-man Oingo Boingo cover act that goes by the name Only A Lad but is also known as Starbeast II. Oingo Boingo was one of the bands I saw perform live as often as I could in my high school and college days, seeing them six times before frontman Danny Elfman devoted his musical attention exclusively to composing film scores. It was a band formed out of the ashes of Los Angeles theatre troupe the Mystic Knights Of Oingo Boingo, whose sensibility was (so I understand) best documented by the 1980 cult-film oddity Forbidden Zone, which will screen at Terra Gallery before the opening-night party in a new colorized version. Director (and Danny's older brother) Richard Elfman will be in attendance to answer questions like: "why would you want to colorize Forbidden Zone?" He is known to be an excellent raconteur, and I confirmed this at an in-person screening (of the original version) at the Lumiere Theatre in 2004. Certainly one of the most memorable screenings I ever took in at the Lumiere, which sadly closed its doors as a Landmark-operated theatre just over a month ago, with no indication that it will find a new tenant to operate it in the time since.
Since Forbidden Zone really is no more a horror movie than The Rocky Horror Picture Show is (its relationship to the weirdest pop culture artifacts of the 1930s is not dissimilar to that of Rocky Horror's relationship to 1950s drive-in movies), let me steer back on the track I keep veering off of: horror movies showing after Halloween. The Pacific Film Archive's November-December calendar actually includes a number of horror or borderline-horror films on it. Barry Gifford will be on hand on the last Thursday in November and the first two Saturdays in December, for a five-program tribute to his screenwriting career including the often bone-chilling Lost Highway and more collaborations with David Lynch and international autuers. And the continuing fall tribute to pre-nouvelle vague French filmmaking includes a pair of eerie, supernatural-themed classics and one authentique horror movie, Georges Franju's unforgettable Eyes Without A Face. One last note: when I first saw that the PFA would presenting three new restorations of diverse, masterpiece-level works by avant-garde filmmakers on Halloween night I wrote it off as counter-programming. But I recently remembered that Vincent Price narrates one of the three, the lovely Notes On The Port Of St. Francis by Frank Stauffacher. It's good that the horror movie master's sonorous tones will be able to entertain an audience that evening, even if I'm going to have to miss it myself.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Year's running out. Holidays are closing in. Frisco Bay movie theatres wrapping up their 2011 programming with annual traditions like Wizard of Oz at the Paramount December 30 and It's A Wonderful Life at the Stanford December 24th, although it's already sold out there. Not at the Balboa or (on the 25th) at New People though, both theatres hoping what's proven popular in Palo Alto can be so here in SF too. New People's also trying a late Friday holiday screening of the Finnish monster movie (with Santa as monster) Rare Exports: a Christmas Tale, as well as a run of the wintry Silent Souls and a new 35mm print of the cold, cold Truffaut classic The Bride Wore Black from now until Thursday, December 22. The Rafael in Marin has another snowbound film starting December 23: Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush with a newly adapted version of Chaplin's score (the occasion for the new 35mm release). The Castro is counter-programming all this chilliness with a full week of heart-warming musicals, starting with a knockout Vincente Minnelli double bill of Meet Me In St. Louis and The Band Wagon December 26th, and winding up with a "sing-a-long" (that is, lyrically subtitled) 35mm print of West Side Story. And this Friday's Oddball Films program is simply a must-see for anyone into Georges Méliès, or Warner Brothers cartoons not on DVD, or the films of Charles & Ray Eames, or all of the above (like me!)
I had to get that paragraph out of the way before coming to the main purpose of this post: to announce, and to provide an index for, a year-end-project cooked up by my buddy Ryland Walker Knight and myself to be cross-posted here at Hell On Frisco Bay and on Ryland's blog Vinyl Is Heavy this week. BANG BANG refers to the double vertical numerals we've been living with since January. We've asked a number of fine folks to weigh in with various year-end-wrap-up articles. Top tens, mostly, though not exclusively. Movies, mostly, though not exclusively. We'll wrap-up the week with our own top ten new releases of 2011. Watch this space!
On The Wagon:
Adam Hartzell offers his top ten with commentary
Julian Tran and Cuyler Ballenger share six crime movies they loved seeing last year
Dave McDougall's selected 2011 discoveries, briefly noted and across various media
Matthew Flanagan gives a quick rundown of stuff he loved from last year
Eric Freeman walks us through some things he found interesting in some things he saw this year
Akiva Gottlieb's got some love for Poetry
Jenny Stewart offers notes on storytelling, and how Breaking Bad's so good at it
Durga Chew-Bose loves ladies
Ryland Walker Knight gabs on some stuff about impermanence
My own entry
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
It's truly Winter on Frisco Bay now, with temperatures to prove it. What better time to spend inside a movie theatre, being warmed by the heat of artistic achievement? Though it may be tougher to find time for culture in a December packed with holiday parties and shopping trips, the potential psychological and, dare I say, spiritual rewards, of seeing a good or great movie seem to be ramped up at this time of year. Why else do so many film companies release so many of the films they think will resonate with adult audiences during this season? (So they can position their films for critics' top tens and Academy Awards, you say? Don't be such a Scrooge!) This week Frisco Bay hosts at least two screenings likely to have a profound mood-altering effect on religious and secular cinephiles alike. I mentioned both in my last post but they're worth repeating. There's Thursday's screening of Carl Dreyer's 1928 The Passion of Joan Of Arc at the glorious Paramount, with a 22-piece orchestra and full chorus performing Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light composition as underscore. Seeing the trial of the Maid of Orleans enacted (almost entirely in facial close-ups) on such a large screen with such glorious music accompanying is likely to be the cultural highlight of the month (if not year) for anyone no matter what their religious affiliation, or lack thereof. Then on Saturday the Rafael Film Center screens Apichatpong Weerasethakul's very spiritually-attuned new film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives as part of a week-long International Buddhist Film Festival Showcase.
I haven't seen any of the other selections in the Rafael program of Buddhist-themed films (though I should note that the documentary Saint Misbehavin': the Wavy Gravy Movie will begin a week-long engagement at the Red Vic this Friday, before it screens at the Rafael on Sunday), but I have previewed DVD screener copies of two hour-long films playing together as part of the International Buddhist Film Festival's December 9-19 stint at the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts. Titled The Inland Sea and Dream Window: Reflections on the Japanese Garden, these two Nipponophile documentaries from the early 1990s will be presented in rare 35mm prints, and the cinematographer for The Inland Sea, Hiro Narita (who also shot Never Cry Wolf and La Mission among many other titles) will be present at the films' December 12 pairing.
The Inland Sea ties nicely into the Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives screening because the latter film's director Apichatpong has reportedly been planning to follow his Cannes prize-winning film with a project on Donald Richie, who narrates and briefly appears in The Inland Sea, quite appropriately since he wrote the 1971 travel memoir upon which it was based. Richie is of course best known to cinephiles for his writings on Japanese film, but in fact his writing on the country he's lived in since the late 1940s investigates more than just its cinema. The Inland Sea, both in book and film form, seeks a traditional Japan fading from view in the latter part of the 20th century, by journeying between the coastal towns bordering the Seto Inland Sea that separates the islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. One gets a good sense of the subject and tone of the documentary from Vincent Canby's New York Times review from 1991. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film is how it straddles the line between time capsule and period piece. Richie wrote the following for a 1993 reprinting of the memoir:
It has now been over twenty years since The Inland Sea was first published, and nearly thirty since I began the journals on which it is based. During this time the area has much changed. Last year, when the book was made into a film, the crew could no longer follow all of my original route since large portions of it were now unrecognizably developed.I do wonder if the same could be said today, now that nearly another twenty years have passed.
Yet, they discovered that by jumping one island over, as it were, they could parallel my journey of three decades before; they could find places where, mirroring the words of my text, the past had not vanished, not quite. The Inland Sea I wrote about yet exists--it is there, if you know where to look.
Both The Inland Sea and suitably titled Dream Window: Reflections On The Japanese Garden are enriched by a musical score from 20th century Japan's arguably greatest composer, Toru Takemitsu, who wrote music for films by Nagisa Oshima, Masaki Kobayashi, Masahiro Shinoda, Shohei Imamura, Akira Kurosawa (though not for any of the Kurosawa/Toshiro Mifune collaborations, like the seven playing the VIZ over the holidays), and many other directors before his 1996 death. His contribution to Dream Window is much stronger than to The Inland Sea, however. Not only is there more music, featured more prominently, but Takemitsu is interviewed on camera, and even the title Dream Window was taken from the title of one of his serialist compositions. Any Takemitsu fan should consider this film a must-watch; it's especially enlightening to be able to hear the man speak about the affinity he feels between music composition and gardens, and then hear a passage from one of his Messaien-influenced pieces, while an image from the garden at Sai-Hochi appears on screen.
Perhaps Toru Takemitsu's most fruitful if not frequent composer/director relationship was the one he had with Hiroshi Teshigahara, director of Woman In The Dunes, Antonio Gaudí, and Rikyu as well as other films Takmitsu scored. Teshigahara, too, appears prominently in Dream Window: Reflections On The Japanese Garden, not in the role of film director but as grand master of his father's Sogetsu school of Ikebana (flower arranging), and as a budding outdoor garden designer as well. Since the documentary was released between Teshigahara's final two films Rikyu and Basara: Princess Goh, the only two jidai-geki (period films) the multitalented artist made in his career, it's particularly interesting to hear him advise, "we have to think of what we can create for today's world. It would be pointless just to copy what went before."
Ultimately both The Inland Sea and Dream Window are likely to be satisfying viewing for anyone with a natural interest in Japanese culture, with added excitement for cinephiles curious to see legendary figures associated with Japanese cinema (Richie, Takemitsu, Teshigahara) speaking of matters separate from their involvement in film. They certainly make sense paired together (perhaps this was first done in a 1993 issue of the Buddhism journal Tricycle) by the International Buddhist Film Festival. Though neither film addresses Buddhism in a sustained and direct way (Shintoism is in fact more prominently dealt with in The Inland Sea), they both invite a kind of contemplative observational style that may appeal to Buddhist viewers, especially those who remember that the festival programmed Thomas Riedelsheimer's documentary on artist Andy Goldsworthy Rivers And Tides at a previous event. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Riedelsheimer had encountered Dream Window in particular before developing the rhythms he employed in that film.
Before I sign off, let me point out that Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is equally devoted to the sacred and the profane in December, as in addition to their Buddhist film series, the venue is also hosting a devious horror film series called Go To Hell For the Holidays From December 2-18. Dennis Harvey has previewed most of the titles, including Wolf Creek (the Australian film that was released on Christmas Day 2005 in the US). The only selection I've seen myself is the Thai film about the cannibalistic-minded noodle vendor, The Meat Grinder. I'll simply say it was just as gory and twice as atmospheric as I expected it to be.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival's special Valentine's Day event runs all day at the Castro Theatre today. Jonathan Kiefer has a fine article at sf360, but let me run down the schedule here as well. Eight films: Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality preceded by Alice Guy's short the Detective and His Dog at noon (doors open at 11:30 AM). A Kiss From Mary Pickford, which shows "America's Sweetheart" to be an understatement, preceded by Guy's Matrimony's Speed Limit at 2:40 PM. Both programs accompanied by Philip Carli at the piano.
Then, after a dinner break, F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, accompanied by Dennis James at the Wurlitzer organ, preceded by Alice Guy's Falling Leaves at 6:30. And finally at 9:30, early Universal Horror film the Cat and the Canary with Dennis James behind the organ and local foley artist Mark Goldstein providing live sound effects, preceded by a fourth Guy short the Pit and the Pendulum (the first known film version of Poe's classic tale).
Each attendee of the festival gets a program guide that includes five substantial essays on the selected films (one covering each of the features, and a fifth on Alice Guy.) I wrote the essay on Sunrise that appears in the program, and I also prepared a slide show on the origin of the Academy Awards and the first awardees, a group that included Janet Gaynor (Best Actress) and Charles Rosher & Karl Struss (Best Cinematography) of Sunrise. The film also won the Academy's first and only "Unique and Artistic Picture" award- for more detail on that particular award, you can read my contribution to the 1927 Blog-a-Thon.
Not everything I researched and wrote about Sunrise made it into the final version of the essay. In fact, a lot had to be left out for space reasons. I began my research focusing on the director Murnau, a fascinating figure who is making his first appearance at the SFSFF with this program (not literally, of course- he died just as the silent era was coming to a close.) Some of the first and best sources I consulted were Lotte Eisner's still-unsurpassed biography and the articles and DVD extras of UCLA scholar Janet Bergstrom.
But as I delved deeper into the project, I found myself becoming particularly fascinated by the studio mogul who made the uniqueness of Sunrise possible, William Fox. Upton Sinclair's biography of the man became a fascinating starting point for a totally new direction of research that culminated in a viewing of the new Murnau, Borzage and Fox documentary upon its DVD release, that played as confirmation and review of information and perspectives I had already become familiar with (at least when it came to the Murnau and Fox material.) I felt like I really began to understand how Fox's nickelodeon operation in Brooklyn transformed into a successful if generally unambitious movie factory in the late teens and early twenties, and then into one of the most, if not the most prestigious and powerful motion picture studio by the late 1920s. And what a spectacular fall from grace for Fox himself! Hopefully some of that comes across in the essay.
Anyway, I better get my rest for the big day now. If you go to the festival (or if you watch Sunrise or another festival selection at home) and have a free moment to leave a comment here, please do so!