Thursday, January 13, 2011

Michael Hawley'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/critic Michael Hawley. He blogs at film-415, where this list has been cross-posted:

The Bay Area continues to be an incredible place to experience repertory cinema. There are few places on the planet where it's possible to see a film every day of the year and not watch a single new release. In 2010 I caught 47 revival screenings at various local venues. Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the most memorable.

Showgirls (Castro Theater)
What better way to celebrate the 15th anniversary of my fave film of the 1990s. Peaches Christ brought an expanded version of her infamous Showgirls Midnight Mass preshow to a sold-out Castro, complete with exploding on-stage volcano and free lapdances with every large popcorn. It inspired me to inaugurate my iphone's movie camera feature and create a YouTube channel to post the results. Apart from Peaches' Castro world premiere of All About Evil, this was the most fun I had at the movies in 2010.

Armored Car Robbery (Castro Theater, Noir City)
I was blown away by this taut and tidy 67-minute slice of obscure 1950 B-Noir about the aftermath of yes, an armored car robbery outside L.A.'s Wrigley Field. It would be brought back to mind months later with the Fenway Park heist of Ben Affleck's The Town. Other 2010 Noir City highlights included the double bill of Suspense (1946) and The Gangster (1948), both starring British ice-skating queen Belita, and 1945's San Francisco-set Escape in the Fog, which begins with a woman dreaming about an attempted murder on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pornography in Denmark (Oddball Cinema)
There's something weird and wonderful going on each weekend at Oddball Cinema, a funky alternative film venue tucked inside the Mission District warehouse digs Oddball Film + Video. In the spring they screened a 16mm print of this landmark 1970 documentary by local porn-meister Alex de Renzy, which became the first hardcore to show in legit U.S. theaters and be reviewed in the NY Times. Introducing the film was writer/film scholar Jack Stevenson, who was on tour promoting his book, Scandinavian Blue: The Erotic Cinema of Sweden and Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s.

Freddie Mercury, the Untold Story (VIZ Cinema, 3rd i's Queer Eye Mini-Film Festival)
3rd i is best known for the SF International South Asian Film Festival it puts on each November. Back in June they packed SF's snazzy subterranean VIZ Cinema with this revival of Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher's 2000 documentary – seen in a new director's cut with 43 extra minutes. The audience went nutso at the climax of "Barcelona," Mercury's soaring duet with Montserrat Caballé from the 1986 summer Olympics. Further repertory kudos to 3rd i for bringing an exquisite 35mm print of 1958 Bollywood classic, Madhumati, to the Castro.

Mädchen in Uniform (Castro Theater, Frameline)
A whole lot of LGBT folk must've played hooky from work to catch this mid-day, mid-week revival from 1958 – itself a remake of a 1931 queer cinema classic. Romy Schneider and Lili Palmer are respectively radiant as a student obsessively in love with her boarding school teacher – to the extreme consternation of battleaxe headmistress Therese Giehse. Shown in a gorgeous and rare 35mm print, with the inimitable Jenni Olson delivering a dishy intro. Frameline34's other revelatory revival was Warhol's 1965 Vinyl, in which Factory beauties Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick dance a furious frug to Martha and the Vandellas "Nowhere to Hide." Twice.

The Aztec Mummy vs. The Human Robot (Pacific Film Archive, El Futuro Está Aquí: Sci-Fi Classics from Mexico)
If anything's capable of luring me out of the city on a Saturday night during Frameline, it's bunch of Mexican monster movies from the 50's and 60's. This was double-billed with Santo vs. The Martian Invasion, which had a little too much rasslin' for my tastes. But it boasted a hilarious opening scene in which the Martians explain why they happen to be speaking Spanish. It killed me to miss Planet of the Female Invaders and The Ship of Monsters, also part of this series.

Metropolis (Castro Theater, SF Silent Film Festival)
"When you've waited 83 years, what's another 40 minutes?" Eddie Muller quipped to the antsy, capacity crowd awaiting the Bay Area premiere of Fritz Lang's finally-complete expressionist dystopian masterpiece. In spite of the late start time and disappointing digital format, this was still the repertory event of the year. The Alloy Orchestra performed its celebrated score live and Muller conducted an on-stage conversation with Paula Félix-Didier and Fernando Peña, the Argentine film archivists who discovered the 16mm print of Metropolis with 25 additional minutes. The Alloy Orchestra would return to the fest two days later to perform their heart-stopping score to Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera.

The Cook/Pass the Gravy/Big Business (Castro Theater, SF Silent Film Festival)
Each year this festival invites a filmmaker to program a Director's Pick – and past pickers have included the likes of Guy Maddin and Terry Zwigoff. This year Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up) assembled a program of three comic shorts titled The Big Business of Short Funny Films, each of them screamingly funny. First, Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton had a go at each other in The Cook, followed by some hysterical nonsense involving feuding families and a prized rooster in Pass the Gravy. Finally in Big Business, door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen Laurel and Hardy declared war on a disgruntled customer, taking tit-for-tat to absurd heights.

The Boston Strangler (Pacific Film Archive, Criminal Minds)
This ranks as my personal discovery of the year. Director Richard Fleischer employs a wry tone and magnificent use of wide and split screen to tell the story of 60's serial killer Albert DeSalvo. A restrained Tony Curtis, whose title character doesn't appear until the midway point, gives what must surely be the best dramatic performance of his career. Oscar ® didn't care. With Henry Fonda, George Kennedy and an early appearance by Sally Kellerman as the one girl who got away. Double-billed with 1944's The Lodger, a compelling Jack the Ripper yarn starring Merle Oberon, George Sanders and Laird Cregar.

Johanna (Roxie Theater)
I was woefully resigned to never seeing Kornél Mundruczó's 2005 filmic opera about a junkie performing sex miracles in a subterranean Budapest hospital, which had never screened in the Bay Area or been released on Region 1 DVD. Then the Roxie answered my prayers by showing a gorgeous 35mm print for two nights in November, double-billed with the director's follow-up, 2008's Delta. Earlier in the month, the Roxie revived 36 Quai des Orfèvres, a gritty and stylish 2004 policier that had also inexplicably gone unseen the Bay Area, despite starring Gérard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil.

Honorable Mentions
Traffic (1971, dir. Jacques Tati, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts)
Insiang (1976, dir. Lino Brocka, Sundance Kabuki, SF International Asian American Film Festival)
Black Narcissus (1947, dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, Pacific Film Archive, "Life, Death and Technicolor: A Tribute to Jack Cardiff")
Hausu (1977, dir. Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, Castro Theater)
A Night to Dismember (1983, dir. Doris Wishman, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, "Go to Hell for the Holidays: Horror in December")

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