Saturday, November 30, 2013

Officer Henderson (1913)

WHO: Alice Guy Blaché directed this.

WHAT: Blaché scholar Alison McMahan wrote in 2002 about the director's 100-year-old "temporary transvestite film" (her words), made during her American period:
Officer Henderson denaturalizes sexual difference and therefore threatens to disrupt an apparently natural order. For most of the film we experience the unsettling pleasures of the cross-dressing narrative, and then the traditional narrative closure provides us with the satisfactions of completion as well as reassuring us that all is indeed well, that men are still men and women are still women. The "justified crossdressing" or "closure" approach is basically the approach used in Hollywood films today, films such as Tootsie and Victor/Victoria and the classic Some Like It Hot.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens on a program starting tonight at 7:30 at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont.

WHY: I haven't posted an update of upcoming silent film screenings on this blog since last month, if only because I haven't heard tell of any new ones since then. But with only a month left to go in 2013, time is running out on chances to see 1913 releases celebrating their centenary. Tonight's showing of Officer Henderson and the Rafael Film Center's The Films of 1913 showcase December 12th. Next month the Silent Film Festival launches the 2014 silent film season with a centenary tribute to The Little Tramp and to Charlie Chaplin's film career, but even there, no actual films from 1914 are expected to screen that day. The fairly rich tradition of silent filmgoing on Frisco Bay frequently leaves out the filmmaking of the pre-World War I era, I assume partly because its prints are scarcer, partly because its stars and directors are less well-known, and partly because the production style is quite a bit more alien to modern audiences than that of films made ten or even five years later. The entire December slate of films screening in Niles each Saturday comes from the 1916-1929 period, expressing a range from Douglas Fairbanks adventure/comedy (1916's Flirting With Fate December 7) to animation from Otto Messmer (Felix Flirts With Fate Dec. 7) and the Fleischer Brothers (Bubbles Dec. 14) to the epic scale of Cecil B. DeMille (his 1923 original The Ten Commandments December 21) to the somehow both refined and chaotic slapstick of Laurel and Hardy (Big Business December 29).

HOW: Part of a bill with the Norman Taurog/Larry Semon comedy short and the Charles Emmett Mack feature The Unknown Soldier, I believe all screened from 16mm prints with live piano accompaniment by Frederick Hodges.

Friday, November 29, 2013

differently, Molussia (2012)

WHO: Forty-year old French filmmaker Nicolas Rey made this. He is not to be confused with the long-deceased director of They Live By Night and Rebel Without A Cause, Nick Ray.

WHAT: I haven't seen differently, Molussia yet, and in all likelihood neither has anyone else- at least not the precise version that's being screened tonight. There are actually 362, 880 possible versions of this film, an adaptation of a 1931 unpublished novel by Günther Anders, that has never been translated into a language that Rey understands. As Michael Sicinski writes in his Cinemascope piece on it:
The 80-minute feature is comprised of nine individual reels of varying lengths, and Nicolas Rey has designed the film so that their order of presentation should be randomly assigned. (Each reel is designated by a differently coloured title card: a pink reel, a green reel, a canary reel, etc.) That is, Rey has built the film from modules, each thematically linked to the others while retaining semi-autonomy with respect to order, narrative, and spatial orientation. They must all appear once, but can appear in any sequence.
WHERE/WHEN: 7:30 tonight only at Yerba Buena Center For the Arts.

WHY: Following Tuesday's Black Hole Cinematheque screening, tonight is another showcase by a filmmaker heavily involved in the artist-run film lab movement. Rey will be on hand tonight and has fascinating, informed perspectives on the state of the film medium in an age of digital convenience. I'll excerpt a pair of remarks from an interview conducted by Darren Hughes:
It’s very important to me to prove that you can still make films on film. There’s something very important about this. What’s at stake is organizing the possibility to continue producing on that medium. And showing films on that medium for people to curate. I’m surprised there’s not more questioning about that. Everyone has thrown up their hands and said, “It’s over. It’s over.”
But even on the curating side it’s getting difficult. I’m amazed that cinematheques are willing to show films on digital formats, presented as “preservation.” They’ve abandoned showing the work in its original format. There was a big conference at the French Cinematheque and I didn’t hear them say, “We’ll show the films on film as long as we can. We’ll fight for that.” Not at all. Only the film museum in Vienna has made a strong stand on the matter.
I think anyone invested in the idea of watching films on film should be interested in hearing what Rey has to say to a San Francisco audience. I'll definitely be there tonight (although I rue the fact that I have to miss an opportunity to see an imported 35mm print of Stanley Kwan's Center Stage at the Pacific Film Archive to make it).

HOW: 16mm projection of what will almost certainly be a unique permutation of the film.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Monkey Business (1931)

WHO: Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo Marx star in this.

WHAT: When people talk about the pre-code gangster films Hollywood brewed out of the early-1930s confluence of Prohibtion, the Depression, and the sudden celebrity status of the likes of Al Capone and John Dillinger, they always seem to leave out this film. The first Marx Brothers movie conceived of for the silver screen (as the prior The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers has been based on stage shows) is perhaps more often thought of as "the one on a ship" than "the one with gangsters" but the latter form a key part of the film's completely unimportant plot. Just because it's an absurd comedy doesn't mean it shouldn't go down with other 1931 films like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy as important films made before the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping turned Hollywood away from  on-screen gangster depictions for a while. It' not for nothing that the illustrious Dave Kehr once decribed the comic aspects of Howard Hawks's Scarface by invoking the image of "Chico Marx let loose with a live machine gun."

WHERE/WHEN: Today through Sunday at the Stanford Theatre at 6:00 & 9:15.

WHY: Happy Thanksgiving and Hannukah. You've probably already heard about how an unusually late-in-month Thanksgiving and an unusually early-in-Gregorian-year Hannukah have converged today for the first time since the nineteenth century, making for a once-in-lifetime double holiday. Being a goy myself, I'm not one to proscribe holiday traditions, but if a rabbi says watching Marx Brothers movies is a good way to celebrate Hannukah, I'm happy to pass it along.

Thanksgiving being a big moviegoing day to begin with, there's few classic comedy masterpieces that seem as well-suited to the holiday as The Lady Eve, with its uproariously funny banquet set piece. The pairing of Monkey Business on a double-bill with an equally ship-board and crook-filled comedy  seems so perfect that I almost wonder if the Stanford noticed the Thanksgiving/Hannukah collision on the calendar and decided to build its current Preston Sturges/Marx Brothers series inspired by it.

HOW: 35mm as always at the Stanford.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Buffalo '66 (1998)

WHO: Vincent Gallo wrote, directed, composed and performed underscore, and stars in this.

WHAT: I haven't seen Gallo's debut feature as a director since it came out fifteen years ago, so I don't remember many details other than that it involves an attempt at redemption, a family meal, football bets gone wrong, and vintage progressive rock from the 1970s. But it made enough of a general impression on me that I went to see his next feature The Brown Bunny despite its mixed-to-awful reviews, and sustained my interest in seeing Gallo's future work through that despite a vague sense of agreement with the negative one. I was shocked when his most recent feature Promises Written in Water became one of my favorite films seen on my sole trip to the Toronto Film Festival in 2010, an experience I cherish all the more since the film has never screened publicly anywhere in the world since then. I'd prefer to get a second chance at seeing that, but to see this one on 35mm is not all that much rarer of a treat.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Castro Theatre at 9:20.

WHY: Though I don't believe Buffalo '66 is strictly a Thanksgiving film (I may be wrong, but I don't see any turkey on the table in the screen capture above), its wintry setting and football and family connections make it a perfect offbeat choice for a screening the night before. Happy holidays!

HOW: 35mm print, on a double-bill with Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders; I don't know what the connection between the two films is other than that Godard is said to be a fan of Gallo's feature.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Dear Colour, the Dread Colour (2005)

WHO: Dianna Barrie made this.

WHAT: I haven't seen this, but here's the filmmaker's description:
Tree ferns filmed and then re-filmed on black and white film are inter-cut to produce a collage of green tinted positive images and green toned negative images. As the ferns’ leaves are pale in dark surroundings, the tinted positive yields green leaves in a black background, and the toned negative green leaves in a white background. Excerpts from Schubert’s Schoene Muellerin lament and laud the colour green by turns.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight on a program screening at Black Hole Cinematheque at 8:30.

WHY: As I've spent this year documenting in my own way, the decline of film as an exhibition technology is real and, with sanction from a unified industry, seemingly unstoppable. But the film medium will outlive us all in one way or another; we've had a hundred and twenty years to determine how hardy it can be when properly (if sometimes accidentally) stored. How many new photochemical films will continue to be made is less certain with labs and producers of stock shutting down left and right, but the worst case scenario may be that certain artists with knowledge of the physical processes used to create and develop motion picture stocks will find ways to do it by themselves or in collectives.

One such collective is Melbourne, Australia's Artist Film Workshop, of which Barrie and Richard Tuohy have been two driving forces. Both filmmakers are touring the United States, showing their films and sharing their knowledge of hand-made filmmaking and processing with audiences in Colorado, Oregon, etc. Tonight it's Northern California's turn, and the venue is a former church-turned-cinematheque in Oakland which I've been remiss in not mentioning on this blog before today. I've been hesitant in part because I was only aware of its screenings through its Facebook presence, but have recently learned the venue has been running a blog with event details all of this time. Do take the time to see what kinds of events they've been running over the past two years, and you'll get a sense of what kind of a Black Hole you'll be pulled into if you decide to venture to this increasingly important Frisco Bay screening spot.

HOW: 16mm program

The Counselor (2013)

WHO: Cormac McCarthy wrote this screenplay; it is the first film produced from a script by the eighty-year-old author (a number of his novels have been turned into films by other writers and directors, including No Country For Old Men and The Road.)

WHAT: Seemingly every critical position on this nihilistic, comic thriller has been staked out by now: it's been eviscerated as "the worst movie ever made" and hailed as a "masterpiece" and called just about  everything in between.  Even the reviews have spun into their own sub-cycle; negative ones criticized as giving too much heat to "just a bad movie" and positive ones parodied. Find more takes at Keyframe Daily if you'd like to survey the battlefield.

I'm sure I'm not claiming any new position in the trench by saying I'm glad I saw it once, was never bored, but also never enthralled with it as cinema, would probably never see it again, and find it a pretty ideal project for a generally bland director like Ridley Scott, whose Alien and Blade Runner have given me a good deal of pleasure over the years (the latter notably diminishingly so) but who seems curiously over-praised as an auteur as most of his films live and to serve their screenplays and not the personality of their director.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens 9:15 nightly through Wednesday, and 4:00 Sunday, November 30th at the Roxie, and multiple showtimes daily through Wednesday at the Metreon.

WHY: As opportunities to see 35mm prints of almost anything become scarce, fans of watching the flicker of projected film rather than the constancy of video should keep their eyes on the Film On Film Foundation's Bay Area Film Calendar to see when a movie that has been showing in theatres digitally-only for a while suddenly turn up on a film print. Last week the Roxie started putting a few showings of The Counselor on its weekly schedule, and this week the Opera Plaza is showing All Is Lost on 35mm. That both of these films were shot digitally might make certain format purists prefer to see them screened digitally, but I know I'm not the only 35mm fan who likes to support 35mm screenings wherever they may occur. Who knows how much longer we'll be seeing them in any commercial venues? Some have predicted that they'll be gone by the end of the year as studios strive to complete total transition from a projection medium they see as outdated to one they feel they can exert more direct control over (at least until that day when some intrepid hacker decrypts the DCP code, at any rate). I'm not so sure it'll come about quite that quickly, but I want to enjoy the film-on-film experience while it lasts, however long that may be.

HOW: 35mm print at the Roxie; DCP at the Metreon.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hotel City (2003)

WHO: Local filmmaker Phoebe Tooke made this short documentary.

WHAT: Though this film is ten years old already, it's as topical as ever, as it gives voice to folks on the front lines of the struggle to prevent San Francisco's perpetual housing crisis from steamrolling its citizens. Constructed of lucid voice-over and alternatingly clear and beautifully impressionistic images, the film is a compassionate and effective look at some of the Tenderloin's Single-Room-Occupancy or SRO hotels, described by one commentator as "the housing of last resort. It's the first step out of homelessness and the last step to homelessness." We briefly get to know four residents of small, one-room dwellings in which a kitchenette might be an unattainable luxury and sharing a bathroom with dozens of neighbors is the norm. Tooke interviews them in their own spaces, crowded as they are with all the necessities and heirlooms that you or I might find ample room for in a house or a spacious apartment. For a sixteen-minute film there is a lot to hear about the daily struggles of semi-communal life on the economic margins, and of efforts to bring SRO issues to City Hall when landlord demands become unreasonable. It's as good a film as I've seen on this subject of particular interest to me (I have friends who do live or have lived in SRO quarters.)

WHERE/WHEN: On a program playing noon today only at the Roxie.

WHY: Hotel City screens on a full program of works by alumni of one of San Francisco's top institutional training grounds for new filmmakers: the San Francisco State University film department. Ten short films and videos have been selected from among the countless made by students and alumni since the department's 1960s origins. There is a focus on films made during the past ten years, but the selections include Irina Leimbacher's 1991 Mothertongue and go back as far as to the 1967 video/film hybrid OffOn by Scott Bartlett and Tom DeWitt, an astonishing work that has been canonized by (among other markers) its inclusion on the Library of Congress's National Film Registry in 2004. 

Most of what I know about the history of the SFSU film department comes from a detailed chapter in the Radical Light book which I consider a must-own for anyone interested in the roots of San Francisco's independent filmmaking. The chapter includes a partial list of SFSU Film Dept. alumni worth plucking some notable names from: Craig Baldwin, Barbara Hammer, Steven Okazaki, Emiko Omori, Ben Van Meter, Jay Rosenblatt, Lynne Sachs, Greta Snider, Michael Wallin, Wayne Wang... it's clear there's enough to create a fantastic full festival of its own, but today's program with its mix of established and relatively unknown filmmaker names is certainly a welcome way to kick off the last day of the San Francisco Film Society's Cinema By The Bay series.

HOW: According to the Film Society, Hotel City will screen via 16mm.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christmas In July (1940)

WHO: Preston Sturges wrote and directed this.

WHAT: For my money, Christmas In July has as much as a claim on the title of "Sturges's greatest film" as any of his others. Perhaps it doesn't usually get such respect because it's at just over an hour long the shortest of the director's films, or perhaps simply because it was only his second film after his promotion from screenwriter into the director's chair. But at least one major critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, seems to agree it's among his best, and has called the film "a riotous satire of capitalism that bites so deep it hurts" and placed it on his 100-film deep counter-canon to the 1997 AFI 100 list which included no Preston Sturges films at all. (The 2007 update saw Sullivan's Travels added to the list.)

WHERE/WHEN: Today and tomorrow at 4:20 and 7:30 at the Stanford Theatre

WHY: Relax. I know it's still not even Thanksgiving (or Hanukkah- or indeed Thanksgivukkah), so it's arguably too early to watch Christmas movies. But this is not a Christmas movie despite having the word in the title; it's set in the middle of a New York summer (hence the "July" part of the title), and the "Christmas" moniker refers only to the bounty associated with the season.

But though it may still be to early in the year to see Christmas movies, it's not too early to make plans to see them. The Stanford will start selling tickets to its annual December 24th 35mm screening of It's A Wonderful Life on December 7th, only at the theatre box office (nice extra incentive to see a terrific double bill of Sullivan's Travels and Horse Feathers that day or the next.) Tickets always sell out in advance for this event.

The Castro will be showing It's A Wonderful Life in December too this year, though it's not yet been announced whether this will be in 35mm or not. At any rate that happens December 22nd. Other X-mas-related films to play that theatre next month include Gremlins and Lethal Weapon on the 19th and Love Actually on the 20th courtesy of MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS (billed with the Thanksgiving-themed Home for the Holidays and an unnanounced Roxie midnight show)

HOW: Christmas in July screens on a 35mm double-bill with the Four Marx Brothers in Animal Crackers.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Focus (2009)

WHO: Christine Lucy Latimer made this.

WHAT: When we think of "animation" most of us usually think of cartoons, anthropomorphic characters, or both simultaneously. But animation is not so much a genre as a process, one that is distinguished from other filmmaking methods by its frame-by-frame approach. The camera is not integral to the animation process as it is to live-action and documentary filming, but rather serves as a means by which to capture pattern arrangements in a way that can be then screened using other, non animation-specific technologies. Winsor McCay could have made Gertie the Dinosaur using flipbooks instead of film, if he hadn't been as invested in that particular form of presentation. D.W. Griffith did not have another option like that (however impractical).

To that end, Christine Lucy Latimer has made a film that demonstrates the essence of animation much better than I can describe it. She has re-photographed super-8 footage of what looks to be a vacation in Africa- or perhaps just Florida- using a 16mm camera, treating each super-8 frame as a unit of animation. From the imdb description apparently written by Latimer herself.
Using glue and 16mm splicing tape, I place over 1500 individual super 8 film frames from a decimated home movie one-by-one on to clear 16mm film. The resulting floating film-within-a-film becomes a jarring landscape that prioritizes the structure of the super 8 frame over its photographic contents.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight as part of a program starting at 8:00 at Artists' Television Access

WHY: Tonight is another edition of the GAZE series of film & video work by female filmmakers, which has been periodic A.T.A. event for about a year and a half now. Tonight's is an all-animation program also including the local premiere of Jodie Mack's Let Your Light Shine, which has been the talk of viewers in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere this Fall. 

More short films films and videos by female filmmakers (as well as some by males) will screen Sunday at the Roxie as part of a San Francisco State University alumni program in this weekend's Cinema By The Bay series. Mothertongue is one film on that program made by a woman whose work has screened at GAZE before: Irina Leimbacher. Saturday night's Other Cinema program at A.T.A. also includes a high proportion of woman-made work.

HOW: I expect this to be a digital presentation.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970)

WHO: Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

WHAT: This early Fassbinder feature gets a lot of points for its title, perhaps the best of a pretty grand bunch (placing Fassbinder with Chuck Jones as the best filmmaker adopters of one of the few words English and German have borrowed from Bahasa Malay). It was also a favorite of the great critic Manny Farber, who (as previously quoted by Gregg Rickman) wrote with Patricia Patterson of the film that "the essence of Fassbinder is a nagging physical discomfort."

WHERE/WHEN: 7:30 tonight at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and 7PM December 6th at the Pacific Film Archive

WHY: The Fassbinder season is starting to wind down. YBCA only brings four more films to town in its series, and the PFA shows just those and four others (three of which have previously played at the YBCA or Roxie this Fall). But it's never too late to join a series midstream, and see what's been drawing those of us who have been attending as many Fassbinders as we've been able over the past month and a half.

YBCA is also one of the first out of the gate to begin announcing its early 2013 programming, starting with a Jack Smith retrospective including newly restored 16mm prints of Flaming Creatures and other films, January 16-30.

HOW: 35mm.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Contempt (1963)

WHO: Jean-Luc Godard wrote and directed this.

WHAT: Godard's biggest-budgeted film, and his only one featuring superstar Brigitte Bardot. Godard fans almost always count it among his greatest films, and even Godard non-fans tend to like it better than the rest of his filmography, too. Cinematographer Raoul Coutard recorded some great comments about shooting the film for the Criterion Collection.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at 4:45, 7:00 and 9:15 at the Castro.

WHY: I don't get quite the same excitement from getting an advance peek at the Castro calendar as I used to. As more and more of their bookings seem to be of digital presentations rather than 35mm prints, the anticipation is delayed until the the back page of the theatre's calendar is put to press, as that's what reveals the formats of each show. I can predict that among December's bookings Dial 'M' For Murder will be a digital 3D presentation and not a dual-system 35mm showing, and that Jesse Ficks's MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS presentations of Home For the Holidays, Love Actually, Valley Girl and Raising Arizona will probably be film-on-film. But anything else is merely guessing, so I'm not sure yet if I should cancel all my plans to catch Phantom of the Paradise in a uber-rare 35mm print December 14th, or if I'll be easily able to nonchalantly pass by another digital presentation that evening.

But with a film like Contempt I'm torn. It's been years since I've had a chance to see it on 35mm, and have been wanting to revisit it ever since finally seeing one of the films it most famously references, Some Came Running, earlier this year. But Contempt is not all that much easier to see via any of my other habitual methods right now. The Criterion DVD is out of print and all San Francisco Public Library copies have departed from the shelves. Not even every surviving local video rental store still has a copy, last I checked. So today's showing holds some appeal, if not quite as much as this Friday's 35mm screening of Vivre Sa Vie at the Pacific Film Archive, or next Wednesday's Band of Outsiders at the Castro.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Falling Flower (2012)

WHO: Song Jia won the Golden Rooster Best Actress award a month and a half ago for her role in this film, beating Zhang Ziyi's turn in The Grandmaster among other nominees.

WHAT: I have not seen this yet, and the trade reviews are not terribly enthusiastic about anything but the film's cinematography (for which it won an award at the 2012 Shanghai Film Festival), but the film, a biopic of novelist Xiao Hong made by the Fifth Generation director of Postmen in the Mountains, hasn't really been reviewed by many English-language critics beyond these two.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the 4-Star Theatre at 1:30 PM.

WHY: It's the final day of the 4-Star's annual Chinese American Film Festival.

HOW: I believe the entire CAFF program is digitally presented.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Le Joli Mai (1963)

WHO: Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme made this documentary.

WHAT: One of the earliest Chris Marker films I've seen, and one of the best, it's also at 165 minutes one of the longest he made, certainly the longest he'd directed up to this point in his career. A documentary record of Paris during May of 1962, it's a beautiful work that is finally getting more attention after a recent restoration and Cannes screening.  Richard Brody has written an excellent contextualizing piece.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens multiple times daily at the Opera Plaza and the Shattuck, through this Thursday.

WHY: The first of Marker's films to get a full theatrical release in this country since his death last summer, Le Joli Mai is now fifty years old and as relevant as ever. With the Pacific Film Archive in the middle of a retrospective of work by Marker's friend Agnès Varda and this Wednesday showing the latest feature by his one-time collaborator Lynne Sachs (in case you missed it Saturday at Other Cinema, screening along with her Marker-assisting project Three Cheers For the Whale), it's a good week to fan interest in the so-called "Left Bank" filmmakers on bay Area screens.

HOW: The latest restoration is available only digitally.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (1970)

WHO: The late Roger Ebert wrote the screenplay for this.

WHAT: One of the best films of the early 1970s, gorgeously shot and cast, wonderfully scored in the rock and roll idiom of its day, and edited almost like an experimental film in places. Matt Singer wrote a lovely piece about the film as a reflection of its screenwriter's critical values shortly after Ebert's death earlier this year.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at 2:00 and 4:30.

WHY: The films in YBCA's X: The History of a Film Rating all have very different stories behind their MPAA rating. For instance, when Midnight Cowboy (screening December 12) got its X-rating in 1969, the rating system was still new and didn't have the same pornographic implications it would soon acquire, so the film was able to screen widely nationwide and even won the Best Picture Academy Award (a year after Oliver! won with a G-rating; Patton would become the first GP-rated Best Picture winner, The French Connection the first R-rated one, The Sting the first PG and The Last Emperor the first PG-13.)

But by the time Pink Flamingos (screening December 14) received an X-rating (according to John Waters "for hideousness, not sex") the rating prevented it from showing at mainstream movie houses but helped ensure its credibility and popularity among the midnight-movie crowd. When gearing up for a 25th anniversary re-release in 1997, the NC-17 rating had replaced X at the MPAA, (and on the blacklists of religious groups, mall theatres and "family newspapers") and its distributor New Line actually requested it be re-rated NC-17, sensing that the substantial Waters fanbase and future fanbase would not be deterred from buying a ticket to a movie with that rating; perhaps they'd even be more inclined to do so.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls seems to have been made during a moment when studios were particularly uncertain of what 'X' might mean for box office. The impression I get from listening to Roger Ebert's commentary track on the DVD is that Fox's original concept was to hire Russ Meyer with the expectation that he make an X-rated film, but that at some point during the production or post-production process Fox changed its mind, feeling an 'R' would be more commercial and sked Meyer to try to attempt an edit for that rating; when the MPAA gave it an X anyway, he pressed to be allowed to re-edit some more of his risque footage back into the film, but was denied.

HOW: 35mm print

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tabu (2012)

WHO: Miguel Gomes directed this.

WHAT: I have not yet seen this Portuguese-made film which takes its title and, apparently, much more, from F.W. Murnau's 1931 South Seas swan song, but I'm very excited to. Perle Petit has written a piece comparing the two films.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive at 6:00.

WHY: Increasingly, film festivals are not a place to see 35mm prints, especially of new films, even those that cry out to be seen that way. Of the eight current and upcoming local film festivals on my sidebar, I believe only one is planning to screen anything on film: the Another Hole In the Head genre festival which plans to show 35mm prints of Jaws and The Shining in December at the Balboa, which recently installed new digital projection systems but has been lucky enough to be able to retain 35mm projection capability. The San Francisco Film Society's Fall Season included 35mm prints in one of its festival showcases: the retrospective-minded Zurich/SF weekend. And the highest-profile local Fall festival, the Mill Valley Film Festival, showed only two 35mm prints this year, one of them for a thirteen-year-old title (Lumumba), and the other for a remake of a 60-year-olf film (Tokyo Family). This is down from the dozen or so titles at the 2012 festival, a dozen that did not included its showings of Tabu despite it having been shot on film and appealing greatly to a good portion of those last cinephiles who still make an effort to support film-on-film screenings.

The upshot of all this is that tonight's PFA screening is not only the first theatrical showing of Tabu in Berkeley, and the first in the Bay Area in over a year when it played MVFF, but the first-ever local showing of the film in 35mm (not to mention the only 35mm screening as part of the PFA's New Portuguese Cinema series). I know it's available on DVD now, but I'm planning to head to Berkeley to see it tonight the way I'm sure it was meant to be shown.

HOW: As noted above, 35mm

Friday, November 15, 2013

Report (1967)

WHO: Bruce Conner made this.

WHAT: The longest and most overtly political film collagist Bruce Conner had made up to that point in his 10-year career as a filmmaker, the 13-minute-long Report makes a fascinating comparison piece to another film he released in 1967, The White Rose. Where the latter is playful and poetic in its mourning the end of an era for one of Conner's friends, Report is precise and pointed in its depiction of what Jack Kroll in Newsweek called the "tragic absurdity" of the day of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Whereas a prior film like Cosmic Ray clearly mixes footage shot by Conner himself with found material, on first look The White Rose and Report separate these two strands of source material for Conner's editing. But in fact much of the footage seen in Report is in its way just as much Conner's "own material" as anything in The White Rose or Looking For Mushrooms (the third masterpiece he released in 1967), as it was filmed directly off the television screen in the Massachusetts home he was staying in during the assassination news coverage. 

Adrian Danks has written a more detailed article on the film which I recommend.

WHERE/WHEN: On a program screening at 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: Tonight's program of films from the Oddball archive is a "conspiracy-free" look at the Kennedy assassination fifty years (minus exactly one week) after it occurred. I believe the print of Report is getting its debut screening at Oddball; sometimes this 16mm collection (the largest of its kind in Northern California) seems limitless. Other films and excerpts selected from the collection are less artistically inclined, but it will be interesting to see how Conner's film supports or fights against their own perspectives. Included are Mel Stuart's Politics in the Television Age, the 14-minute Protest: Assassins featuring a camera interview with Lee Harvey Oswald, and glimpses into everything from Kennedy's Space Race legacy to the "truly maudlin" tribute by singer Anthony Newley (he of the infamous Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?) fill out the show.

Another 16mm screening commemorating 11/22/1963 this week is this Sunday's showing of Oliver Stone's JFK at the Berkeley Underground Film Society.

HOW: All-16mm program.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Great McGinty (1940)

WHO: Preston Sturges wrote and directed this.

WHAT: Almost ten years ago I dove into a project of watching almost every Preston Sturges-credited film I could get my hands on, in order to write a short piece on this film of Senses Of Cinema. I still like most of what I wrote, but a more recent revisitation of the film made me wonder why I left out certain key aspects of the film that make it more complex than my 1200 words (including footnotes) got across. The framing story involving Louis Jean Heydt and Steffi Duna, for instance, got completely overlooked, for instance, when in fact it's one of Sturges's most fascinating disruptions to the Hollywood formula.

Though I wouldn't call The Great McGinty one of Sturges's very best films, it's too-frequently dismissed as a substantially inferior first stab at directing, when in fact it's really just about as well-constructed and at least as thematically rich as any of his other films. Its humor is perhaps not as pushed to the center as in a more canonized film like The Palm Beach Story, but maybe that's not such a bad thing. It's certainly one of my sentimental favorites of Sturges's films, and a fine introduction to the filmmaker for anyone who hasn't experienced his work before.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight through Sunday at the Stanford Theatre at 7:30, with additional Saturday and Sunday afternoon matinees at 4:10.

WHY: Tonight's screening of The Great McGinty is on a double-bill with the very first Marx Brothers feature (and the one from their first ten years in Hollywood that I've seen least recently) The Cocoanuts. The Stanford's new series screens each of the first seven feature Marx Brothers films along with the first seven films Sturges directed each weekend through the rest of 2013, nearly in chronological order. The only modification to this scheme is the swapping of the 1942 Palm Beach Story with the 1944 Miracle of Morgan's Creek, presumably so that the World War II-themed latter film can be paired with the Marx Brothers' takedown of war Duck Soup.

HOW: All films in this Stanford series screen on 35mm.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Necrology (1970)

WHO: Standish Lawder made this short film, and makes a brief appearance in it as well. (He's the one smoking in the above screen shot.)

WHAT: It's definitely best not to read about this film at all before seeing it, because almost anything anyone could write about it might give the game away. (Though it's certainly easy to appreciate the film while knowing about its secrets, there's always just one first time...) But in case you've seen it recently and would like to read some good analysis of it, try Ed Howard's write-up.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at 7:00 at the Exploratorium's Kanbar Forum.

WHY: It's hard to believe that the Fall SF Cinematheque calendar is down to only a few last shows, but all of them are unique, only-in-cinema events, at least in part because they involve filmmaker-in-person appearances. Tonight's screening of Necrology and eight other Lawder works will be followed by November 29th's YBCA showing of Nicolas Rey's anders, Molussien with its usual randomized reel sequence, and in December the Exploratorium will host Alex MacKenzie for multi-screen projector performances.

Luckily SF Cinematheque is not the only game in town for experimental film viewing. The Exploratorium shows shorts programs every Saturday afternoon in its still-new screening space, Artists' Television Access hosts Craig Baldwin's Other Cinema and the female-filmmaker-centric GAZE series, the Pacific Film Archive still has a couple screenings left in its Alternative Visions series, and even Oddball Films is known to show the occasional avant-garde classic; this Friday night Bruce Conner's Report makes it onto a John F. Kennedy-themed program. Watching experimental film at home is often the equivalent of looking at a zine full of poorly-photocopied versions of 20th-century paintings, so get out there and see what these films were really meant to look like!

HOW: On a 16mm program of nine short films by Lawder, with the director in person.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Inequality For All (2013)

WHO: Robert Reich is the focus of this documentary.

WHAT: This breezy documentary addresses a weighty topic, the causes and ill effects of the enormous gap between the wealth and income of a few very rich Americans, and that of the rest of us. Some have lamented that the film doesn't go far enough in arguing for effective solutions to the economic mess we find ourselves in, and it's a fair point to be sure. But clearly the filmmaker (Jacob Kornbluth, a local) felt his film would be more powerful as a tool to raise awareness about the magnitude of the issue, and perhaps even convert some skeptics. To that end, he doesn't go overboard on hammering political points but rather centers his film on one eloquent and tireless advocate of the importance of this issue, UC Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, whose biography, it turns our, mirrors his chosen cause in poignant ways. Kalvin Henley has written a more complete review I can recommend reading.

WHERE: Screens at 9:00 tonight and at 6:30 tomorrow and Thursday at the Camera 3 in San Jose, and multiple times daily at the California Theatre in Berkeley at least through this Thursday. UPDATE 11/12/2013: The Balboa is also screening the film multiple times daily through Thursday.

WHY: Whether you feel you've heard Reich's arguments enough or feel you could never hear them enough (or more likely, fall somewhere in between those points on the scale), you may be interested in seeing Inequality For All simply for the local angle. A great deal of the documentary was shot in the Bay Area, including the above image of downtown Oakland's majestic Paramount Theatre (which screens The African Queen for $5 this Friday, incidentally).

Reich appears (with much less screen time, I'm led to believe) in another documentary coming to Frisco Bay soon: Frederick Wiseman's latest institutional investigation At Berkeley, which takes a more comprehensive view of the workings of the University of California's flagship campus. Since I last speculated about where it might screen, I've learned it will come to UC Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive December 3rd that Wiseman will be on hand for, but that will  be open only to the University's students, faculty and staff. A second PFA showing will occur January 18th, 2014 (dare I hope along with a retrospective of Wiseman films? It's been over ten years since the last), but before that both the Elmwood and the Roxie will screen At Berkeley for at least a week starting December 6th, with opening night screenings accompanied by a Skype q&a with the director.

HOW: Inequality For All was made and will screen digitally.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Last Detail (1973)

WHO: Jack Nicholson stars in this.

WHAT: In the early 1970s, Nicholson was consistently stretching himself as an actor in just about every role, something that occurred far less frequently (if at all) after his first Best Actor Academy Award for 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. One of the best performances he gave during this period was in The Last Detail, where he played a Navy MP giving a young petty thief one last fling in the big city on the way to escorting him to Portsmouth Naval Prison. Swearing like a sailor and, as Richard Armstrong writes, "coming on with the pugnacity of a James Cagney or the young Kirk Douglas", he propels the film into uncharted waters, just as his performances in the subsequent Chinatown and The Passenger do in those films.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Castro Theatre at 4:50 and 9:15.

WHY: Happy Veterans Day!

HOW: DCP, on a double-bill with a 35mm print of From Here To Eternity.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bastards (2013)

WHO: Claire Denis

WHAT: I haven't seen this film yet and I haven't read any reviews yet. I'm sold on seeing this film just on the basis of its director alone; all I really know is that it's her first feature film made on digital video. (Does this mean that White Material will stand as her last shot on film?) But I'm glad to know that, once I've seen the film and an ready to read reviews, David Hudson has been collecting links to them since its first US showing last month.

WHERE/WHEN: 8:30 PM tonight only at the Clay Theatre.

WHY: It's the final day of the San Francisco Film Society's annual French Cinema Now showcase, and some of the heaviest-hitting directors have been saved for last. The day starts with House Of Radio, the newest documentary from the maker of To Be And To Have and many other popular non-fiction imports. That's followed by the weekend's second showing of Anna Novion's Rendezvous in Kirina, which the Film Society gave pride of place on its festival marketing materials. I'm also very excited to see Vic & Flo Saw A Bear, the latest from French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté, who made the wonderful Curling in 2010. Bastards closes the program, and then the SFFS does it all again at the Clay next week with its longest-standing mini-festival, New Italian Cinema.

HOW: Digital screening.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

In A Lonely Place (1950)

WHO: Nicholas Ray directed this

WHAT: A top contender for the title of "best movie about Hollywood ever made in Hollywood". Noir City honcho Eddie Muller put it at the top of the list of his all-time favorite films noir and who am I to argue with that? (In fact I think I'd come to the same or at least a very similar conclusion independently.)

WHERE/WHEN: Screens today and tomorrow only at the Stanford Theatre at 4:05 and 7:30 PM.

WHY: Speaking of Eddie Muller and Noir City, there's already a good deal of online speculation about the possible programming at the 12th edition of that beloved Frisco festival, which will occur at the Castro Theatre January 24th through February2nd, 2014. There are rumors that the Film Noir Foundation, the non-profit that grew out of the festival, should finally be ready to premiere its long-promised restoration of Byron Haskin's Too Late For Tears starring Lisabeth Scott and Dan Duryea, for instance. And since the reveal of the festival poster, some (yes, including yours truly) have been wondering if the next Noir City might be the first edition to expand its focus to include noir filmed in languages other than English. I've heard a rumor that seems to confirm such guesswork: that Noir City 12 will include a film directed by Mexico's Golden Age auteur Roberto Gavaldón. I've only seen one Gavaldón film before, the excellent but only somewhat noir-ish Macario. I wonder if this means we'll be seeing The Other One starring Dolores Del Rio at the Castro in a few months? Or perhaps another title- I don't really know how many noirs Gavaldón made. To what extent might the full program be spiced up (don't any of you Hollywood purists dare say diluted in front of me) with some international depictions of desperate criminals?

At least we know when we'll know the answer: December 18th, 2013, when the Castro will host Noir City's fourth annual Noir City Xmas double-bill, this time of the only known projectable 35mm print of the 1947 George Raft vehicle Christmas Eve and of a 35mm print of the 1961 independently-produced Blast of Silence. Way better than a press conference as a method of revealing a festival line-up, Noir City X-Mas has quickly become one of my favorite holiday traditions.

HOW: 35mm screening, on a double-bill with Joseph H. Lewis's Gun Crazy.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Walker (1987)

WHO: Alex Cox directed and co-edited this.

WHAT: The first American (co-)production to be shot on location (for the most part) in Nicaragua.  A truly bizarre film about a bizarre piece of 19th-century history, it stars Ed Harris as William Walker, the mercenary filibuster from Tennessee who tried to make Nicaragua become one of the United States the way Texas (among others) became one: through Anglo settlement and conquest.

Such a brutal history makes for a sometimes brutal movie, and director Cox drew inspiration from violent Western epics like The Wild Bunch and Once Upon a Time in the West to create his most lavishly morbid film.  But he also broke all the rules of period pieces by connecting the historical events to the contemporaneous Reagan-era policies in the region, in a way I wouldn't want to spoil for those who have not yet seen this.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Roxie, at 11:59 PM.

WHY: Walker is the capper to the next-to-last MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS triple-bill of 2013, and it's a doozy. Starting this summer with the MiDNITES showing of Dario Argento's Tenebrae these three-prong events have involved a crawl from a Castro Theatre double-bill to the nearby Roxie for the final show. This will be my first time embarking one of these crawls, and I couldn't be more excited for the line-up.

First up is my favorite big-budget Hollywood movie in recent memory The Lone Ranger, which I wrote about when it was still in cinemas this past August. I very much look forward to an upcoming piece on the film by my friend and fellow fan Ryland Walker Knight, but in the meantime I'm excited to attend the my first 35mm viewing of a film that was shot largely on 35mm by Bojan Bazelli (cinematographer for Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst and Abel Ferrara's King of New York and Body Snatchers among other films on his very interesting resume), but that has until tonight only shown at digital-only theatres within San Francisco.

The second program in the trio is Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, one of my favorite films of all time but one I have never seen on a truly huge screen like the Castro's (it frequently played at the Red Vic when that was still a going concern). It was Jonathan Rosenbaum's 1996 article on this film that made me first aware of a sub-genre known as the "acid western" that describes it, Walker, Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie, Monte Hellman's The Shooting and other films, and that tonight's MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS event borrows for its title.

As far as I know, Rosenbaum has thus far not weighed in (or perhaps even seen) The Lone Ranger, so I don't know how he would react to it being grouped with the other two films. But I think it might just work. It has a hallucinatory quality and a sense of existence as a counterpoint to mainstream filmmaking (though its status as a highly-budgeted Disney release surely complicates this quite a bit; the friction here may help account for its poor showing with critics).

Obviously tonight's triple-bill is meant to highlight the approaches toward portraying the clash of Anglo-Saxon and indigenous American cultures in the eighteenth century, in ways that draw from and rebel against the traditional ways Hollywood filmmakers have portrayed this topic in Westerns during their heyday in the 1910s through 1970s. It's probably a coincidence that this triple-bill is occurring in the middle of the 38th annual American Indian Film Festival, which is one of the country's best showcases for films made by and about the modern descendents of native peoples from this continent. If you've never sampled this excellent festival, I highly recommend doing so before its screenings end tomorrow. Also probably a coincidence is the Sunday evening 16mm screening of Kent MacKenzie's unique 1961 film The Exiles at the Berkeley Underground Film Society. I recommend that too.

HOW:All films tonight screen via 35mm prints.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Last Tango In Paris (1972)

WHO: Bernardo Bertolucci directed this.

WHAT: If it's not the most well-known film I've never seen, it's at least got to be the most well-known foreign film made before I was born that I've never seen. Why haven't I at some point checked it out? I'm not quite sure but I don't feel so bad about that after reading these lines from Roger Ebert's addendum to his oriiginal review after revisiting the film in 1995:
I once had a professor who knew just about everything there was to know about Romeo and Juliet, and told us he would trade it all in for the opportunity to read the play for the first time. I felt the same way during the screening: I was so familiar with the film that I was making contact with the art instead of the emotion.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts at 7:30 PM.

WHY: Marlon Brando, were he still around, would probably prefer I didn't feature this film on my blog today. He'd probably rather I point out the ongoing American Indian Film Festival, one of the longest-running yet the most consistently overlooked of all Frisco Bay film festivals. (I only attended for the first time in 2012 and returned to see a couple films this year, but so far I've yet to see something there that wasn't worthwhile.) Or perhaps another local festival happening this weekend that I'm probably not going to be able to squeeze in a mention of, worthy as it might be: the 3rd i South Asian Film Festival for example, or the California Independent Film Festival or the Transgender Film Festival or the Poppy Jaspar International Short Film Festival.

But I can't resist. Last Tango In Paris is what's really on my mind today. It's one of those I'd always wanted to get around to seeing, but put off until another day. With a 35mm print coming to town and no other major plans I think that might just be today. The occasion is the launch of YBCA's X: The History of a Film Rating series investigating films that have been at one point or another given the MPAA's most restrictive rating. Lincoln Spector has offered an excellent summary of the series and its historical basis (though if he thinks Fritz The Cat, which screens at YBCA next Thursday, is really the only X-rated cartoon and not just the first one, he must be lucky enough to have avoided director Ralph Bakshi's follow-up Heavy Traffic and the wave of other adult-oriented animation that came in their wake.)  I suspect this series was organized with at least half an eye on the expected controversy coming with the release of the NC-17 top Cannes prize-winner Blue Is The Warmest Color this past week. 

HOW: All programs in the YBCA's series screen from 35mm prints.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Breathless (1960)

WHO: Jean-Luc Godard directed this.

WHAT: Godard's first feature film. Only one of the most famous and influential art/independent/foreign films ever made. A masterpiece that I find grows in stature with each viewing (maybe that's the very definition of masterpiece). David Hudson collected a large number of excellent articles about the film when it had its 50th anniversary in 2010.

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

WHY: Though (at least in 2013) we're not getting anything close in size to the giant Godard retrospective that New Yorkers were able to see last month, at least local cinephiles get to see at least five of Godard's best features in local cinemas this month, four of them on the giant-sized Castro screen. The Castro plays a Godard every Wednesday in November: Breathless tonight, Weekend on a 35mm double-bill with David Cronenberg's Crash on the 13th, Contempt as a newly-prepared DCP on the 20th, and Band of Outsiders alongside Vincent Gallo's Buffalo '66 on November 27th, both in 35mm.

The fifth Godard coming to Frisco Bay is perhaps my favorite of all his films: Vivre Sa Vie, his signature collaboration with his wife Anna Karina, screening as part of the Pacific Film Archive's Fassbinder's Favorites sidebar to its retrospective for that director. That'll be November 22nd, the same evening as the final screening in the PFA's current Agnès Varda series, Cléo From 5 to 7. It's an appropriate pairing because, although Varda last night said she was didn't feel particularly close to the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd (of which Godard must certainly be considered a member), she did recruit him and Karina to perform in the short film-within-film Les Fiancés du pont Mac Donald ou (Méfiez-vous des lunettes noires) appearing in Cléo.

Varda also noted last night that, although she was alone among female filmmakers to gain notice during the 1960s heyday of the French New Wave, she's become heartened that there are so many French women directing, shooting, and taking other once-male-dominated roles in filmmaking nowadays. Of the nine contemporary French films screening in the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now series opening at the Clay tomorrow and running all weekend, female directors outnumber males five to four (only by counting French-Canadian director of Vic & Flo Saw A Bear Denis Côté does the ratio even up to five-five), and the series includes five films shot or co-shot by women cinematographers, including two by Claire Mathon, two by Jeanne Lapoirie, and of course Bastards, directed by Claire Denis and shot by superstar DP Agnès Godard (no relation to Jean-Luc). For a full preview of the French Cinema Now series I direct you to the excellent article by local Francophile and cinephile Michael Hawley.

HOW: Breathless screens in 35mm, on a double-bill with the local DCP premiere of one of Godard's favorite films, Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse. This was the film that inspired Godard to cast Jean Seberg.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Gleaners & I (2000)

WHO: Agnès Varda made this documentary, and appears in it too.

WHAT: Late in life, Varda has focused her energy on documentaries, weaving personal, poetic essays in visual form.  Inspired by famous 19th-century paintings of "gleaners", and by the French law that allows people to take food from a farmer's field after a harvest, in this film she playfully investigates a wide array of modern gleaners, from artists and anarchists to the Roma.  But ultimately the film is a touching self-investigation, as Varda recognizes her own status as a gleaner of images others would throw away.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive at 7:00 PM

WHY: I unfortunately was unable to attend last night's screening of L'Opéra-Mouffe and two other of Varda's earlier shorts last night after all, but I'm hoping to be able to pull myself away from other projects to make it tonight. The Gleaners & I is one of my very favorite of Varda's films, one I've seen several times already, and one I'd particularly love to hear the filmmaker speak about in person.

It's hard to think of a more appropriate day to see it than on an election day, as "gleaning" is something inscribed in the French legal system. It's a cold hard fact that much of the quality of life for the materially impoverished is at the mercy of the laws a society enacts, so it's important for all of us to exercise our democratic voice when we have the opportunity to. You won't want to attend tonight's screening guiltily knowing you missed a chance to weigh in on propositions whose passage or failure are likely to increase or decease economic inequality in the region.

HOW: 35mm print with Varda in person.

Monday, November 4, 2013

L'Opéra-Mouffe (1958)

WHO: Agnès Varda wrote and directed this short film.

WHAT: One of the "boni" on the Cinema Guild DVD for Varda's Cinévardaphoto triptych of shorts is an inventive three-way (Varda with Anne Huet & Alain Bergala) interview-film called From the Rooster To the Donkey (Hands and Objects), in which the legendary French filmmaker discusses her parallel career as a short filmmaker, a career that would distinguish her as a major film artist on its own, if only it weren't overshadowed by the many tremendous feature films she's directed since filming La Pointe Courte nearly sixty years ago.

In this "bonus", Varda discusses L'Opéra-Mouffe a.k.a. Diary of a Pregnant Woman, placing it as the first short film she made on her own volition. (O saisons, ô châteaux preceded it but that was a commissioned work she feels less than passionate about.) She says:
I was pregnant. I shot on La Mouffe, the rue Mouffetard, a documentary about its people. Back then, the neighborhood was mostly cafes and poor people. It was really a poor area. There were no toilets. Just buckets put out every morning. And there was the market. I shot the film with the impression that the more fulfilled I was, [...] the more I saw how poor the people on that street were. I wanted to blur the line between the belly that eats and the belly that makes a baby. I did that film on my own, with my own money. [Actor] Gérard Philipe's wife lent me a camera. [...] I quickly understood that the desire to make a short film was enough, or nearly. Especially now, with all these little cameras to borrow. You can do a lot with very little. I don't worship poverty, and I don't worship money. What does seem important is the ability to move quickly from desire to realization.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens on a program starting at 7:00 tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

WHY: Tonight's screening of L'Opéra-Mouffe along with two other Varda-directed shorts (the Frisco Bay-made Uncle Yanco and Black Panthers, neither of which I've seen in full) is not just an opportunity to see rarely-screened works on the big screen; it's an opportunity to do so with one of France's great living directors in person. On her way to Hollywood, where she will be the Guest Artistic Director at AFI Fest (wish I were able to go this year), Varda will be visiting Berkeley to appear with her short films tonight, and with her tremendous The Gleaners & I tomorrow. Both screenings are said to be sold out, so if you don't have tickets already, you're probably out of luck (though arriving at the PFA early with a "I need a miracle" sign couldn't hurt). There are still tickets available to see the remaining programs in the PFA's Varda tribute, Le Pointe Courte in 35mm Friday and Cléo From 5 to 7 in a new DCP in two and a half weeks, but Varda will not be on hand for those showings.

Varda was involved in writing French dialogue for Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris, which screens in 35mm this Thursday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, making it possible to see a Varda-related film four out of five weeknights this week.

HOW: L'Opéra-Mouffe and Uncle Yanco screen in 35mm tonight, while Black Panthers screens in 16mm, the latter two in new restorations since their last PFA appearance in 2009.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

WHO: Kumar Pallana, who died at age 94 a few weeks ago, has a small but memorable role in this.

WHAT: Though it didn't hit me emotionally on first viewing, unlike some other films made by Wes Anderson (Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom and even The Darjeeling Limited), upon repeated exposure The Royal Tenenbaums has become one of my very favorites. It's in many ways the quintessential Anderson picture, and its elements tend to dominate parodies of his style (such as the recent Saturday Night Live example) more than those from his other films.

I recently purchased and enjoyed reading Matt Zoller Seitz's new book about Anderson and his films called The Anderson Collection, which features short essays and lengthy interviews between Seitz and the filmmaker on each of his films released so far, not to mention a huge selection of unearthed and original images and artworks relating to Anderson's influences and his ouevre. For a sample from the book, check out the text excerpt and video on The Royal Tenenbaums on Seitz's blog.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Castro Theatre at 3:00 and 8:50 PM.

WHY: If Pallana's recent passing and Seitz's book aren't enough to inspire a viewing of The Royal Tenenbaums today, perhaps a Wes Anderson triple-feature might do it? The film plays with his first feature Bottle Rocket (which also features Pallana) and last year's Moonrise Kingdom. With the release of his new film The Grand Budapest Hotel just around the corner (it's expected to arrive in US theatres next March) it's a good time to reacquaint yourself with some of his best past films.

HOW: All three Anderson films screening today play in 35mm.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Night Hunter (2011)

WHO: Stacey Steers made this.

WHAT: A collage/animation installation whose video portion was shown as a single-channel work at the Pacific Film Archive in September, at a screening described here. The title derives from the Charles Laughton-directed masterpiece Night of the Hunter, featuring Lillian Gish in a key role. Other films starring Gish in her silent-film heyday are incorporated into the work.

WHERE/WHEN: On display starting today at the Catherine Clark Gallery; its open hours are 11-6 Tuesdays through Saturdays.

WHY: Though film and video can be wonderfully experienced in the communal darkness of a cinema, it find another audience, and another form of appreciation, when presented in a gallery setting. Though I have not seen Night Hunter in this form yet, I'm very much looking forward to visiting the gallery and getting another perspective on a piece I enjoyed in the cinema context.

HOW: An installation involving sculpture and 35mm animation transfered to video.