Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Manxman (1929)

WHO: Alfred Hitchcock directed this.

WHAT: The last film Hitchcock made before Blackmail, which was both his last film to be released as a silent film and his first to be released (in an altered version, of course) as a talkie, The Manxman is perhaps the closest the director ever came to making a Frank Borzage-style melodrama along the lines of Lucky Star or The River (both of which were released the same year as Hitchcock's film- was there something in the air?) In fact the director told François Truffaut that it was "not a Hitchcock film", in that he considered it a faithful adaptation of a popular novel by Hall Caine, and not reliant on his own imagination as Blackmail, for instance, had been.

But a close watcher of the director's films would never mistake The Manxman for being someone else's. Not only does it feature three of his favorite actors to work with in this period as the components of its class-conscious love triangle (Carl Brisson from The Ring, Malcolm Keen from The Lodger, and the above-pictured Anny Ondra, who'd return in Blackmail), but the triangle itself echoes the appearance of this structural formulation in many of his earlier films like The Pleasure Garden, The Lodger, Easy Virtue, The Ring, and Champagne. Triangular constructions recur in later Hitchcock films as well, from Dial 'M' For Murder to (albeit perversely) Vertigo.  For these reasons, as well as for Jack Cox's intense, expressionist-influenced photography of the Cornwall-masquerading-as-Mannin locations, this is a must-see for any fan of Hitchcock or of good silent-era storytelling.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley at 6:15.

WHY: It's a big Hitchcock week on Frisco Bay and beyond. Tonight's The Manxman screening wrap up a 9-film addendum to the PFA's Spring series devoted to the master of suspense, making a total of 35 of his films screened there in 2013. But that's not all. The Castro is also screening a 70mm print of Vertigo all weekend, for a total of shows, and is following it Wednesday and Thursday with three films by one of Hitchcock's most famous admirers, Brian De Palma, including his particularly Hitch-inspired Dressed To Kill in 35mm.

Meanwhile in Oakland, the Grand Lake has booted The World's End from its main house in favor of a week-long double bill of Casablanca and Hitchcock's Dial 'M' For Murder in digitally-recreated 3D. I have only seen the latter in dual-projector 35mm so I feel spoiled, but I'm definitely curious to see how the digital 3D version that has replaced the film version that has seemingly become unavailable (even to a 3D festival in Hollywood) in today's DCP-loving climate.

Finally, this weekend up in Bodega Bay (normally outside of my blogging reach but too notable not to pass without mention), Tippi Hedren will be signing autographs and appearing as guest of honor at a dinner and screening of The Birds at The Inn a the Tides. Public tours of normally-inaccessible locations and other events will be held in the Sonoma County town over the weekend as well, including appearances by Hedren's child co-star Veronica Cartwright (who later starred in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Alien among her adult roles).

HOW: The Manxman screens as a DCP. Since last writing about the recently-restored Hitchcock silent films, I've learned that all nine were available to screen on 35mm in Europe (and indeed did this summer in Bologna), but that the five made for the Gainsborough studio are being distributed in the US only digitally. As I recall from watching four of the five at the Castro in June, The Manxman was one of the somewhat less-objectionable digital transfers. It will screen accompanied by Judith Rosenberg at the piano.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Your Face (1987)

WHO: Bill Plympton made this short film.

WHAT: So much animation, even that made by the greatest masters of the artform, relies either on the formulaic elements of story, character, and gag (mastered by Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, etc.) or else these elements' complete erasure (think of the abstractions of Oskar Fischinger or Len Lye). Your Face somehow sits in between these poles perfectly. There is a character, in the form of a man depicted shoulders-up, but he remains an undeveloped everyman whose only real trait is his propensity to be unpredictably manipulated. Gags are decidedly unconventional as well. As for story and structure, it can be summed up as a stream-of-consciousness exploration of the animator's imagination gone wild.

The result is a film that can bring visual pleasure to traditionalists and experimentalists alike. A related but different sort of pleasure is derived from reading Jerry Beck try to describe the action in his 2003 book Outlaw Animation: Cutting-Edge Cartoons from the Spike & Mike Festivals:
The man's head crawls off his neck and runs down his shoulder, his face expands and explodes, it slice apart, it implodes and becomes cubist, and it wraps around itself. Another version of the man enters his right ear and exits his left. His large smile cuts the top part of his head off, his nostrils engulf his face, and multiple heads grow multiple heads.
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: Your Face screens on a program entitled "Totally Strange 80's - Sex, Drugs and Roller Skates", which features other unusual items made during the last truly robust decade of 16mm distribution.

HOW: All films in tonight's program screen in 16mm.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Man From London (2007)

WHO: Béla Tarr co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with his longtime writing partner László Krasznahorkai, and co-directed the film with his (nearly) career-long editor and collaborator Ágnes Hranitzky.

WHAT: Though The Man From London may be generally considered the least successful of the five films made by the Tarr/Hranitsky/Krasznahorkai team, it's still an important work, if only for its place in a body of work that, if Tarr's 2011-announced retirement from directing in favor of schoolmaster duties continues to hold up, will not increase in size. But it's got a tremendous amount of merit even apart from its place in an ouevre or three (or four, if we count critical collaborator composer Mihály Víg, whose contribution to The Man From London in the form of two alternating melodies that were played during the filming of each take, in the tradition of silent filmmakers and Federico Fellini.) Each shot is meticulously planned and performed by the cast and crew, each a mini-narrative that compounds to construct a perhaps less-important meta-narrative. As Tarr told Michael Guillén during an interview:
I'm always listening for the characters and the personalities of the actors. For me, the most important thing is to show you how they are living, how it goes for them in their real life, and how they communicate. Normally, it's mostly eye contact. If you watch someone's eyes for a long time, it's not necessary to use any words because you will begin to understand and will see what is happening. You can see what is happening inside because his or her eyes will tell you and show you.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive at 7:00.

WHY: The PFA's summer calendar is wrapping up this weekend, with The Man From London capping off a Georges Simenon series filled with French, American and Japanese filmmaker riffs on the French detective novelist as well as this unorthodox Hungarian take. Tomorrow and Saturday match the final two features in the venue's Alfred Hitchcock silent series (Easy Virtue and The Manxman) with the final two in its Jacques Demy retrospective (the Young Girls of Rochefort and the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, both encore showings). Barely missing a beat, the PFA will close Sunday and its usual Monday and Tuesday and then re-open next week with the launch of its Alternative Visions series of experimental film and video work, of the rest of a classic Chinese cinema selection, and of a sampling of classic noirs and Westerns populated by character actor Wendell Corey.

I unfortunately was unable to attend any of the Simenon offerings up to now, but I'd like to go tonight, as although I last saw The Man From London a little over a year ago, Tarr/Hranitzky films don't play that often on Frisco Bay, and last summer's Roxie booking wasn't enough to push this film's lifetime tally of local 35mm showings past what you can count using two handfuls of fingers.

Noir may have been named by the French and partly inspired by writers like Simenon, but most of us think of it first and foremost as a Hollywood phenomenon. Therefore, non-American films that may fit the noir style don't get the same frequency of and devotion to in-cinema screens as their counterparts made in the familiar countries of RKO, Universal, Columbia, Republic, etc. So it's wonderful that this PFA series had both foreign and Hollywood films rub elbows. Both the Roxie's annual I Wake Up Dreaming series and the Castro's Noir City focus almost all their attention on American titles, so it's welcome that another venue steps in to fill in a more global context.

But Noir City, at least, has been moving in the direction of branching outside of U.S. borders in its programming; last year ago the festival showed British Bedelia as a comparison to an American classic written by Very Caspary, Laura. Earlier this year the festival held it's first all-British double bill, a Hell Drivers/Night of the Demon pairing of films featuring festival guest Peggy Cummins. And one of the highlights of the festival, though in English, based on an American novel, and featuring some American actors and Chicago locations, was an Argentine production directed by a Frenchman, Native Son.

The Noir City Film Festival has just revealed its 2014 dates via a brand-new poster. Mark your calendar for January 24-February 2, and expect to hear more at a Noir City X-Mas event (won't they ever run out of Christmas-themed noirs to show?) I don't know if the poster image and font it meant to indicate a further branching out on the festival's part, but I have to admit that it's got me thinking back to previous suggestions that Noir City has its eyes on expanding its reach to include more foreign films. I think Noir City audiences are ready to read some subtitles. And if they're not now, perhaps they will by January.

HOW: 35mm print from IFC Films.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

WHO: Stanley Kubrick.

WHAT: 2013 would have been the 50th anniversary of Kubrick's last (and perhaps greatest- though The Killing certainly gives it a run for its money at the least) black-and-white film, had it premiered in December of 1963 as originally scheduled. The film wrapped production in April of that year, but the first advance press screening wasn't scheduled until November 22. This screening was cancelled when news came of President Kennedy's assassination that day, and the film would not be unveiled until January of 1964, as it was felt that audiences would be in no mood for pitch-dark political comedy so soon after. There has even been speculation that the infamous "pie fight" ending of the film was cut because it showed Peter Sellers as President Muffley being hit by a custard confection; Kubrick later maintained he cut it because it didn't fit with the rest of the film's tone.

Bill Krohn describes the film in his excellent book on Kubrick:
Made in England on sound stages and on futuristic locations, Dr. Strangelove (1964) was a meteor. Kubrick had fused documentary realism and grotesque comedy to portray the American military-political establishment as fools and madmen, putting on the screen for the first time the kind of satire made popular by Mad magazine.
WHERE/WHEN: Today at 3:30 and 7:15 at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: With the current news about probable air strikes in Syria, it may not feel like the best day to watch a film that turns the raw material of bombs and international diplomacy into fodder for humor. Then again, maybe today's just the right day to see a thoughtful satire made at the height of the Cold War. Dr. Strangelove screens with another 1960s nuclear-themed comedy made in England, Richard Lester's The Bed-Sitting Room; I haven't seen that one as it's far rarer, but Kubrick's film, at least, doesn't feel the least bit like escapism. Sometimes comedy is the best method of addressing the horrors of the world.

HOW: Though its double-bill-mate The Bed-Sitting Room screens in 35mm, Dr. Strangelove will screen digitally from a 4K restoration prepared by Sony's Grover Crisp. This version has screened before in the North Bay and the South Bay but I'm pretty sure this is the debut presentation of this digital version in San Francisco. Sort of.

In July 2012 the San Francisco Silent Film Festival brought Crisp to the Castro to show off the digital Dr. Strangelove by giving it a head-to-head competition against the first reel of a 35mm print of the film, both with the sound muted so Crisp could speak and answer questions from the audience. It was an interesting presentation, held on a much larger screen than a similar presentation in New York earlier in the year. I would be more interested to see a head-to-head between a digital Strangelove (or any 4K restoration) and a newly-struck print of a photo-chemical restoration, rather than with an average release print struck years ago. But those who felt the DCP handily "won" the match-up will finally get to see the full version at the Castro today.

If you've ever thought Dr. Strangelove would be better or truer to Kubrick's vision if the level of image detail was so clear that you could identify objects on the table reflected in the mirror behind Tracy Reed in the bravura single-shot scene pictured above, you might prefer this DCP version. I for one am not convinced that this degree of image clarity was intended by Kubrick (who surely considered the contemporary capabilities of lab reproduction of prints as well as he did other details like attendance patterns at urban theatres across the U.S. or projectionist changeover) in the first place. I hope the presence of a DCP version of Dr. Strangelove doesn't mean we'll never see a 35mm print and its attendant flicker and filmic quality that Kubrick probably never expected his films to lose when projected in cinemas. I have a feeling the Castro will also show The Shining on DCP when it comes (via the new September calendar) a month from now. But I'd love to be proven wrong when the theatre announces the formats for the coming month's films, which I expect to be any day now.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The World's End (2013)

WHO: Edgar Wright directed and co-wrote this.

WHAT: I haven't seen this film yet, but I'm very excited to check it out. I liked Shaun of the Dead quite a bit, but turned into a bona fide Edgar Wright fan after seeing it screen along with two of his subsequent films which I'd missed upon general release, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World and Hot Fuzz, at an epic MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS screening two years ago, with the writer-director at the Castro in person to discuss his career between each film. 

Last month, MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS founder and impresario Jesse Ficks hosted another triple-bill, this time at the Metreon and with both Wright and The World's End/Hot Fuzz/Shaun of the Dead co-writer and lead actor Simon Pegg in attendance. I wasn't able to attend but reports on the event have been trickling out ever since. Someone named Ira, writing at Jason Watches Movies, says that "This last film of the trilogy, all three of which have at least to some extent revolved around drinking and pubs, is inarguably the "drunkest" of the three, and yet, it is also the most sobering." Meanwhile, Nathalie Barringer, recorded some quotes from Pegg and Wright from their q-and-a after The World's End, including this gem from the director:
Growing up in a small town, you start to imagine what's going on between closed doors. I think it made me more of a daydreamer. I can remember saying to my friends, 'every time I come back it feels like Bodysnatchers,' and there's a film in that!
WHERE/WHEN: Screens multiple showtimes daily at the Grand Lake, the Vogue, and probably at your local multiplex as well.

WHY: Did you know The World's End was shot in 35mm? And is currently screening in 35mm at the beautiful Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland? I need to attend the Grand Lake more often. Not only is it a vintage theatre with beautiful decor, as tastefully 'plexed into a four-screen venue as I can imagine (and therefore a world away from a cookie-cutter chain theatre), but it's locally owned and operated, and even retains the ability to show 35mm (and even, as last Fall's booking of The Master proved, 70mm) prints as well a digital. Currently all of its four houses are running films on 35mm: Fruitvale Station on the spacious (former) balcony, Kick-Ass 2 in one of the smaller downstairs rooms, We're the Millers alternating with The Way, Way Back (the latter a digital presentation) in the other small room, and The World's End in the main theatre, where it will be preceded by a Wurlitzer organ performance before the Friday and Saturday evening shows.

If traveling to Oakland is just not your bag, it's possible to see The World's End on DCP elsewhere. May I suggest the Vogue in San Francisco as the best digital option, as it is also locally owned and operated, and a single-screen theatre. Though it converted its projection equipment to state-of-the-art digital earlier this year, I'm told it actually retains the ability to screen 35mm prints on occasion, a fact which helped it snare two of the six mini-festivals that will make up the San Francisco Film Society's Fall Season in the coming months. I'm encouraged that this means we'll be seeing at least a few 35mm titles from Hong Kong and/or Taiwan as part of the SFFS presentations.

HOW: 35mm at the Grand Lake, digital elsewhere.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Drug War (2012)

WHO: Johnnie To directed and co-produced this.

WHAT: In his essay in the 2007 book Hong Kong Film: Hollywood and the New Global Cinema, Peter Rist proposes that Johnnie To is "the most prominent Hong Kong film director/producer not to have tried his luck in Hollywood". If prominence is measured in critical acclaim and festival acceptance in Euope and North America, it's hard to think of another candidate for this title. (If there are other measurements, then Stephen Chow, Ann Hui, and other possibilities might be considered.) Though Rist's piece suggests the director could fit right into the Hollywood filmmaking system, in six years after publication, To has still resisted such a call. Instead, he's been making advances into mainland China and its rapidly growing theatrical market, Drug War is, like Romancing In Thin Air,  a Hong Kong/China co-production, and was filmed in China, in this case in the cities of Jinhai and Erzhou.

David Bordwell has published a detailed analysis of Drug War with special attention given to several of its most memorable scenes, but I'm equally thankful for his publication of Grady Hendrix;s analysis of the film as a viewpoint on China vis-a-vis Hong Kong. An excerpt from his analysis (published as an addendum to Bordwell's article) follows:
The cops in the film are China personified: they have unlimited resources, massive numbers, infinite organization, but they are heartless towards outsiders, unforgiving, and they don’t trust anyone. The criminals are all the stereotypes of Hong Kong-ers: they are family, they are stylish and chic, they eat meals together (Hong Kong people love to eat, after all) but they are only interested in money.
Drug War is one of the best new movies I've seen all summer, and is highly recommended if you can squeeze in a showing.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens through this Thursday at the 4-Star at 1:00, 4:50, and 8:40 daily.

WHY: When I hear the term "neighborhood theatre" I think first of the 4-Star, located in the heart of the Richmond District, where I grew up. There were other theatres in my old 'hood, including the Balboa (which still survives and is currently running a Kickstarter campaign in the hopes of extending its survival for at least another decade), the Alexandria (which has been closed for nearly a decade now but still stand), the Bridge (which just closed last December), the Coliseum (which was gutted in 2000 and is now virtually unrecognizable as a Walgreens) and the Coronet (which was shut in 2005 and has since been demolished). But the 4-Star was the closest to my house and the one I walked past just about every day on the way to school. Mostly it played art films of no interest to an average kid, but I do remember occasionally attending for a special repertory screening of something like The Wizard of Oz. When I first began reading newspaper movie reviews and articles as a teenager I remember being thrilled to learn that my neighborhood theatre was to be showing Vincent Ward's The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey and I determined to be among the crowds lining up for a first-day showing as I had for Tim Burton's Batman a few weeks (if I remember the timeline correctly) before. I was surprised to be one of a small handful of people in the theatre at all. I didn't quite get that there was a difference in public awareness and acceptance of a Hollywood fantasy film vis-a-vis a foreign-made, independently distributed one.

In 1992 the theatre operation was taken over by Frank Lee, who had grown up in the business of operating Chinatown theatres and was looking to expand Chinese-language cinema to a neighborhood sometimes called "New Chinatown" or "Second Chinatown". Since then Lee has frequently screened Chinese-language classics and new releases sent directly from Asian distributors, along with films distributed by American outfits. This is where I saw my first Milkyway Production, Too Many Ways To Be #1 (directed by Wai Ka-Fei), which instantly made me a fan, as well as many Johnnie To films including several which never had "official" US distribution but played for a week or more at the 4-Star: My Left Eye Sees Ghosts, Throw Down and (for my money To's greatest masterpiece) Sparrow come to mind. In the past several years the 4-Star's programming of Chinese-language films has become more sporadic than consistent, but I'm always glad to see when they program Asian films. I'm especially pleased that after Drug War's expected run ends Thursday, Wong Kar-Wai's latest film The Grandmaster will open for at least a week starting this Friday August 30th, in a 35mm print. I'll be surprised if this martial arts film, which was shot mostly on 35mm cameras, will be showing on 35mm anywhere else in the Frisco Bay region.

HOW: Drug War was shot digitally and is being projected digitally.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

WHO: Luis Buñuel wrote and directed this.

WHAT: Of all the Buñuel films I've never seen, this is the "never-seeniest"- that is, the one I feel most embarrassed to have as a gap in my viewing history (followed closely by Viridiana.)  Only ten films I've never seen received more votes as "top ten greatest films" by the critics responding to last year's Sight & Sound poll. But I've been awaiting an in-cinema screening for more than a dozen years, and none have materialized in Frisco Bay in that period. Here's a few lines from Manny Farber on the film:
Very tense, puzzling, sinister, and yet extraordinarily stodgy, this is the least anecdotal Buñuel and the most redolent of the Barrier effect that seems to murmur through his films. Once it is anchored inside the spellbound chamber, the movie becomes increasingly desperate, festering, pock-marked with strange crowdedness, bedding conditions, and particularly with powerful images--a Goyaesque scene of people in soiled, crumpled evening clothes, huddled around a fire built of smashed violins and eighteenth-century furniture, in the center of an elegant sitting room, and gnawing on mutton bones.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at 7:30 at The Tannery in Berkeley, as presented by the Berkeley Underground Film Society.

WHY: Most serious cinephiles have seen The Exterminating Angel, if only on DVD or another home media format. I suspect I'm part of a larger group of local cinephiles who has never attended a Berkeley Undergound Film Society screening. I'm told these are donation-only events held in an informal space on Gilman Avenue in North Berkeley. Every Sunday for the past few years the organization has hosted screenings of 16mm, 8mm, or Super-8 reduction prints of classic films, just the kind of prints that you used to find running in a classroom before the advent of DVD projection and its conveniences and compromises in that setting. They have a website but I find it easier to keep track of their upcoming screenings via the oh-so-useful Bay Area Film Calendar maintained by Carl Martin of the Film On Film Foundation.

The Exterminating Angel is the last full-length feature completed by Buñuel before he returned to the country in which his film career started: France. (He did make the brilliant 42-minute Simon of the Desert in the country, in between his French-produced Diary of a Chambermaid and Belle Du Jour.)  After a summer season of American-made films, tonight's BUFS showing kicks off more than a month of foreign-language films, all of the following of them French: Jacques Tati's M. Hulot's Holiday, Julien Duvivier's Pepe Le Moko, Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved From Drowning, Jean-Luc Godard's A Married Woman, and Jean Concteau's Blood of a Poet, each screening on one of September's five Sundays.

HOW: An Exterminating Angel screens on 16mm.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Showgirls (1995)

WHO: Elizabeth Berkeley stars in this.

WHAT: Showgirls was the first film rated NC-17 by the MPAA to receive a wide release in US theatres. It flopped, and signaled to major studios that they needed to make sure their mainstream theatrical releases went no higher than 'R' (though these days 'PG-13' is more customary), and ever since the NC-17 rating has been essentially relegated to films aimed solely at the art-house or home video markets. 

But in the meantime, Showgirls has become a cult phenomenon in those markets, screening to enthusiastic fans as a midnight offering in the former, and being frequently re-published in increasingly elaborate DVD packages for the latter. Not only has it found a growing fan club, it's also become re-evaluated by critics and academics and even highbrow filmmakers like Jacques Rivette. I hate to name any review as 'definitive' but I have to admit that I pretty much consider Eric Henderson's masterful 2004 write-up for Slant to be just that. Here's a sample:
Gleefully inspiring audiences everywhere to challenge conventional definitions of "good" and "bad" cinema, Showgirls is undoubtedly the think-piece object d'art of its time. It is Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas's audaciously experimental satire-but-not-satire, an epically mounted "white melodrama" (to borrow Tag Gallagher's description of Sirk's early, less mannered, and more overtly humanistic comedies of error) and also one of the most astringent, least compromised critiques of the Dream Factory ever unleashed on a frustrated, perpetually (and ideologically) pre-cum audience. Many things to many people, and absolutely nothing to a great deal more, Showgirls's proponents and detractors still square off, digging nine-foot trenches in the sand (some planting their heads therein instead of their feet) and lobbing accusations of elitism and anti-pleasure. It is perhaps one of the only films to bridge that critical gap between Film Quarterly (which hosted a beyond extensive critical roundtable on the film last year) and Joe Bob Briggs.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Castro Theatre at 8:00.

WHY: I've already related on this blog my story of experiencing Showgirls for the first time. Since writing that piece, I attended two more screenings of the film hosted by Peaches Christ, the last two held at the Bridge Theatre before the annual summer party moved to the Castro Theatre in 2010, with an according ticket-price hike and shift from midnight to prime time. I have to admit that my Peaches Christ devotion dried up around the time of this venue move. I attended dozens of Midnight Mass presentations at the Bridge in part because they were fairly inexpensive and didn't conflict with other potential Saturday evening plans. The Castro shows were said to be better-choreographed and more spectacular (thus deserving of their extra cost) but I found it hard to get motivated to attend one. It may not have helped that the films selected to fill the Castro have to skew more toward mainstream mass-appeal- true oddities like William Castle's Strait-Jacket or Paul Bartel's Death Race 2000 have to be passed up in favor of more well-known films like Mommie Dearest and Purple Rain. (Although a 2013 development of including documentaries like Paris Is Burning and - up next October 12th - Grey Gardens in the program rotation is certainly welcome.)

But tonight's 16th presentation of Showgirls feels like the right time to rejoin the annual tradition. I finally attended my first Peaches Christ presentation at the Castro this summer, helped along by a return to a midnight time slot and lower ticket prices (courtesy Frameline). It didn't matter that the movie screened, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, didn't become a new favorite, or that the on-stage interview with actor Mark Patton & cinematographer Jacques Haitkin was more awkward than Peaches' interviews I've seen conducted at the Bridge (including Mink Stole, Mary Woronov and Cassandra Peterson). The over-the-top, highly-polished, exquisitely costumed and cast stage show that opened the presentation was worth the ticket price alone. It may be hard to believe that  seeing a Freddie-faced and fedora'd drag queen in a form-fitting orange-and-grey-striped sweater wreak havoc with her claws while lip-synching to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" would be one of the most thrilling live performances I've seen in a long time, but it's the truth. And I'm realizing that, as elaborate and entertaining as the Bridge Theatre Showgirls stage shows got, they'll surely be handily topped by a company that can make full use of a stage built in 1922 for dancing usherettes (such as future Best Actress Academy Award-winner Janet Gaynor). It's got to be the closest thing to being in Vegas next to actually going there!

For those seeking more intellectual stimulation, tonight's screening can launch an in-cinema study of the history of "adults-only" rated movies over the next few months. A good deal of landmark X- and NC-17-rated movies are coming to local theatres in the near future. In just a few weeks, Salo and Arabian Nights screen as part of the Roxie's contribution to this Autumn's Pier Paolo Pasolini celebration; both films will be repeated in October as part of the Pacific Film Archive's full retrospective of the director's work. The PFA is also showing the recent NC-17 sensation Killer Joe in a William Friedkin series (he'll be in attendance at the September 21st screening). 

I've also been tipped off to the titles involved in an all-35mm series of non-pornographic X-rated films  expected to play Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in October through December: Midnight Cowboy (in case you missed it this past week at the Castro), Last Tango In Paris, Fritz the Cat, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Bad Timing, and Henry & June are all expected to screen as part of this series, and provide a pretty good cross-section of films that have become classics despite (or perhaps in some cases because of) an adults-only rating. Hopefully healthy audiences too young to have experienced these when they originally appeared in theatres will turn out to see them in a cinema setting. There's a few on the list I've never seen at all and will definitely be making a priority.

Finally, the Castro's Coming Soon page indicates a few titles that make interesting contrasts to the aforementioned MPAA-"scarlet lettered" titles. Whether re-cutting a movie in order to change an initial NC-17 rating to an R, as Paul Thomas Anderson did with Boogie Nights (screening September 28th), or simply declining to submit a film for a rating at all, as with Paul Schrader's The Canyons (screening with Abel Ferrara's Dangerous Game Sep. 11), there have always been options for filmmakers trying to release films containing adult themes, even if each of them involves its own set of drawbacks.

HOW: Showgirls screens in 35mm, with an extensive live stage show performed beforehand.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Titicut Follies (1967)

WHO: Frederick Wiseman was a Boston University law professor who had produced one of Shirley Clarke's feature films (The Cool World) when he took his students to the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater, where he was appalled enough at the inmates' living conditions that he became inspired to make his first documentary film about it.

WHAT: Titicut Follies was the result of Wiseman's first stab at directing a documentary, and it quickly became a lightning rod for controversy, becoming banned from screenings within the state of Massachusetts until 1991 when its legal injunction was finally lifted. In the meantime, the film had become a documentary classic and the foundation of a prolific filmmaking career for Wiseman, now considered a major figure in an important strand of filmmaking sometimes called cinéma vérité, observational cinema, or direct cinema, all terms he's gone on record as disliking when applied to his work. Paula Rabinowitz uses another term, "living cinema" in a discussion of Titicut Follies.
Living cinema puts down institutions by miming them precisely and thus showing that they are highly unstable, filled with private zones of pain, humiliation, anguish, joy, pleasure, and mockery. They work on those subject to them through everyday encounters with authority. THey are shameful places because they are so shameless in their guilelessness, their arrogance. In an excruciating scene from Titicut Follies, Dr Ross forcefeeds a resisting patient and keeps up a running commentary about what a good boy this patient is. We watch as the doctor's cigarette ash grows impossibly long, horrified, praying it won't fall into the funnel filling with the liquid which is poured through the patient's nose into his stomach. The sheer casualness of the scene, the regularity with which this must have happened, is clear from the relaxed banter; nothing out of the ordinary here.
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: As Wiseman's career as a filmmaker sprouted from his career in academia, it's perhaps no surprise that he has chosen to focus his films on institutions (they've been called "walled city" films because they usually look intensely at a particular location, whether a zoo, a hospital, a dance company, etc, as kind of a microcosm of larger society.) What's more surprising is the fact that, although he's made films at primary and secondary schools (e.g. High School and Mulit-Handicapped) and military training facilities (e.g. Missile) he's never made a film about a University. 

I believe he's also never made a film about a Frisco Bay institution. Until now. Wiseman's latest film, just now being launched on the international film festival circuit, is called At Berkeley, and promises to be a particularly illuminating look at the only Bay Area campus of the University of California. I've been excited to see Wiseman's films before, but I'm dying to see this one, and only wish I could attend the Venice, Toronto or New York Film Festival, which are set to, respectively, host the World, North American, and U.S. premieres of the documentary.

Though At Berkeley will at some point appear on our local PBS affiliate I'm sure, as it was produced with public television dollars. But Wiseman's films deserve cinema screenings. I wonder what Frisco Bay venue might be likely to showcase it. The Pacific Film Archive is the local venue which has probably screened more Wiseman films than any other, having held a hefty retrospective ten years ago and having given Titicut Follies its most recent local showing before tonight. But since the PFA is part of UC Berkeley, I wonder if it may want to stay at arm's length from the first inward turn of Wiseman's camera. The history of institutions unhappy with his portrayals begins with Titicut Follies but has continued throughout his career; most recently it was Madison Square Garden which has effectively squelched any public screenings of Wiseman's 2004 film The Garden to this day.

The first hope comes in the form of the Mill Valley Film Festival, which sometimes is able to co-ordinate dates with NYFF in order to allow a West Coast premiere shortly after the East Coast one in New York. If not them, the San Francisco Film Society is another candidate, although At Berkeley would only fit into its just-announced Fall Season if the mission of its Cinema By The Bay showcase in late November is expanded from its usual focus on works made by local filmmakers, to include works made locally by outsiders as well. A move that might not sit very well with local makers. But Cinema By the Bay screens at the Roxie, which has given week-long runs to Wiseman's most recent features, Crazy Horse, Boxing Gym and La Danse: the Paris Opera Ballet. But At Berkeley is a very long film to make economic sense in a regular theatrical engagement; at 244 minutes it's even longer than the last film not to make it to a Frisco Bay cinema screen, State Legislature. Who knows if even the local angle can overcome such an impediment outside a film festival setting? At any rate, the Roxie has recently been revealing its fall calendar, and so far there's no sign of a Wiseman film through mid-October (though there is a week of 35mm prints of Rainer Werner Fassbinder films and another week of what may be the ultimate "stolen location" movie Escape From Tomorrow

Whether or not Frisco Bay cinemagoers will have a chance to see At Berkeley before it airs on television, they'll surely get more out of it if they're somewhat familiar with Wiseman's style. So attending tonight's rare showing of Titicut Follies is highly recommended for anyone who hasn't seen it before.

HOW: Titicut Follies screens in 16mm along with two terrific short collage films by Arthur Lipsett, one of the early filmmaker influences on a USC film student named George Lucas.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

WHO: Val Lewton produced, and contributed quite a bit to the screenplay of, this picture.

WHAT: This is a beautiful film with a terribly inappropriate title. Though it is a sequel to Lewton's 1942 atmospheric horror picture Cat People in that it shares characters from that film (including Irena, again played by the always-luminous Simone Simon), it does not involve them in a horror situation this time out, and instead focuses on the inner life of a little girl, played by child actor Ann Carter. The picture has been annoying genre purists and enchanting more open-minded audiences ever since.

Among the first to be enchanted was the great critic James Agee, who declared it one of the best films of 1944 despite its flaws (it was completed on an incredibly low budget and time-frame, re-using sets from A-pictures like the Magnificent Ambersons as Lewton's productions were wont to do.) Agee particularly singled out the performances of Simone and, though unnamed in his review, Carter and another actor, Sir Lancelot (also seen in Lewton's I Walked With A Zombie and The Ghost Ship), whose role was re-fashioned by Lewton from that of a "middle-aged female Down Easter housekeeper" found in DeWitt Bodeen's original written treatment. Here's an excerpt of Agee's article as re-published in Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism:
I wish that the makers of the film, and RKO, might be given some special award for the whole conception and performance of the family servant, who is one of the most unpretentiously sympathetic, intelligent, anti-traditional, and individualized Negro characters I have ever seen presented on the screen. And I hope that producer Val Lewton, and rest of the crew may be left more to their own devices; they have a lot of taste and talent, and they are carrying films a long way out of Hollywood.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens today and tomorrow at the Stanford Theatre at 6:10 and 8:55 PM.

WHY: Sequels are always better than originals, right? Okay, maybe not. But in a summer in which nearly all the top moneymakers have been sequels, reboots, or sequels to reboots, and in which even a nigh-upcoming film that shares cast and crew but not setting or character with two other features, is being promoted (at least jokingly, to fans) as the third part in a trilogy, it seems clear that moviegoers like sequels.

I generally don't, I must confess. I usually feel like, if I wanted to get enjoyment out of recurring characters, I'd watch television shows instead of movies. But who am I kidding? I know I love to see my favorite classic film stars portray the same sorts of roles again and again, even if they don't reuse the same character names and back-stories. And I love to watch recurring characters in short cartoons. Anti-sequel snobbery would shut me out from watching The Godfather Part II (at the Castro this Sunday, for instance) or Gods of the Plague (part of the Pacific Film Archive Fassbinder series in October) or next week's Stanford Theatre offering Three Smart Girls Grow Up. And it would blind me from an appreciation of a magical little film like The Curse of the Cat People as surely as horror fans have been blinded by their preference for one genre over another.

HOW: The Curse of the Cat People screens from a 35mm print, on a double-bill with Cat People.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Autumn Spectrum (1957)

WHO: Hy Hirsh made this short film. Hirsch was a friend and contemporary of Harry Smith and Jordan Belson, and would perhaps be as well known as these compatriot animators if his life had not been cut short by a 1961 automobile accident in Paris.

WHAT: "Sensuous reflections in Amsterdam canals". There is very little written about Autum Spectrum in the literature I've been able to come across. Amos Vogel's five-word program note for a March 1959 showing along with films by Robert Breer, Stan Brakhage, etc, is perhaps the most useful I've found, although others have also noted its use of the Modern Jazz Quartet's performance of "Autumn in New York", and its similarity to Dimitri Kirsanoff's 1929 film Autumn Fire. I have not seen the film yet myself, but I've enjoyed the handful of Hirsh films I've seen thus far very much.

WHERE/WHEN: 8:30 tonight at the Exploratorium.

WHY: When the Exploratorium moved to its new Pier 15 site in April after three months of closure following a 44-year stint at its original Palace of Fine Arts location, there was great optimism about the possibilities offered by a brand new space. Many filmmakers and film lovers had great affection for the old McBean Theatre, a geodesic dome constructed within the cavernous old site, and a venue for afternoon and (occasionally) evening screenings of films that "nurture [audience] curiosity about the world around them", in line with the museum's mission statement. Just last December I said "good-bye" to the McBean at a screening of several short experimental films including one of my favorite "old film" discoveries of last year, Barry Spinello's Sonata For Pen, Brush and Ruler. But the promise of a brand-new, ahead-of-the-state-of-the-art screening space with more comfortable seats, better sight lines, and a highly innovative multi-channel sound set-up, even though it was not expected to open until Fall of 2013, made the future of Cinema Arts at the beloved institution seem bright.

This space, the Kanbar Forum, has begun being used ahead of schedule, with little fanfare amongst local cinephiles. Earlier this summer I attended an outdoor screening of rarely-shown films and videos by Charles & Ray Eames, Rock Ross, Thorstein Fleisch, Jessica Oreck, and others on the terrace of the museum, a lovely spot to watch solar-themed shorts on the eve of the summer solstice. Two more outdoor screenings were to follow in July and August, but tonight's showing has, according to the Exploratorium website, been moved to the Kanbar. If so, I'm hoping to check out that space for the first time, and hope it will be the first of many visits to the space. Another screening (a space-themed one) occurs there three times this Saturday, while on September 28th the venue hosts a tantalizing collection of fog-centric films including Gary Beydler's Hand Held Day, which I've been desperate to see since reading Max Goldberg write on it a few years ago. More upcoming Kanbar screenings including local premieres of Exploratorium-commissioned works by Sam Green and Paul Clipson.

With last week's Chronicle article on financial woes at the unique museum resulting in large-scale layoffs, I hope that the Cinema Arts department isn't sunk before it's been given a chance to make much of an impact in its new space.  A comment appearing to be made by an employee on the article leads me to wonder if lower-than-projected attendance figures are the only major reason for the layoffs of longstanding staff, so I'm not going to jump to any conclusions. But I think the Frisco Bay cinephile community would like to do its part to support the venue no matter what the behind-the-curtain problems may be going on, especially when rare and important films like this one are among those being shown there.

HOW: Autumn Spectrum screens as a 16mm projection, on a program of other "films that reflect on the changes in our landscapes—and psyches—as the seasons shift."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Act of Killing (2012)

WHO: Joshua Oppenheimer directed this film, along with Christine Cynn and another, anonymous, co-director.

WHAT: The Act of Killing is not just a movie. It's a starting point for discussion, understanding, and hopefully transformative political change- and not just in the country where it was filmed. It's a very 21st-century documentary, in that it cannot be fully comprehended by an audience unfamiliar with Indonesia's political history. If you don't know this history at all (and perhaps even if you do), you are likely to walk away from a viewing of the film with some serious misapprehensions about it.
But watching is a powerful experience no matter what your level of foreknowledge. Complaints that the film needs more context ignore two things: the fact that in 2013 it's increasingly easy for many if not most viewers to do enough basic research after being moved by a screening that they'll have sufficient ability to understand what they missed, and the fact that a less-informed viewer might be able to better apply the universal themes about the nature of humanity to contexts outside Indonesia, than an informed viewed might.

Part of the paradox is that the film's power to shock us out of complacency comes in part from its strangeness and surprises. Which means it's probably best for a fresh viewer not to do much if any reading about the film before viewing it, especially if they're not well-versed in Indonesian politics. Thus I'm avoiding saying much about the film at all. But if you absolutely must read about the film before watching it, I'll point to Arya Ponto's review as one I really appreciated reading after my own viewing.

WHERE/WHEN: Multiple showtimes daily through Thursday at the Opera Plaza Cinema, the Shattuck in Berkeley, and the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. It will remain for another week at the Opera Plaza starting Friday, but disappear from the other two venues. It will return to the East Bay September 13-19 at the New Parkway in Oakland.

WHY: Mid-August is the time of year when film festivals are few and far between and mainstream Hollywood films aren't even expected to be very good by their most ardent fans. So it's a perfect time to catch up with new arthouse releases, of which this is probably the most "important" and unusual currently in local cinemas.

HOW: All three venues currently screening this digitally-produced documentary are doing so digitally and in the 122-minute version. I'm hoping the all-digital New Parkway or another local venue will consider showing the 159-minute extended cut (which I believe has not screened at any Bay Area venue).

Monday, August 19, 2013

Portrait of Jason (1967)

WHO: Shirley Clarke directed this film, and Jason Holliday is in practically every frame of it..

WHAT: I saw this film at SFMOMA in 2009, partially under advisement from my friend Brecht Andersch, who wrote these words as part of a more extensive article at the time:
In 1967, when Clarke’s documentary Portrait of Jason hit the theaters, it was undoubtedly a shock. While gay films of the exuberantly campy, fantastical variety had been bubbling up from the 16mm Underground, Jason was the first of these to “get serious”. Adopting the mantle of cinéma-vérité (truth film), and appearing in art houses blown up to 35mm, Jason confronted adventurous viewers with a wholly new cinematic experience: 100 minutes on the silver screen of a talented, tortured, yet unabashed black queen more than ready for her close-up in the one-woman show of a lifetime. The film’s proceedings have lost none of their power to enthrall and disturb.
WHERE/WHEN: Currently in the middle of a Roxie Theater week-long run, it screens nightly at 7:00. through Thursday.

WHY: Last summer it was The Connection, and the fall brought us Ornette Made in America. Portrait of Jason marks the third of five features made by the great New York City filmmaker Shirley Clarke during her turbulent career. All three were restored and made available by Milestone Film & Video, and will hopefully be followed by a theatrical and DVD release of perhaps Clarke's most urgent piece of filmmaking, The Cool World (produced by Frederick Wiseman). I also wouldn't mind having a chance to see Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel With The World (perhaps accompanied by one or more of Clarke's experimental short films) in a cinema sometime soon, even though it's already been released on DVD by the company.  In the meantime, a week-long engagement of Portrait of Jason is something to cheer about, share with friends and neighbors, and support in any way conceivable. Thanks, Milestone & Roxie, for giving us this opportunity!

HOW: 35mm print.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Solaris (1972)

WHO: Andrei Tarkovsky directed this.

WHAT: It's been a while since I've seen Solaris, so let me lean on acquarello's article on the film:
Solaris is an unsettling portrait of man’s inequitable, often destructive interaction with his environment. Inherent in the tenets of the Solaris mission is a preconceived theoretical filter that accepts only those phenomena that can be logically explained or physically proven.
WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Castro Theatre at 4:50 PM.

WHY: If ever there was a filmmaker whose work deserves to be seen in the cinema, it's Tarkovsky. His style lies at that nexus of spectacular in its image composition, crying out to be projected on the largest screen possible, and extraordinary subtle, demanding the patience and concentration that is so hard to replicate anywhere but in the hallowed ground of a cinema space.

Recently I've had a number of conversations with cinephiles who have written off the Castro as a venue for watching serious films by master filmmakers. They've been burned by one too many, or at least one too memorable, a bad experience. Attending in hopes of connecting with a favorite admired work on the big screen, they found it impossible to appreciate the film because they were so distracted and distressed by their fellow audience laughter at a film that they feel deserves a more respectful hearing. A film like Night of the Hunter or Voyage In Italy can be spellbinding, but being surrounded by snickers and guffaws at a delivery of dialogue that was certainly not meant to be funny, but that rings incongruous to modern ears and therefore can elicit laughter, can break the spell. It can be hard to be present with a film if too much of your mental energy is expended on being angry at everyone else's inability to appreciate a masterpiece.

It's not just the Castro that can be home to such audience reactions. The Roxie and even the Pacific Film Archive have also been known to draw audience members sometimes uninterested in trying to take a serious film seriously. (For some reason the Stanford tends to be relatively immune to the phenomenon). But the Castro is most frequently mentioned in these conversations, for whatever reasons.

I try to remind that the reactions are not universal even at the Castro, and that there's no reason to fear inappropriate laughter ruinung a trip there most days of the year. Obviously, comedies are safe, as laughing at intentionally funny material is never inappropriate. Silent films and foreign-language films are generally immune to these reactions as well, as the outbursts seem to be triggered almost exclusively by dialogue spoken in English, using a cadence or vocabulary that perhaps seems stilted to certain members of the audience. (So Solaris should come away unscathed). Relatively recent films also tend to be protected, although the cutoff year may shift depending on gravitas and budget. I do think that next weekend's showing of the Godfather Part 2 and Heat should be essentially laughless.

In fact, looking at the current and upcoming films on the Castro schedule, it seems great care is being taken to select few films that might be taken as unintentionally hilarious to viewers not plugged into their makers' wavelength. If you consider Showgirls a serious drama you'll probably want to avoid the campfest screening hosted by Peaches Christ next Saturday night. I'm a little concerned about how Scanners will be taken after having read Calum Marsh's recent piece inspired by a showing of another David Cronenberg film in Toronto recently.

But for the most part, the Castro's late-August and September calendars look packed with the kinds of films either unlikely to be laughed at, or unlikely to bother anyone if they are laughed at.

HOW: 35mm print, on a double-bill with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

WHO: Composer John Williams is, as far as I'm concerned, the most crucial creative contributor to this film.

WHAT: Everyone knows this film. But did you know that an important scene in this film was shot (though not set) in San Francisco, with both Harrison Ford and Karen Allen filmed on location in a familiar SF environment? No, I'm not talking about the brief, actorless shot of the Golden Gate Bridge represented by the screen capture above. Hint: it's a location shared by Gus Van Sant's biopic Milk.

I thought I was a pretty eagle-eyed spotter of my city in films, and had even accepted the task of writing a short essay on the subject in the book World Film Locations: San Francisco, which is newly available for purchase at finer Frisco Bay stores including City Lights and Moe's. But it wasn't until I opened my copy of the book that I realized the San Francisco connection to Raiders of the Lost Ark

The format of the World Film Locations series (of which there are more than twenty published so far) is that each book features about forty-five individual scenes from about forty-five different movies, each highlighting one of about forty-five different locations in the city. Most of the featured films are better known for their San Francisco-ness than Raiders of the Lost Ark but I was glad to learn about it and other unexpected entries among the selections. Now I want to revisit the film again, as it's been years since I've seen it in its entirety.

WHERE/WHEN: This morning at the Balboa Theatre only at 10:00 AM.

WHY: George Lucas has long been one of the foremost proponents of digital production and presentation, so it's no surprise that his movies are among those no longer available in 35mm distribution prints. As more and more titles fall into this category it leaves a neighborhood theatre like the Balboa with the option of screening a Blu-Ray or nothing at all. I've heard rumors that some companies (Disney and Fox were mentioned) are becoming reluctant to allow their library to be screened via Blu-Ray in cinemas, meaning only theatres with DCP capability can host showings of their titles. 

Thus the Balboa is holding what I believe to be the first "go digital or go dark"  kickstarter campaign to hit San Francisco. These crowd-funding appeals for funds to purchase new DCP-level projection equipment have been spreading across the nation in 2012 and 2013, thanks to major studio threats to make it impossible for a commercial theatre to legally screen any of their properties in formats other than DCP. The closest-to-home theatre to attempt one of these campaigns before the Balboa was the Rio Vista, a Quonset hut cinema up on the Russian River Noeth if Frisco Bay. Their campaign was successful, and it's looking pretty good for the Balboa too, as it's about halfway to its goal for bringing DCP to one of its two theatres, with 40 days left in the campaign. 

Meanwhile the venue is showing, along with 35mm prints of two of the only mainstream releases available that way (the Butler and Elysium), less-than-DCP quality digital screenings of all three 1980s Indiana Jones movies on successive Saturdays in August, and a documentary on VHS tape collectors that was reviewed by Cheryl Eddy in this week's Bay Guardian.

Finally, for fans of Lucas and John Williams and Harrison Ford and digital projection, it's just been announced that the Mill Valley Film Festival will screen Return of the Jedi at the Corte Madera Cinema October 7th. Beside Still Waters is the only other announced festival title so far; it plays October 12th.

HOW: Raiders of the Lost Ark screens as a Blu-Ray projection. A free popcorn and drink are included in the $10 ticket price.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Tenebrae (1982)

WHO: Dario Argento directed this, and Goblin provided the musical soundtrack.

WHAT: I haven't seen this one before, so I'll leave the description to Argento biographer James Gracey:
Now recognised as a slyly reflexive and deconstructive commentary on not only Argento's own body of work but also the conventions of the Italian giallo, Tenebrae has experienced a critical reappraisal because of its underlying theme of the effects of violent entertainment on audiences. The twisted tale of an American mystery thriller novelist who becomes caught up in a slew of sadistic murders, seemingly inspired by his latest book, Tenebrae marked Argento's return to the giallo after a successful detour into the supernatural gothic horror of Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980).
WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at the Roxie at 11:45 (or is it 11:59, as presenter Jesse Hawthorne Ficks indicates?).

WHY: If you've been making sure to attend all the Castro Theatre's theatrical screenings of Argento features over the past year, you've seen Phenonema, Deep Red and Suspiria. It's a far better 12-month stretch for seeing his horror movies in the company of other fans than this town has seen in a while. It's as if it's all to get San Francisco amped up to see Goblin perform on its first U.S. tour ever, on October 20th at the Warfield (previously the show was expected to be at the Regency Ballroom but the Market Street former movie palace is more spacious.) Certain other cities are getting a live cinema event in which the band plays in front of a screen showing one of these classic Argento movies. I'm not disappointed that here we'll be having separate experiences, spreading the Goblin joy out over a longer period of time.

Tonight's screening is the opening of a new chapter in the history of stalwart Frisco Bay screening series MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS, which has brought outre and underappreciated fare to San Francisco cinemas for over a decade now, starting out at the 4-Star (which opens Johnnie To's Drug War for a week today, by the way) and moving over to the Castro in 2005 and has been screening almost monthly there (and occasionally at the Roxie or other venues) ever since. The triple-bills thematically curated by Ficks have grown increasingly diffused over the years, as the difficulty of securing 35mm prints to show has grown ever-more staggering. But the loosening connectivity has also been a benefit to getting wider exposure to the lesser-known titles programmed; if a theatre full of Predator and The Thing fans can have their minds blown by My Life as a Dog or if Kickboxer can work as a chaser to Bring It On and Hairspray, it's MiDNiTES audiences who'll be able to experience it.

I call tonight's screening a new chapter because at last month's showing of Josie and the Pussycats, Velvet Goldmine and Wild in the Streets Ficks announced that the latter would be the final MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS midnight show at the Castro. No more than a couple hundred audience members had stuck around to see the last of these three films about rock-and-roll celebrity power, and keeping the 1400-seat theatre running and it's staff on the clock may not be worth it after the witching hour when there aren't more seats filled. Especially when there's an alternative! Tonight's MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS bill with be split between two venues; Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Evil Dead 2 will play back-to-back at the Castro Theatre at 7:00 and 9:30, and then Tenebrae will screen just a ten-to-fifteen-minute walk away at the Roxie just before midnight. You've heard of a "pub crawl"? This is a cinema crawl, and the presentation of a ticket stub from the Castro double-bill will get you into the Roxie for the Argento film for only an additional $5.

It will be interesting to see how many people take advantage of this dual-venue triple-bill, and how many stick to just one or the other. I for one feel like I've seen the Spielberg and Raimi films enough times for a while but am interested in finally checking out the Argento. Others may be more interested in the better-known films at the Castro than the relative obscurity at the Roxie. I wonder if Ficks is waiting to see how tonight's crawl works out before announcing the details of his next event, expected to happen on September 20 with unrevealed films and venues involved.

HOW: Tenebrae screens via a 35mm print. So does The Evil Dead 2, but Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is currently only available for digital screenings, and will show on DCP.