Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sofia's Last Ambulance (2012)

WHO: Dr. Krasimir Yordanov, nurse Mila Mihaylova and ambulance driver Plamen Slavkov are the subjects of this documentary, with one of their faces shown in nearly every shot.

WHAT: The close-up, as one of the elements of cinema that most clearly distinguishes the medium from storytelling forms like the novel or the play, has received quite a bit of scholarly inquiry. I wonder if much attention has been paid to close-ups in documentary work. In this portrait of three members of an ambulance unit in Bulgaria's capital city, close-ups captured both by dashboard-mounted cameras and by director Ilian Metev in scenes in which the team deals directly with patients, seem less an aesthetic strategy than an ethical strategy, allowing patient faces to remain anonymous for privacy's sake. But an ethical strategy becomes an aesthetic one by fiat, allowing these three medical professionals to become the true centers of identification in what becomes a story about their compassion and heroism in the face of a cash-strapped municipal health system.

Watching Plamen Slavkov's face as he maneuvers his vehicle through dangerous city traffic, or Mila Mihaylova's as she tries to console a gurney-bound child who had a wardrobe topple onto her fragile body, or Dr. Yordanov's as he dispenses critical advice to 28-year-old heroin addict and his invisible but obviously distraught mother, illustrates their dedication to providing crucial services to a desperate populace, despite the incredibly low wages that have other members of their profession to seek work in other fields or other countries. These real people may not be human saints along the lines of Joan of Arc, but close-ups become a portal to emotion in a way that recalls Maria Falconetti's portrayal of her in that most famously compassion-eliciting of films, Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc.

WHERE/WHEN: San Francisco International Film Festival screenings at the Pacific Film Archive tonight at 8:50, and at the Kabuki May 3rd at 3:30.

WHY: The SFIFF press department provides lists of "Special Interest Categories" for festival-accredited journalists who might be daunted by the task of combing through the entire program guide to find the comedies, or the films about seniors, or the films made by women directors (for the record, there are 19, not counting shorts, according to the list provided).

One list is of "Health / Medicine"-related films, and includes, of course, Sofia's Last Ambulance as well as another documentary highlighting medical professionals called After Tiller. There are also four fiction features on this list, each with at least one more festival screening, whose characters must contend with disease: Big Blue Lake, Rosie, Unfinished Song and Youth. At least two more festival films might be sensible additions as well, both of them added screenings announced after the original lists were compiled. Both are also 1990s-era Hollywood thrillers that involve the shadowy, conspiratorially corporatist influence on health and health care. Michael Mann's The Insider is based on the true story of a whistle-blower within the American tobacco industry, and screens in 35mm as part of a May 8th on-stage tribute to its screenwriter Eric Roth. The film to accompany Harrison Ford's May 7th tribute has just been revealed as well: it's the now-twenty-year-old The Fugitive, in which Ford plays a doctor framed for the murder of his own wife, and who must use his physician skills to survive and find the real killer while on the run from Tommy Lee Jones, after fate spectacularly derails his punishment for this crime he did not commit. 

HOW: Sofia's Last Ambulance is a digitally-shot documentary and will screen on DCP.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Leviathan (2012)

WHO: Lucien Castaing-Taylor (of Sweetgrass) and Verena Paravel (of Foreign Parts) co-directed this documentary.

WHAT: If documentaries shine clarifying light into mysterious corners, Leviathan illuminates just how literally tenebrous a subject can be. Bookendend in blackness, brushstrokes of light captured by ultra-portable videocameras paint, detail-by-detail, what ultimately becomes a canvas illustrating the workings of a Northeastern seafood trawler. First harshly machine-like, this floating factory's human operation comes into focus before fade-out. If Herman Melville'd had access to GoPro technology, would we still read Moby Dick?

WHERE/WHEN: San Francisco International Film Festival screenings tonight at 8:45 at the Pacific Film Archive, with an added screening at the Kabuki, at 5:30 on May 9th. 

WHY: The capsule review in the above "WHAT" section of this post is exactly seventy-five words long. I counted because this is the maximum credentialled press are allowed to use when writing on certain SFIFF films each year. Called the "hold review" policy, it's meant to encourage writers to save detailed reviews and articles until the theatrical releases of features with distribution. Sometimes it makes perfect sense; when Olivier Assayas's Something In The Air is set to open locally on May 17th, or even when Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing has a farther-in-the-future release date of August 9th, it makes sense for the festival and its distributor partners to put pressure on critics to wait to have their full say at a time when it will most benefit theatres who've booked a commercial run, the distributors themselves, and arguably the audiences, who will have more options for viewing than just a few festival screenings at very select theatres and times.

In the case of Leviathan, whose distributor is the admirable but small Cinema Guild, a local commercial release in a Frisco Bay cinema is a more open question. A week-long run in New York City occurred over a month ago, and the accompanying reviews have already been published. Considering the popularity of this particular doc at SFIFF, it's not out of the question that the Roxie might chance a booking (in which case I'll be trumpeting it as loudly as I can to anyone who'll listen), but I wouldn't count on it. So hopefully my seventy-five words are enough to help you decide whether or not to get a festival ticket, because this may be your only chance to see it on a local cinema screen.

HOW: DCP presentation of an all-digital work.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Morning of St. Anthony's Day (2012)

WHO: João Pedro Rodrigues directed this.

WHAT: Have you ever felt like you were in a George Romero movie on the morning after a full-fledged Bacchanal? The stars of Morning of Saint Anthony’s Day sure have. It may be useful contextual information to know that St. Anthony's Day is a municipal holiday in Lisbon, Portugal (where this was shot), marking the June 13, 1231 death of the Franciscan monk, who was canonized only a year later. His statue in that city's Alvalade Square, and lines from a poem by Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa (although not the lines that mention St. Anthony) also figure into this piece.

To get a written feel for the work, I can't really improve on Jorge Mourinha's description:
Morning of Saint Anthony’s Day is a deadpan, dialogue-free look at the aftermath of a night spent partying, precisely choreographed as a sort of hungover, slow-motion zombie flash mob and shot as if an alien Big Brother was watching humankind and asking what the hell is going on. Even if slightly overlong, it’s by far the loosest, cheeriest work of a director usually not known for his sense of humour, though this is more the Roy Andersson variety of dry, poignant wit.
WHERE/WHEN: San Francisco International Film Festival screenings tonight at 9:30 and Thursday May 9th at 8:30, both at New People Cinema.

WHY: As much excitement there may be in the selections of films the programming team brings to SFIFF every year, every cinephile who pays attention to the international festival scene probably can think of at least one or two that haven't been brought but they wish were. For me, new films by two directors, whose prior films (Wild Grass and To Die Like A Man) were among my favorite SFIFF films in 2010, stand out: Alain Resnais's You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet and João Pedro Rodrigues's The Last Time I Saw Macao. While I hope both play Frisco Bay cinemas at some point in the next several months, I'm glad to be tided over in the latter instance by this Rodrigues short that has gotten less international exposure.

Morning of St. Anthony's Day screens as part of an eclectic program going by the title Shorts 4: New Visions, but it's actually quite a substantial work. At 25 minutes in length, it's more than twice as long as any of this program's other shorts, which range from five to twelve minutes in duration. With all the feature-length (and, in the case of Penance and Eight Deadly Shots, much longer) possibilities to cram into a festival schedule, many attendees systematically avoid scheduling shorts programs. But people who came to be fans of a filmmaker like Rodrigues (or of Joan Chen or of Grégoire Colin, both of whom have directed shorts playing in other festival shorts programs) through features may want to rethink this strategy, and they may be exposed to some great work by filmmakers who regularly eschew feature-length running times as well.

HOW: Digital video screening of a digital video work, as part of a program of five other video works along with one 35mm silent film with live musical accompaniment.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Verses (2012)

WHO: Local artist James Sansing made this film.

WHAT: I was fortunate to view a version of Verses at an informal artist salon several months ago, and it absolutely stunned me. Though the above still provided by the San Francisco Film Society gives a sense of what a single frame from this work looks like, it can't evoke the eerie morphings that are created by it and its brothers in a frame-by-frame, page-by-page animation.

I encourage you to click on the image to enlarge it, however. You should be able to make out parts of the handwritten ledger entries about  the residents of the long-abandoned juvenile hall where Sansing found this book, which he ultimately used as raw material for his film. Lines like "These boys are to be kept in their rooms until Estes talks to their school and contacts us" and stray discernible words like  "confronted", "depressed", "insulin" and "psychologist" can be read in the spaces between the mildew and ink stains, evoking both the mundane details and the psychic melancholy that must have been in the atmosphere of this place when it was functioning.

If the motion of the film can't be expressed by a still, neither can these scrawls be seen by an audience watching the mold patterns evolve as pages turn from front cover to back. Yet a viewer can get a sense of some of the concerns written about in the ledger even if the origin of the artifact is unknown (as it was to me when I saw it). Not only because the stains resemble Rorschach blots throbbing with an uncanny lifeforce (the magic of animation), but also because of the way Sansing has photographed them, as if a historical document under glass and illuminated by an archival-quality light source. Meaning is imbued into these images by their very presentation, and only amplified if we know their original provenance.

WHERE/WHEN: San Francisco International Film Festival screenings tonight at the Pacific Film Archive at 8:45, and at New People this Tuesday at 7:00.

WHY: Carl Martin has dutifully compiled a schedule of all the SFIFF films that are expected to screen using actual film reels. As we now see only the dying embers of 35mm film stock as a mass distribution medium for motion pictures, it's still unclear what role film festivals will play in preserving exhibition using film formats. Prints are still struck for preservation purposes if nothing else, but it's becoming increasingly rare for audiences to get opportunities to view them. (Spring Breakers for instance, was shot on film but has only, finally, been released on film to a Frisco Bay theatre --the Balboa-- this week after over a month of digital screenings at other local venues.) 

Carl's list includes all five of the new feature films that SFIFF is screening on 35mm, as well as the new-ish Helsinki Forever and the four revival programs of films made between 1922 and 1999 that will be shown on film. He also includes the three shorts programs which involve film-on-film projection. Verses is one of two shorts (the other being Lonnie von Brummelen & Siebren de Haan's View from the Acropolis) in the program entitled Shorts 5: Experimental: Artifacts and Artificial Acts that will be screen on film. I'm very excited for the chance to view Verses on 35mm for the first time, but I'm also excited to see new work by Deborah Stratman, Katherin McInnis, Karen Yasinsky, Scott Stark in a cinema. Video is absolutely a legitimate moving-image-art-making medium, as I suspect anyone else who attended last night's screening of Leviathan will be able to attest. I'm glad that film still figures into SFIFF exhibition, even if in a diminished (less than 10%) portion of the entire program. I expect tonight's program, curated by Kathy Geritz of the PFA and Vanessa O'Neill of SF Cinematheque, will demonstrate how the two media can harmoniously co-exist side-by-side in a festival program.

HOW: As noted above, 35mm film on a program with other short experimental works, most of them screened on video.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Pervert's Guide To Ideology (2012)

WHO: Sophie Fiennes directed this.

WHAT: If you saw Slavoj Žižek holding court on screen in Fiennes's 2006 feature The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, you know what to expect here: an often light-hearted lecture by one of the world's most colorful philosophers, illustrated by clips and wry recreations of set designs from twenty-four films, among them They Live, Jaws, Triumph of the Will, The Fireman's Ball, and one of Žižek's all-time favorites, The Sound of Music. I have not seen this "sequel" yet, but I understand that instead of investigating the cinema itself from the often contrarian (thus perverted- in the non-sexual sense of the term) point of view of its host, as the 2006 film did, The Pervert's Guide To Ideology utilizes cinema as a lens through which to re-examine our preconceived beliefs about society, history and ideology itself. How successful it is at this has been debated since its world premiere last fall. For a sense of the debate, try this Keyframe Daily post from last November.

The comparison may seem specious once I see it, but I can't help but think of parallels to Christian Marclay's The Clock, which also excerpts from cinema history in order to make the viewer ruminate not so much on movies and their formal qualities, but on their social uses and issues rippling far beyond the screen or the walls surrounding it.

WHERE/WHEN: San Francisco International Film Festival screening tonight and on May 5th at 9:15 PM each night at the Kabuki, and at 3:30 on May 1 at New People

WHY: Since I haven't seen The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, I can't exactly recommend it, but it does appear to be one of the titles cinephiles might want to consider seeing today, the first full day of the festival. Others include Raúl Ruiz's swan song Night Across The Street, the critically-lauded fishing documentary Leviathan, and the latest from Takeshi Kitano, Outrage Beyond

These are just educated guesses; tomorrow I'll start posting about SFIFF films I've actually seen. But not having seen a film hasn't stopped me from mentioning it on this blog before (though I try to be careful to make sure it's clear whether I have or haven't) and the festival itself is promoting sight-unseen SFIFF picks by six local celebrities and a sports team. For truly informed suggestions for what to see over the next two weeks it's best to consult critics who have actually seen the films they write about. Again, try Keyframe Daily for links to reviews and capsules by just such critics.

Connections between The Pervert's Guide To Ideology and other films in the SFIFF program are probably legion. But I have seen one film that shares with it an engagement with The Sound of Music: Scott Stark's Bloom, which is part of the Shorts 5 program of experimental works screening tomorrow and this Tuesday. Two films Žižek is reported to excerpt are screening at the Castro over the next few days, though not at the festival: A Clockwork Orange and Brazil. I looked in vain on the list of 24 for a title starring the just-announced recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award: Harrison Ford, but he's nowhere to be found. Nor did he appear in The Pervert's Guide to Cinema; the clip of The Conversation used in that piece was not one of his relatively few scenes.

HOW: Perverts Guide To Ideology screens digitally, as it was made digitally (although the clips it excerpts from were shot on film, thus perhaps representing too much of a compromise for the most hard-core film-as-film purists).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What Maisie Knew (2012)

WHO: Onata Aprile, the six-year old actor who plays titular character in the film. You are likely to find her quite adorable in this interview.

WHAT: The opening-night film of the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival is, according to my research via the SFIFF History Site:

The first Henry James adaptation the festival has shown since 1971's showing of Michael Winner's The Nightcomers starring Marlon Brando as Peter Quint from The Turn of the Screw.

The first SFIFF film to star Julianne Moore since The Laws Of Attraction in 2004 (a widely-ridiculed choice for closing night film that year), and the first to star Steve Coogan since The Trip in 2011.

The return of co-directing team Scott McGehee and David Siegel as festival guests for the first time since 2001, when they screened their remake of The Reckless Moment entitled The Deep End, and introduced a revival screening of Masahiro Shinoda's Double Suicide; McGehee had studied Japanese cinema at UC Berkeley where he met Siegel, and the influence of the Japanese New Wave is evident in their first SFIFF selection, the 1994 festival film Suture

WHERE/WHEN: 7:00 tonight at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: In all my years attending the San Francisco International Film Festival, I've never seen an opening night film that was a great masterpiece for the ages, but that's no knock on the selections I've seen (which is admittedly not all of them). Most are usually high-quality accessible fare made for educated audiences, without the airs of self-importance that so many Oscar season releases arrive with. With one exception (the disappointing Hong Kong musical Perhaps Love that opened the festival in 2006) each one I've seen has been well worth my time. Worth the money is another question; I've never attended the actual opening-night screening but instead caught the film itself either at a press showing beforehand or in a commercial venue afterword (I completely missed Costa-Gavras's The Ax, the one fest opener since I've been attending that never screened a local venue after its festival showing.) I presume the attendees of this event realize it's a fundraiser and a soiree and a chance to see talent on the stage of the Castro. Tonight both directors and Onata Aprile are expected to be in attendance. 

I won't be attending tonight either, I suspect. I still have a lot of writing to do to prepare for the next fourteen days, and I think I can wait until the expected May 24th Frisco Bay release date for the film. Although by then New York audiences will have already had three weeks to make me wish I hadn't missed this early screening, as it opens there May 3rd.

If you decide to stay at home and prepare for the rest of the festival as well, you'll probably want to see the list of Rush screenings (where advance tickets are no longer available and you'll need to wait in a line in order to procure any available extras), and the excellent festival previews written by local writers Michael HawleyKelly Vance, and Adam Hartzell, as well as Cheryl EddyDennis Harvey and other SF Bay Guardian writers.

HOW: DCP presentation.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Slap Shot (1977)

WHO: Paul Newman stars in this.

WHAT: This comedy, a hit made between Newman's two ambitious flops made with Robert Altman (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson and Quintet) is not exactly a canonized classic, at least outside of hockey movie devotees. But it provided a perfect midcareer role for Newman. As Nick Pinkerton wrote in the Village Voice on the occasion of the star's death in in 2008:
if Slap Shot isn't as rollickingly, raunchily funny as it thinks, Newman's middle-aged player-coach, hustling to keep ahold of his youthful heedlessness, is one of his most felt roles.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight at 9:25 PM at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: 'Tis the week for Paul Newman double-bills. Slap Shot screens tonight along with Newman's biggest hit, The Sting, while the Stanford Theatre's current focus on the 1950s brings two films he released in the penultimate year of that decade: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opposite Elizabeth Taylor, and The Long Hot Summer, the film responsible for connecting Newman with his costar Joanne Woodward; their fifty-year marriage began just prior to its release.

Of course it's also the week of the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, which begins tomorrow (the 14th SFIFF in 1970 brought Newman to town for an onstage tribute and screening of Puzzle of a Downfall Child, which he had produced). With much of the cinephile community (including me) focused on this event over the next two weeks, some local alternative moviegoing hotspots (that aren't full-time festival venues like the Pacific Film Archive is) suspend or at least slow down their activities during the biggest festival in town. 

The Stanford and the Castro aren't among those. The Stanford calendar includes, in addition to the Newman pairing this Thursday and Friday, the 1959 Ben-Hur over this weekend, and double-bills devoted to fifties science-fiction, Marlon Brando, and technicolor noir while SFIFF is up and running.  The Castro is a SFIFF venue on certain days: tomorrow's opening festivities and screening of the Henry James modernization What Maisie Knew, the closing night showing of Richard Linklater's third installment of his trilogy featuring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, the lovely Before Midnight, and a few other special screenings (perhaps to be joined by the still-unannounced Peter J. Owens Award presentation?)  But although tonight's Slap Shot showing doesn't conflict with the festival, obviously, the Castro is clearly determined not to have too many empty seats on the nights SFIFF isn't renting them: over the next week and a half it's luring movie lovers with 35mm prints of Steven Spielberg's Duel, Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously, Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and Terry Gilliam's Brazil (paired together), Nicolas Roeg's Performance and The Man Who Fell To Earth (also together), Linklater's Dazed and Confused, Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, and James William Guerico's Electra Glide In Blue. Some of these have screened fairly recently in 35mm at the Castro or at other Frisco Bay venues, but a number of them have not.

Other screenings that may tempt some moviegoers away from SFIFF screenings this year are this Friday's Paramount Theatre presentation of The Maltese Falcon (the Oakland movie palace has announced its summer season, incidentally), the May 2 SFMOMA screening of new works by Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler, and the Roxie's May 8th showing of hyper-local (as in, he lives just a few blocks from the theatre) filmmaker Sean Gillane's CXL. And the Roxie will continue to show cinephile-friendly indies like Room 237 and Upstream Color during SFIFF, to be joined by one of the hit documentaries from last year's 55th edition of the festival, The Source Family, which opens there May 3rd. Local Landmark Theatres continue their regular programming as well.

Now that's out of my system. expect daily posts on San Francisco International Film Festival titles starting tomorrow (although I reserve the right to highlight a non-festival title upon occasion during the next couple weeks, just to make things exciting.)

HOW: Slap Shot screens on 35mm, and The Sting via DCP.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Once A Thief (1950)

WHO: June Havoc, the younger sister of Gypsy Rose Lee

WHAT: I haven't seen this, so let me reprint what my friend Ben Armington wrote about his experience seeing Once A Thief (on a double-bill with Anthony Mann's The Great Flamarion) two years ago: 
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!
There's apparently even a scene or two set in (though I suspect not shot in) San Francisco, upping the interest for locals interested in portrayals of their city on film.

WHERE/WHEN: This evening at the Roxie as part of a program that starts at 6:30

WHY: Instead of announcing a film festival with a press conference, why not announce it with a screening? This idea's not a new one, but I believe tonight's the first time the Roxie's Director of Repertory Programming Elliot Levine has taken it up. Great news for noir fans who are excited to see what Levine has in store for his fourth annual I Wake Up Dreaming festival which runs May 10-23. Once A Thief screened at the 2011 edition of this festival, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one who missed it, and I'm sure there are plenty of folks who'll want to see it again, especially as it's paired with an ultra-rare 1950 noir television episode of Fireside Theatre called "The Green Convertable", starring Frances Dee.

HOW: Both films screen in a 16mm print.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

WHO: Ennio Morricone wrote the score for this film.

WHAT: Other than the fact that Morricone's musical themes for this are among the more striking and memorable, at least from among those he composed for films I have yet to see, I don't know much about this Elio Petri-directed picture beyond basics. It won the Grand Prix (essentially second-prize to Robert Altman's M.A.S.H.) award at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival and later beat out Buñuel's Tristana and other films for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1971 Oscar ceremony. Thus proving that M.A.S.H. is better than Tristana, in case you were wondering.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens 7:00 tonight only at the Lark Theater in Larkspur, CA.

WHY: The Lark is an art deco single-screen movie house in Marin County that I've never been inside. I've kept an eye on its programming for several years now, however, and though it does have a tradition of hosting special screenings, most of them tend to be of content frequently as available at other Frisco Bay venues as well, and I've never felt compelled to justify a visit. 

Seeing an uncommonly-shown Oscar-winning classic on the theatre's schedule this week, however, made my eyes perk up. That it's part of a four-film presentation of screenings of "library titles" (non-new-releases) in 4K digital presentation is a sign of the times; I'm not sure the Lark has 35mm capability any longer. If this were a film screening I'd be very interested in attending, but I just skipped a chance to see this film projected digitally at the Castro a couple months ago.

Then again, the Castro's projector is only a 2K model and the Lark's is now 4K, twice as powerful. Might this be a more special occasion because of that? I've yet to be really wowed by the digital image of a classic film shown digitally, but perhaps that's because the only time I've watched one in 4K it was something I'd seen multiple times in 70mm, not 35mm (Lawrence of Arabia).

These are the thoughts cinephiles are beginning to ponder as we enter the industry's final push to completely transform the exhibition landscape from a film-based to a digital one. More and more theatres are converting to digital, although there are still holdouts depending on the studios' continued production of 35mm prints, and there seems to be confusion about what's going to happen to them. For an interesting take on the current state of this transition, I recommend a recent Variety article that looks at the situation from multiple angles, with perspectives from film purists and digital proponents alike.

I was particularly interested in the fact that everyone quoted in the article seemed to agree about the need for "library titles" to be able to be screened in cinemas. And it isn't Martin Scorsese or famous film-on-film advocate Christopher Nolan, but James Cameron's producing partner Jon Landau who argues for the need to "preserve the infrastructure needed to continue to show library titles as they were created by the filmmakers of the past"- meaning on film. This is not the way the industry is trending, with the Virtual Print Fee system providing incentives for the decommissioning of film projectors as digital ones take their place (even in booths with room for both), and fewer and fewer new prints of older films being struck by most if not all of the studios.

One aspect of the transition not mentioned in the article is particularly worth thinking about on Earth Day. Conventional wisdom holds that the old system of chemically producing thousands of 35mm prints and sending them in heavy cans around the country via petroleum-dependent vehicles, and finally destroying most of them to prevent their getting into the hands of pirates, collectors, etc., was incredibly wasteful, and that distribution via more lightweight DCP drives is far more environmentally friendly. It sounds logical but I'd like to see some data, or even just some projections, before I take this at face value. I've written before about the ecological effects of widespread home video vis-a-vis cinema screenings, which to me seems like a no-brainer to me: more individual screens means more waste. But digital projection in cinemas does appear to have some worthwhile environmental efficiency compared to 35mm. Those film cans are heavy, and wide releases in the multiplex age surely involved a lot of wasted resources.

On the other hand, 35mm projectors lasted a long time before having to be replaced. Digital projectors (and DCPs use resources as well, and even if the latter are lighter than multiple reels, that doesn't mean they were produced in a more ecologically-friendly way. What's more, we don't know how long it will take for 4K projectors to seem antiquated and in need of another environmentally-costly mass replacement with 8k projectors, and how quickly pressure will mount for that cycle to be repeated again and again. It feels to me that in the short term, the widespread switch from film to digital may well be taking a greater toll on the Earth's resources than status quo would have. In the long term, the ecological cost might eventually become lower, but if an arms race in resolution and screen size continues to be waged between cinema exhibition and home video, it could just as easily become much much greater.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, and would especially love to collect links to studies or articles or even just quotes by credible people about the ecological costs and benefits of the massive, worldwide shift from film to video exhibition.

HOW: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion screens digitally, in a 4K restoration that had its US premiere in New York last fall, and its local premiere, albeit through a 2K rather than 4K projector,

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Trans-Europ-Express (1967)

WHO: Jean-Louis Trintignant stars in this film directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet

WHAT: Probably one of Trintignant's strangest roles, or at least one of his strangest films, is this self-reflexive mystery deconstruction directed by the screenwriter of Last Year in Marienbad. Here's what Robbe-Grillet had to say about casting Trintignant in an interview with Anthony N. Fragola published in his book The Erotic Dream Machine:
When the director chooses an actor, he bases his selection on what the actor will do. I had seen a number of films with Trintignant, and I knew he was an actor whose humor would be consistent with my concept for the film. And indeed it was. 
WHERE/WHEN: Screens 3PM this afternoon at the Pacific Film Archive

WHY: This afternoon's screening rounds off the PFA's Trintignant series, which I've written on twice before. Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy screens this Wednesday to close off the regular Spring programming at the theatre. From Friday until May 9th it becomes a venue for the San Francisco International Film Festival. Then, after a one-night student showcase, the PFA closes for a semester-end break, to reopen in June.

But we're already learning some of what we can expect to screen at the PFA this summer. There's a June 16-August 25th a Studio Ghibli series that sounds like it may be more complete than the ones that happened at the California and Bridge last fall, if only because it'll include Hayao Miyazaki's son Goro's current release From Up On Poppy Hill. Most prints will be in the original Japanese with English subtitles. I'm hoping Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies, missing from the fall retros, is included, as I've never seen it.

There's also an in-person appearance by editor Sam Pollard (rescheduled from a trip cancelled due to last November's East Coast storms) in which he'll be on hand June 27th to discuss editing the documentary Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks and June 29th to discuss editing the feature film Clockers.

Between July 5 and August 10 a much-anticipated (at least by me) Raoul Walsh retrospective takes us from silents like the 1915 gangster film Regeneration and the 1926 war comedy-drama hybrid What Price Glory? to a remarkable early widescreen experiment with John Wayne called The Big Trail, to post-World War II classics like Pursued (starring Robert Mitchum) and White Heat (starring James Cagney).

Finally. August 16-31 brings a Berkeley reprise of the nine 1920s Hitchcock films that are set to make their US premiere at the Castro thanks to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in June.

HOW: Trans-Europ-Express screens from an imported 35mm print from Institut Français.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Big Lebowski (1998)

WHO: Joel & Ethan Coen wrote, directed, co-produced and co-edited (under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes) this picture.

WHAT: I first saw The Big Lebowski the way most people I know did: on home video. I remember renting the videocassette fifteen years ago and thinking, "hey that's better than most Coen Brothers movies" and then thinking little of it for quite some time. Until this weekend I had not seen it on the big screen.

But this film slowly and surely developed a following like few other films of its era. I'm pretty sure it's the only Coen Brothers film that has inspired its own religion (founded by an old acquaintance of mine, no less), and probably the one that has inspired more DVD editions (including one worked on by another friend) and more books than any other, as well.

Even Josh Levine, who published a book about the Coens in 2000 (when The Big Lebowski was their newest completed film), seems oblivious that it might be the one that would develop the most cultish fan attention, focusing his chapter on the film's preparation, and when talking about its reception limiting his observations to that of the critical consensus, and to the fact of its box-office disappointment in the wake of Fargo. But he does, in his final chapter, put his finger on why The Big Lebowski may be different from the other Coen works, calling it an exception to the rule that "every one of their films leaves the viewer feeling distinctly uneasy ... Even the comic Raising Arizona has a nightmarish quality, and the hero and heroine may have had their lives ruined by their own uncontrollable impulses."

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Clay Theatre at 11:55 PM.

WHY: The Clay is set to replace its 35mm projection equipment with DCP next Friday. They already have a lower-quality digital projector in place, which is being used to show this week's regular booking, the biopic Renoir, about the great French filmmaker's famous father. This means that tonight's midnight screening of The Big Lebowski will be the last time 35mm reels will be shown publicly at the venue.

The Clay is one of San Francisco's oldest movie houses, and has been projecting 35mm prints from all over the world for over a hundred years. In the 1930s, it showed a great many French imports; just just the widely-known ones by Renoir but still-relatively-obscure titles like Anatole Litvak's Mayerling, Sascha Guitry's Pearls of the Crown and Robert Siodmak's Personal Column. It also showed films from countries such as (for example) Russia, Sweden, Austria, China, and the U.K.

Though keeping its reputation for foreign film exhibition through the following decades, in the 1970s the Clay became a stop on the burgeoning midnight-movie circuit, screening fare like John Waters's Pink Flamingos to a late-movie-hungry crowd in an age before home video and widespread cable television. The Rocky Horror Picture did not make its original local debut at the Clay but, according to Gary Meyer, the Metro II, before moving to the Powell as a midnight movie. Now it screens monthly at the Clay, along with other periodic midnight screenings such as The Room, The Big Lebowski, etc. I've seen 35mm midnight shows of films from The Shining to Johnnie To's The Mission to Donnie Darko over the past ten years or so. 

But now it's time for the Clay to go "on hundred per cent electronic" as Jackie Treehorn might say. It's unfortunate that  the DCP industry has figured out a way to strong-arm most theatres to adopt a "no turning back" policy, removing 35mm projection equipment even from booths with the room to accommodate both. For a theatre like the Clay, the philosophy seems to be "adapt or die". For a 103-year-old movie house which has survived plenty of closure scares over the years, maybe it's good news as it seems to reflect confidence in future survival of the venue to invest in new technology for it. Hopefully it will mean the Clay can continue to show an increasingly diverse selection of midnight movies and foreign films to appreciative crowds for some time to come.

It seems a good time to mention the final three 35mm screenings happening at SFMoMA before their closure in just over a month, since they all seem to connect to The Big Lebowski in some (perhaps oblique) way. The museum's final 35mm showing will be May 23's The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman's Raymond Chandler adaptation that seems to have held more influence on the Coens' approach to reinterpreting that author than other films by Howard Hawks, etc. May 16 they screen Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, the film that essentially launched Lebowski lead Jeff Bridges's stardom. And on May 9th SFMoMA screens The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese's documentary record of The Band's farewell concert, an event that Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski might well have attended a good decade or so before his days as a roadie for Metallica. No, no members of The Eagles are invited.

HOW: The Big Lebowski will screen from an excellent if not pristine 35mm print, accompanied by an assortment of rare, vintage trailers and other odds and ends prepared by the Clay projectionist to run through the gate one last time.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Jaws (1975)

WHO: Steven Spielberg. John Williams. And a great cast headed up by a shark.

WHAT: To some cinephiles, the name 'Spielberg' is a baneful one. Two months ago when he was announced to head the jury awarding prizes among the competition films in the upcoming Cannes Film Festival (whose lineup has just been announced), there was quite a bit of wailing from certain quarters that he would impose his mainstream, Hollywood, formula sensibilities in an arena where artistry should be prized over entertainment value. But what if the two are not mutually exclusive? Can there be artistry in a horror movie? A blockbuster? If Jaws doesn't answer these questions affirmatively, I'm hard pressed to think of a Spielberg picture that can.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the CineArts Pleasant Hill at 2:00 and 7:00.

WHY: I don't often write about suburban multiplexes on this blog, especially now that they've all converted to all-digital projection, and become even more cookie-cutter than ever before because of it. But there's at least one five-screen theatre in Contra Costa County which stands out from all the other Frisco Bay cinemas I'm aware of: The CineArts Pleasant Hill, formerly known as the Century 5, and before that the Century 21. But I've usually just heard it referred to as "the dome." It opened in 1967 as the region's only massively-curved-screen D-150 cinema, and though it has since been modified (four additional houses sectioned off from the main screen, which is now only slightly curved, and an all-DCP projection system put into place) it's still not only unique to the East Bay but different from the other dome theatres in Sacramento and San Jose.

For the past several years the dome has operated as an art house, but this weekend is it's last hurrah. Demolition is set to take place this summer to make way for a sporting goods store, although there is a last-ditch grass-roots attempt to stop that. Other bloggers have recently written on the dome and the fight to save it, but it seems clear that your only certain chances to see a movie in this marvelous example of midcentury architecture are this weekend. The theatre will be showing its usual fare in the four side theatres, but is giving the dome over to three classics showing twice per day for only $3 a ticket.

Today it's Jaws, appropriate since the dome was, according to Cinema Trasures, one of the original 464 theatres nationwide to exhibit that film during it's initial "saturation booking" release in 1975. Tomorrow it screens The Sound of Music and Sunday it shows (most appropriate to the space-age design of the theatre when it was built) 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Since these will be digital presentations, it seems worth noting that film purists will be able to see another early Spielberg work in 35mm soon: Duel, which was made for television but will be shown in the rarely-shown theatrical cut at the Castro Theatre April 26th.

HOW: Jaws screens via DCP.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Invisible Waves (2006)

WHO: Pen-ek Ratanaruang directed, Tadanobu Asano starring, and Christopher Doyle in the cinematographer role.

WHAT: After the unexpected international success of Last Life in the Universe Pen-ek re-teamed with  his aforementioned collaborators from that film and, armed with financing from pre-sold distribution deals in many territories where Last Life had audiences anxious for more, made an art film on a larger canvas than he'd ever tried before. Shooting in Hong Kong, Macao, Bangkok and post-tsumani Phuket ("not the Phuket for tourists we're familiar with. It's more like the weird corners of Phuket we've fished out to the screen") not to mention an eerily empty cruise ship, and utilizing a pan-Asian cast including Korean, Thai, Hong Kong and Filipino actors as well as its Japanese star, Invisible Waves is by far Pen-ek's most elaborately international production.

But when the film was premiered at the Berlin film festival in 2006, reviews were mixed at best. Theatrical distribution in the US was first postponed, and finally (at least in San Francisco) foregone entirely. All of Pen-ek's prior features had screened somewhere locally, if only at a film festival, but Invisible Waves to this day has never played in a Frisco Bay cinema. I eventually succumbed to watching a DVD rented from Le Video and found the film to be a charming and fascinating admixture of film noir with the calm, dreamlike atmosphere of Last Life in the Universe, with a dose of Tati-esque humor thrown in for good measure (I believe Tati's Trafic is the most appropriate predecessor to cite). I suspect the generally poor critical reception for the film might be traced to the broken-English that dominates communication between characters, even more than in Last Life. This was an intentional strategy on the director's part; he was even quoted as casting his performers for their poor English skills. But I can see why some reviewers, especially those with ideas about 'great performances' still steeped in the theatrical tradition, might find it off-putting. Anyway, I'm excited to finally get a chance to see it on the big screen.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at 7:30 PM at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

WHY: There are only two films remaining in the YBCA's Pen-ek retrospective, Invisible Waves and the one that got me interested in Thailand's cinema when I was living in that country in 1999-2000: 6ixtynin9. What else is on the docket for Frisco Bay fans of the cinema of ASEAN countries? As far as I'm aware the only other Thai moving image work screening publicly locally in the near future is Apichatpong Weerasethakul's video installation Emerald, which continues for just a few more days at the Berkeley Art Museum

That museum's conjoined institution the Pacific Film Archive is bringing Dutch Indonesian documentarian Leonard Retel Helmrich to Berkeley this weekend for screenings of his trilogy Eye of the Day, Shape of the Moon and Position Among the Stars. Indonesia is also the setting for one of two South-East Asian oriented documentaries in the San Francisco International Film Festival's Asian line-up: The Act of Killing, which comes endorsed by Werner Herzog and a slew of critics who saw it in Toronto, Berlin and other festivals. The other is the Cambodian/local co-production A River Changes Course. Both are scheduled to screen in San Francisco and Berkeley, the latter with director Kalyanee Mam present at some or all of her screenings. 

The San Francisco Global Vietnamese Film Festival comes to the Roxie on the last weekend of April, and includes a screening of Norwegian Wood, the latest by that country's most prominent auteur export Tran Anh Hung. And not to leave out arguably the most vibrant cinematic production scene in the region, the Philippines, the YBCA has just announced a sequel to last year's successful New Filipino Cinema festival for the first weekend in June; plenty of time to prepare and practice learning your Himala from your Hirana 

HOW: Invisible Waves screens from a 35mm print.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Deep Red (1975)

WHO: Dario Argento directed this.

WHAT: If Suspiria is his best-known film, Deep Red must be the true fan favorite among his films. I say "must be" in part because I haven't seen it; I'm only sussing this out from how often (and how reverentially) it gets mentioned by hardcore giallo hounds I come into contact with. As Slant Magazine founder Ed Gonzalez wrote in the early days of that website: 
Deep Red was Dario Argento's first full-fledged masterpiece, a riveting thriller whose secrets carefully unravel via a series of carefully calibrated compositions that become not unlike virtual gateways into Freudian pasts. Like Argento's ever-flowing camera, Deep Red's killer is everywhere—the protagonist's claustrophobia becomes a physical response both to the film's oppressive mise-en-scène and Argento's formal framing.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at 9:10 PM at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: Why haven't I seen this before? I've been awaiting just such an opportunity as tonight's: a screening in a grand cinema like the Castro, sure to be surrounded by aficionados as excited to see the film for the umpteenth time as I am for the first. To make this an even more appealing outing, Deep Red is paired with another film by an Italian director and starring David Hemmings: Michaeleangelo Antonioni's Blow Up, which has frequently been linked to Deep Red for less superficial reasons (a fact I first became aware of here.)

Deep Red is not the only 1970s horror movie on the current Castro calendar. This Friday Jesse Hawthorne Ficks hosts a "MiDNiTE" screening of my long-standing favorite film of that genre/era: Carrie. I hope it portends more Brian De Palma films at the venue soon.  And next weekend a few films that may not be considered out-and-out horror films to purists, but seem pretty related to me, screen: John Boorman's Deliverance plays on an April 26 double bill with a 35mm print of the theatrical cut of Steven Spielberg's made-for-television truck=monster movie Duel. And April 27 brings Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. I haven't seen Nicolas Roeg's & Donald Cammell's Performance before so I don't know if that should be grouped here or not. (It screens May 2nd.) But certainly Phillip Kaufman's 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers should, even if it's not on the current Castro calendar but will be on the next one, as it's being brought there May 5th by the San Francisco International Film Festival as part of an in-person tribute to Kaufman on the occasion of his receipt of the SFIFF's annual directing award.

HOW: Many of the aforementioned screenings will utilize DCP, but Blowup and Deep Red will both be shown from 35mm prints. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Pink Panther (1963)

WHO: Robert Wagner was one of several actors in this ensemble cast who found themselves upstaged and overshadowed by Peter Sellers' performance as Inspector Jacques Clouseau.

WHAT: The Pink Panther, of course, was named for the pink diamond at the center of the plot of this jewel-thief comedy, but it became more identified with the cartoon character created by animation director Friz Freleng for the film's opening credits sequence (which Freleng once speculated as being the longest animated credits sequence in a feature film release up to that point), and with the Inspector Clouseau character, who appeared in more sequels (six) than the jewel (three) ever did. Not to mention the reboot and its own sequel starring Steve Martin in the Clouseau role.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Castro Theatre at 7:30 PM. Tickets are FREE with an RSVP (which, last I checked, it was not too late to répondez to), but you may have luck as a walk-up as well, if you don't mind waiting in a line or two.

WHY: Robert Wagner will be on hand for tonight's screening, interviewed by Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies in a run-up to their film festival in Hollywood later this month. He may not be the best-remembered element of The Pink Panther but he's sure to have some tales to tell about working with departed participants such as Sellers, David Niven, and director Blake Edwards.

Wagner will be seen again on-screen (though surely not in-person) at the Stanford Theatre May 9 & 10 when that venue shows A Kiss Before Dying, which he starred in. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any other Peter Sellers or Blake Edwards (or even David Niven or Claudia Cardinale) films expected to screen in nearby cinemas any time soon.

However, Friz Freleng fans (and I'm certainly one of them!) should note that one of the first films he animated for the Warner Brothers studio, 1931's Smile, Darn Ya, Smile, screens as part of an Oddball Films 16mm tribute to the jazz age. That program includes several other jazz-inflected short films from the twenties and early thirties, as well as two 1970s revisitations of F. Scott Fitzgerald: Joan Micklin Silver's fine adaptation of his story Bernice Bobs Her Hair with Shelley Duvall in the lead role, and an eight-minute excerpt from the mostly-reviled 1974 version of The Great Gatsby.

HOW: Despite the printed version of the calendar mistakenly starting otherwise, tonight's screening of The Pink Panther is planned to be a 35mm showing.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ginger And Rosa (2012)

WHO: Directed by Sally Potter, the director of Orlando and Yes among other films.

WHAT: I haven't seen any of Potter's films aside from Orlando and Yes, including this, her latest one. But on the track record of those two (which I consider among the best narrative features made in the 1990s & 2000s, respectively), I'm sold on seeing anything she's made in the cinema if an opportunity to comes my way. Which is why I'm glad that Ginger And Rosa has remained in local cinemas for a few weeks already. I don't know too much about the film other than that it's a politically-themed coming of age story set in 1960s London, and that 13-year-old Elle Fanning (so wonderful in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere) has gotten high praise for her performance as 17-year-old Ginger. It appears to be less divisive of critics than Yes was; there are no negative reviews of it on Metacritic.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens 7PM each night through Thursday at the Little Roxie, three times daily through Thursday at the Stonestown Twin, and 8:30 PM Tuesday and Wednesday at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

WHY: Although the Bay Area Film Calendar is known for pointing out the screenings involving film projection at festivals (all the upcoming San Francisco International Film Festival's film-on-film screenings are in green, for instance) and at repertory houses, it's less-known as a place to see where new releases are getting theatrical runs on 35mm, an increasingly rare occurrence as theatres continue to convert to digital-only (or close enough; a place like the Rafael is rare in that it retains its 35mm capability, but it uses it only for occasional revival screenings like this Thursday's showing of Joe Dante's Matinee), and distributors eschew striking prints for more and more of their releases. Ginger And Rosa was available in Frisco Bay cinemas only as a digital presentation until the Roxie got a hold of a print last Friday. I'm glad I waited until now to see it, as I appreciate the ability to support 35mm runs wherever they pop up.

HOW: As noted, Ginger And Rosa screens in 35mm at the Little Roxie. It screens digitally at the Stonestown and the Rafael.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stage Fright (1950)

WHO: Alfred Hitchcock directed, and Jane Wyman stars. Both are pictured in the screen capture above. (The moment of Hitchcock's customary cameo, naturally- though they're rarely two-shots with the star, like this one is).

WHAT: Few would place Stage Fright on a list of Hitchcock's greatest films. But that doesn't mean it isn't a grand entertainment that probably deserves a place on a list of his most underrated ones. The fine cast includes Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Todd, Alastair Sim, and (in her first on-screen role) Hitchcock's daughter Patricia. And the theatrical backstage setting seems to free the director to create an anything-goes universe for his characters and make some sly meta-commentary on his feelings about two subjects he thought quite a lot about: acting and illusionism. To see it in a theatre, where the permeability of the worlds before and behind the proscenium is accentuated, is to enjoy the kind of heightened experience Hitchcock was trying to create for his audience.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens at 5:30 and 9:40 PM tonight only at the Stanford Theatre.

WHY: Though the Stanford's latest Hitchcock series ended last week, the venue is squeezing one last film in this Spring, a perfect segue into its new calendar devoted to the 1950s. This is one of two films the Master of Suspense made during that decade (the other being The Trouble With Harrywhich appeared neither in the Stanford's recent selection, nor in the Pacific Film Archive's closer-to-complete series, which still has a few more titles to run. Stage Fright was not announced to play the Stanford until after my latest Hitchcock round-up two weeks ago, and there are a few other updates worth mentioning. 

It turns out tonight's Castro screening of The Birds is not just a 50th anniversary for the film, but a celebration of the new issue of Zoetrope All-Story, which will include in its pages the original story by Daphne du Maurier which inspired that film. Finally the page for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's June 16th presentation of Hitchcock's silent version of Noel Coward's play Easy Virtue no longer indicates an organ accompaniment, but simply says "Musical Accompaniment To Be Announced!" This, to me, underlines the urgency of aiding the SF Castro Organ Devotees Association's current drive to raise funds to purchase the theatre's Wurlizter from its current owner, who is planning an imminent move away from the Bay Area and just might take his instrument with him. It's hard to imagine attending a full weekend of silent films at that venue without hearing the wind pushed through those pipes at least once or twice.

I must admit the announcement of the new Stanford calendar has me wondering whether I'll make it to  all nine Hitchcock silents during that June weekend. I'd love to see them all in that theatre with some of the best live musical accompanists around performing, but the Stanford has picked June 15 and 16 for four marathon screenings of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 The Ten Commandments, a television staple that nobody else seems likely to play in 35mm anymore. It's just the sort of epic I've never had interest in seeing on a small screen, which over time has created an increasingly strong pent-up desire to see it projected the way it was created: on film. If the rumors that the SFSFF's Hitchcock silents will all be shown via DCP prove to be true, you may see me skipping a couple films (most likely The Pleasure Garden and The Lodger) in order to be in Palo Alto with Moses and Pharaoh and all the rest.

Between now and then there are quite a few Stanford programs tempting me: films made by Vincente Minnelli and Frank Tashlin are especially mouth-watering. I'm also lured by a pair of Hitchcock-esque  films screening together on May 9th & 10th: Henry Hathaway's 1953 Niagara and A Kiss Before Dying, directed in 1956 by Gerd Oswald, a figure rather unknown to me other than for his direction of the terrific noir Crime of Passion a year later.

HOW: Stage Fright plays on a Marlene Dietrich-themed double-bill with Witness For the Prosection, both films screening in 35mm as always at this venue.