Friday, May 31, 2013

From Here To Eternity (1953)

WHO: Fred Zinnemann directed this.

WHAT: My friend Miriam Montag, who wrote a fine piece on Christian Marclay's The Clock earlier this week, still has more to say on that piece, but this time using it as a springboard to a refreshed appreciation of Zinnemann's Oscar-winning film, and particularly the above-pictured scene in which uses Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur as a stand-in for a Hawaiian shore.
It is quarter to 3 at The Clock and possibly one of the cinema's most famous timepieces is having its moment: Harold Lloyd clinging to a massive minute hand high above the streets of downtown Los Angeles. The thrill that spreads through the room has a bit less to do with Lloyd's daring than the sense of recognition. In a work that largely avoided cinema's greatest hits, the inevitabilty of its inclusion felt so satifying. It's been excerpted in countless docs on the subject of Hollywood's clown princes and on and on. The editors of the New Yorker had no worries that readers would instantly get artist Barry Blitt's parody of the stunt when they put it the cover a few years back.   
There's no way to know for certain, of course, but it's very likely few of those present that day at The Clock had seen Lloyd's Safety Last in its entirety, on film, video or cable.  The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is only getting around to it this July, its 18th full festival. Yet that mad scramble up the clock springs has a place in a collective knowledge for both the casual viewer and the more ravenous one. For many years, this viewer didn't even realize it was part of a chase sequence, assuming Lloyd's dilema was the result of Stan Laurel-style tomfoolery. 
What does this have to do with today's movie, Fred Zinnemann's stirring adaptation of James Jones's novel? It's that kiss. 
When the long retired Deborah Kerr died in 2007, the kiss was predictably in the first line of her obit.  It’s one of the most recognizable kisses in Hollywood history and seems to evoke the very title of the film it’s from: From Here To Eternity.  Two lovers in a clinch that not even the surf of the Pacific could cool.  In this film, set in the days leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nothing is that simple.  Of course it’s not surprising that the affair is illicit, but the moments that follow the briny buss are still shocking.   
See, Milt (Burt Lancaster) knew having an affair with his commanding officer’s wife Karen (Kerr) was gonna be messy, but he’s just caught wind of the fact that this affair is not her first time on the extramarital rollercoaster. He’s not letting her just-murmured declaration that "it’s never been like this before" go unchallenged. It gets ugly fast. How close does he come to calling her a slut? YouTube clips of this scene hover at about the 50 second mark, never including the spat, so a quick double check was not possible. Let's just say it gets close enough to be bracing to those who have experienced this cine-bite as the high point of romantic perfection. 
(It's not even the best lip lock in movies, that honor must surely go to Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Hitchcock's Notorious and probably about half of the spit-swapping sessions of Greta Garbo's career) 
As a moment of steadfast devotion, it's about an even match with Prew's playing of taps for his fallen comrade in arms, Maggio. Prew (Montgomery Clift) and Maggio's (Frank Sinatra) struggles are bound up with the ironclad and ridiculous heirarchy of the military life. The cruelty, petty and otherwise, by those with respectable facades and power to abuse, coin of this realm. There's nowhere to run from the emnity they have provoked. 
It's a rich plateful, what with the day that will live in infamy creeping up and all, too rich to be reduced to a romp on a towel. Sometimes a kiss is just a kiss.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Stanford Theatre at 7:30 PM

WHY: As I mentioned the other day, 2013 is Burt Lancaster's centenary year, and thus a perfect time to visit or revisit as many of his films on the big screen as possible; this relatively early film will set a good context for next week's 1960 Elmer Gamtry and 1980 Atlantic City at the Castro

You can also consider this a warm-up for another Frank Sinatra picture playing the Stanford next week: Some Came Running. Considered by many to be director Vincente Minnelli's greatest masterpiece, and containing perhaps the best performances by Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley Maclaine, this is a real rarity to see on the big screen these days, and I'm going to make certain to be there myself. Full disclosure: I've never seen it, having waited for over a decade for an opportunity like this to see it in 35mm.

HOW: On a 35mm double-bill with another film taking advantage of Monterey location shooting, Fritz Lang's Clash By Night.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Post Tenebras Lux (2012)

WHO: Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas wrote, directed and co-produced this.

WHAT: I don't think it's possible to understand Post Tenebras Lux after a single viewing, which is all I've had time to partake in. So I'm just going to link to British microcnema project A Small Cinema, which has created a terrific cross-section of reviews (including some negative ones) and interviews with Reygadas, and if you're considering seeing it, you'll surely be swayed one way or the other by a spending time perusing that site and its links.

I did want to briefly comment on one of the most noteworthy technical aspects of the feature: the use of a image-distortion for (I believe) all of the outdoor scenes and (I believe) none of the indoor scenes. The device has been called "tilt-shift" by some but although the effect appears related to the examples of this affect created by Olivo Barbieri or (more famously) David Fincher, there's not the sense of miniaturization used in their shots, so I feel this must be something else. It's as if Reygadas has shot through a special lens that refracts his images much like the concentric circles of a fresnel lens. It focuses attention to the centers of his academy-ratio images, much like a silent-era iris, but with a distortion and not a complete obfuscation of the frame edges. It seems like an attempt to interiorize exterior shots, making them fit into Reygadas's locked-in, anti-naturalistic scheme.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight through Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:00 and 4:30 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

WHY: The cinema world tends to fixate on the Cannes Film Festival top prize, the Palme d'Or, but frequently the films earning the Best Director prize end up being the more memorable ones. It's hard to know whether last year's Palme-winning Amour will go down as a great contribution to cinema, or just an average film in Michael Haneke's filmography. But Post Tenebras Lux has engendered more extreme reactions; it was booed at the festival but also won the Best Director award for Reygadas, and has divided critics and audiences as it's toured the world since. Might it be more along the lines of landmarks which won the latter prize and not the former, such as Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados in 1951, François Truffaut's the 400 Blows in 1959, or David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. in 2001?

Frisco Bay finally has five chances to make guesses along these lines this week, as YBCA screens Reygadas's film here for the first time. It comes in the week following his protégé Amat Escalante's triumph at the 2013 Cannes festival with his third feature Heli, which by winning the Best Director prize only a year after his producer Reygadas did, makes a real statement, giving a Mexican maker that award for the third time this decade; no film from that country has won the Palme d'Or since Buñuel's Spanish-Mexican co-production Viridiana.

HOW: DCP presentation of a digital feature.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Enter The Void (2009)

WHO: Gaspar Noé wrote, directed, and co-edited this.

WHAT: Though rumor has it Noé was inspired to make this film after an experience watching Robert Montgomery's 1947 Lady In The Lake while under the influence of psychotropic substances (which sounds like an effective "elevator pitch" for this film to me), in fact Enter the Void follows in the traces of a long history of point-of-view in motion pictures, from parts of Vertov's Man With A Movie Camera and the opening sequence of Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to, more recently, everything from Sokurov's Russian Ark to certain pornography.

It;s hard to deny the visual achievement of Enter the Void, but I have to admit that I'm one of those who felt that Noé's level of intellectual engagement with his characters and his themes was closer to that of the latter of the above paragraph's reference points, than to any of the others mentioned. Still, I wouldn't trade anything for the experience of having seen it once just to turn off my brain and soak in the eye-popping visuals. And any time it plays on a big screen I'm tempted to go just to see the amazing opening credits sequence, which is one of the most creative and memorable of its kind.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Castro Theatre at 8:45 PM.

WHY: The Castro Theatre is a perfect place to see visually-striking films, simply because its screen is so large. Put yourself in one of the first few rows to let the images immerse you totally, and you can have a pure sensory experience detached from rational thinking. The theatre's June calendar is now up on its website, and it's packed with lots of screenings that might be appreciated that way. It's Burt Lancaster's centennial year, and his 35mm double-feature next Wednesday includes the very visual Atlantic City. The day after is a Warren Oates pairing of Two-Lane Blacktop and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. A Johnny Depp 50th birthday weekend triple-bill is echoed by a showing of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas paired, for some reason, with The Doors, featuring Kyle MacLachlan as the late Ray Manzarek. A 1960s arthouse masterpiece knockout bill comes June 13th when Roman Polanski's first feature Knife in the Water plays with Luis Buñuel's Belle Du Jour. A radioactive double-bill of Repo Man and Kiss Me Deadly rounds out the repertory programming in a month otherwise dominated by the SF Silent Film Festival's Alfred Hitchcock series, and by the Frameline festival. And a few hints for July have also appeared, including a 35mm print of Suspiria and a Ray Harryhausen memorial screening of two of his most famous films.

HOW: Enter The Void screens in a 35mm print, including the "cut" reel which has only screened a few times in Frisco Bay theatres. It's on a double-bill with a DCP of Spring Breakers.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Clock (2010)

WHO: San Rafael-born artist Christian Marclay is responsible for this 1440-minute-long looped installation made up entirely of clips from thousands of movies and (a comparative few) television shows.

WHAT: After five visits and a total of 10 1/4 of its 24 hours logged over the past two months, I'm still not sure what exactly I think of The Clock, but feel like I'm starting to finally get a sense of what makes it tick- and what doesn't. I haven't spied any more clips of documentary or animation (including any such special effects- clips from CGI-dependent films used scenes that weren't.) after ten hours than I had after two, unless you count shots of televisions showing newscasts or Simpsons episodes being watched by fictional characters. I also haven't noticed any shots of timepieces in space, and none from sword-and-sandal movies or medieval fantasy either, though the appearance of a sundial (in a clip from this movie, I think) had me wondering why not. There's something too-clever-by-half about the construction of this artwork, and I can't help but wonder if it would be at all compelling if it weren't for its monumental scale. But I keep coming back to it, perhaps because I want to figure out why I was so moved by Marclay's inclusion of one particular clip: the opening scene of a movie I haven't seen in which a teacher asks a classroom of children for ideas of things to put inside a time capsule.

My friend Miriam Montag has seen more than I have, and has written an impression of what it's like for a cinephile to attend this exhibit.
Christian Marclay’s 24-hour behemoth video installation The Clock is, as a complete work, is loaded with the tension of letting go and hanging on. It gives and it takes away, and the net effect of the whole process might not seem clear at first.   
From the outset, while there may be enough hours in the day, a wait is involved. Even those who enjoy a swami-like freedom from bodily functions will likely require multiple visits, with the accompanying waiting time in most cases, to see the whole blasted thing. The wait, about two hours usually and thoroughly expected by most attendees, acts as a bizarre vacation from time. Once the art-lover has committed a chunk of time to The Clock and its related wait, this time has a deliciousness to it that a holiday Monday can’t quite match. One has let go of the idea that there isn’t enough time. Books will be read, email inboxes will be cleaned out, old friends caught up with, alliances formed, the names and menus of eateries in Madrid divulged.
What must be left go of is a lot harder to quantify, particularly for the cineaste’s often neurotic needs. It will be worth it. 
Upon entering the exhibition, it is clear that a lot more than the satisfactions and disappointments of narrative of will be sacrificed. As a video installation, the beauty and vagaries of film were not to be expected, of course. Seamlessness required a uniformity of screen format. Cropped widescreen, such as Tonino Delli Colli’s compositions for Sergio Leone, and partially scalped shots from The Twilight Zone both bow to this directive. For Academy ratio films blown up from poor VHS copies, the distortions took on a poignant cast that they would not have for a full viewing. A decades' worth of image quality discernment, out the window! Film-going bugaboo number one and two hit the gray carpet with nary a thud. 
For those who log a few minutes on playing “Where Have I Seen That School Marm Before?” or have some sort of similar post-viewing compulsion, The Clock says “Eat my dust!”. Attempts to jot down details of unfamiliar clips to figure out what the devil they are just will just be a mocking reminder after the fact. “Jess Walter/ W. Beatty b/w”? Why? Really, why? If the title of the film where Jerome Cowan and Edward Everett Horton sing about champagne is worth looking into, the question will come to mind after the viewer has showered, napped and eaten a proper meal. Impulses toward all consuming knowledge will need to settle to the bottom of the sensible viewer’s brain pan or tragedy is in the cards. 
A somewhat fussy baby might burble and sightlines might not be all one wishes, but the annoyances of a typical night at the local Bijou melt away in submersive experience of this singular work, only to be replaced by nuttier ones. People who check their light up watches for the time are just a source of bemusement.   
Note taking? You want to account for as many minutes of Marclay’s day as you can? The more rabid the film-goer, the closer this approaches to Death Match territory. If a seat in the eyeline of the unseasoned viewer is occupied by one “getting” more titles, it is tempting to just write any old crap down just to look worldly. Let it go, that guy wasn’t making any notes during To Sir With Love, and the theme was playing in the clip as Sidney Potier ironed is shirt, so who cares what he thinks? He’s never heard of Abram Room, see any version of OUT and probably thinks Judy Geeson is Lulu. He and his superior knowledge of teen films of the 90s can go to hell!  At this point, dear viewer, please consider going home. 
What’s holding us? The nagging suspicion that the longer the session, the deeper the experience of the work. The clock as a time compression device in films is turned on its head most violently here. It’s apparent that a certain moody teen being relieved from the “You’ll sit here till you eat that dinner, Missy!” treatment is sweeter for the folks, who hours before, saw the punishment being meted out. They’re glad they stayed and how would they have known of this pay off otherwise? The tedium of being booked by the cops is brought home by its reappearance, hours later with a different time on the clock and you were THERE. Yes, Travis and Betsy are going for coffee during her next break at 4 pm . . . but will The Clock be there? Will there be a dead general at dawn? What time of day does napalm smell best? Some chimes, oh say, about 12 AM? 
Is it rational to risk one’s health and well-being just because one is dissatisfied by the only clip of Michael Caine screened during your puny 4 hour stretch? Yes, it is. This is where the tenacity and endurance only a veteran of Jacques Rivette retrospectives can claim comes in, and god dammit, it is a proud and untamable madness! It’s morning and Harry Palmer will soon be waking to one very annoying alarm clock. So stay. You’ll never come back to fill in the upcoming 3 hour gap, so stay. You can’t believe there’s no Godard, so stay. It will never return, not really, so stay. It seems like you’ve just had a second (third, fourth) wind so stay.  Stay, stay, stay.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens 24 hours a day at SFMOMA until June 2, after which the museum closes for an extensive remodel. But it's only available to view during the museum's open hours, which are 11 AM-5:45 PM today, 10 AM-9:45 PM Thursday, 10 AM to 5:45 PM Friday, and a final 31 hour blow-out starting 10 AM Saturday until 5:45 PM Sunday.

WHY: I don't know if Miriam's correct about her prediction, "It will never return" but why risk it? If you have some time to devote to this piece before it disappears, you really ought to try it, if only to see for yourself what this thing really is. I predict that every half-hour spent waiting in line outside the museum before it opens will save you at least an hour wait time in the museum if you arrive during its open hours.

HOW: Projected video installation.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Angels (2013)

WHO: Jim Granato directed this short.

WHAT: Thanks to the Sequester, Fleet Weeks all over the country are being cancelled, including New York's, which normally would be occurring today, with an air show by the Blue Angels in honor of Memorial Day today. San Francisco's Fleet Week is usually in October, but will be cancelled for 2013 as well.

I mention all this because Granato's brand-new short comedy is set during Fleet Week, although it's not expressly mentioned in the film; in fact the film's entire comedic premise is the knowledge gap between those of us who've been Frisco Bay residents long enough to understand the rhythms and traditions of our fine city, and those newcomers who can become confused when thrown into a situation they never experienced before coming here.

It's also a celebration of San Francisco traditions, particularly those of the cinematic variety. Settings include some of the Mission District's most vital purveyors of alternative culture, Artists' Television Access, Other Cinema curator Craig Baldwin, and the Roxie (pictured above). Both of these venues need to be supported, especially in these times of massive immigration (and its accompanying displacement) into the neighborhood, by people who may be so used to whatever mall multiplexes and streaming services they used to see movies in their former residences, that they would never even think to look for a cinema that might be screening films and videos they'd be hard pressed to find using any other distribution channels.

But Angels is a comedic tribute, not a harangue. It'll be through the gentle catalyst of humor, if it gets Mission residents (whether long-timers or newcomers) excited about the storied traditions of San Francisco moviegoing - and moviemaking. Indeed, Granato takes a mid-film shift from semi-naturalistic urban comedy (not so far removed from the tradition of American slapstick that grew up mostly on the streets of Los Angeles in the silent era with the outdoor-shot pictures of Mack Sennett and his competitors) to a more fantastic, meta-cinematic mode when he starts making explicit reference to some of the great films shot here in the past. 

What films? I don't want to spoil the surprises and perhaps the biggest laughs in the picture, but with the 2013 Cannes Awards just announced, I'll give a few hints: one of them is the only San Francisco-located film to have won a previous Palme d'Or at Cannes, and another's star handed out one of the awards at the French festival yesterday.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Roxie at 7:30 PM.

WHY: There's no better place to see Angels than in the Roxie, one of its most prominent locations, so this is the perfect place for its world premiere. I previewed it on my home computer and, though I enjoyed it, I felt a bit rueful that I'll never be able to watch it for the first time with an audience to laugh along with, and to see the 104-year-old cinema's cameos on the screen being depicted.

I covered this a bit in my "WHAT" section above, but it's great that the venue is hosting periodic "Neighborhood Nights" to help engage the community with their local big screen. The last one was Sean Gillane's CXL earlier this month, and I'm liking this frequency. Hopefully there will be more on the Roxie's forthcoming summer calendar. In the meantime, there are plenty of other enticing film and video programs at the venue, including Czech That Filma selection of new films from a European country that Mission Bohemians ought to be able to relate to, and a 6-title Jon Moritsugu series including his brand new Pig Death Machine. Both of these series begin later this week.

HOW: Angels will be screened with Granato's award-winning documentary feature D Tour, about a local musician named Pat Spurgeon, who must contend with a failing kidney while embarking on a tour with his band Rogue Wave. Granato will be on hand at the screening, and so will the band, who will perform a live acoustic set following the digitally-projected short and feature.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Revenge of the Pearl Queen (1956)

WHO:  Michiko Maeda stars in this.

WHAT: I haven't seen this before, but it was based on the same true story that inspired Josef Von Sternberg to make what would be his final film, The Saga of Anatahan, in 1953. Revenge of the Pearl Queen was also apparently the first Japanese film to feature female nudity (Maeda's). As Mark Schilling wrote about her in a somewhat longer piece on the film:
Though no actress, Maeda had an upright, ladylike bearing, even when she was fleeing bare-breasted from would-be rapists, that justified the “queen” appellation. And, of course, au naturel, she was a natural.
WHERE/WHEN: 3:30 PM today only at the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts

WHY: Sadly, I haven't yet been able to attend any of the YBCA's Girls! Guns! Ghosts! The Sensational Films of Shintoho series devoted to the so-called AIP of Japan, the Shintoho studio where great films by directors such as Kenji Mizoguchi and Mikio Naruse were produced in the early 1950s, but which in the latter half of that decade became known for less "respectable" fare by genre filmmakers like Nobuo Nakagawa and Teruo Ishii. Revenge of the Pearl Queen is the final film in the YBCA series before the venue turns its attention to newer films: Post Tenebras Lux by Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas, its second annual New Filipino Cinema festival, and Austrian Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy. which takes the venue through the end of June.

If your itch to see Shintoho films on the big screen has not been fully scratched by this series, there is another chance to see a great film made at the studio: my personal favorite of all of Akira Kurosawa's films, the police thriller Stray Dog, screens at the Pacific Film Archive July 13th.

HOW: Digital presentation, the second half of a double bill with Ishii's Yellow Line.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Valley Of The Giants (1927)

WHO: This was directed by Charles Brabin, who made over a hundred films in the silent and early sound era, most of them forgotten, and is now best-remembered as the husband of Theda Bara. At least his films have a higher survival rate than hers, which are mostly lost.

WHAT: The Valley of the Giants was one of the real unearthings of the 2007 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. A rip-roaring adventure film made with its married-couple stars Milton Sills and Doris Kenyon on location amidst the redwoods of Humboldt county, it's a wonderful film to behold on the big screen- which is the only place you're likely to see it, as it has yet to become available on home video. David Kiehn wrote an outstanding essay on the film for the SFSFF program book, from which I shall now extract the introduction (in the hopes that you will be intrigued enough to follow the link to read on):
It’s often lamented that only ten to twenty per cent of films made in the silent era still exist. So whenever a coveted film thought lost suddenly turns up, it’s just cause for celebration. But what of the many worthy films no one is looking for, their directors neglected, their stars forgotten, which may be sitting on a shelf in an archive, waiting to be shown? Given the sheer number of silent films produced – 10,000 features and 50,000 short films, conservatively speaking – one could theoretically see a silent film every day for thirty years without repetition. Of course, for many films just one viewing would suffice, but at the other end of the scale there are still wonderful rediscoveries; The Valley of the Giants is one of these, preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from an original nitrate print in 1989.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Theatre in Fremont, on a bill starting at 7:30 PM.

WHY: David Kiehn programs and projects silent films in Niles every weekend of the year, except for one: the third weekend in July, when the entire silent film world casts its attention on the SFSFF at the Castro Theatre, which has become the premiere North American event for archives around the globe to showcase hidden treasures and new restorations of films from the pre-talkie era. From almost the beginning of the 17-year-old festival, the SFSFF has made room for the silent movie-making traditions from all corners of the Earth, screening films not only from the well-known foreign industries (Germany, France, Italy, the Soviet Union) but also from more unexpected lands: China, India, Mexico, Brazil. Since Anita Monga took on the artistic directorship of the event in 2009, the international component of the festival has grown tremendously, and with the newly-announced 2013 edition (given a fine rundown already by Meredith Brody) the international programs, with films made in nine different countries, actually outnumber the American ones. As the festival will come on the heels of a special June weekend showcase of Alfred Hitchcock's earliest films made in the United Kingdom, might it be time to add a letter to the festival acronym and call it SFISFF?

I'm all for this expansion of international selections at the festival, as some of the very best films screened each year are from foreign industries. Last year's The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna from Germany is a perfect example of a masterpiece that I'd barely even heard of before its Castro presentation. This year I've seen only two of the foreign selections before: Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Chorus and Victor Sjöström's The Outlaw and his Wife. Others, such as A.W. Sandberg's The Golden Clown (the first feature made by the robust Danish silent film industry to screen at SFSFF), are completely unfamiliar to me. But I should note that this expansion hardly comes at the expense of the festival's tradition of presenting well-known classics and little-seen obscurities made by Americans. If you count the Indonesia-set Legong: Dance of the Virgins, as it followed the lead of Nanook of the North and Chang in being filmed outside the U.S. but for an American production company (Constance Bennet's) and an American audience by an essentially American crew, there will be seven programs (the other six of them not at all "borderline") of U.S. films at this year's festival. This is no fewer than have screened at any SFSFF event except for last July's, when there were nine programs of American films. 

Though there are several relatively well-known titles among these seven, including closing night selection Safety Last! starring Harold Lloyd and The Patsy with Marion Davies and Marie Dressler (the festival's only feature being repeated from a prior festival, as it closed the 2008 festival on a high note), there are also films along the lines of The Valley of the Giants in that they're as yet unseen even by the most devoted fans of American silent cinema. Both The Half-Breed starring Douglas Fairbanks (shot in the redwoods of Santa Cruz County) and The Last Edition starring Ralph Lewis (shot in San Francisco) are newly restored by the festival itself in partnership with the European archives that held the only known prints of these American films: respectively, the Cinémathèque Française (which will also awarded the annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival Award at a screening of Jacques Feyder's Gribiche) and EYE Film Institute in Holland.

These partnerships reflect the fact that the silent era had the potential to be the most internationally cross-pollinating of all eras of film history, and in many regards it was. Watching a European or Japanese film with translated intertitles is barely any different from watching one made in the U.S. or U.K., and this made multi-continental careers all the more possible for the era's stars. So although for the first time ever the SFSFF opening night feature is a foreign one (the French Prix De Beauté), its star is the American Louise Brooks. Likewise Germany's The Joyless Street screens in the prime Saturday night slot (hopefully not as delayed a screening as in certain previous years) but stars a Swedish actor who is best known today for her Hollywood films: Greta Garbo. It's great to have a showcase like the SFSFF that intermixes films from Hollywood and from countries around the globe, letting us realize how universal the cinematic medium can feel.

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum has a reputation for focusing the majority of its attention  on American silent film history, as is appropriate for an organization founded to particularly celebrate the legacy of the filmmakers who lived and worked in Niles itself. And indeed, by comparison only one of the six programs in next month's Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival (named for cowboy star "Broncho Billy" Anderson, who made films at and around his Niles studio precisely 100 years ago), is made up of films from abroad. But there's been an international flavor to the history of cinema since Britain's Eadweard Muybridge started photographing horses in motion in California in the 1870s. The most famous star to work at Niles was Charlie Chaplin (subject of his own Charlie Chaplin Days festival in Niles next weekend), who was of course British himself. And even a thoroughly American picture like The Valley of the Giants was directed by a man from Liverpool: Charles Brabin was born there and didn't emigrate to American until his was 18.

HOW: The Valley of the Giants screens on a bill with two shorts: Jimmie Adams and Doris Dawson in Swiss Movements and Charley Chase with Dog Shy, all in (I believe) 16mm prints, with Judy Rosenberg accompanying on piano.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Girl Can't Help It (1956)

WHO: Frank Tashlin directed, produced, and co-wrote this. Jayne Mansfield stars, and Abbey Lincoln (pictured above) is one of the fantastic performers showcased in the film's many musical sequences.

WHAT: The Girl Can't Help It is among my favorite Tashlin films, but I knew my friend Miriam Montag would have more interesting things to say about it than I would, so I asked her to contribute an exclusive for Hell On Frisco Bay readers. She came through like gangbusters:
In this potent and colorful satire of pop celebrity culture, ‘50s every-schmo Tom Ewell is a washed up PR man, hired to transform the moll of a faded gangster into a singing star... or else! Advising his new employer (Edmond O'Brien, in a divinely crass cartoony mode) that "Rome wasn't built in a day" he is challenged with “She ain’t Rome! What we’re talking about is already built!"     
This is our first glimpse of Jayne as would-be songstress Jerri Jordan. Wordless in this scene, she is seeming to chafe under the Blond Goddess mantle. Certainly this is foreshadowing -- our sex pot turns out to have a heart set on making a home and lots of babies, not hit platters, domestic goddess being her true goal. Has the embarrassed lowering of her gaze come to mean something more poignant to those looking back on her and other ill-fated bombshells? 
Other than the perfect merger of performer and part in the female lead, the big draw for The Girl Can’t Help It its treasure trove of hitmakers and curiosities, all lightly folded into the action, all the better for skewering that crrrrazy new sound. Amid the Platters, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, bursts Abbey Lincoln, belting out gospel in a tony nightspot.
Poured into a gown once worn by Marilyn Monroe, it’s clear that  Lincoln had the pipes, poise and pulchritude to go far in supper clubs if she wanted to. She didn’t want to. Lincoln would go on to decade-long personal and artistic partnership with drummer/composer Max Roach, singing on the album We Insist! - Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite. In her subsequent films she actually had a chance to act, faring well in both Nothing But a Man (1964), a landmark independent film, and For the Love of Ivy (1968), a romantic comedy. She came into her own as a songwriter in later years and grew as an artistic force well into her 8th decade. 
And what of Jayne? Smartest Dumb Blond (she had a reputed IQ of 163) is not a brand that dates well. Since her death she has been rediscovered by successive waves of young, mostly female, fans who revere her, but any online thread about Jayne is prone to nasty trolling by those who just don’t get her, also mostly female. As her Hollywood career flagged, she moved on to nightclubs and sexploitation films; she was the first big-name actress to appear nude in a film. In an ironic twist on Jerri Jordan, Mansfield put motherhood center stage, having her brood accompany her on The Merv Griffin Show. It was certainly a role she treasured. Three of her five children were accompanying her to a club date in Florida when Jayne and  the other adults in the car were killed in a crash.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, at 5:40 and 9:15.

WHY: If Miriam's remarks don't sell this for you, I don't know what to say. But if you need more incentive, consider this a delayed follow-up to the Stanford's screenings of Tashlin's Artists And Models last month. And if you missed that, all the more reason to go tonight; you don't want to miss out on all the great Tashlin screenings this season, do you?

HOW: On a Tashlin/Mansfield 35mm double-bill with Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Long Goodbye (1973)

WHO: Robert Altman directed this.

WHAT: Smack dab in the middle of Altman's unbeatable string of truly great films that ran from Brewster McCloud in 1970 to Nashville in 1975 (and that perhaps extended even longer on both ends for people who like MASH and Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson a bit more than I do) is his version of Raymond Chandler, the missing link between (for instance) Murder, My Sweet and The Big Lebowski. It's been far too long since I've last seen it, though I've read a lot of writing about it in the meantime, including a great take by James Naremore, from whom I shall now quote:
The underlying concept is intriguing: Elliot Gould is intentionally miscast as Philip Marlowe, and the setting is updated to contemporary, dope-crazed Los Angeles, where the private eye becomes a ridiculous anachronism.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Phyllis Wattis Theatre at the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art, at 7:00.

WHY: With SFMOMA shutting its revolving doors for an extensive remodeling project in a week and a half, the Wattis, one of the key venues for film projection in San Francisco, will be out of commission for more than two years. It's hard to think of a more aptly-titled film to mark tonight's final 35mm projection at the museum before the projectors are to be removed.

The good news is that tonight's "long goodbye" is really a "see you later," because the projectors are just going into storage for the extensive construction period, and are expected to be re-installed in time for the museum's reopening in early 2016. And when they are, they may get used more frequently than ever, as part of the museum makeover is the addition of a separate entrance to the theatre from the outside, so that screenings will be able to happen at times when the museum galleries are closed. Which means the Wattis, previously been limited to Thursday evening and daytime screenings, will have the flexibility to hold evening programs more than once a week upon reopening. So while a piece of the Frisco Bay specialty film-screening puzzle will be missed for a while, it has the potential to come back with more passion and power than ever before.

If you've been immersed in the Roxie's classic noir series (which ends tonight with a double-bill of Criss Cross and The Crooked Way) over the past two weeks, The Long Goodbye may be a good way to ease back into the modern world with a merely forty-year-old detective film rather than the sixty- or eighty-year-old films that made up the bulk of that series.

And if you want to see another Altman film on the big screen soon, try the Balboa Theatre, which will screen Popeye on June 8th as part of a weekly Saturday matinee series of kid-friendly films, that started last week.

HOW: 35mm print

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Milk (2008)

WHO: Daniel Nicoletta was a historical consultant and still photographer for this film, performed in a cameo playing Harvey Milk's political aide Carl Carlson, and was portrayed as a young man by Lucas Grabeel (pictured above).

WHAT: You can nitpick its minor anachronisms or question some of the characterization and still find this Gus Van Sant-directed, multi-awarded biopic of San Francisco's first openly gay elected official to be a very moving film about a crucial moment in the city's, and ultimately the nation's and the world's,  movement toward freedom and equality. Sean Penn's performance as Harvey Milk is a career high, and one of the few recent Academy Award-winning impersonations of a historical figure that I think probably deserved all its accolades.

The decisions to shoot the film in San Francisco locations dressed to be as authentic as possible, and to fill the set with people who lived through the period depicted, available to help guide a younger generation of their own portrayers to verisimilitude, from the featured players down to the marching extras in mass protest scenes, may be foregone conclusions in retrospect, but they weren't the only approaches available to makers of films like Milk. And there's something very interesting about the kind of authenticity available and not available to filmmakers working this way. There's both a paradox and a beautiful expression of continuity that occurs when the audience sees a 25-year-old actor or extra in the same frame as the person he or she is portraying, who is now 55 years old and portraying an elder who may have inspired him or her at the time.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Castro Theatre, with showtimes at 2:00, 4:30, 7:00 & 9:30.

WHY: Every year since Milk came out, the Castro has shown it on Harvey Milk Day, which commemorates the life of the activist who would have turned 83 today had he not been slain. Today the screening also comes just one day after the announcement of the 37th Frameline Festival, which will come to the Castro and other Frisco Bay venues June 20-30. 

As we see in MilkHarvey Milk's political career arose out of his experiences running a camera store just a block away from the Castro Theatre. This was one of the sets recreated in its original space for the film, and Jenni Olson's beautiful short 575 Castro St. documents that space in moments when it wasn't being utilized as a location for shooting, in a manner intended to remind us of the importance of this store as a hub not only of political activism but artistic expression. In fact the two activities were (and, I would argue, are) intertwined inseparably. Perhaps there's no better example of this than the historical fact that it was Milk's increasing involvement in politics that necessitated his hiring of Daniel Nicoletta at the store, to take on duties he was becoming too busy to handle himself. Nicoletta's presence at the store (depicted in the screenshot from Milk above), which was devoted to small-gauge motion picture processing as well as still photography, put him in the ideal place to help found the first-ever "Gay Film Festival of Super-8 Films" in 1977, an event that over the next few decades transformed into the Frameline festival we know today. As Olson writes, 
For its first few years the festival showcased the modest Super-8 imaginings of such prolific but obscure gay filmmakers as Jim Baker, Bern Boyle, Stephen Iadereste, Ric Mears, Allen McClain, Billy Miggins, T.K. Perkins, Wayne Smolen, David Waggoner, Ken Ward and Christine Wynne as well as festival founders Marc Huestis and Dan Nicoletta and Names Project founder Cleve Jones. Many of these films explored gay themes, but a good percentage of the work (like many other experimental films of the era) focused on simple light and motion studies.
If you haven't been keeping an eye on the Wikipedia page for the Frameline Film Festival, you might like to know that it has recently exploded with historical information, particularly from the festival's first ten years. The page also points out that Frameline has scanned and made available all of its past program guides in a handy archive. From this archive, I've learned more about Nicoletta's own filmmaking than anywhere else. Some of his films shown at the first few "Gay Film Festivals" include a film, which he described as "an autobiographic film about my destiny, my love of San Francisco and life here", or Theatrical Collage: "a collection of theatrical footage from over the years" and Dancing Is Illegal, which is described as "produced for the stage by the Angels of Light".

Reading about this early festival history is a good reminder of the seemingly-humble beginnings that can lay the groundwork for a cultural movement (and considering Frameline is the longest-running and highest-profile LGBT Film Festival in the country and perhaps anywhere, I don't think it's overreaching to use terms like "cultural movement"). In the late 1970s, Super-8 was the most inexpensive motion picture medium around, and thus ideal material for use by independent-minded artists, especially those whose work would likely be systematically be excluded from traditional structures of creation and exhibition. 

Today the equivalently inexpensive medium is digital. It's something to keep in mind after learning at the Frameline press conference this morning that this year is expected to be the first time the festival doesn't screen a single new film on a non-digital format. There will be two 35mm retrospective programs (a matinee of Jamie Babbit's 1999 But I'm a Cheerleader with her 1998 short Sleeping Beauties, and a Peaches Christ-hosted midnight showing of Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddie's Revenge) but, it seems, no prints of new titles.  

This may be an end of an era of a sort, but it's not at all unexpected. The ratio of film-to-digital presentations has been steeply declining at practically every festival I know of in the past few years. Last year I believe Frameline screened no more than a dozen films on film, and a good third of those were retrospectives. The good news is that higher-quality digital presentations are becoming more and more affordable for independent makers, so while those of us who take special pleasure in the illusionary intermittence of film projection may mourn the increasing scarcity of opportunities to watch it, at least we may be able to enjoy digital screenings more than we have in the past. I hope so, as there are quite a few new works at Frameline 37 that seem quite promising, including a ten-program regional focus entitled Queer Asian Cinema, and a new documentary on the great Frisco Bay poet and filmmaker James Broughton, appropriately entitled Big Joy after the kinds of feelings most of his experimental films can instill in an attentive audience. Perhaps another local venue will use this new doc as an excuse to rent 16mm prints of some of his films from Canyon Cinema and showcase them during or shortly after the festival.

HOW: Milk will screen as a DCP.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Twin Peaks: Pilot (1990)

WHO: David Lynch co-wrote and directed this pilot for his landmark television series.

WHAT: "Twin Peaks" must be the American network-produced television series most likely to be cited in a conversation with a hardcore cinephile or on a list by a serious film critic. Somehow giving us a first glimpse that the 1990s were to be both moodier and more absurd than the previous decade had been, it was a huge pop cultural sensation in its day, at least until its central mystery "Who Killed Laura Palmer?" was forced to be answered. I've long wondered if this was simply because the top brass at ABC was swept up in the national desire to learn what Lynch and co-writer Mark Frost had in mind, like any other fans of the show, losing sight of how important the unanswering of this question was to the show's narrative power.

I actually enjoyed the whole series when I last took a look at it over ten years ago, but there's no question in my mind that the strongest two hours of the show, and arguably two of the artistically strongest hours of television ever broadcast over U.S. airwaves, are the original pilot episode. Unlike its successor episodes, it was shot on location in Washington State and was prepared to be released as a theatrical feature in case the show was not picked up by the network. I imagine its themes of small-town morality and the duality of celebrity (Laura Palmer was the town Homecoming Queen, after all) must play as powerfully as ever in the socially-mediated age we find ourselves in today.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Cinecave at 8:00.

WHY: Though I am a committed cinemagoer, I'm not one to avoid video stores. In fact I find them invaluable, especially when I'm in the midst of a research project involving films not already in my own DVD collection. I don't know how it would be possible to replace the value of the combined power of Le Video on 9th Avenue and Lost Weekend Video on Valencia Street; the former has a larger collection and the latter is more convenient to my usual routes (and has some titles Le Video doesn't carry). I was very pleased to hear New York City film programmer Miriam Bale give Lost Weekend a lovely shout-out as a formative influence in a recent podcast hosted by Peter Labuza. The browseable and personal-touch nature of an independent video store will never be replaced by streaming and downloading movies, and I hope these two institutions survive far into the future.

There is now a way to support Lost Weekend and be a cinemagoer at the same time: they have installed a communal screening space in their basement. Called the Cinecave, the venue plays host to screenings of rare VHS & DVDs, to live comedy and other performance, and to whatever else might be of interest to members of the Cinecave club. (Membership is free and automatic for any Lost Weekend Video patrons).

Starting tonight, the Cinecave is hosting screenings of "Twin Peaks" episodes every Tuesday into the foreseeable future. This is at least the second go-round of showing the series in the venue since it opened almost a year ago; last time I'm told there was pie offered at some (or perhaps all) of the showings. If you've never seen "Twin Peaks" this is a perfect opportunity to catch up on a major part of the David Lynch filmography. If you've seen it so many times you can't count them, and are looking for a fresh new way to do so, how about among a audience in the basement of a video store?

Note that on June 13 & 15 at the Camera 3 in San Jose will screen Lynch's theatrical film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. But don't see that until you've seen at least half of the produced television episodes unless you're not concerned with spoiling their surprises.

HOW: It will screen with the first episode of the series, as some sort of video presentation; I asked a Lost Weekend clerk whether it would be shown on DVD or another video format, and she was unsure.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Killer At Large (1947)

WHO: William Beaudine is known as "the Man Who Made 500 Movies" and this was one of the uncountable many he directed.

WHAT: A newspaper-themed B-noir starring Robert Lowery (who would soon play Bruce Wayne in Columbia's Batman And Robin serial- the first post-World War II screen version of the character) and Anabel Shaw (so memorable in supporting roles in films like ShockHigh Tide and Gun Crazy). I haven't seen it.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Roxie at 6:40 and 9:30.

WHY: When the Roxie calls this one "obscure" in their program notes they aren't kidding! Barely mentioned in any literature, including Beaudine's own biography, and possessing fewer than 5 user votes and only one user review at the Internet Movie Database, this is the kind of movie that makes Fall Guy and Club Havana seem like well-known titles.

HOW: 16mm print, on a double bill with Key Witness, another relatively unknown B picture screening on 35mm.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Autumn Leaves (1956)

WHO: Robert Aldrich won the Silver Bear at the 1956 Berlin Film Festival for having directed this.

WHAT: Six years before teaming (along with Bette Davis, of course) for What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? director Aldrich (coming off a pair of noir now-classics Kiss Me Deadly and The Big Knife) and actor Joan Crawford (who had just completed Queen Bee) made this film together. It casts Crawford as a woman approaching spinsterhood, who develops a romance with a young man with a past played by Cliff Robertson.

It's been a while since I first (and last) saw this, as part of a Pacific Film Archive Aldrich retrospective, so let me grab some words from a review by the always insightful Fernando F. Croce:
The brilliance of it, irresistible and perverse, lies in Robert Aldrich's plowing of melodrama for all the disturbances and neuroses within a "classy soap opera." The heroine (Joan Crawford) is a lonely writer, her bungalow exudes the fatality of Palance's house in The Big Knife, arenas of mounting hysteria both. A flashback during a concert lends the Electra complex, Oedipus later enters the equation via Cliff Robertson, the younger man who courts Crawford at the diner booth
WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Roxie at 3:15 and 7:30.

WHY: Autumn Leaves is, as I remember it, a great film. Probably my favorite of Aldrich's films and quite possibly of Crawford's too (though I still have plenty to explore in both filmographies). Certainly it's a more thoughtful film than the grotesquely enjoyable guignol of Baby Jane, bur it will surely never surpass that film in popularity with a wider public. Simply, Autumn Leaves takes the American family seriously as an institution to critique while the later Crawford-Aldrich pairing perversely, pleasurably smashes it. 

But although suspense is employed as an efficient narrative motor in Autumn Leaves, it is ultimately a romantic melodrama, a fatally unfashionable genre these days. It's a perfect cousin to noir, and placing it in a series like the Roxie's current I Wake Up Dreaming is a good reminder of the melodramatic underpinnings of the noir cycle- although crime pictures and so-called "womens' weepies" may have found the core of their appeal in gendered audiences, they were also meant to be able to function as fodder for opposite-sex date nights as well.

If you're not a genre purist, I can enthusiastically recommend Autumn Leaves, but noir fans who prefer their films to include gangsters and other underworld figures may get more enjoyment out of the rest of this week's noir series titles, screening lots of rarities involving criminals, and at least one mean little masterpiece of the 1940s crime movie cycle: Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross. They can also look forward to July and August, when the PFA brings a series devoted to films inspired by the work of Belgian mystery novelist Georges Simenon. It's a welcomely diverse set of noir and noir-esque films made not only in Hollywood and France but also Japan and Hungary, and representing almost every decade since his most famous character, Inspector Maigret, was first invented and adapted to screen in the 1930s. 

HOW: 35mm double-bill with another Crawford picture, Female on the Beach.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Rear Window (1954)

WHO: Alfred Hitchcock

WHAT: The Wikipedia article on Rear Window claims that "analyses, including that of François Truffaut in Cahiers du cinéma in 1954, center on the relationship between Jeff and the other side of the apartment block, seeing it as a symbolic relationship between spectator and screen." Not exactly. Perhaps this is why Hitchcock fans have created their own Wiki, where it's possible to read Truffaut's review in full, and see he in fact evokes a different relationship: that between a filmmaker and the world being filmed.

Whether one defines Rear Window as about the spectator/screen or the filmmaker/world relationship may ultimately depend upon one's self-identification as a viewer or as a director (although Truffaut had not yet made his first short film in 1954, he'd surely planned and hoped to by then.) I'd argue, however, that the difference between these two frames is in fact at the crux of the film. If Rear Window is about the spectator and the screen, then Hitchcock has created a number of miniature movies about L.B. Jeffries' neighbors for him to watch during his convalescence. If it's about the filmmaker and the world, then Jeffries (James Stewart) is Hitchcock's avatar in their creation: in this case the stories he and Lisa (Grace Kelly) tell each other about "Miss Torso", "Miss Lonelyhearts" etc. are projections, patterns, and ways of interpreting the world (or making a film). It's only by involving himself with the stories on screen, by "directing" his actors Lisa and Stella (Thelma Ritter) to enter the framed world, that he can discover for sure whether the stories he's watching unfold are his own creations or not. By intervening he verifies that (at least the Thorwald story) is not a product only his own imagination, while at the same time ensuring his own role of authorship in the conclusion of the narrative.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Castro Theatre at 2:00, 4:30 & 7:00.

WHY: When I last checked in on the Alfred Hitchcock screen scene over a month ago, two large retrospectives of the director's work were finishing up at different local venues. Now it's time for what I call "Phase 2" of the 2013 Frisco Bay celebration of the Master of Suspense.

The centerpiece of this phase is the "Hitchcock 9" a set of all but one of the first ten films directed by Hitchcock, each silent, recently restored thanks to the British Film Institute and its partners, and set to play two Frisco Bay venues this summer. First, the nine restorations' US premiere will be at the Castro Theatre June 14-16 thanks to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Musical accompaniment will be provided by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, as well as pianists Stephen Horne and Judith Rosenberg- the latter a local making her long-awaited debut as a silent accompanist at the Castro Theatre. I'm still unsure whether these screenings will be via DCP or 35mm prints; my best guess is that there will be a mixture of formats used over the weekend.

Then in August, the Pacific Film Archive will re-screen each of these titles in their intimate screening room, each with regular accompanist Rosenberg performing at the venue's (upright, not grand, unlike at the Castro) piano. Dates and formats have just been announced for these screenings, with The Lodger, The Pleasure Garden, Downhill, and Easy Virtue screening on 35mm prints with the other five shown digitally.

But these silent screenings are not the only Hitchcock shows on the horizon. Oakland's Paramount has tapped North By Northwest to close its summer 35mm screening series August 23rd. And this month the Castro has paired two 35mm Hitchcock classics with new DCP presentations of recent films made by Hitchcock-inspired directors. Next Tuesday is Shadow of a Doubt with Park Chan-wook's latest film Stoker, while today's screenings of Rear Window prefigure a late-evening presentation of a new DCP of Brian DePalma's wonderfully sleazy 1984 Hitchcock homage Body Double.

HOW: Rear Window screens in 35mm, the final show being on a double-bill with a digital presentation of Body Double.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Story of Hansel and Gretel (1951)

WHO: Ray Harryhausen directed, produced and animated this short film by hand, and who died at age 92 last week.

WHAT: In Alex Pappademas's lovely obituary, he writes of the feature films that the master worked on:
They were all conceived as showcases for Harryhausen's effects, and he was supposedly heavily involved in every stage of their production, from script to art direction to principal photography, but they tend to fall down a deep well entertainmentwise whenever the puppets yield the screen to people. "I could kick myself when I think of how I didn't insist on more from the director or the studio," Harryhausen once said, admitting that some of his finished pictures made him "heartsick."
It's true that, although Harryhausen's effects have a timeless quality to them, the feature films they appear in work better as entertainments for young children than sophisticated adults. Clunky dialogue and frequently unimaginative camera placement weigh down, say, 20 Million Miles to Earth or The 7th Voyage of Sinbad when Harryhausen's monster creations are not on the screen, and perhaps can only really be appreciated by discerning, aesthetically attuned moviegoers when they are able to summon their inner-child sense of wonder.

The lesser-known short films Harryhausen directed before his feature-film career, however, do not suffer from the same lack of artistic sophistication, perhaps because they were don't involve the blending of live actors with the animated environments. The Story of Hansel and Gretel, for instance, utilizes some creative camera angles and compositions in telling a very familiar story. It's an apparent paradox, because this short film was intended expressly for children while the later science fiction and fantasy films were aimed at wider audiences. But if you can appreciate the enclosed artistry of a Disney Silly Symphony or a Frank Tashlin cartoon, you may find more complete fulfillment from this film than from a Harryhausen vehicle in which his artistry is not evident in every frame.

WHERE/WHEN: 8PM tonight only at Oddball Films. Seating is limited, so it's best to RSVP by e-mailing or calling ahead at (415) 558-8117.

WHY: Many commentators (most recently David Bordwell) have pointed to the increasing importance of film archives to allowing us access to our moving image heritage, in the waning days of 35mm as a mass distribution medium. Movie lovers now have so many convenient (if compromised) methods of seeing films on a whim, and the barriers to providing timely programming to cinema audiences seem to be increasing rather than decreasing as more and more screens go digital-only.

But archives, when they screen their own holdings, as Oddball does every Thursday and Friday evenings, can demonstrate a flexibility few other venues can have. I'm sure that upon Ray Harryhausen's death, programmers at the Castro and Rafael and perhaps other local venues with a history of connecting audiences with his film work, immediately began investigating the possibility of a tribute program. But though none have been announced yet, Oddball has already been able to tribute the stop-motion master twice, first with a film added to last week's Czechoslovakian animation program, and now tonight with The Story of Hansel and Gretel anchoring a program of tasty films that will also include a short featuring Woody Allen and the late Jonathan Winters, an excerpt from an I Love Lucy episode, and a rare showing of Ub Iwerks's 1934 cartoon Reducing Creme

Animation fans should also look forward to next week's Oddball screenings: a Devilish set including Betty Boop in Red Hot Mamma, and a Toy-fest that ranges from Gumby to Charles & Ray Eames.

The Bay Area's other big archive, Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, has also just announced its entire summer programming slate. Though there's a lot to peruse and comment upon, the two series most relevant to this particular post are the Sunday-afternoon, 12-film focus on Japan's greatest animation studio Ghibli, and a selection of screenings of Eastern European films from the archive's own collection, donated by George Gund III, and presented as a memorial to his long life, which ended earlier this year.

HOW: Tonight's Oddball program, including The Story of Hansel and Gretel, will screen virtually entirely in 16mm.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shakedown (1950)

WHO: Joe Pevney's final credit as an actor (in a small role), and his first as a director.

WHAT: I've mentioned its imminent publishing before, but I've just noticed that a book I contributed to, World Film Locations: San Francisco, is now available for pre-order through Powell's and Amazon. My contribution is an essay tracing the special relationship between San Francisco and the cycle of 1940s & 50s noir produced by Hollywood, frequently shot on location right here in the city.

I had a very pleasant time researching this essay by watching and re-watching dozens of Frisco Bay noirs. I used Nathaniel Rich's 2005 San Francisco Noir as a starting point but also found quite a few titles not mentioned, much less profiled, in his book. It's a wonderful publication, but it contains certain errors of omission. The most glaring, to me, concerns Shakedown, which Rich lumps in with Undercurrent and Blonde Ice as films that "feature no shots of the city nor do they even pretend to be set in any actual San Francisco locations. They rely on flat backdrops, soundstages, and stock footage to create an ersatz San Francisco."

I have to wonder if Rich was ever even able to see a decent copy of Shakedown before writing this. I remembered (from a 2009 Noir City screening) that it had quite a rich cross-section of real city views, not simply grabbed by a second unit but integrated into scenes with the principal cast (Howard Duff, Brian Donlevy, Anne Vernon, etc.) who surely were here to shoot at least some of their scenes. Re-watching it via an exceedingly poor copy (most likely a bootleg from a bad 16mm print, as there has never been a commercial home video release of this title) at a library study center, I could barely make out most of these locations, but the film's sordid tale of an overeager photojournalist fascinated by money and power still sucked me into its grip. I'm certain that this is one of the best noirs ever made in this city, and it's a mystery why it's become a practically-forgotten title.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Roxie at 8:00.

WHY: This rare screening comes at an opportune time. For one, with Star Trek Into Darkness as the new movie of the moment, it's worth noting that Shakedown director Pevney was one of the key directors of the original Star Trek episodes, and the one who suggested bringing in Walter Koenig (with whom he'd made an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents) to play Chekov.

But more importantly, Elliot Lavine's ongoing I Wake Up Dreaming series includes not just this one Pevney film but also his 1955 Female on the Beach, which screens this Sunday.  I've been wanting to see that Joan Crawford starrer for a while now, and I think seeing Shakedown again first will provide the perfect warm-up.

HOW: On a double-bill with William Castle's Undertow, both screened via 35mm prints.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rembetiko (1983)

WHO: Stavros Xarhakos (who also composed the music for Werner Herzog's feature debut Signs of Life) is credited with writing the widely-praised music for this film.

WHAT: Greek war drama Rembetiko won the Silver Bear at the 1984 Berlin Film Festival- essentially the runner-up to John Cassavetes' Love Streams which won the Golden Bear. I haven't seen Rembetiko or most of the films it bested according to the Liv Ullman-headed Berlin jury that year, but if it's truly somewhere in quality between Maurice Pialat's À Nos Amours (which was also in competition but failed to find a prize) and Love Streams, that means it's pretty great

WHERE/WHEN: 7:15 tonight only at the Delancey Street Screening Room, as part of the San Francisco Greek Film Festival.

WHY: You may have noticed that my sidebar has exploded with film festivals happening over the next couple months. These specialty-interest events may not aspire to the glamour of Cannes, or even that of the recently-wrapped San Francisco International Film Festival. But they each provide valuable opportunities to see work rarely screened in theatrical settings, if at all.

Tonight, for instance, the Himalayan Film Festival begins screening (mostly) Nepali and Tibetan titles such as Old Dog at various venues in Berkeley, Oakland, and downtown SF. The Sausalito Film Festival opens Friday in that Marin town that probably has attracted more camera crews over the years than almost any other locale on Frisco Bay. Later this month the SF Green Film Festival arrives, showing environmentally-centered documentaries mostly at the New People Cinema. And in June the New Filipino Cinema fest at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF Indie's Doc Fest at the Roxie, and the Queer Women of Color Film Festival at Brava (in olden days known as the York) join in, with, I'm certain, more early-summer festivals that haven't been detected by my sensors yet.

Further afield there is the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum's late-June Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, named for the cowboy hero whose adventures were being chronicled in the hills and valleys of Southern Alameda County exactly 100 years ago. Even further (out of the "official" geographic domain of this blog and my sidebar, actually, but worth a mention for those up for a short road trip) is the Sacramento Japanese Film Festival, screening titles by Masahiro Kobayashi and  Mikio Naruse as well as one of SFIFF's word-of-mouth hits, the comedy Key of Life at the lovely Crest Theatre in mid-July. 

I'm not proud to say I've never personally sampled any of these festivals, but I do hope to visit at least a few of them in 2013.  I did, however, venture to the Greek Film Festival when it was the first Frisco Bay organization to screen Dogtooth back in 2010. Its venue at the Delancey Street Screening Room right on the Embarcadero is pleasant, convenient by public transport, supports a good cause, and is still equipped with 35mm projectors. I'm glad that this year the festival is taking advantage of this equipment and screening some of its selections on film: two retrospective titles (Rembetiko and, on Saturday afternoon, The Flea) and two new ones (Saturday night's Jace and Sunday's closing night film What If). 

HOW: 35mm