Friday, January 13, 2012

Ben Armington 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 Ben Armington, Box Cubed manager and lapsed cinephile

1. The Woman on the Beach (Noir City 9, Castro)

Coastal Noir from Jean Renoir! This obscure (to me, at least) romance from the great humanist’s unhappy American stint opens awesomely with a hallucinatory nightmare sequence set at the bottom of an ocean carpeted in skeletons and haunted by a beautiful woman, and does not let up in mystery and excitement. Shell-shocked coast guard officer Robert Ryan spends his time riding horseback down the shipwreck strewn coastline until he trots into a seedy postman-always-rings -twice scenario with lusty Joan Bennett and her broke-ass beau, a once celebrated, now ambiguously blind artist played by Charles Bickford. However, Renoir is after more than merely grinding through the plot machinations, and the film deftly plays the characters off each other, investing them and the surroundings with an almost mythic quality of sadness, finally building to a Pyrrhic but hopeful climax that suggests redemption can be found, even if you have to burn it all down.

2. Love Exposure (Roxie)

An utterly beserk and totally sincere four hour coming-of-age exegesis from the usually uneven Sion Sono that follows one pilgrim’s progress through such growing pains as sinning to please father, upskirt photography stardom, cross-dressing, criss-crossing romances, cults, etc. One of those thrilling experiences where a filmmaker throws all of their concerns and obsessions up on screen and comes up with something completely original and vital.

3. Edgar Wright Triple Feature, with Edgar Wright in attendance (Midnites for Maniacs, Castro)

Edgar Wright’s films dance to the beat of the screwball comedy, so it was an absolute blast to see them with an enthusiastic (and, as far as the two can co-exist, respectful) sold out crowd at the majestic Castro theatre. Mr. Wright himself was witty, charming, and most refreshingly, generous with his time, answering film school-y questions from the audience and staying through all three screenings to do a Q & A after the midnight screening of Shaun of the Dead.

4. Ishtar (Midnites for Maniacs, Castro)

A true film maudit. While Elaine May’s satire has been a critical punching bag since it’s release, I found it to be as fresh as if it had been made yesterday, a Dr. Strangelove for the 1980’s. With Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as the luckless, hilariously undertalented songwriters who follow their dreams into a quagmire of top heavy cold war brinksmanship and arms dealing, the beguiling Isabelle Adjani, and the Heartbreak Kid himself, Charles Grodin, at his smarmiest as a CIA agent.

5. Love Streams (YBCA)

Late Cassavettes, with John and Gena as Grey Gardens-esque creatures stumbling through well worn grooves of self destruction. A film that you don’t so much watch as experience, and, as such, uniquely moving.

6. I Am God (Cruel Cinema, YBCA)

A totally bonkers movie that was unlike anything else this year, that played like some unholy admixture of Jodowrsky and Tod Browning. Must be seen to be believed.

7. 1900 (PFA)

Bertolucci’s primal obsession with the conflict between the comforting numbess of the bourgeois and the noble struggle of the working class, stretched over a sprawling canvas, etched in Vittorio Storaro’s lush camerawork. And, of course, sex. Much to my surprise, and, I believe, the PFA’s, the print screened was the 317 minute, NC-17 version. There are deifintely some longueurs’ here, and I wouldn’t call the film wholly satisfying, but the scope and ambition of it remain staggering. With Donald Sutherland, as the leering, fascist embodiement of evil.

8. The Great Flamarion/Once A Thief (I Wake Up Dreaming, Roxie)

The Great Flamarion (what a title!) saw icy Erich Von Stroheim, sharpshooter entertainer extraordinaire, tumble for his pretty assistant/target Mary Beth Hughes, despite his steely self-discipline. The only problem is that she’s already married, to grumpy souse Dan Duryea...directed by the awesome Anthony Mann, who knew where to aim suggestive guns. The co-feature, directed by Billy Wilder’s less heralded brother W. Lee Wilder, came equipped with a plot that Sirk or Fassbinder would have enjoyed torturing a complacent audience with; A down on her luck lady, played by June Havoc (what a name!), gets a chance to forget the past and go straight, but keeps on making bad choices, the fatal one being falling for an obviously untrustworthy clotheshorse con artist, played with excessive unctuosness by Cesar Romero. Amazing!

9. Nadja (Roxie)

A fun, unjustly forgotten gem from the faraway 1990’s that stylishly updates Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the shoegaze set. Dracula’s just been killed, leaving his daughter (played by the ghostly Elina Lowensohn) to drift through the existensial dark night feeding on whatever crosses her path, the film really captures a certain penniless slacker ennui that will bring a salty tear of recognition to many an eye. Peter Fonda is very touching as crazy uncle Van Helsing, just out of the clink for staking Dracula.

10 Anthropomorphlolz (SF International Animation Film Festival, SFFS Cinema)

The organizer of this short film and music video program, Jay Wertzler, is a friend and film festival colleague whose sense of humor I cherish, so it was an utter delight to witness this pink beam straight from his cat-addled brain pan. He-Man musical numbers, Tupac Cat, and anthropomorphic skateboards were some of the bizarre spectacles that stick in my memory from that evening. lolz!

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