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.

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