Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Only have Two Eyes: Michael Guillén

2008 was another great year for Frisco Bay repertory/revival screenings. I'm so pleased that a number of local cinephiles have agreed to provide a list of their favorite events attended here over the year. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from Michael Guillén, schoolmaster of the Evening Class:

The Pacific Film Archive has been especially kind to me this year. PFA's curatorial staff—Susan Oxtoby (Senior Film Curator), Kathy Geritz (Film Curator), Steve Seid (Video Curator)—and both Shelley Diekman (PFA publicist) and Jonathan Knapp (publicity coordinator) have gone out of their way to grant me entry to PFA's programming, as well as providing access to interview visiting talent. My heartfelt thanks to the PFA team! I look forward to interacting with them further in 2009.

Responding to filmbud Brian Darr's request for my 10 favorite repertory screenings in 2008, I've decided instead to offer my 10 favorite retrospectives at PFA.

1. As part of their "Closely Watched Films" series, PFA invited Terence Davies to introduce several of his films and to finesse Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) with a shot-by-shot analysis. Within this series, I was absolutely ravished by The Long Day Closes (1992), which left me dumbstruck with emotion afterwards; something, I assure you, that rarely happens. What a delight to listen to his wry sentiments.

2. The 400 Blows (1959) has long been one of my favorite films. I have watched it countless times on DVD and television; but, never had the chance to see it projected until PFA offered "Jean-Pierre Léaud: The New Wave and After." The screening was heightened by an introduction by François Truffaut's daughter Laura. The series not only provided the chance to review Truffaut's Antoine Doinel cycle, but introduced me to Léaud's collaborations with Jean-Luc Godard, namely La Chinoise (1967)—in a sparkling new print!—Masculine Feminine (1966), and Weekend (1967), as well as Jean-Pierre's performance in Jean Eustache's mindblowing The Mother and the Whore (1973).

3. As part of their "Readings on Cinema" series, PFA invited author Daisuke Miyao to introduce three films of transnational silent star Sessue Hayakawa: The Cheat (1915), Forbidden Paths (1917), and The Devil's Claim (1920). What a tremendous opportunity, accentuated by Judith Rosenberg's masterful piano accompaniment and an on-campus weekend symposium— "Border Crossings: Rethinking Silent Cinema"—wherein various film historians considered the movement of early cinema across national boundaries, initiating cultural traffic that re-envisioned race, gender, nation, empire, and cinema itself.

4. "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa" was the first time I watched absolutely every single film in a retrospective. I wanted to set up a cot and a hot plate in the lobby! O Sangue (1989), Down to Earth (1994), Ossos (1997), Sicilia! (1999), In Vanda's Room (2000), Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (2001), Colossal Youth (2006), all introduced by Pedro Costa in residency. His aesthetics left an indelible imprint on my cinephilic sensibility and having the chance to interview him was one of the highlights of the 2008.

5. Commemorating the spirit of May 1968, "The Clash of '68" afforded the opportunity to familiarize myself with Bernardo Bertolucci's Before the Revolution (1964), Chris Marker's A Grin Without A Cat (1977/1988), Antonio Isordia's 1973 (2005), and Nagisa Oshima's The Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970). I was warmed by revolutionary fires.

6. "Hong Kong Nocturne" finally exposed me to the films of Johnnie To: The Mission (1999), Fulltime Killer (2001), Running on Karma (2003), Election (2005), Triad Election (2006), Exiled (2006) and Mad Detective (2007). Ah, the bliss of the bullet ballet!

7. My friendship with Matthew Kennedy was sparked by his involvement with "Joan Blondell: The Fizz on the Soda", where I caught Joan in Blonde Crazy (1931), Footlight Parade (1933), the astounding Nightmare Alley (1947) and Lizzie (1957). What a consummate appreciation of a very fine actress.

8. "Hecho Por México: The Films of Gabriel Figueroa" allowed me to revisit some of my favorite Mexican cinema: Julio Bracho's The Saint That Forged A Country (1942) and A New Dawn (1943); Emilio "El Indio" Fernández's Enamorada (1946) with María Félix at her feistiest and Victims of Sin (1950) with Ninón Sevilla at her feistiest; Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados (1950) and Nazarín (1958); and Roberto Gavaldón's Days of Autumn (1962) and Macario (1963); all in new traveling prints struck by Mexico's Filmoteca de La Unam.

9. Pulp has never been pounded to such perfection as in the David Goodis stories adapted to the screen and presented in "Streets of No Return": Delmer Daves' Dark Passage (1947), Vincent Sherman's The Unfaithful (1947), François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Jacques Tourneur's Nightfall (1957), and Paul Wendkos' The Burglar (1957). As if the films in themselves weren't enough, PFA's audiences were treated to fascinating introductory lectures by Barry Gifford, Mike White and my favorite "noirchaeologist" Eddie Muller.

10. Finally, practicing my French I indulged in the Jean-Luc Godard "Movie Love in the Sixties" retrospective, which built nicely upon the earlier Jean-Pierre Léaud retrospective. Here I caught Godard's A Woman Is A Woman (1961), Vivre sa vie (1962), Contempt (1964), and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1966).

Without question, 2008 is the year I finally realized that PFA's creative retrospectives are the best film school in which a cineaste can be enrolled. I look forward to next semester!

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