Monday, September 29, 2008

Now Museum

Frisco's gone gaga over the reopened Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. I took a peek at an early preview a couple weeks ago. While the exhibits I saw were informative and interesting, I place a lot of stock in atmosphere. And I admit it was hard to appreciate the modern building when I'd gotten so used to the old architecture. Let's just say I don't expect anyone to use the new moray eel tank as backdrop to a film noir anytime soon, even if they are able to miraculously find actors to fill Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth's shoes. But I will withhold my final judgment until I get to see more of the exhibits that weren't ready to show yet at that point. Most notably the rainforest exhibit, and the planetarium. I can't deny I'm extremely nervous about the latter, as I feel I practically grew up in the original Morrison Planetarium, becoming a city slicker stargazer that could actually keep up with any of the country kids in the identification of astral bodies, even when I found myself transplanted to a place where light pollution didn't obscure all but the brightest objects. But they say the new presentation equipment is spectacular, more than making up for the uniqueness of the 1952 projector that's been decommissioned.

As a cinephile, my interest in museums tends toward the film and video programs shown there. I haven't heard that the Academy is going to be initiating this kind of programming; as a science and not an art museum it may seem counterintuitive, though I'm not certain why. The rest of this post will focus on upcoming screenings at Frisco art museums.

October at SFMOMA continues September's focus on China, now spotlighting 1980s works little-known in the West at that time. They're made by so-called "Fourth Generation" filmmakers, who preceded in Mainland Chinese film schools the "Fifth Generation" filmmakers like Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige whose works began filling European and American arthouses in the late-1980s. The success of the latter groups' films like Raise the Red Lantern and Farewell My Concubine helped pave the way for a few films by their elders who were still working, to come into Western cinemas. Wu Tianming's 1996 King of Masks is probably the best-known, and a personal favorite of mine; his 1983 River Without Buoys plays SFMOMA on October 4th, 9th and 18th. Xie Fei, whose Song of Tibet surfaced several years ago at the 4-Star Theatre, has a 1989 film Black Snow that will play October 11th, 23rd & 25th. And two Fourth Gen filmmakers I'm completely unfamiliar with, Wu Yigong & Huang Shuqin, fill out the slate. Huang's 1987 Woman Demon Human sounds particularly interesting; it's apparently a supernatural tale that invites feminist readings. It plays on the 11th, 25th and 30th of October.

November and December bring to the venue a touring series I've been crossing my fingers to see all year: a Derek Jarman retrospective. Before 2008, Jarman's work was all but completely unknown to me. That started to change in January when I saw a beautiful 35mm print of the tremendous Edward II at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as a new documentary on the director simply entitled Derek. As I mentioned on this podcast, I found the film extremely inspiring on many levels, particularly in the direction of wanting to see more of his films. I'll admit I was mildly disappointed that the Frameline film festival declined to program any Jarman films when it locally premiered Derek. But all is forgiven now that eleven of his features, from Sebastiane to Blue, will be presented on the big screen. I'm having a hard time believing it myself, but my memory banks tell me it's the largest, closest-to-complete retrospective for a major director on this shore of Frisco Bay since the Balboa brought that Louis Malle series way back in 2005. Speaking of other venues for a moment, this Friday's Castro Theatre screening of Ken Russell's 1971 The Devils might make a good prelude to the series, as it was Jarman's work as a set designer on that film that got his film career started.

Back to SFMOMA: for the family-together time of the holiday season in late December, what better than a set of films themed around family-friendly Las Vegas? A trio of features will be shown: the Elvis Presley romp Viva Las Vegas and the notoriously NC-17 Showgirls play December 20th (a long-awaited opportunity to see Paul Verhoeven's seriously satirical film in a venue without a Midnight Mass audience screaming at the screen, as endearing as that may be sometimes), and Caveh Zahedi's family vacation film (of sorts) I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore plays with a set of experimental shorts curated by Steve Anker on December 27th. This is all in conjunction with the Double Down video installation currently at the museum through early January, where Olivo Barbieri's eye-popping site specific_LAS VEGAS 05 and Stephen Dean's No More Bets (which I have not yet seen myself) are shown repeatedly throughout the day elsewhere in the museum.

Finally, across the street, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has also updated its planned film calendar through November. October' programs of note include continuations of the Bay Area Now tribute to innovative and creative local programmers. November brings two days of John Cassavetes' first film Shadows Nov. 1 & 2, two screenings of Wang Bing's 3-hour Fengming: a Chinese Memoir Nov. 6 & 9, and continued co-presentations with local film festivals and SF Cinematheque.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vinyl-ly Posting

As you've probably noticed, the complexities of life have necessitated my putting this blog on the back burner lately. I haven't been going out to as many films as I generally do, though I have dipped in to sample a few September screenings at the Pacific Film Archive (what I saw of the Milos Forman series was a treat) and the Castro (seeing Nick Ray's Party Girl there last week on a Cyd Charisse tribute night was tremendous.) But all of the local theatres have announced new fall programs, from the Stanford (bringing rare British films for the next month or so) to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, to the Rafael (hosting the Mill Valley Film Festival, which will kick off an extended Ingmar Bergman series at that venue with a festival in-person tribute to Harriet Anderson and screening of Through a Glass Darkly October 10th- while here in Frisco the Red Vic has booked Monika November 9th and 10th).

Backed up with upcoming screenings worth mentioning for weeks, but struggling to find time to write, I was exceedingly thankful that Ryland Walker Knight invited me to join as a guest on the new podcast he's launched with his fellow East Bay cinephile Mark Haslam, entitled Vinyl is Podcast. On Saturday, after watching Burn After Reading at the California Theatre (which, incidentally, I enjoyed for the way it invites comparisons between the chameleons in Hollywood with those in Washington) we sat down to hash out some of our perceived highlights of the PFA, Castro and Mill Valley Film Festival calendars. Of course we didn't get to everything. I feel particularly remiss not having mentioned the PFA screening of Jerry Schatzburg's Puzzle of a Downfall Child presented by the Film on Film Foundation this Sunday evening after Abraham's Valley, the last (and perhaps most-anticipated, as its DVD transfer is legendarily unwatchable) film in the venue's Manoel de Oliveira centennial-year tribute. Made in 1970, starring Faye Dunaway, directed by the maker of Panic in Needle Park and never released on any home video format, it seems like a must-watch to me. We also didn't get to goings-on at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Artists' Television Access (which has another enticing kino21 screening tomorrow), or the mouth-watering French Cinema Now series being put on at the Clay by the San Francisco Film Society (and handily previewed by Michael Hawley). Not to mention the other copious film festivals accumulating over the next few months and listed in the upper right column of this page.

But we did get to talk about a lot, and it was fun to do. Hopefully it will be fun for Hell on Frisco Bay readers to listen to as well. Check it out.