Friday, January 27, 2012

Noir Is...Noir Ain't

A pre-code exposé of municipal corruption. A 1964 made-for-television remake of a Robert Siodmak classic. An Antonioni-esque meditation on the futility of vengeance in a corporate-controlled culture. A glossy, multiple-Oscar-nominated whodunit with intense Freudian undercurrents and a relatively happy ending. A career-defining vehicle for the biggest star at Columbia Pictures, Rita Hayworth. A pair of out-and-out comedies. A Technicolor, Cinemascope interracial romance shot on location in post-Macarthur Japan. For those who hear the term film noir and immediately think of low-budget, fatalistic B-movies like Detour and D.O.A., none of my above descriptions (which I trust no-one will find too distorting) make the films they describe sound like they'd play at a film festival devoted to noir. Yet Afraid To Talk, The Killers, Point Blank, Laura, Gilda, Unfaithfully Yours, The Good Humor Man and House Of Bamboo are all among the films seen so far this week by attendees of the tenth edition of Noir City at the Castro Theatre.

For 2012, festival producers Eddie Muller and Anita Monga have put together the most diverse slate of films in the decade-long history of Noir City. From year one the festival has built a reputation of showing the best available prints of canonized classics of the genre as well as bringing to light some of the obscurities most deserving of being rescued from the cultural memory hole. Both functions are certainly in full force at this year's festival. What's different from previous years is that, more than ever, many of the festival selections represent the boundaries of noir, landing well outside the word's traditionalist definition. There are certainly films in this year's festival that fit snugly into the commonly-regarded parameters: chiaroscuro black-and-white photography, downward-spiraling trajectory for a doomed protagonist with possible assist from a femme fatale, post-World War II themes wrestled with by war vet characters, etc. Tonight's still-underrated Thieves' Highway fits into these very snugly, depending on your interpretation of the final three minutes of the film, that director Jules Dassin had nothing to do with. But many others don't.

Thanks to last Saturday's pre-code double-bill of Afraid To Talk and Okay, America (the latter of which I unfortunately had to miss) and the four early adaptations of Dashiell Hammett stories that make up the afternnoon portion of this Sunday's Hammett Marathon, there are more films from the 1930s than in any previous edition of Noir City. According to my calculations, the average year of release for a film at this year's festival is 1946- the earliest ever (other years averaged between 1947 and 1951). It took five early-1930s proto-noirs to balance out the record number of 1960s selections: The Killers, Point Blank, The Money Trap and Underworld U.S.A. (the latter two being, respectively, the weakest and strongest of the festival films I'd never seen before. So far.) Strange, if the noir period ended by 1958 or so, as many sources contend. Color is another sticky issue for noir purists. Noir City has shown the occasional color film before- Leave Her To Heaven and Slightly Scarlet for instance. This year there are three: The Killers, Point Blank and House Of Bamboo.

I'm interested in the heated debates about what qualifies as noir and what doesn't. Articles like this multi-parter that look at the historical roots of the term are sure to attract my attention, especially when they argue against enshrined classics like Laura and festival closer The Maltese Falcon as true noir. But I really don't have a dog in that fight. I don't attend Noir City because it celebrates noir, but because it celebrates film. Learning that a film is considered a noir doesn't make me any more or less likely to want to see it. Learning that it was made by a great director, or written by a reliable writer, or acted by a terrific cast, or shot by a favorite cinematographer, probably will. Learning that it has influenced other filmmakers, or that it has been unjustly locked in a studio archive away from public view for years, might tantalize me as well. But what I am ultimately interested in seeing is a wide sampling of interesting films from every genre, from every period of history, using every technological development and aesthetic approach available. Ideally under historically accurate circumstances, which means theatrically with an audience if it was something made before scare quotes began appearing around the term "ancillary markets". It's an unending and perhaps ultimately futile quest, but I'm thankful for local institutions like Noir City, the Stanford Theatre (which has just released its most impressive calendar in a couple years), and the Roxie (which brings a pre-code series in March) that help me remain on it.

I know some cinephiles who avoid Noir City, or at the very least limit their attendance, because they dislike the atmosphere. Yes, audiences do dress up. They appreciate Eddie Muller's introductions, especially when he's accompanied by a special guest. They're not shy about expressing themselves during the film, whether to applaud Rita Hayworth's Gilda entrance or to laugh at dialogue about coffee shops in Underworld U.S.A. (Eric Beetner wrote about the laughter phenomenon in the Noir City Sentinal, reprinted in the first of three increasingly expansive, but not increasingly expensive, books available for sale at the festival or online.) I understand the desire for a more austere setting in which to view the work of great filmmakers, and I'm glad that, at least for now, the Frisco Bay region supports other venues when they showcase some of the same restorations seen at Noir City. But I take another view. I think it's great that we have in Muller an impresario with the deep knowledge and the show biz sense to annually attract to the Castro not only dyed-in-the-wool film lovers but also innocent bystanders who have never even heard of the films they're about to watch. Weren't we all there someday? And won't it take all of us working together to send a message to the studios that the preservation and exhibition of 35mm prints must not end?

I've often wondered if the success of Noir City and the Film Noir Foundation could be replicated with other Hollywood genres I adore. Imagine a comparable destination festival called "West County", for instance. Or a similar series devoted to musicals, or swashbuckling adventure films. Until somebody tries out the Noir City model on non-noirs, I'm grateful that Noir City can expand the umbrella of films it preserves and projects to include films that are (to borrow Elliot Levine's term) "not necessarily noir". Like pre-codes. Or 1960s films. Or comedies. Comedies?

I missed Tuesday's screening of Preston Sturges's Unfaithfully Yours (which I've seen theatrically and adore), but it was a real thrill to experience the second half of the Noir City "Comedy Noir" night, The Good Humor Man. Not every gag works in this Frank Tashlin-scripted slapstick piece, starring Mildred Pierce slimeball Jack Carson as a lovable lunk who gets mixed up in murder plots while doing his daily ice cream deliveries. Some of Heinz Roemheld's music cues, in particular, were awkward and dated. However, the satire of suburbia was sharp and the laughs were abundant. Some of the film's violence, especially in the insane schoolhouse finale where every imagined elective from music and home economics, to physical education and woodshop, becomes a hazardous menace, seemed to outdo the brutality of even the grittiest mid-century noirs. I must wonder if censors didn't take their duties as "seriously" when evaluating comic violence as opposed to its dramatic counterpoint. Of course, Tashlin perfected his gag-writing skills while making Looney Tunes for the most mayhemic cartoon studio, Warner Brothers. The following evening while introducing a Sam Fuller double bill, Muller admitted to getting misty-eyed imagining what Tashlin would have thought if he'd seen an audience of hundreds roaring to bits he'd written over sixty years ago.

The Castro's new programmer Keith Arnold could, at least theoretically, book a series of Tashlin comedies without the help of a non-profit like the Film Noir Foundation to help secure prints. Theoretically, because certain studios are increasingly unwilling to rent out their own prints to repertory theatres, and archives traditionally don't lend directly to for-profit enterprises like the Castro. Still, I'm pleased with the direction Arnold's own programming is taking, and I hope mass audiences are as well. The venue's February schedule has many gems on it, including two films that have played previous Noir City editions: The Lineup on February 18th, and Ace In The Hole February 22.

A February 8th double-bill merits special mention: Robert Bresson's Pickpocket plays with a film by Bresson's most well-known American acolyte, Paul Schrader: American Gigolo. The calendar note for the latter film is marked with a warning: "URGENT INVITATION: This could very well be your last opportunity to see the film in 35mm – enjoy it while you can!" Presumably this message is a result of the increasing unwillingness I mentioned a paragraph ago, and its presence makes me pleased that at least there are no other February films with such a warning label. As for Pickpocket, I'm truly impressed with this booking. I can't remember a Bresson film gracing the Castro screen in the decade-plus that I've been obsessively paying attention. I've seen all my Bresson prints at the Pacific Film Archive, which is currently hosting a near-complete retrospective of the Frenchman's work. If you were sad at the prospect of skipping this Saturday's PFA Pickpocket showing in order to see that day's Noir City screenings and attend the party (or vice versa), it may be a nice surprise to have a second chance to see it so soon.

On Sunday, while introducing Laura, Eddie Muller held Keith Arnold's feet to the fire, relaying that the former Fine Arts Cinema booker had recently mentioned the possibility of bringing a Dana Andrews series to the Castro. A great idea. The fact that Muller was standing next to the Laura star's daughter Susan Andrews made the prospect seem all the more enticing, and possible, and maybe even a little embarrassing if it doesn't come to pass. It was all in fun of course, but I hope that there's the will to put together such a series, not to mention the audiences to attend it. Would encouraging people to dress up as occultists to see Curse of the Demon, or as trappers to see Swamp Water help get people who've never heard of Jacques Tourneur and Jean Renoir out to their pictures? If so, it might be worth doing.

I'm certain there will be plenty of people in suits and fedoras coming out to see The Maltese Falcon on the final day of the festival. Muller has gone on record predicting that this will be the last time a 35mm print of the landmark film will play the Castro. If that's true for the 1941 version, it's likely true for the lesser-known but in certain respects better-made 1931 version starring Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels in the Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor roles. Both films are owned by the same studio. I'm hoping to see both on that giant screen one last time. I'm also excited for the weekend's two Alan Ladd films, The Great Gatsby and The Glass Key; Ladd is the star of the 1955 Cinemascope, Eastmancolor gangster picture Hell On Frisco Bay, the namesake for this blog, which is generally seen only in poor-quality bootlegs; it's for obvious reasons a preservation project I'm personally very interested in. Every ticket to an Alan Ladd film bought in 2012 is a vote to see more Alan Ladd films in 2013 and beyond. So come join me and at least a thousand of my closest friends this weekend in celebrating film, or noir, or better yet, both!

Friday, January 20, 2012

I Only Have Two Eyes 2011

What's in store for us in 2012? Interpreters of Mayan archaeology, Biblical prophecy, ecological indicators, Presidential polls, etc. all have their ideas. I personally don't think anybody knows in advance when a given era is going to end, but we do get a cultural charge out of imagining ourselves in a Fin de siècle moment.

These days I'm equally skeptical of oracles predicting apocalyptic changes in the cinematic landscape. I've heard the warnings, seen the threatening letters to exhibitors, read the premature eulogies, and signed the petition. But though of course technological change is undeniable, the idea that it's all-encompassing, spelling the sudden death of repertory film as we know it, defies the everyday evidence I see as a moviegoer. Perhaps I'm being obstinate or naïve, but the popularity of going to the cinema to watch a print of a beloved classic or an undiscovered treasure (which can be the same movie to different people) continued through 2011 and looks like it will in 2012 as well. It's hard for me to see how completely upending that ecosystem benefits anyone.

I'm sure my perspective is skewed by geography; the San Francisco Bay Area for all its modern sheen is a hotbed of technological contrarians. And our cinema programmers are a resourceful bunch, as they must be in order to stay in step with the desires of the passionate filmmakers, students, historians, fans, critics, archivists, projectionists, collectors, and other everyday punters who make up their audience. As I've done for the past four years now, I've invited a handful of such folks to share their favorite experiences watching repertory/revival cinema in the Bay Area over the last twelve months. I'll be updating with new lists daily. The following testimony should convince any doubter that there's still vigor in Frisco Bay's film scene:

Film preservationist/researcher Rob Byrne, who blogs at Starts Thursday!.
Kurtiss Hare, cinema enthusiast and blogger at
Cinephile/critic Michael Hawley, who blogs at film-415.
Critic Lincoln Spector, who operates Bayflicks.
Cinephile Lawrence Chadbourne, part of the Film On Film Foundation.
Film studies major Shahn, who blogs at six martinis and the seventh art.
Adam Hartzell, who has written for many outlets, listed here.
Box Cubed manager and lapsed cinephile Ben Armington.
Carl Martin, who compiles the Bay Area Film Calendar.
Critic Frako Loden, whose writing is seen at The Evening Class & elsewhere.
Victoria Jaschob, who has written for the SF Silent Film Festival.
Cinephile Jason Wiener, who blogs at Jason Watches Movies.
Educator/impresario Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, who runs MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS.
Artist & writer Terri Saul, whose website is found here.
Maureen Russell, film festival volunteer & cinephile.
Filmmaker Mark Wilson, who has work available through Canyon Cinema.
Ryland Walker Knight, who blogs at Vinyl Is Heavy.
Comedian-actor-projectionist Austin Wolf_Sothern, who blogs here.
Margarita Landazuri, who writes & edits articles for the SF Silent Film Festival.
Cinephile David Robson, who blogs at The House of Sparrows.
James Brown, cinephile, musician and DJ.
Your host, Brian Darr.


Brian Darr Only Has Two Eyes

When I decided to roll out my annual round-up of reflections on the year in local repertory and revival screenings over the past week or so, I hadn't the faintest idea that it would sync up with a new flurry of Twitter conversation and media coverage of Time Warner shutting the doors to its vaults of 35mm exhibition prints in its holdings (which includes all First National and most classic MGM & RKO titles, as well as those produced with the Warner Brothers imprint.) It seems repertory theatre requests to screen The Shining (for instance) on film rather than on DVD are being denied. Although the Pacific Film Archive's current Howard Hawks retrospective and the quickly-upcoming Noir City both promise to screen numerous Warner-owned titles in 35mm prints, it may be that the prints all will be sourced from independent archives and not the studio itself. Such a trend may soon leave repertory as we know it in the exclusive hands of independent collections and not-for-profit organizations.

As bad as that sounds, as I hint at in my introduction to this year's "I Only Have Two Eyes" blog series, the eternal optimist in me feels convinced that both the demand for and supply of Frisco Bay repertory screenings will continue into the future, even if the process of connecting supply and demand shakes out into a new form. It's sad if a for-profit theatre like the Castro can no longer offer 35mm screenings of wonderful Warner-owned titles 2001: A Space Odyssey, Footlight Parade, Badlands, He Who Gets Slapped, Meet Me In St. Louis, etc. (all of which I re-visited in that space in 2011, some for the first time on the big screen) at everyday prices, without the muscle of a film festival's involvement in securing prints from a non-standard source. I look forward to seeing how it all plays out in the coming months, but for now, let me share with you my own top ten cinema screenings of films I'd never seen prior to 2011:

the Wrong Man
2011 began with a series that filled gaps in my cinematic experience I'd been quietly embarrassed about for years. Alfred Hitchcock films are a mainstay of the Castro Theatre programming; I love that the venue offers near-annual opportunities to see classics like Vertigo (which I savored once again during the venue's 70mm series in June.) But in January they showcased a dozen films that tend to be screened more infrequently. I was able to see nine of them which I'd never seen before on the big screen, in some cases never at all. All were various shades of great, and 1956's The Wrong Man proved to be the greatest. It centers on an ordinary man (Henry Fonda) thrust into extraordinary circumstances thanks to a mistake in identity. But the mistake leads not to the thrills and adventure of The Thirty-Nine Steps or North By Northwest, but to devastation. Based on a true story, and treated with utmost seriousness and even a Hitchcockian sort of realism, the film may be (perhaps barring the more personal Vertigo) the director's saddest, and most socially important work.

Beau Travail
I haven't done a full accounting, but my sense is that the Pacific Film Archive's Claire Denis retrospective last Spring, and Beau Travail in particular, received more mentions in this year's "I Only Have Two Eyes" wrap-up than any other selection. And no wonder. This poetic resetting of Herman Melville's story Billy Budd to the Horn of Africa is every bit the masterpiece I'd heard, and more. At the time it came out (at festivals in 1999, commercially the next year) I was living and working abroad, in a relatively remote (from cinephile culture, at any rate) region of the world, so I missed it even if I didn't miss all of the critical praise which (rightly) insisted that the big screen was the way to see it. So although I found a cheap copy of the DVD when a nearby rental store went out of business, I refrained from watching it until I could view it projected somewhere. It took a while. Sometimes waiting to see a film in a proper setting can set up disappointment, but not this time. My years of anticipation, and my decade of distance from my own time living in a foreign land, could only have made the film's strange beauty more profoundly and personally felt inside of me.

This, on the other hand, was something completely off my radar until the Roxie screened it in May as part of its third annual I Wake Up Dreaming series of Golden Age noir. Though I only attended a few, largely unmemorable films in this year's series, and picked Ruthless simply because it fit my schedule that week, it absolutely floored me with its technical virtuosity, its relative lavishness (for a 1948 Edgar G. Ulmer picture) and its sophisticated, lacerating assault on the "rags to riches" myth underlying our economic system. Critics have justly compared Ruthless to no less than Citizen Kane and I was equally reminded of, The Magnificent Ambersons, not just for shared thematics and aesthetics, but because, like that Orson Wells film, Ruthless manages to be a kind of masterpiece despite some very evident flaws that would sink most lesser pictures.

Carmen Comes Home
I spent many many hours during the first half of 2011 reading about, watching, and re-watching movies made by Mikio Naruse, Hiroshi Shimizu and particularly Yasujiro Ozu, to help me prepare an essay for the program guide of the Silent Film Festival, which screened Ozu's best-known silent film I Was Born, But... in mid-July. By the time the PFA's Japanese Divas series rolled around I'd completed my research, but I appreciated it nonetheless. Particularly this 1951 film by former Ozu apprentice Keisuke Kinoshita, starring the brilliant Hideko Takemine as a high-minded stripteaser who returns to her family's village, now notorious from her big city escapades. Japan's first full-color film and eye-poppingly so, Carmen Comes Home is a wonderful window into national values during the final year or so of the Allied occupation, and an opportunity to see some of Ozu's favorite actors (Chishu Ryu, Takeshi Sakamoto, Shuji Sano, etc.) hamming it up in a somewhat broader -and bawdier- comedy than Ozu's own comedies tended to be.

Three Ages
By reputation, the first feature film Buster Keaton directed (with his frequent early co-director Edward F. Cline) is not among his best. It's often repeated that its makers lacked confidence in its success, which is why it consists of three distinct stories intercutting between each other; if the film flopped as a six-reel feature, at least it could be reconstituted into three two-reelers, the form which Keaton was a surefire draw in. Assuming this risk-averse strategy was true, what's not often mentioned is that few slapstick comedians had successfully crossed over from shorts to features in 1923. Nor that the film Three Ages is famously spoofing, D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, had been created with the very same sort of strategy; intercutting four feature films worth of material into an epic, and Griffith re-edited two of its four segments (the Babylonian and modern-day episodes) into stand-alone features released three years after the full film failed to ignite box office records in 1916. Three Ages, on the other hand, stood on its own financially, both in its day, and on a late Summer evening last year when a huge crowd packed the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto to see Dennis James beautifully accompany a 35mm print on the Wurlitzer organ. Watching it in such an ideal setting, and laughing along with almost every gag, makes the gap in quality between this and Keaton's top-tier features (The General, Steamboat Bill, Jr., and what have you) seem extremely small; perhaps non-existent.

Curse of the Demon
I didn't see any familiar Frisco Bay cinephile faces in the healthy-sized crowd when I went to see this last September; perhaps there are few regulars of the usual haunts (the other venues represented on this list) who also check to see what's playing at the UA Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue. The regular Thursday night screening series there generally screens prints of more recent cult "classics" like The Professional and Labyrinth, so I initially wondered if a listing for this rarely-shown horror film was in error. But a confirmation phone call led to a BART trip led to one of the scariest and most thoughtful explorations of the supernatural I've seen. And no, the above image (which has haunted me since seeing it in a book my elementary school library) does not represent the overall tone of the film, which is one of the few examples I've seen of 1950s cinéma fantastique to truly earn its earnest gravitas. I'm only sad that, after seeing his three films made for Val Lewton and this, I no longer have any "straight" Jacques Tourneur-directed horror films to look forward to. Although I suppose there's Comedy of Terrors...

Migration of the Blubberoids
2011 was shaping up to be a great year for local screenings of George Kuchar pictures (In my head I can hear him say the word: "pict-shas"), with a beautiful presentation of Eclipse of the Sun Virgin, restored, at Crossroads and an extensive dual-retrospective with his twin brother Mike at the PFA, just the latest of many tributes the man received from Frisco Bay film institutions over the forty years he spent living here (the MVFF, SFIFF, and, with Mike, Frameline, for instance). Then, so very tragically for everyone who had befriended him, or even met him or been touched by his generous artistic spirit, he died shortly after his 69th birthday. Several venues hosted posthumous screening events; the SF Cinematheque-presented set at SFMOMA was a particularly well-curated selection of lesser-known videos and better-known film work, and the Canyon Cinema screening at the 9th Street Film Center was an amazing set of some of his most rarely-seen 16mm films. But it was at Artists' Television Access where in October I saw the piece that shattered my preconceptions about career arcs: a city symphony from his late-eighties in-camera-edited video period with the unusual but not uncharacteristic title Migration of the Blubberoids. This alternatively lovely and anxious portrait of the Kuchars' native Bronx at Thanksgiving-time, set to music from (according to a 1991 interview) "some kind of a King Kong movie" deserves to be more widely known and shown, especially to anyone unsure of whether George Kuchar could make "pict-shas" as vital, innovative, and formally satisfying in the second half of his career as he could in the first.

In Spring
Hmmm. Two city symphonies in a row on this list. Except that this one, like its cinematographic predecessor Man With A Movie Camera, might equally be called a "country symphony", or better, a "nation symphony". Ever since researching Man With A Movie Camera (also for the Silent Film Festival) I'd been dying to see the film that Mikhael Kaufman, the eponymous "Man" in that film, both as actor and as cinematographer, had directed himself after disagreements with his brother Dziga Vertov caused a rift between the two. When a touring Vertov retrospective arrived at the PFA this fall, I was very pleased to discover that, hidden away as if an Easter Egg, In Spring was to screen as a second feature to a Vertov I'd never been able to track down, Stride, Soviet! Watching them together the Vertov felt overly deterministic and repetitious, but the Kaufman soared with visual lyricism. Pianist Judith Rosenberg improvised first-class musical accompaniments to them both (and to the other Vertov silents I saw in the series) but when the evening was through I began to wonder if the wizardry of Man With A Movie Camera might have been cast under its cinematographer's influence more than its nominal director's. Although the retro proved that Vertov's own talent shone through in some the sound films made after the dissolution of the brotherly collaboration: particularly Enthusiasm (which I'd only before seen on a terrible VHS transfer) and For You, Front!

Through The Olive Trees
It's getting late and this post has gotten long. So I won't say much about this 1994 masterpiece by Iran's foremost director Abbas Kiarostami, working at the peak of his powers. I will say I'm so thankful that the PFA provided an opportunity for me to finally catch up with it, as such opportunities are few and far between in this country without resorting to quasi-legal methods. Why? It has something to do with Muriel's Wedding of all movies, at least according to Jonathan Rosenbaum's book Movie Wars.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Just as I was sending out e-mail invitations for this year's "I Only Have Two Eyes" project, and putting the finishing touches on my own list, I went with moderate-to-low expectations to the Castro to see this 1964 musical on the third-from-last day of 2011. I knew it was the best-known film of Jacques Demy, a director I'd had mixed results exploring, and that its recitative musical style had been aped in at least one much more recent French film I'd seen, liked, and largely forgotten (Jeanne And The Perfect Guy). I was prepared for a pleasant time out at the movies: pretty music, pretty actors (Catherine Deneuve), pretty colors, a small French town, all there. I was fully unprepared to get so involved in the characters, for the waves of complex emotions the film would elicit, and for the brilliant ending, perhaps as heartbreaking as the finale to Demy's wife Agnes Varda's Le Bonheur, released a year later (and featured on my "I Only Have Two Eyes list from last year). One might say the French New Wave was about being inspired by the best Hollywood films to make something completely new and different and even subversive, rather than blandly aping Hollywood's worst traits on French sets, as the Cahiers Du Cinema crew frequently accused their forebears of doing. This, then, is a perfectly New Wave film. And, perhaps, a perfectly perfect one.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

James Brown Only Has Two Eyes

It's impossible for any pair of eyes to view all of Frisco Bay's worthwhile film screenings. I'm so pleased that a number of local filmgoers have let me post their repertory/revival screening highlights of 2011. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from James Brown, cinephile, musician and dj.

Chris Marker's The Sixth Side Of The Pentagon at Delirium Cinema
Les Blank's Always For Pleasure at Red Vic in Smellaround!
Yamina Bachir's Rachida at Alliance Francaise
Claude Jutra's My Uncle Antoine at Alliance Francaise
Euzhan Palcy's Sugar Cane Alley at Alliance Francaise
Marcel Pagnol's Fanny trilogy at PFA
Lee Sang-il's Hula Girls at Viz
Yasuzo Masumura's A Wife Confesses at PFA
Radley Metzger's Camille 2000 at YBCA
Jim McBride's David Holzman's Diary at Victoria Theater
Hal Ashby's The Landlord at PFA
Jean Renoir's Swamp Water at Roxie
Francois Truffaut's The Soft Skin at Castro

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

David Robson Only Has Two Eyes

It's impossible for any pair of eyes to view all of Frisco Bay's worthwhile film screenings. I'm so pleased that a number of local filmgoers have let me post their repertory/revival screening highlights of 2011. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from cinephile David Robson, who blogs at The House Of Sparrows.

Top ten Frisco Bay rep experiences, unranked and in no particular order:

--I can't think of a filmmaker more deserving of a PFA retrospective than Claire Denis. The series was essential viewing, propelling the previously-unseen BEAU TRAVAIL straight into my alltime favorites, and offering another look at her don't-call-it-a-vampire-movie movie TROUBLE EVERY DAY (which remains every bit as harrowing ten years later). A perfect encore came to the Castro Theatre a few weeks later, as Tindersticks performed their Denis scores accompanied by scenes from those films. I can't recall another screening this year that left me so elated.

--The cinemas of Frisco Bay conspired unwittingly to make me re-examine the films of Francois Truffaut. I'd dismissed him (quite, quite stupidly) as inferior to and less ambitious than Godard, but this is your classic apples/oranges comparison. The Roxie's screenings of the Antoine Doinel series offered a wonderful all-in-one opportunity (though I understand my girlfriend's preference to keep the final freeze-frame of THE 400 BLOWS as the last word, watching the older Doinel's misadventures in work and love was a delight). A couple of theatres offered a look at SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (which now strikes me as a superior film to BREATHLESS, certainly a warmer one). And Truffaut's gun-toting femmes (the Cahiers crowd loved their Monogram b-pics) closed out the year, as THE SOFT SKIN and THE BRIDE WORE BLACK unloaded in two different theatres (the Castro and New People, respectively). May the crash course continue into 2012. (Though Woody Allen's oeuvre also benefitted from generous Frisco Bay programming [as well as an essential two-part documentary on PBS], the Truffaut revelation was a more striking one for me.)

--Though the Red Vic eventually went into that good night, they did so with a weeks-long grand finale of great programming. The crucial screening: WINGS OF DESIRE, so much a masterpiece I had taken it for granted, yet seeing it again was like a visit with cherished, too-rarely-seen friends. I don't believe that the mortality of the space juiced my reaction to this most precious of films; the divinity of the film did help process the passing of Peter Falk later that week.

--The Castro remembered Anne Francis with an excellent double feature. FORBIDDEN PLANET felt more otherworldly in that space than it ever could on video, and the new-to-these-eyes BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK was a compelling modern-day Western. It's little wonder that BLACK ROCK director John Sturges would remake SEVEN SAMURAI; BLACK ROCK arranges its characters in monumental configurations that anticipate HIGH & LOW's forest of detectives, and Spencer Tracy leavens his usual integrity with Mifune grit. A wonderful screening, sent into the stratosphere when Castro organist David Hegarty layered Wurlitzer chimes over the Barron's electronic FORBIDDEN PLANET end music. Sublime.

--The ongoing house imprisonment/legal limbo experienced by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi occasioned the screening of his recent films, including the glorious OFFSIDE. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts programmer Joel Shepard generously threw in Abbas Kiarostami's CLOSE-UP (which is, indeed, Kiarostami's masterpiece, and as effective a demolition of the borders between film and reality as any I've seen). Those who offer knee-jerk assent to our politicians who would attack Iran would find the country's cinema an eye-opener. Entertaining, too.

--I was as delighted as anyone else when the SF Film Society took over the Viz theatre at New People. And yet I felt like the sterling Japanese programming (specifically the anime) that the Viz had provided would completely disappear (worse, no one was lamenting that possibility). I'm pleased to see that my fears were unfounded, and that New People's programming continues in that space on at least a sporadic basis. Pleased am I also to see anime continuing as a staple in that space, as there's usually at least one anime screening there that turns out to be a favorite for the year. Seeing both films in the reboot of the long running EVANGELION series back to back (essential, given the convolution of the series' plot) made for a truly epic experience, eclipsing lesser sci-fi blockbusters with more ambitious scope, utterly batshit energy, and a disarmingly emotional core.

--The Castro's screening of David Lynch's DUNE revealed it to be the MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS of his oeuvre: a seriously compromised work that nonetheless contains many of the maker's familiar tropes and tics. It's a shame Lynch has disowned it; for all of the sci-fi imagery and De Laurentiian excesses of the film, its cast, grotesquerie, dream imagery, and heroic journey are all quintessential Lynch.

--Nice as it was to finally see the original FRIGHT NIGHT and EXORCIST III on the big screen, I gotta say the most gratifying screening of the Halloween season was THE HOLE, a charming and family-friendly 3-D offering from Joe Dante. It's rife with both the creepiness that Dante's brought to earlier films and his bracing humanism. In short it's utterly accessible, and I can see no compelling reason why it's been shelved for so long - I'm kind of appalled that the screening I saw was the three-years-old-and-counting film's US premiere.

--That screening came courtesy Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' Midnites for Maniacs series, which continues to shed light on genre cinema from bygone decades. A number of fine films were revisited at the Castro courtesy that series, and it gave me (and hundreds of others) a chance to assess the famous debacle that was Elaine May's ISHTAR. Decades after the hype that killed it, the film was revealed to be a warm and funny buddy picture, and an illuminating portrait of America's cluelessness in dealing with the Middle East.

--I wish all silent film accompanists were as skilled and sonically adept as Ava Mendoza and Nick Tamburro; their propulsive but nuanced after-hours score for Roland West's THE BAT added depth, grit, and suspense to the film's artful shadows, funny but never cutesy, adventurous but always serving the film. An ambitious programming choice for SFFS that paid off beautifully, and ideal for their intimate New People space.

Plus one that got away: I'm kicking myself for not seeing more of PFA's Jerzy Skolimowski series. The three films I did see (the quietly, darkly wrong FOUR NIGHTS WITH ANNA; the tone-perfect Nabokov adaptation KING QUEEN KNAVE; and ESSENTIAL KILLING, the politically-apolitical allegory of an imprisoned terrorist on the run) were uniformly fantastic, but only barely seemed to capture the sheer breadth of Skolimowski's output and vision. How many more chances like that are we going to get?

Margarita Landazuri Only Has Two Eyes

It's impossible for any pair of eyes to view all of Frisco Bay's worthwhile film screenings. I'm so pleased that a number of local filmgoers have let me post their repertory/revival screening highlights of 2011. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from Margarita Landazuri, who writes for and co-edits the SF Silent Film Festival program book.

Undoubtedly two silent films by Marcel L'Herbier-- L'Argent (1928), at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's winter event, and L'Inhumaine (1924) at PFA a few weeks later, were the standouts for me. The latter, which someone described as a "Surrealist Bride of Frankenstein," is a loony combination of sci-fi and avant-garde high style. It boasts gorgeous, fanciful sets and costumes, bad acting and a silly story, but it's loads of fun.The production credits read like a laundry list of 1920s Modernist art: sets and decor by Fernand Léger, Alberto Cavalcanti, Claude Autant-Lara and Rene Lalique, costumes by Paul Poiret.

Even though it's based on a 19th-century Emile Zola novel and was made in the 1920s, L'Argent feels totally 21st century in its themes of stock market manipulation, corporate greed, and celebrity mania. It also feels thoroughly modern with its on-location shooting, huge, complex sets and crowd scenes, surrealist touches, and dazzling camerawork and editing. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra's score was superb.

My other two favorites from last summer's SFSFF last summer were Mauritz Stiller's The Blizzard (Gunnar Hedes Saga, 1923) and The Woman Men Yearn For (1929). In The Blizzard, based on a novel by Nobel laureate Selma Lagerlof, Stiller translates Lagerlof's literary themes of nature and mysticism into visual storytelling. In the romantic melodrama The Woman Men Yearn For, Marlene Dietrich explodes the myth that she was a creation of director Josef von Sternberg in The Blue Angel. Made a year before she met von Sternberg, The Woman Men Yearn For presents Dietrich as the fully-formed femme fatale that later became famous. She is introduced in the film looking out from a frosted train window, gazing impassively at the hapless young man who will become her victim. I don't think I imagined it: the audience gasped. There she was, the Marlene we all know, a sleeker and more more sophisticated version of Blue Angel's Lola Lola, ready to use and abuse another besotted male.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Austin Wolf-Sothern Only Has Two Eyes

It's impossible for any pair of eyes to view all of Frisco Bay's worthwhile film screenings. I'm so pleased that a number of local filmgoers have let me post their repertory/revival screening highlights of 2011. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from comedian-actor-projectionist Austin Wolf-Sothern, whose blog is found here.

I moved to Los Angeles this year on June 5, so this list only covers up to that point. The reason I moved on the 5th of the month (costing me a few extra days of rent) as opposed to the 1st was because Sleepaway Camp, my favorite horror film of all time, screened on 35mm (my favorite movie format of all time) on June 4. It played as part of Peaches Christ's Midnight Mass, and as it happens, my very first experience with Rep in SF was their presentation of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! back in the summer of 2000, so it really couldn't have been a more perfect send-off for me.

The Top 8 Best Repertory Films/Experiences in SF in the First Half of 2011
1. Sleepaway Camp (1983), Midnight Mass with Peaches Christ, Bridge Theatre
2. Seed of Chucky (2004) with Jennifer Tilly in Person, Midnight Mass with Peaches Christ, Victoria Theatre
3. The Amazing Cosmic Awareness of Duffy Moon (1976) / The Peanut Butter Solution (1985) / Cipher in the Snow (1973), Midnites for Maniacs, Roxie Theatre
4. Ninja Turf (1985) / Miami Connection (1987), Roxie Theatre
5. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) / The Last Dragon (1986), Midnites for Maniacs, Castro Theatre
6. Jesse Ficks' 35 Favorite 35mm Trailers, Benefit to Save the Red Vic, Red Vic Movie House
7. The Woman Chaser (1999) with Patrick Warburton in Person, Roxie Theatre
8. The Monster Squad (1987) with Fred Dekker in Person, Midnites for Maniacs, Castro Theatre

Ryland Walker Knight Only Has Two Eyes

It's impossible for any pair of eyes to view all of Frisco Bay's worthwhile film screenings. I'm so pleased that a number of local filmgoers have let me post their repertory/revival screening highlights of 2011. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from cinephile & writer Ryland Walker Knight, who blogs at Vinyl Is Heavy.

Struggling to remain lucid with a headcold the size of Miss Piggy's ego, here's a really simple list of rep activity I enjoyed in 20!!….

1. World on a Wire at the PFA, where they screened it on film instead of digitally, as was the case with the Kabuki-housed SFIFF presentation. I missed it at the Roxie because I was in Europe.
2. The Awful Truth at the Castro because it's the best movie ever and I had a blast drinking beers and laughing with Cambomb. (Brian sat a row or two behind us, I think.)
3. Moonrise by Borzage followed by Swamp Water by Renoir, at the Roxie. I wrote a bit about how awesome this was in my BANG BANG post, but it bears repeating: using the swamp locations as metaphors for the world (as perpetually violent, and dangerous) was like catnip to me, and these two dudes are expressive enough that it's never on-the-nosey as it might be in the hands of, say, a lot of contemporaries.
4. Bringing Up Baby and Monkey Business at the Castro. Two of the great films, one of the greatest double bills you can imagine. Read the Rivette essay already.
5. The Long Goodbye and California Split at the Castro. Elliot Gould 4eva.
6. Beau Travail at the PFA. All those Denis I got to see could go here. This one in particular never fails to blow me away and offer some new choreography for the eyes. (I liked seeing these more than that Tindersticks SFIFF event, though that comparison is unfair and useless.)
7. Angel Face at the Castro. How do you end a movie? Like this.
8. The Wrong Man at the Castro. What a dreary thing!
9. Cronique d'un été at Cannes, because you can't stop me, Brian. I also saw some good stuff in Berlin.
10. I missed a lot of stuff I'm mad I missed. Off the dome: the whole Summer Silent Film Fest, Nadja at the Roxie, Musicals at The Stanford, US Go Home at the PFA, a ton of Oddball nights (like all of them), Alternative Visions nights at the PFA (though I did see some Dorsky early on in 20!!), oh too many things always and forever. (That's the problem/joy.)

Mark Wilson Only Has Two Eyes

It's impossible for any pair of eyes to view all of Frisco Bay's worthwhile film screenings. I'm so pleased that a number of local filmgoers have let me post their repertory/revival screening highlights of 2011. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from filmmaker Mark Wilson, who has some of his work available at Canyon Cinema

in 2011, i attended mostly programs of experimental film, at the pacific film archives, san francisco museum of modern art, artists' televison access, san francisco cinematheque, and canyon cinema... seems it was an especially good year for viewing works with those organizations, and in particular, works made in 16mm. i wouldn't have predicted the opportunity to see as many new works in that medium as there were, as well as the return of so many from years past. in keeping with hell on frisco bay's repertory and revival theme for two eyes, this list only includes films made prior to the past year, which were not being presented for the first time. what follows are just some of the many works of "personal cinema" that struck me in one way or another in 2011. the ways in which each of these films moved me are as varied and complex as the works and artists themselves.

Cattle Mutilations (George Kuchar 1983); Daylight Moon (Lewis Klahr 2002): Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson 1951); Flight (Greta Snider 1997); Infernal Cauldron (in 3D! - Georges Melies 1903); Ingenium Nobis Ipsa Puella Fecit (excerpt - Hollis Frampton 1974); Kemia (Silt 1995); Late Spring (Yashiro Ozu 1949); Les Statues Meurent Aussi (Chris Marker, Alain Resnais 1953); Light Years (Gunvor Nelson 1987); Loretta (Jeanne Liotta 2003); Myth Labs (Martha Colburn 2008); Persistence (Daniel Eisenberg 1997); Razor Blades (Paul Sharits 1965-68); The End (Christopher Maclaine 1953); White Rose (Bruce Conner 1967); Yggdrasill Whose Roots Are Stars in the Human Mind (Stan Brakhage 1997)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Maureen Russell Only Has Two Eyes

It's impossible for any pair of eyes to view all of Frisco Bay's worthwhile film screenings. I'm so pleased that a number of local filmgoers have let me post their repertory/revival screening highlights of 2011. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from Maureen Russell, San Francisco film festival volunteer and cinephile

2011 was an embarrassment of riches for me, film-wise. I finally saw several classic films I'd never seen before (that it seemed everyone else had), waiting for my big screen opportunity. Good thing I got to a lot of films last year, as the 35mm screenings will be harder to find in the future. And my favorite festivals were as strong as ever- I limited myself to one film from each of them.

1. World On A Wire
I hadn’t heard of this film for television before. I ended up seeing it twice: first at SFIFF, the digital screening at the Kabuki. There was so much to take in visually (plus subtitles) and story-wise, that I had to go again when the Roxie screened it a few months later, on 35mm. The 200 minute film sounded like a challenge to do in one screening (with intermission), but I got lost in the intrigue and loved the color, humor, drama, dashing lead, West German early 70’s fashion, sets, mind-bending story, and figuring out the characters.

2. Toby Dammit, Castro Theatre
SFIFF’s last minute acting award and screening was worth the wait. A fun onstage interview with the still charming Terence Stamp was followed by a seldom-screened masterpiece Fellini film. It was 40 minutes of bliss for me: Edgar Allen Poe, late 60’s Italy, surrealism, horror, Italian sports cars, and Terence Stamp as an alcoholic actor.

3. He Who Gets Slapped, Castro Theatre
The entire SF Silent Film Festival was top notch and it was hard to pick a favorite. While I’m usually wary of films about clowns, this one stars Lon Chaney along with John Gilbert and Norma Shearer. The Swedish Matti Bye Ensemble returned to SF to accompany this Swedish director Sjöström’s MGM film, and the music soared.

4. Angel Face, Castro Theatre
Noir City 9 was another great 10 days of noir. Hard for me to pick a favorite here too, but this one definitely delivered. Director: Otto Preminger.

5. Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, Castro Theatre
Los Angeles neo-noir double feature with two period pieces.
Chinatown, directed by Roman Polanski: I’m one of the people who had never seen Chinatown before (only clips)! I was saving myself for a big screen, and it was worth the wait! Wow.
L.A Confidential, directed by Curtis Hanson: Fantastic character and action driven story from James Ellroy’s novel; Great cast includes Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. I’d seen this on TV before, but so much better on the big screen and in this double feature.

6. The Devil’s Cleavage
Good thing I chose to go a screening during the PFA's Cult of the Kuchars series. George Kuchar was there to introduce The Devil’s Cleavage, and the actor playing the plumber was in the audience. A beautiful and outrageous film. And George died just months later...

7. David Holzman's Diary, Victoria Theatre
Another film I'd never heard of before. I found out about it as a Fandor free screening with the director (Jim McBride) in person. The film was beautifully shot and so direct that it stays with you, a mockumentary as well as a personal film. And looking at my list, it ties in with #9.

8. The Hunger/Nadja, the Roxie.
I'm not one to pass up a double feature of arty vampire films before Halloween. I remember loving both of these films when they came out, but hadn't seen either in years. They were great together and I appreciated them as much as ever. I was especially pleased to see Nadja screened on 35mm: a beautiful Pixelvision 90’s flick I wish more people could see. And SFMoMA brought Ann Magnuson (who had a memorable minor role in The Hunger to the Roxie for a revealing onstage interview. I even answered one of her trivia questions and got a prize and a hug from Ms. Magnuson!

9. SFMoMA’s Exposed On Film series
The series accompanied SFMOMA’s fascinating Exposed photography exhibit.
Films I caught at the Castro Theatre included Medium Cool, Haskell Wexler, introduced by Haskell Wexler!
and Kids on the Boundaries day triple feature with the haunting Deep End, Jerzy Skomilowski, Streetwise, Martin Bell, (director's restored version) and Pretty Baby, Louis Malle.
AND my first time seeing Lost Highway, David Lynch! I was waiting for a big screen for that one. It did not disappoint.

10. In Search of Christopher Maclaine: Man, Artist, Legend:
Wilder Bentley II, actor, and Lawrence Jordan, filmmaker in person. Curated by Brecht Andersch, presented by Andersch with Brian Darr, SFMOMA’s Phyllis Wattis Theater:
The End, The Man Who Invented Gold, Beat & Scotch Hop by Christopher Maclaine. Trumpit by Lawrence Jordan. Moods in Motion by Ettilie Wallace.
I was not familiar with Christopher Maclaine before, so this was a great introduction. Seeing these films, especially The End, was a great bit of SF History. The onstage interview with men who were there and the cool slide show presented by Brecht Andersch and Brian Darr of their quest for SF locations in The End was topped off by drinks at Vesuvio’s, one of the film’s locations.

Terri Saul Only Has Two Eyes

It's impossible for any pair of eyes to view all of Frisco Bay's worthwhile film screenings. I'm so pleased that a number of local filmgoers have let me post their repertory/revival screening highlights of 2011. An index of participants is found here.

The following list comes from artist and writer Terri Saul, who tweets under the handle SisterRye

2011 Rep House List; Sister Rye

I could write this year's list by mentioning only one director, one series, and one venue –HANDS UP! ESSENTIAL SKOLIMOWSKI- which played from July 22-August 25 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California. I had never heard of Skolimowski until my friend Charles suggested I check him out. His films are what defined my year of movie watching more than any others. Though regretfully, I did miss a few.

Every film I saw last year that wasn't a new release, I saw at the PFA. I'm listing the films in reverse chronological order, starting from the most recent screening and working my way backward.

Although only one of the films he stars in appears on my list, Vincent Gallo both surprised and disappointed in one of the best films I saw this year and one of the worst I suffered through. The first (and an outstanding rare film on my list) is ESSENTIAL KILLING (Poland/Norway/Ireland/Hungary, 2010), directed by Jerzy Skolimowksi. It screened at the PFA on August 20th, at 9pm. Read Skolimowski's comments about the inspiration for making this film (and perhaps why it doesn't screen with much frequency) here. In TROUBLE EVERY DAY (part of the UNDER THE SKIN: THE FILMS OF CLAIRE DENIS, which ran from March 4-April 16) Gallo had to talk and act at the same time, not something he did well in 2001. Both ESSENTIAL KILLING and TROUBLE EVERY DAY were provocative, shocking, gritty, and memorable. I think the reason Gallo was superb in ESSENTIAL KILLING is because he acted without speaking much. A film without dialog is a film that works well for Gallo. The wordless script didn't only benefit Gallo's portrayal of Mohammed, but also was in keeping with the silenced, desperate prisoner on the run in a strange place. Mohammed's ability to communicate, muffled by snow, anomie, confusion, and starvation, in this timely and politically astute piece of humanist drama was whittled down to the narrow features of Gallo's roaming eyes and gnashing teeth. Not unfamiliar territory for Skolimowski, who also chose to have his supporting actress, Emmanuelle Seigner, play a mute woman, silent cinema makes up much of Skolimowski's student films.

The second film on my list is FOUR NIGHTS WITH ANNA (Poland/France, 2008) also directed by Jerzy Skolimowksi. It screened at the PFA on August 5th, at 7pm. The one sentence description of FOUR NIGHTS WITH ANNA on IMDB is enough to drive the curious to watch it, if only for its absurd premise, "A crematorium worker repeatedly breaks into a woman's house at night to help with housework." Skolimowski somehow manages to make the preposterous possible; the crude, sweet; the creepy, charming; and the quotidian, extraordinary. From Jim Emerson writing on Alt Screen, "Four Nights with Anna is one of the great movies about voyeurism (think Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Love, to name a few). As such, it’s also a movie about movie-watching and movie-making" Read the rest of the write-up here.

The third film is THE SHOUT (UK, 1978), yet another by Skolimowski. I watched (and was mesmerized by) THE SHOUT as I sank deeply into my seat at the PFA on July 22nd, at 8:50pm. THE SHOUT was like a good mass-market paperback mystery by a writer who is known and trusted to transport and transform the reader. The use of sound in the film and as a plot device is indescribable and unmatched, best heard in a large space with a good sound system. One of the leading characters, Anthonyn Fielding, is a sound artist. We spend time with him in his recording studio where he traps bugs to hear and collect their reverberations against his microphone. His obsession with the power of sound is shared by his opposing character, Crossley, who brags about possessing a mystical shout. Also, THE SHOUT repeatedly references one of my favorite painters, Francis Bacon. I'm leaving out DEEP END, BARRIER, KING, QUEEN, KNAVE, MOONLIGHTING, IDENTIFCATION MARKS: NONE, and WALKOVER, all worthy of discussion and repeated viewings.

The fourth is 1900 (Italy/France/West Germany, 1976), by Bertolucci, part of BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI: IN SEARCH OF MYSTERY, which ate up a lot of my time between, July 8-August 18. 1900 played, starting at 6pm, on July 16th, and lasted 311 minutes (according to the PFA calendar). I wouldn't have cut one. Although Lincoln Spector says in his review that this wasn't the 5-hour director's cut, but a 4-hour US version. Now I'm wondering which "director's cut" I saw. I remember a brief discussion of the numerous cuts before-hand, but I didn't take notes. It was long and I was glad it was long. One well-known scene in 1900 is the forest ocarina waltz, in which dancers dance to the music of small and large ocarinas, ancient flutes (While discussing this scene with a friend I learned that there's now an iPhone ocarina app that can be played by blowing into the microphone as the mouthpiece of a woodwind). 1900 is one of the most visually musical films I've seen (The composition of each shot seems to dance and divide itself up mathematically, like music), and the most direct when it comes to telling the story of class struggle and class conflict among friends. I'm picking 1900 for my list over THE CONFORMIST, THE LAST EMPEROR, and THE SHELTERING SKY, partly because the last two are so well known and loved and THE CONFORMIST (though stunningly beautiful) didn't leave as much of an epic impression as 1900, although I'm glad I saw it.

Number five is Lisandro Alonso’s debut feature LA LIBERTAD (2001). I'm partially favoring this screening because of the odd short that preceded it and made for a unique film night overall: CHEESE (Mika Rottenberg, U.S., 2008). CHEESE and LA LIBERTAD (Argentina 2001) were featured as part of FIRST PERSON RURAL: THE NEW NONFICTION, which ran from March 26-April 17. LA LIBERTAD was like a view taken in while having nothing to do, or a chore done with loving attention and mindfulness. The camera is allowed to disappear in LA LIBERTAD. The audience is left to fend for itself in the wild solitude of the film. CHEESE just has to be seen to be believed. You won't have to go to art school because you'll give yourself an honorary degree and afterward dream of sustenance, substance, hair, and the feminine ability to create something out of nothing.

The sixth film is BEAU TRAVAIL (France, 1999). I caught BEAU TRAVAIL as part of the previously mentioned Claire Denis retrospective at the PFA, on March 25th, at 9pm. I would like to write an essay about BEAU TRAVAIL, especially the ending, which I won't spoil for you if you haven't seen it. Denis Lavant is amazing as Galoup. BEAU TRAVAIL is an extended dance, a ballet with an eclectic score, a study of the male figure, military limbo, domination, jealousy, competitiveness, colonial anxiety, boredom, and Sisyphean feats, all shot with impeccable attention to light, color, dimensionally, and detail.

Number seven is NENETTE ET BONI (France, 1996), also part of the Denis series. It screened at the PFA on the same night, prior to BEAU TRAVAIL March 25th, at 7pm. Sound and corporeal puns–cheap coffee percolating, kneading pizza dough–make for some startling, sexual and poetic transitions between scenes. Vincent Gallo shows up in this one too, briefly speaking English amid French, and providing comic relief. Tindersticks provides a typical Claire Denis soundtrack. I can't imagine her films without their music. "Tiny Tears" will always remind me of this film.

The eighth film on my list is WHITE MATERIAL (France, 2009), another by Denis, one that was shown early in the series, on March 4th, at 7pm. Michael Koreski wrote well about the film in Reverse Shot here. I haven’t seen any other film that addresses the issue of child soldiers so clearly and with so much tenderness. Everyone in the film is misguided, corrupt, delusional, and seeking short-term pleasure, the freedom of psychosis, or revenge. But the gun-toting children seem mainly driven by hunger, craving for basic comforts, and hero-worship. Denis does an excellent job of critiquing or examining colonialism and the post-colonial, while also laying out some possible responses to finding oneself born or awakening into it on one side or another. The only thread tying all characters together is their commitment to staying in place, rather than fleeing the violence that arrives one day and escalates without pause, although one key difference is the ability to make the choice to leave. Some of the people don’t have that choice, either because of illness and advanced age, youth and poverty, or those driven mad by their situation. Isabelle Huppert’s character is all about stubbornness, almost a play on the word “plantation” as if she had planted her own feet into the soil, like a dominating country would.

Ninth on my list is LA CEREMONIE (France, 1995), by Claude Chabrol, part of SUSPICION: THE FILMS OF CLAUDE CHABROL AND ALFRED HITCHCOCK, January 13-February 25, following the death of Chabrol in 2010. I haven't read A Judgment in Stone, the Ruth Rendell book that LA CEREMONIE is based on, but considering the primacy of plot and social circumstance, it makes sense that LA CEREMONIE is based on her writing. LE BOUCHER should also be on my list, but I chose LA CEREMONIE, probably because it features two of my favorite French actresses, Sandrine Bonnaire and Isabelle Huppert, not to mention Jacqueline Bisset.

Number ten is the film I saw first in 2011, TOUKI BOUKI (Senegal, 1973), directed by Djibril Diop-Mambéty. I was introduced to this film while studying the history of ethnographic and international film as an undergraduate. It was part of the series last year called WORLD CINEMA FOUNDATION: SAFEGUARDING CINEMATIC TREASURES, which ran from January 15- February 10. In the story, friends become divided over a pull to escape hardship, coruption and petty crime and flee to mythical Paris vs. remaining in Senegal and continuing political action. Humiliation and revenge over political differences features strongly, as well as decisions about theft, subservience, tricksterism, magic, and dressing up to pass as European. The film uses magical realism, experimental editing, such as jumpcuts, flashbacks, and jarring cutaways to mysterious and sometimes violent sequences in a way that seems appropriate to its decade. This film, as do many on my list, is critical of capitalism, colonialism, and post-colonial corruption, but also the behavior of those seeking revolution. The use of the Josephine Baker singing "Paris, Paris, Paris!" is unforgettable, and contrasts well with the action on screen. A good summary of the film can be found here.