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.


  1. Brian: Mick La Salle has addressed this issue, partly in response to letters from readers. I think the Stanford is a whole different vibe, mostly older folks who saw the vintage Hollywood films Packard specializes in, on their first release so can relate better to them, also Big Brother David posts regular admonishments in his flyers that the customers better behave (and has sometimes been seen actually patrolling the audience)

  2. The formatting on your last few posts have been off. I can see the html href attribute in your posts in Chrome.

    I have laughed several times when scenes from older films show the effects of currency inflation or changes in social attitudes. That sort of laughter does not bother me; it's the talking & incessant cell phone checking. I have fantasized about volunteering at the Alamo Drafthouse when it opens. I would like to be in charge of kicking people out of the theater when they use their cell phones.

    re: Showgirls. Occasionally, I would like to see a film like Showgirls, West Side Story, Rocky Horror Picture Show, etc. without the audience participation which is de rigueur at screenings of these films.

  3. Dan, thanks for the html comment. Fixed them all.

    Showgirls has screened once in an environment you describe. It played SFMOMA as part of a short Las Vegas-themes screening series.

    Larry, I noticed that the audience for Cat People at the Stanford last night was phenomenally respectful- which I doubt would be replicated at the Castro or even the PFA- that is, until the panther attack scenes in the final reel, which threw a few folks into uncontrollable fits of laughter. Curse of the Cat People was taken a bit more as camp (especially for the Stanford) however.

  4. Hi Brian. Great post. I wonder what exhibitors and programmers can do to counteract this effect without creating a "neggy" vibe? Here's the last paragraph to my program note for AELITA: QUEEN OF MARS (Protazanov, 1924):

    Switching pace, let me issue this challenge to you tonight: watch this film from the inside. RiffTrax is great, but it’s not the only way to experience the past. If your feet are planted in 2013, you might be tempted to come to this film with the defensive scorn of hindsight. You might laugh when the film is not saying something funny. Y’know, because we’ve learned so much since 1924. Haven’t we? Then again, our strongest enemies are still terrorists. Maybe not everything’s changed.

  5. Also, I don't really think RiffTrax is great. I just wanted to manifest some congeniality. :)

  6. Thanks for the comments, Kurtiss! Don't know how I missed seeing them before.