Friday, January 18, 2013

The Two Eyes Of Jason Wiener

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 Jason Wiener of

This is only in approximate order. Most anything on this list could move up or down a few spots. And as always, the hardest part was narrowing it down to ten. You'll notice a few times I've cheated and listed double features as one entry. For each entry I've linked to my review at the time on For the most part, I have not re-read those reviews. Or at most briefly skimmed them. It amuses me after the fact to compare what I remember of the screenings now to what I wrote at the time. I invite you to delve in and see if I say anything really different now than I did right after the screening. Anyway, here we go:

10. Phantom of the Opera (1943) at the Stanford Theatre. As much as I simply love this movie, the only reason it made the elite top ten list against tons of worthy competition is because it was projected on silver nitrate film. The Stanford is one of the very few theaters (I've heard as low as 2, but I won't swear that's true) in the country that is up to code to play this highly flammable film stock. And I had always been told how much brighter, crisper, and more vibrant silver nitrate is over safety film (we won't even speak about digital for the moment.) Simply told, it "pops." And this screening popped my silver nitrate cherry. The reason it's so low on the list is because I didn't see much of a difference. And I'll just leave it at that rather than extending that sexual metaphor more. Although I have been told that with older films (particularly black and white silent films from the teens or '20s) the difference is much more noticeable.

9. Forbidden Zone (1982) at the Terra Gallery as part of Another Hole in the Head. This movie is a real piece of work. There's a few semi-controversial things about this choice. First, the Terra Gallery is not typically a venue for movies. Second, it was shown on DVD (not even Blu-ray or DCP digital projection, but just a DVD.) Neither of those really disqualify it for me. But the third point is most controversial--it was the recently colorized version, so it's kind of questionable to call this an old movie. For the record, Richard Elfman claimed he always wanted it to be colorized--via the hand-tinting process used in old silent films. In any case, it makes the list because it was my second time seeing it and after being totally befuddled (while amused) the first time, it actually started making sense this time. And that scared me more than anything else at San Francisco's premiere horror movie festival. Can't wait for the sequel.

8. A double feature of Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) at the Dark Room for Bad Movie Night. What the hell, I love Bad Movie Night. And these are great movies. And the night was proof that you can have a lot of good, twisted fun getting drunk (which I no longer do at Bad Movie Night, but that's another story) and making fun of movies that you actually like quite a lot.

7. Target Earth (1954) at the Niles Film Museum in their Halloween Creature Features show. I could have filled this entire list with all the stuff I saw at Niles (full disclosure, I volunteer there. Come by some weekend and I might just give you a tour of their original 1913 projection booth. And I feel kind of like a skunk allowing it to be represented by something other than one of their great Saturday night silent film programs. But this was more than just a Halloween presentation of a really cheesy 1950's sci-fi flick. It was a reconstruction of a classic Bob Wilkins episode of Creature Features, complete with Wilkins' humorous comments, interviews, vintage commercials, etc. Since the tapes were nearly always written over in the next week, this is one of only four episodes that survive (and only two that have been reconstructed.) Weird thing is, I didn't even live in the Bay Area at the right time to see it originally. So I'm actually enjoying some faux nostalgia here. I don't care if it's fake, it's still good nostalgia.

6. Double feature: Something Wild (1986) and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) at the Roxie as part of Not Necessarily Noir III. Weird, looking back at my records I learned two things: First, I had said that before last year I had seen Something Wild about 10 years ago. Second, I learned that I had actually seen it just one year prior at the Vortex Room. Anyway, what really put it on my list is for some reason this is the first time I got that Melanie Griffith's character was trying to be Louise Brooks (even calling herself Lulu.) I don't know why I hadn't caught that when I saw it in 2011. But seeing that--and realizing Lulu in fact spent the whole movie worshiping and trying to emulate powerful strong women--really added something for me. I guess I could have just put Something Wild in this entry, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was also just a hell of a lot of fun and also featured a strong woman. So it makes a good strong woman double feature.  As an aside, when I pared this list down from about 20 entries on my first pass to 10 entries for the final list, I dropped more screenings from the Roxie than any other theater. In fact, this was the only Roxie screening that made the cut. And that seems...wrong. I love the Roxie and just have way too many great experiences there to capture them all.

5. Another double feature: The Muppet Movie (1979) and Phantom of the Paradise (1974) as a Paul Williams double-feature at the Castro Theater. After careful contemplation, I've decided I don't have to say anything the justify my love of either movie or this pairing. The Muppets might just be my favoritest thing ever. And not only is Phantom of the Paradise a brilliantly kooky movie, but it was released into the world on the greatest day in the history of mankind--October 31, 1974 (the same day I was released on the world!) But I will repeat what I noticed about it that day:
When Beef is attacked by the Phantom in the shower, he has a red squiggly temporary tattoo on his cheek. Minutes later, Philbin finds him trying to escape the theater, and now he has a green clover tattoo on his cheek. So his thinking after the attack was, 'I have to go. I'm going to dress, pack my bags, change the tattoo on my cheek, and get the heck out of here!' And he claims to know the difference between drug real and real real.  
4. Pandora's Box (1929) at the Castro in the SF Silent Film Festival. I could've filled this list just with films from the Silent Film Festival. But this was a clear standout. And I don't think I could say it better than a friend of mine did after the screening (paraphrased): Why didn't they just say after this movie, "Okay, that's a wrap! The art form of moving pictures is perfected, nobody needs to make any movies anymore!"

3. (Sort of) a double feature, The Maltese Falcon (1931 and 1941) at the Castro at Noir City. I also could've filled this list just with the awesome things I saw at Noir City. But here's a weird cinephile confession--I had never seen The Maltese Falcon before! And I broke that cherry with both the famous 1941 Bogart version and the lesser-known 1931 version with Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels (who I only knew as Harold Lloyd's leading lady in the silent comedies.) And I love quite a lot about the sleazier pre-code version, especially when Sam Spade challenges Ruth/Brigid to buy his loyalty with something other than just money. Mary Astor needs it spelled out for her, but Bebe Daniels knew what Ricardo Cortez meant right away. Still, the Bogart/Astor version is the classic, and rightly so. It was just such a treat to see them both on the same day (although it wasn't really a double feature because there were a few other movies in between.)

2. Faust (1926) at the California Theatre, San Jose during Cinequest. A masterpiece by Murnau. Dennis James rocking the Mighty Wurlitzer (pre-show he claimed the California has the most powerful Wurlitzer in the country, and he would play it at full blast.) Mark Goldstein on the Buchla Lightning Wands. Absolutely stunning and thrilling, even near the end of an absolutely exhausting film festival. This was the most amazing silent film--heck any film--experience I had ever had.  And it held that title for just a couple of weeks, because...

1. Napoleon (1927) at the Paramount Theater, Oakland. Simply the best 5+ hours I've spent watching a movie. In fact, the fastest 5 1/2 hours of my life (which is impressive because with intermissions and a dinner break it was more like 8 to 9 hours. There just isn't anything that could possibly occupy the number 1 spot on this list.

Look, I love the fun of sharing and comparing top ten lists (or any top N list.) And for the most part the fun is that there are no right answers. Disagreeing is as much fun as agreeing. I know I've put some things on this list that are fun to put on a list more than they are great movies (The Forbidden Zone, really?) But this is one where I won't tolerate disagreement. Napoleon at the Paramount Theater was the greatest movie event of the year (of my life, really) and if you disagree you simply don't get to pretend to be a cinephile with me (until I forgive and forget...which will take about five minutes.) And if you didn't see it...well that's even worse than seeing it and not putting it number 1 on your list.

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