Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Two Eyes Of Ben Armington

If you didn't attend some wonderful repertory/revival film screenings in 2012, you missed out. As nobody could see them all, I've recruited Frisco Bay filmgoers to recall some of their own favorites of the year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from Ben Armington, Box Cubed chieftain, Roxie pinch hitter, furtive film-goer. 

1. Napoleon (Paramount Theatre, Silent Film Festival) Easily the film event of the year, perhaps of any year. Gance’s storied epic impressed with it’s sustained, crazed inventiveness-- every scene, even every shot of it’s 5 ½ hour runtime felt fired by a red-hot creativity and drive-the-car-over-the-cliff daring. The ending especially reached a hitherto unseen sweaty fugue state of messianic/maniac ecstatical delirium as we were treated to a fusillade of flickering images racing across the fabled triptych screens with the orchestra surging mightily to keep up. Tilt!

2. Grin Without A Cat (PFA, mini-Marker retro) The world is an infinitely poorer place with Chris Marker no longer around, whispering in our mind to look at the image differently, to re-consider the context. This was my second time wading through his awesomely compelling essay-digression on french politics and what the film cleverly calls the “third world war”, and I’m already ready to watch it again. One of my favorite punchlines of the year can be seen in the the sequence about Fidel Castro’s habit for fondling microphones during public speaking engagements. 

 3. Performance (Vogue Theatre, Mostly British Film Festival) Roeg & Cammell’s wigged out doppelganger classic slips a lurid gangster flick a double dip hit of free love utopianism and pretty soon it’s all roads lead to personality Altamont...and something like inner peace. This screening was enhanced by a neighborhood resident’s fireplace, which was close enough to the theatre to fill the auditorium with a thin layer of smoky heat. Or so we were told. 

 4. Rio Lobo/El Dorado (Stanford Theatre, Hawks Retro) Howard Hawks, Leigh Brackett, and the Duke rework their essential western Rio Bravo (itself reportedly a response to High Noon, a movie that Hawks and Wayne were none too fond of) not once but twice! The films were entertaining enough in their own right, but there was a special pleasure to be had tracing the continuities and variations between the films. My first visit to the Stanford, a venue I hope to spend more time at in the future. 

5. Underworld, USA. (Castro Theatre, Noir City X) A tawdry-urban-revenge melodrama, rife with pungent dialogue, ripe characters, and a plot that grips like a noose, from the bare knuckle-tabloid imagination of Sam Fuller. Cliff Robertson plays the hero with a startling heartlessness to his fellow humanity, often evincing disgusted disdain in the form of a mirthless thin-lipped smile to the other characters’ mewling protestations. He makes other no-bullshit seekers in the noir landscape like Lee Marvin in Point Blank or Michael Caine in Get Carter look positively cuddly by comparison. 

6. Wanda (SF MOMA, Cindy Sherman selects series) Terrific film that has been justifiably enjoying word-of-mouth revival love over the past few years and boasts quite a few hip celebrity admirers, like Cindy Sherman and John Waters. Directed, written and starring “actor’s director” Elia Kazan’s ex-showgirl second wife Barbara Loden, the film is that rare bird in that it pulls off a heart-breakingly well-observed character study that feels truly lived in without being signified as autobiographical. Tragically, Loden died before she was able to make another film. 

 7. Crossroads/A Trip To The Moon/2001 (Castro) One of the highlights of the side-winding, illuminating pairings the Castro does so well. I could have done without the really loud Air score laid over A Trip To the Moon, but it was a real treat to see Bruce Conner’s explosions in the sky. 

 8. Xtro (Roxie, Alamo Drafthouse co-presents) Bizarre pod-people movie obliquely dealing with the trauma of deadbeat dad’s return with trippy sci-fi imagery. Playing like E.T. directed by Cronenberg or Zulawski, the movie also finds time to capture London in the swinging 80’s with entertaining fashion photography and saucy au pairs. Also featuring a symbolic panther and full grown man-birth.  

9. On the Silver Globe (YBCA, Zulawski retro) My favorite in the Zulawski retrospective, a lightning bolt of future-medieval imagery and impossibly convoluted plotting that haunts me still. 

10. Year of the Dragon (Castro) Great, filthy 80’s “neo-noir” with Mickey Rourke up to his ears in intrigue in Chinatown. Rourke plays the lead character as a no-nonsense man of action, a strutting peacock, and a needy attention vortex, the type of fellow you may surreptitiously cross the street to avoid running into--- but Rourke manages to make almost magnetic. Director Michael Cimino matches him by piling on the gruesome detail and dramatic cheese.

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