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.


  1. good to see (read) you back in action brian!!! "the devils" is very exciting. i wish it was playing with something besides "rosemary's baby", which i love but could probably quote in verbatim at this point. tough choice with "the passionate friends" at the PFA and "let the right one in" at the roxie at or around the same time. what to do, what to do

  2. That's the theme of October, Ben: forks. Devil's pitchforks, if you will. Especially with all the festivals in town at the same time. Too many choices, too much to see, too much to blog. If there was any doubt as to why I call it "Hell" on Frisco Bay...

  3. I resemble that remark. And you resemble that emoticon! Uncanny!

  4. it is a gloriously fork'd, whine-y, toe-singeingly hellish path the SF cinephile must wander this month...often it breaks down to which theatre i'd rather go to, in which case the castro always wins. plus, hopefully, "let the right one in" will see distribution, and when it comes to british directors, Ken Russell ALWAYS trumps David Lean. sorry haters!

  5. Michael Hawley10/3/08, 7:50 AM

    Brian, it's so great to have you back and doing your thing.

    It's insane how many choices we have in October...eight festivals I can think of, plus all the stuff at PFA, YBCA, SFMOMA, Castro etc. (Can't wait for tonight's screening of THE DEVILS, which I haven't seen since it came out in '71).

    The choice that's keeping me awake nights is what to do on Thursday, October 16 - the Arab Film Festival's opening night screening of WAITING FOR PASOLINI (no other screening and not available on screener) or the two Soviet-era musicals at the PFA, TRACTOR DRIVERS and CARNIVAL NIGHT (also no other screenings).

  6. I know! And that night they're showing Rocco and His Brothers as part of the Nino Rota series at the Castro, to boot! Impossible. I'm leaning toward Tractor Drivers myself, but not without a sense of inevitable regret...

  7. Michael Hawley10/4/08, 9:22 AM

    I'm pretty sure that the Castro is hosting the opening night of the Arab Film Festival on the 16th. Was ROCCO originally scheduled on that date? I just learned this morning that the AFF opening night film is now available on screener, which frees me up for the Soviet musicals.

    I REALLY dug seeing THE DEVILS at the Castro last night...beautiful new 35mm print and a good-sized crowd, too.

  8. You're right- Rocco And His Brothers has been canceled. See you at the PFA that night, then?

  9. Great to have Brian's coverage. I was away last month so may have missed mention of it but the current series of rare British films at the Stanford deserves attention. You will not likely see many of these films ever again.

  10. Thanks, Gary. I mentioned the Stanford series in very brief passing in my previous post, but it deserves to be highlighted more strongly. I'm not sure I'm the guy- I've never seen any and have barely heard of any of these films. Hopefully I can get to at least a few though. Here's the program link.