Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Lodger (1927)

WHO: Alfred Hitchcock directed this (and was so credited), but also worked, uncredited, on the screenplay, and appeared in the first of his famous cameos.

WHAT: Of the nine surviving Hitchcock silent films which circulated as a group around the country earlier this year, The Lodger is probably the best choice to see on Halloween: its atmospheric depiction of night, of fog, and of a mysterious stranger stepping out of it while an entire section of London is terrorized by a "Jack the Ripper" style killer, makes it the earliest of Hitchcock's films generally thought of as possessing the identifiable signature of the future "Master of Suspense" in just about every scene.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at Davies Symphony Hall at 7:30 PM.

WHY: Every Halloween night for the past several years the San Francisco Symphony has taken the evening off and brought in a concert organist to perform a live score to a classic film from the silent era. Past titles have included The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Phantom of the Opera, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This year the Symphony decided to expand the tradition by building four days of Hitchcock music & film programming into its Halloween season, but tonight's annual organ performance is for many the centerpiece of the week, as unlike last night's Psycho screening, tomorrow's Vertigo showing, or Saturday's Hitchcock grab-bag, it doesn't involve the reconfiguring of a sound mix originally approved by Hitchcock.

More silent films, most of them with live musical accompaniment, screening in Frisco Bay venues in the next months:

As I mentioned recently, the Rafael Film Center is showing the 1922 Nosferatu: a Symphony of Horror tonight, and will hold another silent film program December 12th; only the latter will have live musical accompaniment.

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont has just revealed its November-December schedule (as a pdf) including its traditional Saturday night screenings for November.

The Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley is showing the last purely silent film starring the so-called "Chinese Garbo" Ruan Lingyu, The Goddess, on November 8th, as well as her first (sort-of) talkie New Women November 9th and Stanley Kwan's acclaimed film about Ruan starring Maggie Cheung, Center Stage, on November 29th. 

The Castro Theatre will host the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's next event: a January 11th day-long tribute to Charlie Chaplin on the 100th anniversary of his filmmaking career. Titles were just announced earlier this week, and include The Gold Rush, The Kid and a program of Mutual two-reelers..

Finally, the SF Symphony continues the 2014 Chaplin celebration April 12th by performing live the actor/director/writer/composer's own score for a screening of City Lights.

HOW: Since 2010 the Symphony's Halloween screenings have all been digital presentations. Tonight's features Todd Wilson on the organ.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Psycho (1960)

WHO: Bernard Herrmann wrote the music for this.

WHAT: When Alfred Hitchcock first planned out his ideas for Psycho he imagined no music at all accompany the now-famous "shower scene". But at that time Herrmann's stock with Hitchcock was such that he was allowed to persuade the director to let him score that scene with what has now become one of the all-time iconic music moments in movie history. Just hearing one note (maybe two) of Herrmann's dissonant strings is all it takes to evoke the shock and dread of this scene for anyone who has seen the film- and many who haven't. The rest of Herrmann's score, written only for a string ensemble, is brilliant as well. For more on Hitchcock & Herrmann's approach to music and sound in Psycho read this article at

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight at Davies Symphony Hall at 8:00, and at the Vine Cinema & Alehouse in Livermore at 7PM on November 7th.

WHY: Last month I attended a concert at Davies Hall, home of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, in which the Symphony performed famous musical excerpts from Jaws, Star Wars, Schindler's List and other movies made during my lifetime, with their composer John Williams behind the conductor's podium. Steven Spielberg was on hand to discuss his career-long collaboration with Williams and give a cursory introduction to how music makes its mark on motion pictures. 

Most of the pieces were played without any visual accompaniment outside of the spectacle of seeing a celebrity conductor and a world-class orchestra in action, or whatever images from the films or other associations might dance in our minds' eyes. But for a few of the pieces a screen hung above the orchestra, allowing us to look at clips from Close Encounters of the Third Kind while a suite of music from the film played, or clips from a wide variety of swashbuckling adventure films from throughout cinema history while a rousing piece from Spielberg's animated The Adventures of Tintin was performed by the orchestra.

But the most unique surprise of the evening, for me, was a side-by-side comparison of one continuity-intact sequence from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade screened twice in a row. If you know the film, it was a version of the "circus train" sequence that had been specially prepared so that sound effects and dialogue were audible but the originally recorded music score had been digitally "scrubbed" out somehow. For the second viewing of the scene, the orchestra performed the music live, occasionally coming close to drowning out an individual line of dialogue or sound effect, but gloriously conveying a sense of rollicking adventure and excitement. 

If the intent was to show how 'flat' a Spielberg action scene is in the absence of his composer's contribution, it didn't have that impact on me. Williams is a terrific film composer, don't get me wrong. But I found the scene no less gripping, and indeed found more gravitas to its evocation of urgency and physicality, when stripped of its underscore. Whether or not such gravitas is appropriate for an early sequence in an Indiana Jones film is certainly debatable. I've probably seen too many Jean-Pierre Melville films to have a sensible answer, but I did very much enjoy this enhanced peek into the moviemaking process.

I'd seen entire films screened at Davies Hall before, both with the San Francisco Symphony performing (as with The Gold Rush in 2010) and with an outside group using the space (Philip Glass presenting Powaqqatsi in 2006) but these are, music aside, completely silent films. I was aware of the fact that the Symphony had in recent years performed live alongside screenings of sound-era films such as Psycho, Casablanca, and The Matrix, but last month was the first I'd gotten to see the technology in action, and was curious to learn more. Knowing there were four days of Alfred Hitchcock screenings coming up starting with tonight's reprise of Psycho and continuing with Friday night's premiere presentation of the "score-scrubbed" Vertigo with live symphonic accompaniment, I decided to inquire with the symphony about the series. Here's what SF Symphony Director of Artistic Planning John Magnum had to say about the year-long series this week launches at Davies.
We’ve been doing films as part of our Summer and the Symphony concerts for a few years now, and we’ve had a terrific audience response to them. We heard from our audience that there was an appetite for more of these projects throughout the year, and so we thought we’d pilot a four-concert series in 2013-14. To launch the series, we put together a week of performances around the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and the starting point for that was actually the world premiere of Vertigo in concert, which seemed perfect for San Francisco. 
We have a list of films that we know are out there, available for performance with orchestra. We also have some ideas of other films and projects that we’d be interested in producing. We want to have a balance between full-length films, and mixed programs with highlights from various movies – it’s half and half this season, and we’ll probably have about that mix going forward. And of course the basic criteria is that the film is known for having a great score – Bernard Hermann in the case of Vertigo and Psycho, great classical pieces for Fantasia, and so on.
There are a few producers working with the studios to create the projects, which we then license from the producer for live concert performance. In a couple of cases, we have worked directly with the studios or a creator’s estate, which basically accomplishes the same thing. This is an area that other orchestras are interested in as well – Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, for example, as well as some of the European orchestras and presenters – so there are new projects in the pipeline for future seasons, too.  
The Symphony's Hitchcock week has been recently profiled by Thomas Gladysz, The Saturday "Hitchcock! Greatest Hits" program focuses especially on Dimitri Tiomkin's music for Strangers on a Train and Dial 'M' For Murder, as well as Herrmann's for North By Northwest (including the main title, the drunk driving scene, and the Mount Rushmore finale.) It's filled out by two scenes piece from Vertigo and To Catch a Thief (music by Lyn Murray), and of course Charles-Francois Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette, which became synonymous with the Master of Suspense from its use in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series.

Unlike the Symphony's silent film presentations (such as that of Hitchcock's The Lodger tomorrow night), these programs are not ideal for purists or for newbies, but for fans of a film interested in experiencing it in part or in full again on a large screen in a unique way: with live musical accompaniment from a terrific ensemble, If you can't make it to the Hitchcock series, the Symphony will screen Singin' in the Rain with live music December 6th and 7th.

HOW: Tonight's digital presentation of Psycho at Davies Hall. will be a version with the original music recording "scrubbed" off the soundtrack while sound effects and dialogue remain. Herrmann's score will instead be performed by the San Francisco Symphony with Joshua Gersen conducting. The Vine Cinema screening will be the original 1960 version, sourced from a Blu-Ray.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969)

WHO: Kenneth Anger made and appears in this short film. It features a Mick Jagger-created electronic soundtrack, and a brief cameo by the founder of the Church of Satan Anton LaVay.

WHAT: When I first saw the bulk of Kenneth Anger's films all in one go at a Castro Theatre screening with Anger present, this was the one that I was most drawn to, not because I have any particular interest in the occult or Satanism (though I love Halloween, and was always fascinated by the black house a few blocks from mine growing up, which is where LaVay lived and reportedly kept a pet tiger) but because the combination of its alienating soundtrack and its unusual editing effects seemed most "of a piece" to a budding cinephile. Since that day twelve and a half years ago I've grown more appreciative of other Anger films but this one still retains its eerie power. Here's a great blog collecting writing on the film.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight on a program starting at 8:00 at Oddball Films

WHY: Tonight's Oddball program is Satanic Sinema: The Devil Gets His Due. Also featuring animation like the Betty-Boop-in-Hell cartoon Red Hot Mamma and the 1970s Canadian TV special that haunted me as a youngster, The Devil and Daniel Mouse, as well as devilish live-action curiosities featuring burlesque dancer Betty Dolan, occult icon Sybil Leek, and future president Ronald Reagan.

It's part of a full week of screenings at Oddball, a venue that normally opens its doors to the public only on Thursdays and Fridays, but is going full-throttle for Halloween week, with a screening of the definitive Bible-Belt haunted house documentary Hell House Wednesday night, a shorts program including the Mario Bava-esque oral hygiene scare film The Haunted Mouth on Halloween itself, and a spooky animation spotlight on Friday, November 1st.

HOW: All of tonight's films are expected to screen on 16mm.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cruising (1980)

WHO: William Friedkin directed this, and Al Pacino stars in it, although the latter was very dissatisfied with the completed picture and has never spoken about it in public since.

WHAT: I wasn't old enough to experience the controversies around the filming of Gerald Walker's novel and its initial release, nor was I in town when its 1995 revival at the Roxie (recounted by programmer Elliot Lavine in the SF Bay Guardian and The Evening Class) opened the gates for re-evaluation. But I did finally see it at the Castro in 2007, and found it an interesting if often unsuccessful film that didn't really match the reductive readings of it by its harshest critics, even if it ultimately lacked anything of the forceful impact of Friedkin's best films such as Sorcerer. A concise, fairly-balanced history of the Cruising controversy has been written by Michael D. Klemm.

When the PFA screened both films with Friedkin an attendance as part of a mini-retrospective last month, I missed the Cruising q&a but wasn't surprised that the first audience question after Sorcerer screened was actually about the more controversial later film. The question was about the recent James Franco picture Interior. Leather Bar. which imagines and re-enacts the "lost" footage from Cruising, more than a half hour of sex club shots that Friedkin says in his recent page-turner of a memoir that he put in the movie with the expectation it would be cut out so he could slide the rest of his film past the censors with an R rating. As you can see on youtube, Friedkin gives an entertaining answer about his relationship to Franco's piece, but also uses the question as an opportunity to talk about the making of Cruising as he remembers it- there is some crossover from his account in his memoir but in fact both accounts compliment each other.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens today only at 3:45 and 8:45 at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: Today's screening of Cruising along with Interior. Leather Bar. dovetails nicely with the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts upcoming X: The History of a Film Rating program which collects many of the more high-profile, non-pornographic movies that have at one point or another been saddled with the MPAA's most restrictive rating. There are at least a few other titles on the Castro's just-released November calendar that also make a nice compliment to this series: John Waters's Female Trouble, which screens at the Castro November 7th along with the new documentary on its star I Am Divine, and David Cronenberg's Crash, which screens November 13th along with Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend

HOW: Both Cruising and Interior. Leather Bar. screen via DCP.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

WHO: Orson Welles wrote, directed and starred in this (that's him racing along a Portsmouth Square path as Rita Hayworth looks on in the above screen capture).

WHAT: Whether or not you consider this one of the great films of the classic film noir era (and I certainly do; I consider it an unjustly overlooked but key element to the towering Welles filmography) you have to admit that it's second half includes some of the best glimpses of of late-1940's San Francisco ever captured by a major Hollywood studio camera. I could name all of the great locations in which Welles and cinematographer Charles Lawton, Jr. (later a specialist in shooting Westerns in the Alabama Hills and other desert locales) set up terrific shots, but it's more convenient just to link the pages devoted to The Lady From Shanghai on Brian Hollins's great Reel SF site of classic San Francisco-location films; he completed an online tour of the film in 2012, and is currently working his way through The Man Who Cheated Himself, Born To Kill and Los Angeles film The Exiles.

WHERE/WHEN: Final screenings today at 5:50 and 9:25 at the Stanford Theatre

WHY: The Stanford's current series pairing Humphrey Bogart vehicles with film noir classics (often but not always making for a double-dose of noir, naturally) has just a few more programs to go; and Orson Welles is featured both tonight and next weekend, when he appears on-screen and behind-the-camera in Touch of Evil (on a "power-mad official" double-bill with the Caine Mutiny). The good news is that the Stanford has already announced its final film series of 2013. The bad news is that the venue will continue to be closed three nights a week, only showing films Thursday through Sunday nights for the rest of the year, with the exception of the annual December 24 showing of It's A Wonderful Life (this year falling on a Tuesday.) 

But the weekends will be pretty wonderful; each one from November 14th through December 29th will  feature one of the seven films made with the Marx Brothers during their years at Paramount (1929-1933) or under producer Irving Thalberg at MGM (1935-1937), in chronological order, as well as one of the seven great comedies directed by Preston Sturges at Paramount between 1940 and 1944, in nearly-chronological order.

Segueing from Welles to Sturges seems appropriate because it was only after the sealing of the unprecedented (in the talkie era) agreement to allow Welles to write and direct his own films at RKO, that a writer even of Sturges's stature was able to make the leap to directing his own scripts. That he saw three of them (The Great McGinty, Christmas in July and The Lady Eve produced and released before Citizen Kane hit the screen must have been both gratifying and infuriating to Sturges.

HOW: 35mm on a double-bill with Key Largo.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Decameron (1971)

WHO: Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote the screenplay, directed, and took a small but significant acting role as the painter Giotto in this adaptation of eleven interwoven tales from Boccaccio.

WHAT: One of Pasolini's most beautiful and entertaining films, and no less intellectually rich than the rest of his work. Fernando F. Croce's review is characteristically succinct and on point.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive at 6:15.

WHY: It's the home stretch in the PFA's essentially-complete and nearly-chronological Pasolini retrospective. All that are left to play are the master's final four feature films, which in many ways represent the very peak of his cinematic creativity. His so-called "Trilogy of Life" consisting of The Decameron, the Canterbury Tales (also screening tonight) and The Arabian Nights (screening tomorrow at 5:00 PM) and his very last film, the justly-notorious Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom which ends the series and the month on Halloween night.

If you haven't used this retrospective as an opportunity to acquaint yourself with Pasolini's more infrequently-shown films, or to re-acquaint yourself with some you haven't seen before, perhaps at least you'll find it useful as an excuse for delving into the explosion of writing and link-collating that it has inspired in my friend Michael Guillén, who I was very pleased to be able to watch The Gospel According to St. Matthew with during a recent revisitation to Frisco Bay from his current abode in Idaho. Guillén has since written a tremendous article that serves as both personal reflection upon and critical review of that 1964 film. He also had published an interview he was able to conduct with frequent Pasolini star Ninetto Davoli, which includes some great comments on The Decameron and its legacy. This in addition to the six prior blog posts he'd published before our excursion to the PFA. Between reading his pieces and Barth David Schwartz's biography Pasolini Requiem over the past month and a half, I feel like I have a much stronger appreciation of the writer (a term of self-description Pasolini said he preferred over poet, filmmaker, artist, or any other) and his cinematic works than I would have just having watched the films, as wonderful as they are.

HOW: The Decameron screens from a new 35mm print, just like every other feature film in the series.

Friday, October 25, 2013

House of Wax (1953)

WHO: André de Toth directed this.

WHAT: There's Raoul Walsh, who directed Gun Fury. There's John Ford, who directed (uncredited) the final scenes of Hondo when John Farrow was contractually forced to give up his director's chair to go make another picture. There's even the little-remembered Herbert L. Strock, who directed the science fiction picture Gog. But of all the one-eyed filmmakers of the 1950s, the one most famous for making a 3D picture is André de Toth. This is probably because he was first out the gate; before House of Wax no major studio had released a color 3D picture, and the horror film became an immediate sensation. De Toth secured his legacy as a stereoscopy specialist by following House of Wax up with two 3D Westerns starring Randolph Scott, 1953's  The Stranger Wore A Gun and 1954's The Bounty Hunter, although the latter was filmed but never shown in 3D as by the time of its release the 3D craze was already over- to lie dormant for decades.

WHERE/WHEN: 5 screenings: Tonight, Sunday and Monday at 6:30 PM, and tomorrow and Sunday at 2:15 PM, all at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

WHY: A big week for special screenings at the Rafael; in addition to these five shows there's also a 30th anniversary screening of the epic astronaut drama The Right Stuff with director Philip Kaufman tomorrow night at 7:00. Both showings seem timed perfectly with the popularity of current 3D astronaut movie Gravity. The rest of Halloween week at the Rafael is filled out by a Tuesday tribute to television horror hosts and two showings of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu with a recording of Hans Erdmann's original 1922 score for the film on Wednesday and Thursday. In addition, seven screenings of the so-called "final cut" of director Robin Hardy's 1973 cult film The Wicker Man occur between tonight and Thursday. Some good comments about the latter item were made by my friend David Robson.

All of the above are digital screenings, but the Rafael plans to flex its capability to screen 35mm prints at least a couple more times before the year is out, according to the latest calendar (pdf). On November 10th local filmmaker Rob Nilsson brings a new 35mm print of his ultra-naturalistic 1979 Cannes-prize winning film Northern Lights to the Rafael November 10th (shortly after showing it at the Pacific Film Archive). And on December 12, Randy Haberkamp returns for an annual visit to Marin to screen Lois Weber's astonishing Suspense, D.W. Griffith's The Mothering Heart, and other films and excerpts from "The Films of 1913" with live music from pianist Michael Mortilla. At least some of the films will screen via a vintage 1909 hand-cranked 35mm film projector.

House of Wax was a remake of the 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum, itself influenced by the 1924 German film Waxworks, which screens tomorrow at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. If San Rafael or Niles are to far-afield for your Halloween screening excursions, the Roxie is hosting a Saturday night "Spooktacular Slumber Party" but has not revealed any details of what it will be showing. My curiosity is piqued.

HOW: House of Wax will screen using modern digital 3D technology; it would be nice to see it in its original dual-35mm-projector version but Frisco Bay theatres haven't screened prints this way in years (the Castro in 2006 and the Stanford back in 2000) and there's no sign they'll start again anytime soon.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Effi Briest (1974)

WHO: Rainer Werner Fassbinder wrote & directed.

WHAT: Of all of Fassbinder's films, Effi Briest is the only one set in the nineteenth century and based on a classic of German literature along the lines of Madame Bovary. I haven't seen the film yet, so let me link to a review by E. Barry.

WHERE/WHEN: 7:30 tonight only at Yerba Buena Center For the Arts.

WHY: One of the great pleasures of seeing, researching and posting about Fassbinder's films over the past month has been discovering writers drawn to making intensive studies of the filmmaker. Certainly he's not a director who inspires half-hearted fandom; once you've seen a film or two that has worked its magic on you, it's not unusual for his films to become an obsession. This may be why his films lend themselves so well to large-scale retrospectives, and why some of the occasions in which I've seen one of his films in isolation (Beware Of A Holy Whore six years ago at the Pacific Film Archive, and Lola three years ago at the Castro) have been far less satisfying than the screenings at this year's retrospective or the one that first exposed me to his work ten years ago, or the weekly viewings of Berlin Alexanderplatz episodes I was able to take in at SFMOMA in 2008.

A very exciting find in my online research has been the blog In A Year of 44 Films, in which a Bay Area Fassbinder fan named E. Barry has been moving through all of the director's films in chronological order, writing analysis of each one. So far she has gotten through 1979 The Marriage of Maria Braun, which means she's about three quarters done -- or would be, if she wasn't planning on writing a full review of each episode of the fourteen-part Berlin Alexanderplatz

Anyway, I strongly encourage exploration of her site. One page is particularly useful and relevant this month: her most highly-recommended selections from the current PFA/YBCA retrospective. Of the six films she marks as "The Best of the Classics", Effi Briest is the only one I haven't seen, and also the only one that doesn't align with my own list of top five or six favorites from among his films- in other words, our tastes seem to match up almost precisely, so I'm expecting to really savor this film tonight. Other Fassbinder-fan friends assure me that I'm not setting myself up for disappointment.

HOW: 35mm.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Light Year (2013)

WHO: Paul Clipson made this.

WHAT: This brand new work by one of Frisco Bay's currently most prolific experimental filmmakers was commissioned by the Exploratorium as a visual exploration of their new site at Pier 15. The museum's website hosts a video with more information on Clipson's creative process.

WHERE/WHEN: 8:00 tonight only at the Exploratorium.

WHY: The Exploratorium has a busy week of film screenings, with events on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well as tonight.

Clipson also is involved in an upcoming group show at the di Rosa Gallery in Napa, CA, and will be on hand for a live film & sound performance on November 2nd.

HOW: 16mm projection with live score performed by Tashi Wada.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Revolutionary Optimists (2012)

WHO: Nicole Newnham and Maren Grainger-Monsen co-directed this.

WHAT: Documentary about children living in the extreme poverty of Kolkata (a.k.a. Calcutta), India, who become activists on behalf of their communities. I haven't seen it, but here's Jonathan Kiefer's review.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens at 4:10 today at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies on the Stanford University campus, and 4:30 tomorrow at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto, both presented by the United Nations Association Film Festival.

WHY: Festivals occurring during the rest of October:
UNAFF through October 27th at various peninsula venues, plus one day (tomorrow) in San Francisco.
The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Fest runs through tomorrow in Palo Alto, Saturday through Wednesday over the next two weeks, with screenings in Campbell on November 10 & 13 and closing-night with Elliot Gould in person in Palo Alto November 17th.
Arab Film Festival resumes in Oakland October 24th, in Berkeley October 24-27, with final Frisco Bay screenings in Palo Alto November 2 & Oakland November 7.
International Black Women's Film Festival occurs in San Francisco October 25 & 27, and Oakland October 26.

HOW: Digital presentation of a digitally-shot doc.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Carrie (2013)

WHO: Kimberly Peirce directed this.

WHAT: Brian De Palma's 1976 film Carrie is not just my favorite of that director's films; it's also my favorite American horror movie made in my lifetime, and my favorite film made from a Stephen King novel (both high praise, if only for the existence of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.) So of course I had to see this new remake on its opening weekend.  I did not expect to like it as much as I did, given some of its fundamental flaws, evident early on in the picture. I don't have time to review it, so instead will point to two polar opposite reviews that make compelling cases for and against the movie: Walter Chaw's and Armond White's.

WHERE/WHEN: Multiple showtimes daily at various multiplex theatres in every Frisco Bay county at least through the end of the month.

WHY: Halloween approaches! After posting about Halloween/horror screenings arriving at Frisco Bay cinemas in coming weeks, I was reminded by a reader comment that the Balboa is also hosting two October evenings of horror screenings, namely three silent-era films that have been given new soundtracks (not just music but sound effects and, it appears, dialogue as well) in an attempt to appeal to silent-film averse audiences, and a documentary on local television horror host Bob Wilkins.

After Halloween, the venue is screening a double-bill of 1930s Bela Lugosi horror films The Black Cat and White Zombie on November 7th. For the price being charged I would hope these would be 35mm prints, but I'm skeptical because the event is meant to be a benefit, and a big part of the draw is the presence of San Francisco resident and  horror movie memorabilia collector (oh and Metallica guitarist) Kirk Hammett, along with the display of some of the pieces from his collection which have recently been photographed for publication in a coffee table book. The Another Hole In The Head film festival is also on the horizon at the Balboa and the Roxie, with a just-announced schedule that includes now-rare 35mm screenings of Jaws and The Shining at the Balboa.

HOW: Shot on digital cameras and screening exclusively on digital projectors.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Merchant Of Four Seasons (1971)

WHO: Rainer Werner Fassbinder wrote, directed, and appeared in a small, uncredited acting role here.

WHAT: The story goes like this: after making almost a dozen feature-length films for cinema and television in 1969 and 1970, Fassbinder attended the Munich Filmmuseum's six-film retrospective dedicated to Hollywood director Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Interlude, The Tarnished Angels, A Time To Love And A Time To Die and Imitation of Life). A new style began to be injected into his work due to Sirk's influence, starting in The Merchant of Four Seasons, which Wim Wenders claims was in fact the only film Fassbinder made in 1971 (although several films he'd shot the previous year, presumably prior to his Sirk exposure, were released before it that year.) As E. Berry writes: "More certain now of his abilities, he deploys a wider range of cinematic tools to his own ends. No more hiding behind avant-garde minimalism. This is the Fassbinder we talk about when we talk about Fassbinder."

Since one of the most commonly-cited pieces of evidence of the Sirk influence in Fassbinder's work is the similarity in story between the latter's Ali: Fear Eats The Soul and the former's All That Heaven Allows, it's interesting to contemplate that the basic story of Fassbinder's film was recited by a character in The American Soldier, which was released in the last months of 1970. Since the Munich Filmmuseum's Sirk retro is usually cited as having occurred either in late 1970 or early 1971, and since it's frequently said to be Fassbinder's first exposure to Sirk's films, it seems that he had Ali: Fear Eats The Soul well in mind before he ever saw All That Heaven Allows. Unless one of the pieces of this chronological puzzle has been misreported, it may be that upon seeing that Sirk film Fassbinder recognized similarities between it and a story he already had in mind. In which case, he may have been drawn to Sirk because he saw the director as kindred to his established approach as much or more than because he saw him as an alien influence that could be assimilated into his own style.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens 2PM this afternoon at Yerba Buena Center For The Arts and Friday, October 25th at the Pacific Film Archive.

WHY: Last Thursday the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts began its 10-title Fassbinder series with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Merchant Of Four Seasons is the first title in the set that YBCA will screen before it comes to Berkeley's PFA, though in this case the East Bay won't have to wait very long as the film screens Friday along with Fear Of Fear at the latter venue. The PFA is also showing Written on the Wind as part of a concurrent series of films at one time or another considered personal favorites by Fassbinder.

HOW: 35mm print.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003)

WHO: Judy Irving directed this documentary.

WHAT: It's hard to believe it's been ten years since this lovely documentary about urban nature, the humanity of animals (or, perhaps more pertinently, vice versa), and the struggle for survival in a city with harsh forces pressing for us to turn our backs on our true selves, first began screenings in festivals. Though I'd enjoyed it on its initial release, I recently rewatched it and found it better than I had recalled, avoiding nearly all of the traps that have turned me away from commercially-released documentaries over the past decade or so. Here's a worthwhile review by a Chicago writer who I finally got to meet in person when she came to visit San Francisco earlier this year, Marilyn Ferdinand.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens 1PM today only at New People Cinema in San Francisco's Japantown, as part of the San Francisco Film Society's Zurich/SF film series.

WHY: The Zurich/SF series is an undertaking meant to highlight cinematic connections between San Francisco and the largest city in Switzerland (though still half Frisco's size in terms of population). Other match-ups screening today and tomorrow include Barry Jenkins's Medicine For Melancholy with Andrea Štaka's Fraulein this evening, Mindy Bagdon's furious Frisco punk document Louder, Faster, Shorter and Swiss Punk Cocktail: Zurich Scene 197680 tonight, and a pair of 1970s buddy-cop comedies Freebie and the Bean and The Swissmakers tomorrow. I don't know why Vitus is the odd film out in the weekend set, especially since I haven't seen it. But reading ploy synopses makes me wonder if there just wasn't enough time in the weekend to squeeze in a screening of something like Around The Bay (which has still yet to screen in San Francisco proper).

I'm hoping this series will be a success and lead to more cinematic looks at some of San Francisco's many other Sister Cities. Our city's link to Taipei has surely helped keep the annual Taiwan Film Days festival going, and I'm sure will be seeing some films set in Paris during French Cinema Now. I haven't investigated whether either of our Italian Sister Cities (Assisi and, as of this year, Naples) will be seen on screen during the just-announced New Italian Cinema series, but imagine future festivals devoted to films made in Barcelona, or Shanghai, or Seoul, or Sydney, or Manila? (Not to mention cities with filmmaking scenes I know next to nothing about, like Amman, Jordan or Cork, Ireland or Thessaloniki, Greece.)

In the meantime another recently-announced SFFS mini-fest has also been revealed, that serves as a counterpoint the the SF section of Zurich/SF. This weekend's films are all established classics of one stripe or another (maybe I'm not quite ready to call Freebie and the Bean a classic myself, but you know what I mean). But Cinema By The Bay focuses almost all its attention on brand-new works by local filmmakers. It runs November 22-24.

HOW: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill screens on a 35mm double-feature with another urban documentary made about ten years ago, called Downtown Switzerland

Friday, October 18, 2013

The American Soldier (1970)

WHO: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

WHAT: Fassbinder is famed for being prolific- by most counts he made 44 films (including made-for-television works) in his short lifespan. But his most prolific period of all were the first few years of his feature filmmaking outgrowth of his involvement in the Antiteater collective, before he began making films under the influence of German-American melodramatist Douglas Sirk. Of the films made beginning with 1969's Love Is Colder Than Death and before his Sirkian Merchant of Four Seasons in 1971, five of them have been recently re-released on Region 1 DVD by Criterion's Eclipse sublabel, including The American Soldier, which happens to be my own favorite of his work from this period I've seen thus far.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley at 7:00.

WHY: Seeing Fassbinder films in isolation is great, but seeing them in dialogue with each other as part of a retrospective is even better, as I notice ways in which they speak to each other across years of the filmmaker's career. If I hadn't seen Love Is Colder Than Death and Fear Of Fear in short succession would I have noticed that opera music coming from Ulrich Faulhaber's television in a key scene from the latter is the very same duet from Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier that composer Peer Raben augmented with electronic sounds for the memorable supermarket scene of the former? And if I hadn't seen Ali: Fear Eats the Soul at the PFA just a couple days before seeing The American Soldier at the Roxie, would the scene (depicted in the screen capture above) in which a character recounts the plot of Ali, four years before it was filmed, have hit so hard?  If you attended Ali: Fear Eats the Soul at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts last night you have an extra incentive to make it to The American Soldier tonight. 

But with the BART Union forced to strike by management of the transit system, you may have to pick your film options this weekend based on where you live and can most easily travel to and from. If you're in Berkeley, you're in great shape to see Fassbinder tonight (Beware of a Holy Whore screens as well as The American Soldier), Pasolini tomorrow and/or Moroccan filmmaker Moumen Smihi (in person) on Sunday. If you're in San Francisco, you'll have to wait until Sunday for your Fassbinder fix, as YBCA screens The Merchant of Four Seasons. Tonight you might want to see a rare 35mm print of a film by another German-language filmmaker working in the 1970s, as postwar Swiss master Kurt Früh's final film Der Fall opens the Zurich/SF weekend festival at New People Cinema.

HOW: 35mm print.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dark Enough (2011)

WHO: Jeanne Liotta made this film using text by Lisa Gill.

WHAT: Sarah Smith wrote about Dark Enough and other short films and videos by Liotta for the Austin Chronicle when they screened in Texas a year and a half ago.

WHERE/WHEN: On a program starting 7:30 tonight at Artists' Television Access.

WHY: Tonight's SF Cinematheque program is a part of the annual Litquake festival and thus features experimental filmmakers using words as a key component of the on-screen image. I've seen most of the films being presented, including those by Stan Brakhage, Su Friedrich, Paul Sharits, David Gatten and Stephanie Barber, and in nearly every case consider the selected film among my favorites of each filmmaker. (I have not yet seen rarer works like Jesse Malmed's Supernym or Michael Snow's So Is This.) But Dark Enough may be my favorite of them all.

It's a busy weekend for SF Cinematheque with this event followed by tomorrow's benefit art auction featuring works by Liotta, Bruce Conner, Nathaniel Dorsky, Miranda July, Luther Price, Ben Rivers and (my girlfriend) Kerry Laitala all up for auction. You can bid online if you can't make it to the actual event in-person. Then on Saturday Phil Solomon will present films including his three-screen American Falls at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Finally, October 20th SF Cinematheque presents a screening of Swiss filmmaker Thomas Imbach's Day Is Done on the third and final day of the San Francisco Film Society's Zurich/SF festival.

HOW: The show is a mixture of 16mm and video works, and I believe Dark Enough was made and will be screened as the latter.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Breaking The Waves (1996)

WHO: Emily Watson launched her film acting career in this.

WHAT: Whenever I think of this film I think of my friend Rob Blackwelder, who once told me he considered it the best film he ever saw in his days of being a critic. I've been meaning to rewatch it (haven't seen it since it first was released) but haven't yet done so. Rob's review is still online.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Castro Theatre at 8:40.

WHY: Talking about why tonight's double-bill of Breaking The Waves and Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor's Leviathan is a brilliant bit of counter-intuitive, yet harmonious, programming, is kind of like over-explaining a joke. So I'll refrain. But at any rate, it's much appreciated, especially since this will mark the first big-screen showing of Leviathan since the San Francisco International Film Festival last Spring, and that the screen will be considerably bigger.

HOW: Breaking The Waves screens from a 35mm print, and Leviathan screens (as it was shot) digitally.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dracula (1931)

WHO: Tod Browning directed this.

WHAT: An otherwise-excellent scholarly article by Elisabeth Bronfen (pdf) repeats the common misconception that Dracula was the "first sound film of the horror genre", over looking the fact that Universal Pictures followed up silent horror hits like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera with early talkies The Last Warning and The Last Performance in 1929 and The Cat Creeps in 1930. But Dracula was the first to become a real popular sensation, followed shortly by Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and a host of sequels and spin-offs. It remains a classic today, though in-cinema screenings have become rare.

WHERE/WHEN: 7:30 tonight only at the Castro Theatre.

WHY: This is only one of the horror and Halloween-related screenings this month announced since my last round-up devoted to the season. Here are some others:

through Thursday, Oct. 17 at the Rafael and Roxie: Escape From Tomorrow.
Thursday, Oct. 17 at Oddball Films: Halloween-themed show including fantastiques from Georges Méliès, digest prints of Universal Horror classics, Winter of the Witch and more.
Friday, Oct. 18 at the Castro & Roxie: MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS dual venue triple-bill of The Blair Witch Project, Ringu, and Dario Argento's Demons
Saturday, Oct. 19 at Artists Television Access: Other Cinema presentation of Room 237 with director Rodney Ascher in person.
Friday, Oct. 25-Monday, Oct. 28 at the Rafael: 1953 House of Wax in digital 3D.
Friday, Oct. 25-Thursday, Oct. 31 at the Rafael: a supposed "final cut" of The Wicker Man.
Saturday, Oct. 26 at Artists Television Access: Other Cinema presents Spine Tingler: the William Castle Story and more.
Tuesday, Oct. 29 at the Castro: I Am A Ghost with director H.P. Mendoza and cast in person.
Tuesday, Oct. 29 at the Rafael: a tribute to Creature Features and the history of local TV horror hosts.
Wednesday, Oct. 30 & Thursday, Oct. 31 at the Rafael: the 1922 Nosferatu.

HOW: Dracula screens on a 35mm double bill with Bride of Frankenstein

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gravity (2013)

WHO: Emmanuel Lubezski was director of photography for this, and is already being called a "lock" or near to one to earn his first Best Cinematography Oscar for it. I agree with Nathaniel Rogers that this indicates serious trouble in this category. I hope the cinematographers resist pundit and fan pressure and decline to nominate Lubeszki for this- perhaps they can pick him for To The Wonder instead. Because it makes more sense to me for Gravity to be an Animated Feature Oscar nominee than a Cinematography nominee.

WHAT: All that said, I really liked Gravity even if it came up far short of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Solaris in conveying more than just thrills on a heightened scale. Then again, it may be unfair to compare this film to science-fiction, which it is not. I recommend Eric Henderson's review.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens multiple times daily into the foreseeable future at nearly half the cinemas on Frisco Bay.

WHY: I haven't usually featured the so-called "movie of the moment" on this blog this year but that's because I rarely find that movie both intriguing to see for a reason other than just being part of a current pop-culture conversation, and worth recommending. But Gravity is certainly well worth a look if you keep you expectations in check. And its box office success makes the Castro's booking of space-set Alien and Dark Star for October 23rd seem very prescient.

HOW: Here's where it gets complicated. I saw Gravity in digital 3D on the Metreon's IMAX screen, but though this is the largest screen in the Bay Area, it was not the IMAX experience (a title card shown before the film started even stated so), as the entire screen was not filled and a wide aspect ratio was maintained. I understand other IMAX screens show it the same way. Yet the full IMAX 3D price was charged. If I revisit the film I will certainly not go with IMAX, and will instead find a cheaper digital 3D screening. I'll admit I'm curious about the multidimensional sound options available through Dolby Atmos, and unavailable at any IMAX showings.

If you're the sort who cannot or does not appreciate 3D for any reason, there are also 2D screenings of Gravity as well, including a 35mm booking at the Balboa

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tokyo Family (2013)

WHO: Yoji Yamada directed and co-wrote the screenplay for this film, based on the classic Tokyo Story directed by Yasujiro Ozu and written by Ozu and Koga Noda.

WHAT: I have not seen this film, but as a big Ozu admirer I'm terribly curious about a remake helmed by Yamada, the beginnings of whose career at the Shochiku Studio overlapped with the final years of the great master's. Mark Schilling's review is mixed but that doesn't deter me.

WHERE/WHEN: 1:30 PM this afternoon only at the Lark Theater in Larkspur, presented by the Mill Valley Film Festival.

WHY: Aside from last Thursday and Friday's revival screenings of Raoul Peck's Lumumba, Tokyo Family is the only MVFF title this year to be screening in 35mm. I was unaware that the Lark had even retained the ability to project film when they installed their 4K DCP technology- I hear that most theatres can get better financial deals on the latest digital projection equipment if they remove their 35mm projectors from the booth. I'm hoping to visit the venue for the first time today, and to see a print that is very unlikely to wind its way back to Frisco Bay.

HOW: 35mm.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Missing Picture (2013)

WHO: Cambodia's great documentarian Rithy Panh co-wrote, co-edited and directed this,

WHAT: As a fan of Panh's films since seeing Land of the Wandering Souls back in 2001, I jumped on the chance to see his newest, and perhaps already most acclaimed film, a soulfully autobiographical account of his days as a youth experiencing the horrors of Pol Pot's regime told using poetic narration, hand-carved figurines, and the propaganda footage created by the Khmer Rouge. The latter became the only motion picture record of that terrible time in the nation's history, as a relatively thriving film industry was completely obliterated, its practitioners often killed or at least driven to disguise their affiliation with what was seen as a damningly modern and intellectual pursuit.

There's a "hold review" on The Missing Picture until its local commercial release (date TBA, but hopefully before the end of the year), so I'll just say I was not disappointed in The Missing Picture as a Rithy Panh fan, and link to Jordan Cronk's excellent review, which fruitfully contrasts the film against others by the director, as well as The Act of Killing.

WHERE?WHEN: Screens today at 4:45 at the Lark Theatre and 5:30 tomorrow at the Rafael Film Center, presented by the Mill Valley Film Festival.

WHY: MVFF only has a couple more days left in it, but the majority of the films I'm most interested in seeing, whether at the festival or upon general release, are packed into these final days. Unfortunately a large number of showings are at Rush status which means braving lines and hoping for luck, but not all are. This afternoon's screening of The Missing Picture, tomorrow's 5@5 shorts showcase featuring Black Angel and three other favorites, and the last screening of the only 35mm print of a new film in the entire festival, Yoji Yamada's Tokyo Family, are among those that still appear to have available tickets. Of course, waiting in a rush line may require less patience than waiting to see a film like top Cannes prize-winner Blue is the Warmest Color when it arrives on local screens. (That one is currently set to come to the Embarcadero November 1st, presuming that theatre's remodeling and reopening goes according to schedule.)

HOW: The Missing Picture screens digitally.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Gods of the Plague (1970)

WHO: Rainer Werner Fassbinder wrote, produced and directed this, his third feature film, released shortly after he turned 25.

WHAT: Jim Clark, builder of a website with a near-exhaustive section devoted to Fassbinder, notes in his review of Gods of the Plague that it remained one of the director's favorites of his own films. I have not yet seen it myself.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive at 8:50.

WHY: If you've missed any (or all) of the Fassbinder films screenings that happened at the Roxie over the past week, you have a second chance to see all the films at the PFA, starting tomorrow with perhaps his most accessible, if devastating, masterpiece The Marriage of Maria Braun. Likewise, you have a second shot at the three films screened at the PFA thus far starting this Thursday when Yerba Buena Center For the Arts launches its own ten-title selection of his films with Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.

However, if you want to see all twenty-four of the Fassbinder prints coming to Frisco Bay this Fall, you're going to have to be aware of the seven films screening only at the PFA and not in San Francisco. This septet begins tonight with The Katzelmacher and Gods of the Plague, continues Sunday with I Only Want You To Love Me, and is rounded out with Beware of a Holy Whore, Chinese Roulette, the epic World On A Wire and finally Despair starring Dirk Bogarde. I collected a full list of Fassbinder films screening in local venues here, in case you missed it last week.

HOW: All Fassbinder films in this season screen from 35mm prints. (UPDATE 10/12/2013: in fact The Katzelmacher was screened from a DVD last night due to print damage, and I Only Want You To Love Me will screen via Blu-Ray, as has been planned from the series announcement. I regret the error.)