Saturday, January 16, 2010

Return I Will To Old

On Thursday, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts each began a new season of screenings. The PFA showed Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday. As I noted last month, the screening kicked off both a complete Tati retro at the PFA, and a month-long circumnavigation of Frisco Bay for this unique 1953 comedy. It will land at the YBCA January 28th during the downtown Frisco space's own retrospective, which concludes with a February 11 showing of one of my (and many others') favorite films of all-time, Playtime. The YBCA follows its Tati series with an eclectic set called Freaks, Punks, Skanks & Cranks, and a two-for-the-price-of-one pairing of James Benning's American Dreams and Landscape Suicide on February 26.

But before all of that, the YBCA's screening room will be given over to the largest country in South America for the next week or so, to match what's going on in the galleries through the end of the month. A Bit Of Brazilian Music On Film began with a sold-out showing of a 1977 concert tour film well-known in Brazil, called Os Doces Bárbaros or the Sweet Barbarians after the album and supergroup both bearing that name. The band included Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethania and Gal Costa, and if you're a Brazilian music novice like me, those names sound familiar but not familiar enough to hit home as a supergroup. You have to catch that from the musicianship and the scale of the concerts being staged, both of which are more than convincing.

For a beginner in the sphere of Brazilian popular music, the new documentary Beyond Ipanema seems an ideal introduction to the many styles that have been developed in the country and broken out into global consciousness over the past 70 years or so. It plays tonight (Saturday), but I was able to view a DVD screener alongside some Brazilian friends who enjoyed it from their position of familiarity as much as I did from my position of relative ignorance. The film traces the history of Brazil's international impact on music, starting with World War II-era Hollywood import Carmen Miranda and continuing into present-day electronic music, indie rock. Clips of artists in performance and music-centered films like Black Orpheus are intermingled with re-recordings of certain hits that were presumably too expensive to gain rights to.

But the story is told primarily through interviews with Brazilian and international music figures and fans alike. Former Talking Head frontman David Byrne is presented as a particularly passionate supporter. He observes that unlike many countries whose chief export is sugar or coal or some physical commodity, Brazil's chief export for many years was culture. We are exposed to samba, marcinhes, and the politically-oriented Tropicália movement and its "most experimental artist" Tom Zé (who Byrne sees as a particularly kindred spirit to the New York art-punk scene he was immersed in in the 1970s.) We experience the psychedelia of Os Mutantes, who influenced the likes of Beck and Beastie Boys decades after their heyday. We learn how Seu Jorge views Wes Anderson and the Life Aquatic's instigation of his popularity spike. We get a taste of Northeastern Brazil's lively folk strain called Forró (enough of a taste that I'm determined to check out a Frisco-based Forró band called Forró Brazuca when they play the Cafe Du Nord January 22nd!) Everything from the bossa nova explosion in the sixties to the raunchy Favela funk of the modern era gets spotlighted in a section. With so much to cover there's no time to go into much depth, however; one wishes for a full-length documentary on each genre and subgenre.

The YBCA answers that wish in one instance: the aforementioned funk is the focus of another new documentary playing next Saturday, January 23rd: Favela on Blast, featuring musicians with names like Deize, Tigrona, Mr. Catra, Duda Do Borell, etc. It's a highly-danceable, in-your-face form of music with some parallels to North American hip-hop, that has found a fan in international superstar M.I.A. I was not able to preview this doc, so I don't know if it takes a more unconventional approach than the interview/linear history of Beyond Ipanema. I am also curious to know if the lyrics to these funk songs will be subtitled in English so we non-Portuguese speakers can see just how dirty they can get; the funk in Beyond Ipanema was left untranslated but my friends assured me it would make most anyone blush.

I was able to view a screener DVD of the fourth and final entry in the YBCA series, the Discovery of Brazil. On first glance it appears to be an anomaly in the set. It's by far the oldest, made in 1937 by Humberto Mauro, who alert Frisco cinephiles may remember as the director of 2005 Silent Film Festival selection Sangue Mineiro. Moreover, the Discovery of Brazil is not a documentary at all, but a fictionalized retelling of the national founding myth, the voyage of the first European (Pedro Álvares Cabral) known to have touched Brazilian soil and interacted with its native populations back in the year 1500.

But the Discovery of Brazil speaks to the other films in the series in two major ways. One, as a film endorsed by a Brazilian government which in 1937 was at a peak of nationalist sentiment, it shows us a certain self-image of Brazil and its history at a singular moment, just before the country started to become better-known to the world thanks to its unofficial cultural ambassador, Carmen Miranda. In a way, it fills in a bit of backstory for Beyond Ipanema. Two, as the only Brazilian film scoring credit for perhaps the greatest of all South American classical composers, Heitor Villa-Lobos, the film lets us listen to one of the important strains of Brazilian music left out of the three documentaries in the series.

Indeed, the version of the Discovery of Brazil being shown at YBCA on Sunday, January 24th will privilege Villa-Lobos's composition over fidelity to the film as it was originally seen. Not all of the musical themes the composer was inspired to create for the film were actually used in the finished film that first screened in Rio in December 1937, and Villa-Lobos turned the music written for the score into a set of four suites, which apparently were not performed in that form until a 1952 concert in Paris. The music is best known in the classical music world in the form of these suites, which have been recorded or performed live relatively often. In deference to the importance of Villa-Lobos as a creative contributor to the film, the Rio archive which has made the Discovery of Brazil available has replaced the original music recording with a newer recording of the suites, in much higher recording quality than we are used to hearing accompany a late-1930s talking picture. The integration of the music with sound effects and original dialogue is deftly handled, but still a bit jarring for those accustomed to experiencing string sections in classic films recorded using long-outdated technology.

But though Villa-Lobos aficionados and archival-film purists may be split in their feelings on the Discovery of Brazil's soundtrack as it will be presented at YBCA, both should be pleased by the images themselves, as long as they can appreciate the practical necessity of showing them in a video format rather than 35mm. The first extended section of the film in particular is quite strikingly photographed. Mauro and his cinematographers (the imdb credits four of them, including Mauro himself) refused to approach shipboard shooting challenges as obstacles to creativity; rather they exploited every conceivable camera angle to capture the action from the appropriate distance to stress the meaning of each shot. Below deck we get an intense chiaroscuro that conveys claustrophobic sensations artfully. The way the camera captures the sea itself recalls the shimmering photography of another 1930's Brazilian film, Limite.

In the film's second half, focusing on the encounter between Portuguese and indigenous Brazilian people, religious significance is imbedded in every scene, if not every shot. There is an uncomfortableness to watching these scenes. One wonders how much factual resemblence it bears to the the way that first contact truly occurred. But strikingly, the film, though it emphasizes the so-called "primitive" aspects of the native Brazilians, lingering on lip-piercings and highlighting their ignorance of European technologies and customs, really does seem to convey a convincing awkwardness on both sides of the cross-cultural encounter, quite different from the patronizing platitudes that one might expect from a film made under a nationalist regime. We do get these platitudes in the dialogue of the film's final scene, but that doesn't wash away the mixed emotions invariably stirred by the penultimate sequence, the "first Mass in Brazil" in which newly-made Christians and Europeans alike gather around a huge cross made from one of the tallest trees in the forest. The scene is accompanied by Villa-Lobos's almost-mournful melodies, which befit both a sacred ceremony and a prelude to cultural domination.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I Only Have Two Eyes 2009

2010. How futuristic! And indeed, technology continues to shift the way many of us experience entertainment and art, seemingly making an entire catalog of the world's cinematic history available to us at our convenience. But in pockets of cinema culture like the Bay Area, the desire to see restored, revived, films on communal screens, preferably projected in 35mm prints, still thrives, as proven by many of the links found to the right side of this page. Though the pressures of commerce continue to impact the availability and marketability of repertory screenings, 2009 was still a strikingly rich year for those who took advantage of such experiences. No one of us could experience it all alone. Which is why I have, in these still-early days of the new year, invited fifteen cinephile compatriots to join me in picking out their highlights of the year gone by.

I asked for lists of up to ten filmgoing experiences had in Frisco Bay cinemas during 2009 watching repertory/revival films. Some contributors followed my "rules" to the letter, while other bent them according to their own predilections. I'm proud to present each and every one of their wrap-ups, available by clicking the following fifteen links, arranged in reverse alphabetical order (the opposite of last year):

Austin Wolf-Sothern, who blogs at Placenta Ovaries.
Jason Wiener, who blogs at Jason Watches Movies.
Marisa Vela, who has contributed twice before to my wrap-ups here.
Terri Saul, who blogs at Sister-Rye.
Maureen Russell, an SFFS member who also volunteers for Noir City & SFSFF.
Monica Nolan, filmmaker and writer.
Betty Nguyen, founder and creative director of First Person Magazine.
Carl Martin, who maintains the Film On Film Foundation's Film Calendar.
Ryland Walker Knight, who blogs at Vinyl Is Heavy.
Laura Horak, Ph.D. Candidate in Film Studies at the University of California.
Michael Hawley, who blogs at film-415.
Adam Hartzell, contributor to sf360,, this site, and elsewhere.
Larry Chadbourne, of the Film On Film Foundation.
Ben Armington, Frequent Film Festival Box Officer.
Brecht Andersch, who blogs for SFMOMA and the Film on Film Foundation.

And my own list of ten, confined this time around to films I had never seen before at all (though first-time-in-theatre screenings like the Shining at the Clay, the 39 Steps at the Stanford, Kings of the Road at Berlin & Beyond, and even Pootie Tang at the Red Vic were all revelations of another kind). In chronological order of my viewing them:

the Docks of New York, 1928, Pacific Film Archive

After 2009, no longer do I associate the greatness of Josef Von Sternberg only with the films he made with Marlene Dietrich. The Pacific Film Archive's retrospective a year ago let me in on his silent-era career, and a trilogy of films that showed his camera could love big George Bancroft as deeply as it did Marlene. Though Underworld was the one reprised by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, my favorite must be The Docks of New York, set amidst an almost documentary-real wharfside community. Judith Rosenberg outdid herself with her piano accompaniment- and that's saying something. Her playing was perfect for this proto-noir paragon, without standing in the way of Sternberg's synesthesia.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, 1974, SFMOMA

One of those films that divides cinema history in half: in this case into a pre-Jeanne Dielman phase and a post-Jeanne Dielman phase. With stature like that it's no wonder I'd been more than a bit intimated by this legendarily repetitive, over-three-hour-long peer into a woman's apartment, even as I developed into a cinephile very fond of filmmakers who reject conventions of duration (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, James Benning, Bela Tarr). But as much as I love those directors' best films, what Chantal Akerman does here is clearly both a (not necessarily direct) influence, and on another plane of psychological complexity and sophistication. It's hard to believe I took so much pleasure in watching a film that so thoroughly deconstructs the ingrained concept of a human being acting for another's pleasure.

Venice Pier, 1976, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

I'm afraid I didn't take nearly enough advantage this year of the varied and enticing offerings of the beloved Frisco Bay institution, SF Cinematheque, or as it was known in some circles in 2009, SF Cinema Attack. But I did catch a few programs, including a set of L.A.-centric historical shorts presented by film preservationist Mark Toscano. And as much as I grooved on Thom Anderson's --- -------, and clicked with Morgan Fischer's Turning Over, the real gem of the set for me was the little-known Venice Pier by Gary Beydler. Presented in an absolutely lustrous 16mm print restored by Toscano, this 16-minute film encapsulates the interplay between cinematic space and cinematic time. Beydler spent a year documenting a quarter-mile plank stretching into the Pacific Ocean, producing something that will hopefully be more widely appreciated today than it was 33 years ago.

Accident, 1967, Pacific Film Archive, presentation of the Film On Film Foundation

I can't feign eloquence in the face of this beautiful beast. I just don't have much to say about this Joseph Losey-directed film except that it's filled with astonishing performances. Words fail, but give me some clay and perhaps I'll be able to sculpt a figurine that explains precisely how I feel about this film. PS: the screen capture at the top of this post is from an import DVD of the film.

Ms. 45, 1981, Castro

Only my second trip into Abel Ferrara-land, and my first in a cinema, Ms. 45 blew a hole in my brain, in just the way I want a film to. All the elements of an exploitation picture work at that level and at at least a dozen others to thrill and provoke an audience no matter how jaded. If Jeanne Dielman mated with Taxi Driver in the projection booth of a 42nd Street grindhouse, it might resemble Ms. 45.

Three Resurrected Drunkards, 1968, Pacific Film Archive

My favorite of the Nagisa Oshima series that sanctified the PFA this summer, and I don't think it's just because it was the only film in the series I was able to watch twice (which is not quite the same thing as watching half of it four times). It certainly was a delight to experience its surprises first from the position of the initiate and then the knowing insider. But the delights of this film by no means began there; this is in essence a comedy brimming with terrific characters, hilarious costume changes, absurd location stand-ins, and as much laughter as political bite.

American Graffiti, 1973, Castro

If a number of this year's tensome lean toward the "thinky", let this pinnacle of pure cinema serve as their sturdiest counterweight. Here we have an immersion of motion, of music, of color and light shining down out of the darkness. I can't believe I'd put off watching it for so long, but I'm glad I waited to see it on the no modesto Castro screen. George Lucas's seventies science fictions have been in my cinematic RNA for so long and so deep that it's hard to imagine my life without them. But American Graffiti is truly the apotheosis of that fallen figure's intertwining pop-cinema and high art instincts, The result is something that truly makes you feel, both in terms of emotion and sensation. I was dismayed to hear Lucas recently say that he didn't see a future for the American Grafittis of the world on cinema screens, as I can't imagine thrilling to many spectacles the way I did to this one.

Nightfall, 1957, Roxie

The scene where Anne Bancroft steps off her fashion model runway and into a chase would alone make this film a contender for my highest personal accolades. But it's part of a masterful late-period film noir by one of the great, still-underheralded directors, Jacques Tourneur. More than reinvestigating his theme of urban amorality poisoning rural purity from his ealier Out Of The Past, Tourneur deepens his treatment through judicious use of flashback to control viewer information. As Chris Fujiwara writes in his critical study of the director, Nightfall "uses screen time as a metaphor for subjective time, just as it uses spatial metaphors for phenomena of consciousness..." I enjoyed it so much I sat through an inferior co-feature to watch it a second time in one day- a practically unheard of act for me.

City of Sadness, 1989, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

I wrote a piece on this moving family drama, as much a landmark in the history of Taiwanese cinema as it is a landmark in the cinema of Taiwanese history, the day after I saw it. I wanted to use my little platform here to get the word out on the second of two screenings of this luminous new print at the YBCA. I'm pleased that another chance to see the (presumably) same print arrives on February 20th, in conjunction with a Berkeley conference on the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, whose influence on Hou has been much commented upon.

Je t'aime, Je t'aime, 1968, Pacific Film Archive

Why should classical editing be synonymous with continuity? Alain Resnais proved that narrative lines can be incredibly jagged without sacrificing clarity. Though the sci-fi rationale is clever, perhaps the best reason for employing genre tropes such as men in labcoats is to convey the film itself as an experiment. In fact Je t'aime, Je t'aime is less concerned with imagining alternate technologies and universes than it is with seriously considering human memory.

Austin Wolf-Sothern Has Two Eyes

The Frisco Bay repertory/revival scene cannot be taken in by a single pair of eyes. Thankfully, a number of local filmgoers have agreed to share their favorites from 2009. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from Austin Wolf-Sothern, who blogs at Placenta Ovaries:

Midnites for Maniacs (Castro)

This year, I could've done a Top 10 made up entirely of Midnites for Maniacs events, as I went to and loved all eleven(!) of them. Programmer Jesse Ficks once again did a fantastic job, seeming to choose half of the movies directly from my own list of favorites, and mixing them in with obscurities and some classics that I'd not yet been blessed with seeing. If forced to pick a favorite, I might have to go with the "Fighting Back" Quadruple Feature, co-presented by the Alamo Drafthouse, and featuring cinematic treasures Vigilante, Raw Force, Escape from New York, and Lady Terminator. But that choice makes me feel guilty because three of those films were chosen by some guys from Texas. So instead, I'll go with "Love Kills...In the 1990s", which started with the most likable movie ever made, True Romance, and was followed by two movies I was completely obsessed with in high school, Natural Born Killers and The Doom Generation. I was also thrilled to enjoy old favorites Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Cheerleaders (at Yerba Buena), Adventures in Babysitting, Midnight Madness, and Near Dark, and was blown away by new discoveries Never Too Young to Die, Risky Business, Desperately Seeking Susan, Ice Castles, and Junior High School.

Midnight Mass (Bridge)

Peaches Christ didn't disappoint with another summer of cult favorites. The most exciting moment for me was the appearance of my favorite actress of all time, Linda Blair. There was an excellent tribute number, followed by a charming onstage interview, and then onto a screening of one her greatest films, Roller Boogie (The Exorcist played as well the next night, but I had to skip it in order wait in line and get my Savage Streets DVD signed.) The best film Peaches showed, however (besides Showgirls, obviously), was her first one-off show in October, the hugely underrated Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, which in my opinion is far superior to the original, and through and through, one of the most perfect horror films ever made. And the best pre-show of the year would have to go to the return of Polter-Christ, preceding Tobe Hooper's other bit of horror perfection Poltergeist (also amazing to see again).

Various Things at the Phenomenal Castro Theater

The Castro Theater, in general, even outside of hosting Midnites for Maniacs, is fucking amazing. This is nothing new for us Bay Area cinefiles, but I still can never quite get over how brilliantly varied and unique their programming is, allowing all brands of movie lovers to experience their favorites, be it older foreign classics or campy horror, within their enormous palace, and on their huge screen. Something I love just as much as discovering new movies, is re-discovering movies I was previously underwhelmed by. This year, the Castro helped me finally realize why Taxi Driver is such a masterpiece (it played as part of a week-long Scorsese series). Likewise, the incredible Badlands (played as a part of the first of two Terrence Malick double features). I also took in some old favorites with Possession (part of a week-long series called Women on the Verge), Dog Day Afternoon (Pacino series), and Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino series), and some new favorites with West of Zanzibar, Sunrise (both from the Silent Film Festival), Brighton Rock (part of a Best of British Noir series), and Ace in the Hole (Noir City).

The Rest

Some other notable screenings this year were a midnight screening of 90s pop classic Spice World at the Clay, screenings of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the Clay and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze at the Red Vic (both with shitty, disrespectful audiences, unfortunately), and the double feature at Yerba Buena of the charming Italian crime obscurity Mister Scarface along with the sleazy women-in-prison masterpiece Chained Heat starring Linda Blair.

Jason Wiener Has Two Eyes

The Frisco Bay repertory/revival scene cannot be taken in by a single pair of eyes. Thankfully, a number of local filmgoers have agreed to share their favorites from 2009. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from Jason Wiener, who blogs at Jason Watches Movies:

Turns out this was harder than I thought it would be. This past year most of my repertory viewing was in an undisclosed location that I'm forbidden to talk about. In fact, I might have said too much already.... Anyway, this is in something approximating ascending order...

7. THE WIZARD OF OZ (Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room). I made it to a few Bad Movie Nights this year (Sunday at the Dark Room). Most of the time it's awful movies and drunk people making somewhat witty comments (but you're drunk, too, so it doesn't matter if they're not that funny!) However, for November they did "Blasphemy Month"--playing good movies on Bad Movie Night. Much more difficult to make fun of the good ones, but it's interesting how beloved classics can be totally re-contextualized by drunken jackasses. Like I never really thought about how retarded it was that the yellow brick road ends in a spiral (the munchkins have the worst city planners), or noticed that the Scarecrow is packing heat when they're approaching the Wicked Witch's castle. Or for that matter, that the whole moral is to learn to be happy as an impoverished dirt farmer in Kansas because "there's no place like home". God, this movie really is a piece of crap!

6. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (Castro, Midnight screening). I know, this totally shouldn't count because these are supposed to be old movies that played before. But I was one of the few people who got to see it in it's aborted festival run, when Indiefest thumbed their nose at Dreamworks and played it anyway. At the time, I made a public plea on my blog to Dreamworks begging them to not fuck up their planned remake and let the original version live. Well, eventually Paramount released what is essentially the original version (with minor changes, and a big change in the ending). Both times I've seen this it was with jaded midnight audiences, and both times the audiences were freaked the hell out. So screw the rules, I'm putting this in here anyway. If you don't like it, then ignore it.

5. ACE IN THE HOLE (Castro, as part of Noir City) I made it to my first Noir City last year, and loved it. Already have my pass for this year, and hope to see everything. I'm not sure if I could've named my favorite right after the festival, but for some reason nearly a year later this one stuck with me the most. Billy Wilder directs and Kirk Douglas stars as a conniving newspaperman who capitalizes on a poor guy who got stuck in a cave. "I've done a lot of lying in my time. I've lied to men who wear belts. I've lied to men who wear suspenders. But I'd never be so stupid as to lie to a man who wears both belt and suspenders. "

4. THE WIND (Castro, SF Silent Film Festival) Two years ago I made it to my first Silent Film Fest. Last year I did the whole thing, and let me tell you, it's just one weekend and just one venue but it's as exhausting as any festival I've been to. On Saturday I entered the Castro Theatre at ~11 am and didn't leave until well after 1 am. No time to run out for a bite, no time to catch my breath. Anyway, Lillian Gish's last silent film (and the one she claimed was hardest to make) was narrowly my favorite of the weekend. It's a simply awesome story of a lone woman who goes to live in the desert where the wind blows dust around all the time and she goes insane. I was so inspired that when my friend Ira brought a projector to Burning Man to set up the Black Rock Grindhouse, I made sure we played at least some of THE WIND at Burning the desert...during a windstorm. But then the wind died down and they burnt the Man, so we all ran out there. But the half hour we played there was awesome. Maybe we'll have the foresight to play the whole film there next year.

3. BIRTH OF A NATION (California Theatre, Cinequest). Cinequest is always good for a couple of Silent classics, and I feel like kind of a racist tool for liking this movie more than Griffith's follow-up/rebuttal INTOLERANCE, but I just found that one too big and sprawling to get my head around (oh yeah, and I was kinda drunk). Anyway, I saw the controversial classic on a huge screen, with live organ score by Dennis James (who, I should mention, also played THE WIND at the Silent Film Festival, and signed my program). And I went through what I considered a rite of passage to become a film critic who has tackled how to review BIRTH OF A NATION.

2. The Great Nickelodeon Show (Edison Theatre at The Niles-Essanay Silent Film Museum). This is my local (Fremont) film museum, and in the reverie of silents after the Silent Film Festival, I finally decided to volunteer there. So now most Saturdays if I'm not at another film festival I'll be working in the museum store from noon to 4, and then at the movies at 7:30. I could've filled this entire list with the great things I've seen in Niles, but I limited myself to just two. So first up, the Edison Theatre traveled back in time more than it usually does, all the way back to 1913 (or something like it) for a classic Nickelodeon show. Sing-alongs, hand-cranked silent films (including THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY), even a blockhead (a guy who hammers a nail into his nose). Not strictly limited to movies, but simply awesome.

And finally...

1. WINGS (Edison Theatre at The Niles-Essanay Silent Film Museum). I was coming down off a cold or swine flu or something, and still kinda felt like crap. On the 80th anniversary of WINGS winning the first Academy Award, we played it at Niles. With the director's son, William Wellman, Jr. in attendance. And some guy named Ben Burtt (who himself has won 4 Oscars while doing the sound design for little movies like STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, or WALL-E) was there to do the live sound effects for the film. He also talked a bit about sound effects work. And Shawna Kelly was there with her book Aviators in Early Hollywood and talked about early film aviation and her famous great grandfather B. H. "Daredevil" DeLay. Doesn't get any better than this.

Marisa Vela Has Two Eyes

The Frisco Bay repertory/revival scene cannot be taken in by a single pair of eyes. Thankfully, a number of local filmgoers have agreed to share their favorites from 2009. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from Marisa Vela, who has contributed twice before to my wrap-ups here:

SF Punk - Target Video at the SF Public Library / Our tax dollars at work, a packed auditorium, The Sleepers!


UNDERWORLD and EROTIKON, Silent Film Festival, Castro Theater

UNDERAGE and WOMEN IN THE NIGHT, Roxie / Welcome back Elliot! Please program more often! (Like maybe some pre-code)

BALL OF FIRE, Castro Theater / Watching this film, while knowing that it is being withdrawn from theatrical release was my Goodbye Dragon Inn moment of the year. Bittersweet.

Martha Colburn at SFMoMA / I went for Jad Fair, and was introduced to Martha Colburn's work. Plus I got to see Jad provide live vocal accompaniment to the shorts EVIL OF DRACULA and MONSTER ISLAND. (Its Godzilla, he's on monster island. What's he sound like? He sounds like this AAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGRRRRRHHRHRHRH!!!!!!!!!!!!)

WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS and SHAKEDOWN, Castro Theater, Noir City


A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, Castro Theater, SFIFF / New print, Gena Rowlands in person

SUNRISE, Castro Theater, Silent Film Festival Winter Event / Valentine's Day...

Terri Saul Has Two Eyes

The Frisco Bay repertory/revival scene cannot be taken in by a single pair of eyes. Thankfully, a number of local filmgoers have agreed to share their favorites from 2009. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from Terri Saul, who blogs at Sister-Rye:

December 18th, 2009
Part of the series: Four by Hungarian Master Miklós Jancsó

This new print reminded me of bleak Antonioni, without the shelter of buildings. It evoked a series of poetic images, slideshow-like, my first response to the film being composed via Twitter, something like:

Stars disappearing behind a wall;
Going upstairs to never come home;
Saying goodbye to a cheek in a rural place;
Truncated, amputated, and absurd.

I preferred this piece to Janscó’s more famous THE RED AND THE WHITE (1967), which I also saw at the PFA as part of the same series.

October 11th, 2009
Part of the series: Life’s Work: The Cinema of Ermanno Olmi

Set in Asiago, in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy, somehow Tom Waits inhabits the older scavenger. Taking a young unemployed mudlark under his wing, training him in recycling and cleaning up after the landscape has been devastated by war and artillery, the elder rummager also learns from his junior.

Memorable details:
Paper hats worn by construction workers;
A dangerous mentoring relationship;
Tragic but beautiful landscape, peppered with potentially deadly treasures;
Experiments in removing the detonator of a bomb;
War-related deaths after the war is over

Kazuo Hara in person, May 2nd 2009

Extreme Private Eros: “… The film doesn’t shy away from messiness; on the contrary, it revels in it. Miyuki grants Hara and his camera an astonishing level of access, stripping herself bare both literally and figuratively. The result is a rich, emotionally raw film that is as much about its director as it is about its ostensible subject…” —Jonathan L. Knapp

“…it makes the tension between the subject of the documentary and the maker of the documentary more explicit. It plays into the broader issues of control and independence found in these films, and often into their themes of revelation and repression - as all these characters in many ways seek to say and show things that have been suppressed.” (FOTMC)

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On: “…its thematic interrogation of ethics; its own ethical problematic in facilitating violence; and its use of the performative persona of Okuzaki as a key author-agent of the film…” (FOTMC)

Emperor's Naked Army mocks this quest for knowledge while enticing it, poses any deliberative action as quixotic while taunting those who are inactive, and sides with confrontation over reason.” (FOTMC)

Both films challenge historic and cultural taboos while revealing what was happening socially and politically among artists and leftists in Japan in the 70s and 80s.
Co-presented by the Center for Japanese Studies at UC Berkeley.

April 5, 2009
Part of the series: Radical Strategies, by Film on Film Foundation

Awarded the first Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix Spécial du Jury
Directed by Joseph Losey.

“Adopting Resnais-influenced oblique editing strategies for the first time, Losey creates from the future Nobel-Prize-winning Pinter's script a superbly-crafted corrosive vision of sexual and social anomie, one of the high-water marks from the classic period of European Art Cinema. Accident is proof-positive that Joseph Losey was the most brilliant filmmaking victim of the Hollywood Blacklist, and that an American was the greatest director of the British Cinema of the 1960's.” (FOFF)

“The sustained Sunday sequence is as precisely plotted in its visual and emotional gradations as the celebrated island search in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (Italy, 1960)” —Neil Sinyard

Aug 5th, 2009
Part of the series: Ecco l’uomo: Celebrating Italian Actors
Directed by Valerio Zurlini

“A looming fortress (the film was shot at the fortress of Bam, in southeast Iran) is a strange purgatory for the aristocratic officers who inhabit it, latter-day Crusaders devoted to defense against chimerical enemies. This allegory about the need for illusion takes on Kafkaesque qualities as the garrison becomes entrenched in its ritualized preparations for the enemy-that-never-comes.” —Judy Bloch

“Visually the film is stunning and makes a mockery of the ghastly special effects which in a film like Gladiator make the world seem like a landscape of precious celluloid grey. It is filmed in the Middle East in a now earthquake-torn ancient town. If one didn't know such a place existed one would think that special effects had accomplished impossible beauty. But no, it’s all real, and all spectacularly realized.” (IMDB author: smolensk)

I responded immediately to this film via Twitter, hence my notes being written in slideshow fashion:

Like a painting in motion, with some indications that the print was in disrepair, in need of a touch up;
Powdered sugar burn holes;
Waiting for Godot's binoculars;
Desertion in the desert fort, and friendly fire;
The memorable scar on a soldier's face lit by desert sand filtered light;
The issue of imaginary enemies.

November 8th, 2009
Part of the series: New Spanish Cinema

More like a documentary of a sketchbook than an animation, it’s lovely, but very slow and lacking a narrative foundation. I wouldn't compare Miguelanxo Prado to Miyazaki, but there's a similar odd preference for the Victorian in both of their works. This dreamy, vague, and difficult to appreciate film draws from an odd mixture of influences, including the artist Egon Schiele.

“A tribute to the sea and to love, this magical film is entirely wordless, kept afloat by fantasy and a mournful cello score.” —Jason Sanders

November 7th, 2009
Part of the series: A Woman’s Face: Ingrid Bergman in Europe
Directed by Gustaf Molander

Also very Egon Schiele—dark shadows under the eyes.
I can't believe I'd never seen it before 2009.

“ ‘A human being only experiences such happiness once’ is the running gag—but Anita knows that Holger, as a man, will have had it twice.” —Judy Bloch

“When Selznick fired the cinematographer Harry Stradling Sr. and hired the great Gregg Toland to take over the photography of Selznick's remake of the 1936 Swedish version of Intermezzo, he asked Toland how it was possible that Bergman looked so beautiful in the original European production and so ghastly in his Hollywood version. Toland replied, ‘In Sweden they don't make her wear all that makeup.’ ” (IMDB trivia)

August 14, 2009
Part of the series: Into the Vortex: Female Voice in Film
Directed by Mitchell Leisen

“Based on Cornell Woolrich’s I Married a Dead Man, this has all the trappings of a film noir (uncertain identities, murder, forbidden desire), but the film’s use of voice cuts through noir convention to underscore an address to women in postwar America.” —Britta Sjogren

“This was the first of four versions to have been made of the book. In 1983, there was I Married a Shadow (Jai Espouse une Ombre) starring Natalie Byle. In 1996 came Mrs. Winterbourne with Ricky Lake and in 2001, a made for TV movie called She’s No Angel with Tracy Gold. By the way, do not get this film confused with the 1932 Clark Gable/Carole Lombard No Man of Her Own. The only thing in common is the title.”
—John Greco (24 Frames)

My Twitter write-up of this melodramatic film focused more on the PFA audience members, than on the film itself: I enjoyed the murderous noir grip of No Man of Her Own but not the intermittent focus problems. Also, some PFA regulars don't come to screenings fully clothed. What's with ripped-ass pants man? There's also the shhhhhhh lady, but at least she wears clothes.

The film was followed by a boisterous discussion of the book; audience members insisting only cowards wouldn't read it (including the man with a large hole in his pants.) Please people, take a shower and get fully dressed before sitting closely in a dark room. I’ll take your literary unhappy ending over the happy one, but not your buttocks in public.

PONYS (2005) and CHARISMA (2003); PFA

November 7th, 2009
[Both by chance preceded a newer film]
Part of the series: New Spanish Cinema

David Planell didn't show up for his director's talk before THE SHAME (2009). He was stuck in Spain for an unknown reason. Thankfully he sent his two shorts Ponys and Charisma as a stand in for himself. The two shorts said more than a brief introduction could, although he was missed. Sighs of disappointment were audible in the theater when his absence was announced. Planell's shorts are referenced a few times in his feature. All three films screened deal with uncomfortable situations between friends and family members in which unaired grievances surface. His actors display raw feelings quite well, tackling issues of class, taboo, abuse, secrets, game playing, naiveté and, as the feature’s title implies, shame.

JOURNEY TO THE MOON (2003); William Kentridge at SFMOMA

May 22nd, 2009
Part of the exhibit: William Kentridge, Five Themes
35mm and 16mm film transferred to video (black and white, sound) Drawing and direction by William Kentridge

Journey to the Moon was particularly lovely and evocative, the small flickering lights, little ants aligning themselves like constellations, following rings of liquid. Is it sugar, painting using ants instead of inks? Kentridge watches his own charcoal drawings voyeuristically through the bottom of an espresso mug, as if spying on himself. He twists the ceramic vessel to engage rack focus. Multiple mugs mimic a telescope. A coffee pot rocket ship takes off. His studio vibrates in reverse gravity. Drawings on book pages reassemble themselves in the artist’s hands. A magician, Kentridge links elbows with the earliest cinematic wizards, such as Georges Méliès (A TRIP TO THE MOON; 1902).

Maureen Russell Has Two Eyes

The Frisco Bay repertory/revival scene cannot be taken in by a single pair of eyes. Thankfully, a number of local filmgoers have agreed to share their favorites from 2009. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from Maureen Russell, Noir City & SFSFF volunteer, SFFS member:

1) Erotikon (Czech)
Silent Film Festival, Castro Theatre
The Silent Film Fest had great programming this year. I'd seen this film before and it was as amazing the second time. Other memorable Silent Film Fest screenings included The Fall of the House of Usher (July) and West of Zanzibar (December).

2) SFMoMA's series The Future of the Past: Utopia / Dystopia 1965 - 1984
I went to several screenings in this series. It was great to see Logan's Run again and on the big screen. The others I hadn't seen: Godard's Alphaville, Stalker; but I really loved Fantastic Planet (France) - sci-fi animation. I've been trying to track down an affordable copy of the soundtrack since.

3) San Francisco Public Library series in conjunction with Punk Passage photo exhibit
Punk Live on Film: Screenings of Louder, Faster, Shorter; Deaf Punk and Insect Lounge Sally RemiX 1978 followed by audience Q & A with filmmaker Mindy Bagdon and photographer Ruby Ray.
October 7, 2009, Main Library, Koret Auditorium
Film Screening of SF Punk (West Coast Premiere) by Target Video followed by audience Q & A with photographer Ruby Ray and video producer Joe Rees.
November 4, 2009, Main Library, Koret Auditorium

Although shown on DVD, Louder Faster Shorter and Deaf Punk were originally on film. Target Video's great too.

4) The Lost World with live music by Dengue Fever
San Francisco International Film Fest - Castro Theatre
I always look forward to the silent film with live music accompaniment at the Castro as part of SFIFF. This time the film was imaginative and Dengue Fever created a soundtrack that worked.

5) Martin (George Romero, 1977, archival print)
PFA's Eccentric Cinema series
PFA summer double feature with
The Brother From Another Planet (John Sayles, 1984)
UCLA Fest of Preservation series

My first time seeing either of these. Although part of different series, they went together well as a double bill.

6) All Night Long (UK, 1961)
Roxie Theater
I Wake Up Dreaming B Noir film fest
I'd never heard of this rarity which kicked off the Roxie's first B noir fest of the year. Great story and characters with real jazz musicians playing themselves in a groovy London local.

7) Noir City at the Castro Theater
double bill of newspaper noir theme
The Killers (restored)
Sweet Smell of Success

Two great films worth repeat viewing, with beautiful prints at one of my favorite festivals (and film audiences).

8) Costa-Gavras' Z - Castro Theatre
new 35mm print
I'd never seen this before. It hold up well and is relevant today. I was sucked in.

9) Thundercrack! - Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
Frameline Fest
A fun and unusual late night screening with George Kuchar in person. This was a unique blend of art film and porn film, with some horror thrown in. I understood John Waters more after seeing this. Best seen with a theater crowd as there was something to shock everyone.

10) Double Shot of Shat
Thrillville at the 4-Star Theater

My first time attending a Thrillville event. Over the top Shatner I hadn't seen before. A western with spiders? Shatner as an psycho second personality drunken murderer? Wow! Both from the 1970's.
Kingdom of the Spiders

Monica Nolan Has Two Eyes

The Frisco Bay repertory/revival scene cannot be taken in by a single pair of eyes. Thankfully, a number of local filmgoers have agreed to share their favorites from 2009. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from Monica Nolan, filmmaker and writer:

It was a good year. I saw several films I'd been waiting literally years to see on the big screen. I saw some marvelous films I hadn't known existed. I missed a LOT. Why is the PFA so far away?

The year began and ended (sort of) with Godard, with whom I have a love-hate relationship. Or towards whom? It is pretty one-sided.

1) Vivre Sa Vie at the Red Vic. This is on the love side of the scales.

2) Wicked As They Come & Slightly Scarlet--the Arlene Dahl double-feature at Noir City. Never heard of either of them before the program came out. So encouraging to know there are still films to discover!

3) La Pointe Courte at the PFA. I liked the documentary half of the film the best. But the stylized half is oddly fascinating.

4) Routine Pleasures at the PFA with Jean Gorin in attendance. Even more interesting now that I've read about Jean Gorin as "Godard's Yoko Ono."

5) Once Upon A Time In The West at the Castro. I first saw this babysitting, and was mesmerized, even on a small tv. But at the Castro...

6) All the Kuchar films at the SF Gay/Lesbian fest (Roxie, Victoria), but especially his brilliant short, I, An Actress. I have never laughed so hard in my life.

7) Underworld, at the Castro as part of the SF SFF, made even more enjoyable by Eddie Muller's brilliant introduction. Why can't more people introduce without describing the plot of the movie you are about to see?

8) Lost Landscapes at Herbst Auditorium (December). I'd actually seen lots of the clips in this show before (thanks Prelinger Archives online), but this show was a nice reminder of the transformative power of a packed house. Anything you see becomes better in that atmosphere.

9) Daisy Kenyon at the PFA. I have been waiting so long to see this film, avoiding as best I could reading or hearing anything about it. It exceeded my inflated expectations. What greater happiness is there?

10) Voyage in Italy. I'd just been reading about Rossellini's influence on early Godard when this fortuitously appeared at the PFA. Ingrid Bergman is always better than I remember and I love George Sanders. Plus, a coded lesbian couple! The last five minutes made my jaw drop. What was Rossellini thinking?

P.S. And what was the PFA thinking, scheduling its Val Lewton series to conflict with Noir City 2010? That is some truly sadistic programming.

She also supplemented her repertory/revival list with three new films shown in repertory-style spaces:

1) Maggots & Men at the SF Gay/Lesbian festival (Castro). A b&w stylized gay riff on Potemkin. A breath of fresh-air in the midst of all those glossy, bland, gay rom-coms.

2) Outrage at the Red Vic.

3) Tony Manero at the Kabuki. Gorgeous and probably the most disturbing movie I saw this year. Sadly, I can't tolerate going to the movies at the Kabuki very often. Their idiotic seat assignment system gets on my nerves and spoils my enjoyment, and the surcharge doesn't help either.

Betty Nguyen Has Two Eyes

The Frisco Bay repertory/revival scene cannot be taken in by a single pair of eyes. Thankfully, a number of local regular filmgoers have agreed to share their favorites from 2009. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from Betty Nguyen, founder and creative director of First Person Magazine:

1. Kenneth Anger
Rabbit's Moon, Kustom Kar Kommandos, Scorpio Rising

I actually hadn't seen Scorpio Rising before, and it was great to experience these films on a screen. The ultimate bonus here, was when Kenneth Anger came out to present the shorts, to my total surprise and delight. He was wearing a red knit sweater which read "Anger" in relief, and in the Q & A afterward a staff member disclosed how the editing of the Jesus footage came to be in his work. See for more.

2. Orson Welles
Citizen Kane
A living room in Oakland

I hope this counts as it was one of the best movie experiences I've had w. live music accompaniment. I tried to get through this film several times in college. A friend of mine from outta town even teased me saying, "It's a classic!" as we cringed during the first 20 minutes of it and finally gave up. But I was at this house party with snacks and booze, and this local band, Raccoons played in the living room and I think just off the cuff chose this dvd off the shelf to play on the home's projector. And it was amazing how the film and music brought each other to life. It was also the first time that I was able to fully realize the potential and depth of the music from this band which doesn't really translate to a mere night club venue experience. They had found their match here in the film genre, and again, it happened when they played in front of the youtube version of Carl Theodore Dreyer's Le Passion de Jeanne d'Arc. Brilliance for brilliance!

3. Holt Planetarium, Berkeley

I'd like to say that the film I watched in here, was indeed a cinematic experience. It was a rainy day, pouring down on the larger-than-life bronze whale sculpture outside in the courtyard. I wanted to take a daytrip here, as I had passed by the 60's utopian architecture of the science museum geared towards helping kids learn about how things work (there was an exhibition about poop, if I remember correctly and how gas passes with huge plastic models). The film was seated in the round, and it was so crowded I had to sit on my dear's lap, but it made me feel 5 again as I shucked my shoes off and leaned back to learn about the destinations of comets, how the moon changes position year round, and what stars to look for in certain seasons. I love these "movies" because I know that someone constructs them in some poetic real science way. The way Carl Sagan just slips off the tongue with his unforgettable perspectives of how to view the world as a tiny finite humble molecule in this vast universe.

4. Knockout, SF

So, the guy who runs / manages the bar here, has a brother with really interesting taste in movies. So, if you ever go to a show here, and there's a lull for whatever reason... I tend to turn around and simply watch the films. They're usually of the vintage variety, a bit camp, and maybe other worldly. But I highly recommend looking up when you are here looking down in your beer pint.

5. International Freak Out-a-go-go
Fractal Mindgaze Hut, Oakland

My friend Mark Gergis from the band Porest, who also contributes to the record label Sublime Frequencies deejays this night with another longtimer, Paul Costuros from Death Sentence Panda amongst a million other awesome side projects. The music night is a global swarm of sounds from Asia and the Middle East paired with a rare assortment of videos from these regions. The footage is usually documentary with an intense selection and flavor. I find myself in a trance from the crazy Syrian ghettotech and staring up at these films either projected on the ceiling or wall.

6. Death Bed: The Bed that Eats (1977)

One of my oldest and coolest friends Lila, invited me to this speakeasy called the Vortex one night. I had gone to see one of my fave local music producers, WOBBLY, play at QNE on this crazy speaker art installation in quadrophonic sound. And surprisingly ran into artist Jacob Ciocci there, so I invited him and a gaggle of kids, Nate Boyce and crew to the show after. I was like, "Death Bed: The Bed that Eats" who doesn't wanna see that? Nate vouched and we had an hour of downtime so in between went to my friend Yuko's house. She told me for Halloween she wore this incredible chainmail outfit that she thrifted and I was super psyched as I was practically raised on uncensored movies like Excalibur, so she let me wear the headpiece to the movie. I had never been to the Vortex before. It's $5 and the door guy pleasantly let me park my bike inside, as it's South of Market sketch sorta. I proceeded down the long draped hallway and arrived into this exotic dark room of cozy booths and lil' bar. And all my friends were like, "So, where did you stop to get chainmail?" Anyway, all the trailers were those camp instructional videos that tell you not to do drugs in Spanish, and of course, they make you want to do them cuz they're hilarious with great cartoon graphics of your bodily insides or scenarios at parties tripping out. The movie was brilliant. Just this yellow foam core porn that ate people throughout time with this kinda Dorian Gray painting narrator in the bedroom. The Vortex screens every Thursday evening. And, it's a great hidden joint to see projected 16 mm and it might be chill to comment at the screen, if yr funny.

7. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Variety Club, Downtown SF

I hope I can count my experience screening this in the Variety Club downtown, because the doorman for the building put out gingerbread man cookies and pecan pie slices, and hot apple cider. I was so excited to see the film already, and usually folks put out coffee as the per usual press beverage, but when I asked if it was tea, he replied, "oh, it's cider", my smiling eyes sparkled and my mouth "mmmm" quietly.

I plopped down in the front row, and these two film heads were blah blah-next to me. As the credits rolled I read aloud at the absurd production company "Poo Poo Films". The scowling critic a seat over bitterly commanded, "Please don't talk during the film." To which I looked over at him and repeatedly questioned, "Poo Poo Films?", and he shushed me.

Anyway, the rest of the movie was brilliant. Live theatre coupled with modern day hooliganism and clubs, symbolism, mysticism and of course, Heath Ledger's brilliantly culled performance was totally worth salvaging and celebrating here. The CGI experience was a more malleable and whimsical Avatar. Yes, go. Afterwards, I came out hugging everyone I met on the street, even texting a friend telling him I wanted to hug him. Positive and creative vibes generated throughout my body like a good "sit" in Vipassana meditation, empowering and happy.

8. Avatar
Brendan Theatres, Modesto

I always pick a movie for the family to watch when I go up to see my father for the holidays. I fandango'ed the time for Avatar at Brendan Theatres before we went up there, to plan our Christmas luncheon, and off we went. The theatre experience was a bit strange here, well, they had us line up inside, and then entering the individual theatre, there was a metal detector. "I guess there's no metal allowed in here", my sister commented. She's a biochemist. It made me feel awkward, but I guess you gotta do whatcha gotta do. So, this one was great for everyone. As my father can't really follow plot too well, the eyecandy held up obviously. My brother, as an ex-Military intelligence was psyched on the big Robotech toys, and well, I didn't really hear any complaints from my sister two seats away or afterwards... THIS CARTOON MADE ME CRY. Aliens with a dash of Lord of the Rings ending with some Woody Harrelson commando good guy vibes. If you want to get me to see Hollywood, make it in 3D. Cuz i woz dere for Beowulf and UP!

9. Wild Combination
Roxie Theatre, SF

I brought my fashion editor to this film. I honestly didn't know anything about Arthur Russell til I saw this movie that was much hyped by my New York friends. And for good reason. And my fashion editor didn't leave. I was like, "You don't have to feel obligated to stay". But I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. It was super sad, beautiful, punk and tragic. Super 8 makes the world go round. RIP AR. The experience in the lil' side theatre at the Roxie is so nice. It feels like I'm watching a snuff film vibe. I like. And Rick does an amazing job curating for this theatre, which btw, was the first movie house I ever experienced in SF when I was a wee punk 18 yr old. I'd like to see this again. I've urged the Public Library to order this because I think he's a super important artist. Reminded me of seeing Maestro in New York, just as historical of a music era.

10. Pidgeon Funk
Elbo Room

Can you tell I like my movies with my music? So, there's a new band by my artist friend Josh (Kit Clayton) called Pidgeon Funk and their short films / videos are amaaazizinggfantasticcrunklousylowfispectacles of pidgeons, themselves photoshopped into Burning Man footage, throwing shit (yoghurt) in each other's faces while lying down, playing as the backdrop or centerpiece while they prance around into the audience and handing out insta-costumes for Halloween. MC-ing, beat making and just whimsical danceable fun on the floor.