Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jason Wiener's Two Eyes

Since my own two eyes were not nearly enough to see and evaluate all the repertory/revival film screenings here on Frisco Bay, I'm honored to present local filmgoers' lists of the year's favorites. An index of participants is found here.

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

This is simply in chronological order of when I saw them, numbering should not be taken as a ranking:

1. THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950), Castro Theatre, Noir City. I could pretty much fill this list every year with stuff I saw at Noir City, but I'll let THE ASPHALT JUNGLE represent them all. Great characters, great story, Marylin Monroe (the star of Noir City 2010) before she was known. Oh, and if you like pretending to be an erudite film scholar you can point out how the style was influenced by the Italian Neo-realists.

2. CANDY (1968), The Vortex Room. Usually the showings at the Vortex Room are pretty hit-and-miss (at least the public ones)--definitely "cult" movies, if you can pretend that completely forgotten movies have a "cult." But they make a damn good martinis that can get me through just about any movie. CANDY, however, deserves a huge cult following. A bizarre parody of Voltaire's "Candide" (confession, I haven't read it) starring Ewa Aulin as high school girl Candy Christian, just trying to understand the world, and featuring an all-star cast of Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, James Coburn, John Huston, Walter Matthau, and Ringo Starr (as a Mexican!) all trying to bed her. Plus a dual role by John Astin as both her father and uncle. Absolutely crazy.

3. METROPOLIS (1928), Castro Theatre, The San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Again, I could fill this list just with stuff I saw at SFSFF, but there was clearly a big star this year. It had been in the news for a couple of years that they found an additional 30 minutes of METROPOLIS in Argentina. The restoration process is complete, it's out on DVD now, and of course it had to play SFSFF. The extra scenes actually add quite a bit (it's obvious which scenes were added, since they were slightly cropped, inferior quality coming from a 16mm print), but more than that I understand that the complete 16mm print was used as a basis for re-editing existing footage into the original order/pacing. Which means METROPOLIS is no longer just an amazingly visual movie with something of a confusing plot, the story now makes sense! And The Alloy Orchestra did a fantastic job with the accompaniment.

4. A TRIP DOWN MARKET STREET (1905 1906), The Edison Theater at The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. Again, I could fill this list just with stuff I saw at my neighborhood silent film museum (show me any other place in the country that shows silent films with live music every week!), where I also volunteer (come in weekends noon-4 and I or another docent will give you a tour, including a 1913 projection booth). But the clear highlight of the year at Niles was all the publicity around A TRIP DOWN MARKET STREET. The Library of Congress just added it to the National Film Registry and corrected their records which originally estimated the date of the film as September 1905. Of course, we at Niles new for a couple of years that it was really April 1906--4 days before the earthquake. And that's all thanks to our amazing historian David Kiehn, and a news report on him and the film by some outfit called 60 Minutes. Oh yeah, and if you look at the very last second of Morley Safer's report, when everyone is in the theater watching the film, I was on 60 minutes (for about 60 milliseconds)!

5. SUSPIRIA (1977), CellSpace, part of a 24 hour Halloween horror marathon put on by the folks at Indiefest. So the marathon was pretty much a bust. By the end we closed up and went home to sleep rather than watch the last movie. But heck if I don't always love seeing SUSPIRIA on the big screen. In fact, I could've said the same about ERASERHEAD (1976), also in the marathon. Or EVIL DEAD (1981) or even CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), which for all it's flaws and excesses is sorta the movie that started my career of film fest gluttony. But what the heck, I said SUSPIRIA first, I love SUSPIRIA, so SUSPIRIA makes the list while the rest don't.

6. THE MILPITAS MONSTER (1975), The Edison Theater at The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. Besides being a bastion of silent film, the folks at Niles also do Halloween right. In fact, I don't have a good reason for putting this on the list instead of their Creature Features show where John Stanley showed up to present THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (with all the original gags, bumpers, and commercials from it's showing on late night TV) and Ernie Fosselius (HARDWARE WARS) showed up to present PLAN 9.1 FROM OUTER SPACE and give us a little puppet show. The only reason THE MILPITAS MONSTER makes the list instead is I've heard about it for so long, I've always wanted to see it, and I finally did. And it's not that good. But it's also not as bad as I expected. It's made by high schoolers with a keen sense of local humor, and it's an amusing look at Milpitas in the 70's.

7. THE GENERAL (1926) and STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928), The Bal Theatre. And despite all the attention people give to THE GENERAL, I'm not going to pick my favorite nor am I going to choose only one to go on this list. It was presented as a double feature (either one night or two nights, your preference) and of course the films were fantastic. The crowd wasn't big enough to really get into it, and there was a technical glitch in the projection so it was stretched to widescreen instead of 3:4 (I've been assured this has been fixed for any shows in the future), but none of that could ruin the experience. And I just love it when old classic theaters like the Bal are brought back to life. So please, go check out what's playing at the Bal so it can stay open.

8. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928), The Paramount Theatre. I've lived in the Bay Area over 10 years and I'm ashamed to admit this was my first time at the Paramount. That place is beautiful! That movie is beautiful! That musical accompaniment was beautiful! I'm an atheist, and this was still a religious experience.

9. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). What could possibly possess me to put this perennially overplayed, cliche bit of treacle on my list? And at which of the half dozen venues that play this around Christmas did I see it? The questions are related, as I saw this at The Dark Room on Bad Movie Night. Heck, I even hosted (meaning I was one of the guys in the front row with a microphone). This is an annual tradition there, so next year if you want to indulge your inner Scrooge and tear this movie apart, come on by. And the fact is, as much fun as I had (and as drunk as I was), this movie can take it.

I also want to digress and add a note about Bad Movie Night in general. Yeah, I'm always drunk there, yeah, my blog posts on it are always ridiculously brief, but the fact is the more I go there the more I notice that when you watch a movie specifically to make fun of it, you (or at least I) pay more attention to it and notice things that I missed before (in particular, plot holes, poor reasoning, questionable morals, general silliness). So I consider this not a diversion from, but an integral part of my film geekness.

Honorable Mention: METROPOLIS REDUX (1984), VIZ Cinema, part of Indiefest's Another Hole in the Head festival. Just a week after seeing the METROPOLIS restoration at the Silent Film Festival, I saw this 1984 rock-soundtrack, partially colorized version by Giorgio Moroder. As a cinephile I can't in good conscience put this on my list, but as a fan of new experiences I was intrigued and left the theater not the least bit upset. The best parallel I could think of was THE WALL, where instead of a soundtrack accompanying the film's story, the music came first and the movie was a series of linked vignettes based around the music. The fact is, I love THE WALL, and I fully appreciate how audiences can love METROPOLIS REDUX. Just please go check out the restored original so you can understand what Moroder tore apart.

Horribly, Disgustingly Dishonorable Mention: 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1916) with a ridiculously distracting mockery of a score by Stephin Merrit and Daniel Handler, at the Castro Theatre, part of the SF International Film Festival. Interestingly enough, a few months later at the Silent Film Festival there was a panel discussion by the musicians about accompanying silent films. No matter if they were traditionalists (Dennis James) or more radical (The Alloy Orchestra), they all talked about the importance of putting the film first and not letting their accompaniment be a distraction. If you want to see an example of getting that completely wrong, see what Stephin Merrit did here. But you'll need a time machine to go back and see it, because if I have anything to say about it nothing like this will happen in the Bay Area ever again.

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