Friday, January 31, 2014

Two Eyes: David Robson

In the San Francisco Bay Area, moviegoing is not just for the newest releases. In 2013 there were more theatrical opportunities to see films spanning the history of cinema than any one person could take advantage of. Therefore, I've asked a sampling of local moviegoers to select a few favorites seen in cinemas last year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from David Robson, who blogs at House of Sparrows,

Noir City. The Hitchcock 9. The Silent Film Festival. All three of these were great events to hit San Francisco, but if they're the only rep offerings you took in last year, you're part of the problem. Venues continue to struggle year 'round, and desperately need and deserve both your moviegoing dollars and your eyes. Since the three events above are covered elsewhere in Two Eyes '13, I'm going to skip them entirely. Not just because more than enough people will be sounding off on them, but because, frankly, removing them from consideration allows me to fit in more of the great stuff I saw outside them last year. SUCH AS:

--I'm resolving to get to the Stanford Theatre more this year - I worry that their recent reduction of days of operation and focus on name talent and classics is a kind of belt-tightening, and grow concerned for their future. Hard as it is to get down there for programs, I'm delighted by the few things I did see there. The highlight: Tower Of London, basically Richard III from the makers of Son of Frankenstein. An A-list historical period piece that moved like a B-horror. Wonderful!

--A couple of intriguing series of experimental Japanese films from the 60s and 70s made the rounds earlier in the year. Between them they offered a nice little retrospective of filmmaker/theatre director/provocateur Shuji Terayama. I was delighted to finally get a look at his feature Cache Cache Pastoral, a gorgeous and psychologically penetrating work that ranks among his most personal, laying out his mother issues alongside some truly stunning imagery.

--The attention on Hitchcock's silents prompted a lot of Hitchcock programming all over the Bay Area. I'm grateful to PFA for going all the way to the UK to summon a print of Under Capricorn, Hitchcock's stylized but little seen melodrama. Rope, with it's long takes and single setting, is now regarded as one of Hitchcock's boldest experiments, but Under Capricorn built on those experiments, interlacing Rope's technical feats with Rebecca's Gothic horror with still other elements quite unique to this picture. It's not an overt exercise in suspense; even in that pre-auteur era, people who praised Hitchcock as a great director found Under Capricorn a little too weird. Would that it enjoyed the attention and reappraisal given the Hitchcock 9.

--A rare, maybe even totally unheard-of afternoon screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show allowed its audience, if they were interested, to assess the joy, the multi-levelled queerness, the references to older horror movies, and the earnest plea for individualistic expression mostly absent of the crowd participation and other antics for which screenings of the movie have become known. The hosts of the movie may have been disappointed by the relative silence of the audience. Perhaps simply watching the movie is a more novel means of accessing its radicalism.

--Most people contributing to IOHTE (and I gather many of you reading it) have probably compared seeing movies at the Castro to attending church. This comparison was strongly in mind at a Sunday afternoon, one-off screening of Michael Mann's Heat. The cool, meticulous, blue-lit cop-and-crooks story isn't epic in scope, necessarily, but on this lovely and grey afternoon it became all things to all of us in attendance. (Coincidentally, that evening in Los Angeles a rare 35mm print of Mann's The Keep screened for what I'm told was a similarly faithful audience at Cinefamily.)

--A small Brian DePalma series (built around screenings of Passion, his latest) offered a welcome chance to see Femme Fatale in 35mm. I wrote that it was funny how in this film, after breaking from Hollywood and enjoying the freedom of foreign financing, DePalma had made a movie as graceful and elegant as Hollywood movies used to be. The opening heist scene is some of the most joyous, rapturous filmmaking I've ever seen - some people who'd seen the late afternoon screening before Passion stuck around to watch that sequence again.

--KROB took over the Castro for a day and showed, in reverse chronological order, Jonathan Demme's concert documentaries. I'd been long curious about Storefront Hitchcock, Demme's intimate film capturing Robyn Hitchcock performing live in a tiny Greenwich Village furniture store. It turned out to be an ideal introduction to Hitchcock's angular, idiosyncratic music, and is every bit as dynamic a music movie as Demme's more expansive Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense. (Indeed, Storefront resembled a feature-length iteration of Sense's sparer first ten minutes.) I left the screening shaken, elated, knocked out, and disappointed that there were maybe ten other people in the Castro who saw it.

--A pre-Halloween screening of An American Werewolf In London, a movie I'd enjoyed for decades on video without ever seeing theatrically, broke it wide open. The spooky opening scenes on England's fog-shrouded moors honor the atmospherics of the movie's classic forerunners, and the much-lauded transformation scene make the most of then-current technology (as does, in a subtler way, the intense Steadicam chase scene through the Tottenham Court Road tube station). Making the film for Universal, John Landis clearly understood what making a Universal horror film meant, and his movie both honors that tradition and extends it into a new generation.

--Having assumed that the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder was of a piece with a misanthropic, miserablist tradition in recent filmmaking I approached the films in a recent, multi-venue retrospective with some trepidation. And yet I quickly figured out that his movies were leavened with a deep compassion that seems to escape contemporary filmmakers, who seem bent on making their audiences as miserable as their characters. Just as thrilling is Fassbinder's often theatrical mise-en-scene, which gives us some Brechtian distance to consider the plight of his protagonists while at the same time keeping us emotionally involved with them. I wish I'd seen more of them, and hesitate to put any of the movies I saw in the series over the others, so I'll name the brutal but (that word again) compassionate Martha as simply the series' most pleasant surprise.

--My second 35mm screening of Rumble Fish left me torn between thinking it was simply one of my favorite films and thinking it's one of the greatest films.

Two Eyes: Maureen Russell

In the San Francisco Bay Area, moviegoing is not just for the newest releases. In 2013 there were more theatrical opportunities to see films spanning the history of cinema than any one person could take advantage of. Therefore, I've asked a sampling of local moviegoers to select a few favorites seen in cinemas last year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from Maureen Russell, film festival volunteer, member and aficionado.

1) Noir City 11 – annual San Francisco Film Noir Fest Jan. 25 – Feb. 3, 2013 – Castro Theatre Highlights of Noir City included opening night’s Gun Crazy (1950) with actress Peggy Cummins in an onstage interview; San Francisco double feature The Sniper (1952) with great location shots and Experiment in Terror (1962) – 4k digital restoration, directed by Blake Edwards (very different subject for him) – the cast, music, story and pace made this a tense thriller. (1/30/13) And a highly fun night 2/1/13 for the 1953 3-D noir double feature with Man in the Dark and Inferno. It felt like it was the 50s with a full house wearing 3-D glasses, and the films were great, not just made for the gimmick.

2) The Clock – dir. Christian Marclay, SFMoMA I was quite impressed by this carefully compiled installation piece using film and television shows with clocks in each scene, shown in actual time. Having to wait to enter the screening room and then stay as long as you wanted became part of the experience. Repeat visits and longer viewings brought more out of the piece, as it revisited certain films, scenes, and actors. I attended some of the 24-hour screenings and got to know people in the long line with me on closing weekend. It was fun to recognize scenes from films you knew. After seeing it, I became very aware of clock shots in other films. I did get to experience the midnight segment.

3) San Francisco Silent Film Festival – July, the Castro Theatre
I’m choosing the entire festival. Highlights include The First Born, dir. Miles Mander, UK, 1928, accompanied by Stephen Horne and recently restored by BFI. The story of love and betrayal amount the upper class felt completely modern, great acting and of course accompaniment, starring Miles Mander who cowrote it with Alma Reville. Another highlight was Denmark’s The Golden Clown, 1926, accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble, providing the perfect music for a tragic clown story.

4) Eight Deadly Shots, 1972, Finland, director Mikko Niskanen, B&W, SF International Film Festival, the Kabuki, 5/7/13 I took the day off to see this 316 minute classic of Finnish film, written, directed and starring Mikko Niskanen. Originally a tv miniseries, based on a true incident (but only a news clipping), you are drawn into the hard daily life of a Finnish farmer and the mindset that could have fired the shots at the beginning of the film. You also learn how to make bootleg hooch!

5) The Hitchcock 9 – Silent Hitchcock, SF Silent Film Festival, July 14 – 16, Castro Theatre Again, I’m picking the whole festival, and I did see all nine beautifully recently restored by the BFI, early silent films made in England by one of my favorite directors, most of which I’d never heard of before. Highlights include two starring Ivor Novello: Downhill (1927) accompanied by Stephen Horne on piano (the story of a promising young man whose life slides increasingly downhill after a series of women take advantage of him) and The Lodger (1926), accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, in which part of the suspense hinges on whether you believe suspicious Novello is the Jack the Ripper character or just a loner.

6) Hollywood Before the Code! Deeper, Darker, Nastier!, March 1 – 7, the Roxie The Roxie’s popular pre-code festival included many studio archive 35mm prints and great double bills A highlight was closing night’s Lyle Talbot double feature, with Lyle’s son in attendance, telling stories to a full house. Fog Over Frisco (1934) and Heat Lightning (1934)

7) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1964, 4K digital restoration, the Castro Theatre, 8/28/13 A great way to re-appreciate the Kubrick classic, with a story that still feels current, restored and on the big screen, almost 50 years from its release. Outstanding cast (Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, et al), script, everything.

8) Repulsion, 1965, B&W, newly restored 35mm archive print Polanski at the Roxie series; Roman Polanski live via Skype I’ve seen this film a number of times over the years, yet it still shocks and I see something new. Hard to beat this performance by Catherine Deneuve and the imaginitive story in this psychological horror film. Polanski discussed making it during his Skype chat.

9) The Shining, 1980, dir. Stanley Kubrick, The Roxie, 4/18/13 Another Kubrick film on my list. I have never seen all of The Shining, and wanted to properly see it on the big screen for the first full viewing, but kept missing it. I finally got my chance at a late night screening at the Roxie, with a number of younger viewers in the audience. The film did not disappoint!

10) Fassbinder at the Roxie – Seven by R. W. Fassbinder, all 35 mm prints The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972) with The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), both starring Hanna Schygulla, 10/4/13 Always love the over the top character, costumes and colors in Bitter Tears, shot entirely in one apartment - quite a feat.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Two Eyes: Ben Armington

In the San Francisco Bay Area, moviegoing is not just for the newest releases. In 2013 there were more theatrical opportunities to see films spanning the history of cinema than any one person could take advantage of. Therefore, I've asked a sampling of local moviegoers to select a few favorites seen in cinemas last year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from 
Ben Armington, Box Cubed manager and moviegoer.

1. Heat  (Castro Theatre)

Michael Mann’s sinewy crime saga has been a favorite of mine since it was released in 1995, so it was a real, and rare, treat to see it big at one of my favorite theatres, the Castro.  A lot of the unabashed appeal is that of a good, page-turning popular novel---- situations familiar to genre fans given new life by confident storytelling, solid acting, and subtle detail... a neater trick than it sounds.  With great cameos from Tone Loc, Henry Rollins, and Tom Noonan. Screened with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II, which unfortunately did not serve as an especially interesting co-feature.

2. Unfaithfully Yours and To Be Or Not To Be (Stanford Theatre)

I didn’t make it to the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto anywhere near as often as I had hubristically hoped to in 2013, but I did manage to hop the Caltrain for this rib-tickling double feature.  While the comic reversals embedded deep in Ernst Lubitsch’s classic To Be Or Not To Be kept us on the edge of our seats, it was the howlingly berserk and remarkably sustained climactic sequence of Preston Sturges’ Unfaithfully Yours that really brought the house down. 

3. Shakedown (Roxie, I Wake Up Dreaming)

A delirious shot of pure noir from obscure actor/director Joseph Pevny that stands comparison with Sam Fuller’s awesome Underworld USA in it’s unsparing portrayal of an unsympathetic protagonist.  Here the heel is an ambitious young hood (played by Howard Duff) who cons his way into a newspaper shutterbug job and proceeds to scramble up the social ladder, often on the backs of hapless accident victims, dithering colleagues, dim gangsters, and even his doe-eyed girlfriend.  He meets his match in a diffident high society dame who really gets his motor running by not instantly succumbing to his charms, and after that it’s only a few double crosses until the bullets start flying.  Pretty much perfect.      

 4. The Lone Ranger/Dead Man/ Walker (Castro/Roxie Midnite for Maniacs “Acid Westerns”)

My favorite of 2013’s Midnites for Maniacs, Jesse Hawthorne Ficks’ long-running and always illuminating engagement with accepted film history.  This triple feature invited us to consider three different (post)modern takes on that most American of genres, the Western.  While seeing Jim Jarmusch’s magnificently drone-y deathtrip Dead Man at the Castro in a breathtaking print was the highlight of the evening, it was the capper, Alex Cox’s punchy psychotronic spaghetti western Walker, that provided perhaps the most telling insight through it’s use of purposefully anachronistic elements: that whenever they are set, movies are always about the time, and the attitudes, in which they were made.  It will be interesting to see what people make of Gore Verbiniski’s film maudit The Lone Ranger twenty years from now, will they love it as much as I now love Elaine May’s similarly scorned Ishtar?

5. Modern Romance (Castro)

One of my great, late-breaking discoveries this year was the films of Albert Brooks, so I was front and center at the Castro when his second film, Modern Romance, screened with Fellini’s 8 ½.  Modern Romance finds Brooks bravely battling his own considerable neuroses for the hand of Kathryn Harrold while editing a schlock sci-fi film.  From here springs much of the Judd Apatow “style” comedy that is prevalent today, all though you would have to go back in time to Preston Sturges to match the sheer comic genius of the scene where Brooks works with a supremely unamused sound crew to overdub a scene of George Kennedy running down a spaceship hallway.   

6. “Satanic Sinema: The Devil Gets his Due” (Oddball Cinema)

This was my second trip to the Oddball Cinema on Capp street, and the draw for this Halloween program was Kenneth Anger’s legendary underground naughtie, Invocation of my Demon Brother, complete with stoney droney Mick Jagger on moog .  Which was great, but the real transgressive hysteria lie in the bizarre 1961 GE Theatre television show called “The Devil You Say”, which starred Sid Ceaser on vamp overload as the lecherous incarnate of the devil trying to tempt away the virtuous wife of stone-faced angel incarnate Ronald Reagan.  The gnomic double entendres, mostly revolving around sampling the wife’s cake, are delivered like the State of the Union by the Gipper and practically squealed by Caeser.  Very strange, and, spoiler alert, the devil does not get his due in this telling.    

7. Clockers (PFA)

A welcome opportunity to revisit Spike Lee’s scathing indictment of the 90s gangsta genre, with editor Sam Pollard in person.  Like a lot of Spike Lee joints,  including this year’s summarily dismissed Old Boy remake, there is a palatable tension between the source material (Richard Price’s gritty novel of the same name) and Lee’s flamboyant, almost Brechtian style.  While this tension rarely equates to gripping storytelling, it does yield the occasional visual and dramatic coups that are wholly Lee’s own.  Clockers also has a hard time recovering from it’s brilliant opening credit sequence, which unblinkingly portrays black men murdered by gang violence.  With strong performances by Delroy Lindo, Mekhi Pfeiffer, Isaiah Washington, Harvey Keitel, and John Turturro.   

8. Legend of Kaspar Hauser (roxie, sfindiefest)

This zonked out rave-sci fi-western featured Vincent Gallo in two roles--- at least one of which seemed to be channelling 70s era Dennis Hopper---, had something to do with the oft-told legend of Kaspar Hauser, and rocked a propulsive score by Vitalic.  Honestly, most of this visually striking film went sailing straight over my doggedly sober head, but there is something  charmingly sincere in it’s weirdness and that’s something you can’t fake.

9. Wild Girl (PFA, Raoul Walsh retro)

Raoul Walsh, along with Robert Aldrich and Frank Borzage, is a director I am perpetually trying to watch more films by, so I got very excited when I heard that the PFA was doing a retrospective of his work.  Unfortunately, it was more of a greatest hits collection than deep cuts, and even programmer Steve Seid seemed to be downplaying expectations when he introduced the series.  Out of the three programs I attended (all of which, I hasten to add, were excellent) I chose this one for inclusion because one of my top three favorite film critics, Dave Kehr, was in attendance and spoke after the film.

10.  Impolex (Roxie)

This is the debut film from Alex Ross Perry, director/star of The Color Wheel, and it is notable for being almost nothing like that film, or most any other, and is often unhelpfully described as being “like Pynchon” which I suppose is a reference to Gravity’s Rainbow?  I don’t know, I haven’t read it.  This film is about a world war two soldier searching for undetonated missiles and felt more like a dream or a reverie than a straightforward narrative (I mean that as a compliment).  Screened once, at 10pm, on a Tuesday.

Two Eyes: Jason Wiener

In the San Francisco Bay Area, moviegoing is not just for the newest releases. In 2013 there were more theatrical opportunities to see films spanning the history of cinema than any one person could take advantage of. Therefore, I've asked a sampling of local moviegoers to select a few favorites seen in cinemas last year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from Jason Wiener, who blogs at Jason Watches Movies.

Usually I try to put this is some semblance of order, counting down to the best. Not that I make much of a distinction between number 7 and 8, or even 2 and 3, usually. But I kind of like giving an "award" to my number one pick of the year. But not this year. While there were a lot of great repertory film experiences, I just can't point to one that was a standout. So instead this will be in more or less chronological order.

1. Noir City, at the Castro. There are a lot of great films I could choose from this festival. Of course I could go with the classic Sunset  Blvd. (1950.) Or Blake Edwards' Experiment In Terror (1962.) For some reason Try And Get Me (aka The Sound Of Fury) from 1950 sticks in my mind. I think that's party because of Lloyd Bridges amazing performance, but mostly because I looked up the real life case it's based on and learned that our peaceful little San Jose was the site of the last lynch mob in California. But instead the one that I said at the time "might just be my favorite of the entire festival" still is. Inferno (1953,) because somehow when I'm watching film noir I decide that that the 3-D Technicolor one is my favorite. That's just the type of guy I am, I guess.

2. Cinequest, at the California Theater. A comedy pairing of Buster Keaton's short Cops (1922) and Harold Lloyd's feature Safety Last (1923.) I've seen these both so many times that logically this shouldn't make the list. In fact, logically I shouldn't have bothered to watch them again anyway. But I'm putting them on the list for the same reason I saw them--Dennis James rocking the Mighty Wurlitzer. He was, as always, magnificent. And with the Silent Film Festival seeming to cut ties with him I appreciate the times I get to hear him even more. (he didn't play at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for the first time since...ever, I think? At least since I've been going to the festival, and my understanding is that in the first few years he was their only accompanist.) He does happen to be playing at the Stanford Theatre in their current Capra retrospective, but I'll probably be at Noir City and miss him. 

3. Midnites for Maniacs, at the Castro. Romy And Michele's High School Reunion (1997.) I've attended way more Midnites for Maniacs screenings this past year that any previous years. And there are many more screenings I could have chosen (it will show up a few more times on the list, including the next item.) Like Love Actually (especially followed by Trash Humpers,) or The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (not good at all, but I oddly love that I finally got around to seeing it.) Or even the original Carrie, which I saw the same night. But for me, Romy And Michele was the perfect M4M movie. I completely dismissed it at the time, had no interest in seeing it, and then Jesse Hawthorne Ficks plays it and my interest is piqued. To my surprise, it's not just about annoying, ditzy, shallow, SoCal blondes. I mean...those are superficially their characters, but it's a modern surrealist masterpiece. One of the most ridiculously extended dream sequences ever, and then a dance scene that perfectly demonstrates the ideal of "dance as if no one is watching." It is still one of my bucket list items to reenact that dance scene someday.

4.  Midnites for Maniacs celebrating Johnny Depp's 50th Birthday, at the Castro. A triple bill of Benny & Joon (1993,) What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993,) and Cry-Baby (1990.) I just thought this was the best Johnny Depp triple-bill I could imagine. Until a couple of months later when they did The Lone Ranger (2013) and Dead Man (1995.) The Lone Ranger isn't repertory, but Dead Man should be included in the list somehow...even if I did kinda doze through bits of it.

5.  San Francisco Silent Film Festival's presentation of the Hitchcock 9, at the Castro. All the (existing) silent films Alfred Hitchcock made, and I could select any (or all) of them for this list. But instead I'll give this spot to the standout, the one that Hitchcock himself described at "the first 'Hitchcock' film"--The Lodger (1927.) There's just no doubt that it was and still is a masterpiece, and Ivor Novello is brilliant.

6. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival, at the Castro. For their showcase festival, I again could've chosen any or all of their films for my list. But there are a few standouts. I could choose Prixe De Beauté (1930) because Louise  Brooks is just phenomenal. Or I could choose Legong: Dance Of The Virgins (1935) because I'm a huge fan of native Balinese boobies in, and Clubfoot Orchestra and Gamelan Sekar Jaya were pretty amazing as accompaniment. But instead I'll go with The Weavers (1927.) Yup, I choose revolutionary class politics (and action) over tits. I think I might actually be maturing just a teeny, tiny bit. Also Günther Buchwald was brilliant as the accompanist.

7. Midnites for Maniacs, at the Castro. Rules Of Attraction (2002.) One thing is clear, I have to continue going to more M4M programs this year. This is another film that I just dismissed and didn't care about when it came out. It looked like nothing more than spoiled rich kids behaving badly. is...but a whole lot more. Not just clever camera work, story structure, and editing tricks, but a really engaging story...about spoiled rich kids behaving badly. And now I'm a little obsessed with trying to see the legendary spin-off Glitterati (the full version of the European trip that was cut down to a fast-cut 5 minute sequence in Rules Of Attraction)

8. The Wicker Man, at the Castro. I've seen it several times (including at Burning Man, which is kind of the perfect setting,) but not this big, not this beautiful. And it still rewards multiple screenings. 

9. At the Vortex Room, a Halloween night double feature of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982) and Suspiria (1977.) One of my favorite underrated horror films with one of my favorite horror film, period. And in my favorite underground movie spot (that makes the best damn martinis in town.) And to top it off, everyone sang Happy Birthday to me (I'm Jason...born on Halloween...and I'm Rosemary's horror films have a bit of a special place in my life.)

10. Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, at the Balboa Theater. The Shining (1980) with the Simpson's parody The Shinning A classic horror film, and the first time I've seen it since watching the documentary Room 237, so I could catch things like the impossible architecture, the car that almost runs into everyone before disappearing, or the fact that Jack is reading a Playgirl magazine. This was a 35 mm print, and it was...cut up a bit. In fact, it was missing the famous "Heeeeere's Johnny!" among other scenes (speculation is some projectionist long ago cut it out for his private stash.) And what was there was a bit scratchy. Some people complained, but I didn't care, it's a great film and my fetish for 35 mm film wouldn't have it any other way. Before the film--and with no introduction--they also played the Simpson Treehouse of Horror parody The Shinning (1994.) I knew they were going to do that, but I like to imagine what it was like for some in the audience to be surprised by it. I hope they enjoyed it. As Ernie Fosselius (Hardware  Wars) told me once, it's always better to see the parody first and then see the real thing.

Honorable mentions:
A. The Shining: Forwards and Back. At the New People Cinema. Also part of Another Hole in the Head, and featured in Room 237. They play The Shining forwards, and at the same time (and without sound) play the movie in reverse. And this is...supposed to reveal creepy coincidences with the movie haunting itself. I thought it was kinda cool to see it, and thematically it's interesting to overlap peaceful family scenes with future horrors (and vice-versa.) As for things "lining up perfectly" it's part coincidence and part the fact that Kubrick really liked well-centered shots (at least in The Shining.) So no, I don't buy that there are hidden meanings revealed by watching it this way.

B. Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout The Ages (1916) at the Castro. This should've made the list. It was magnificent (and I say that after being unimpressed the first time I saw it.) The only reason it didn't--anti-digital bias. If this were on film with live musical accompaniment (assuming it was good) I'm sure it would've made the list. But it was on DCP, with a recorded soundtrack. And even though at the time I wrote that "Digital Cinema Package (DCP) has arrived, and traditionalist haters be damned" I still have this pro-film bias to overcome.

C. Sallah Shabati (1964) as a special donor's event and screening for the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival at the Netflix company screening room. Who knew Topol was still alive? Well, I got really Jew-geeky so I donated enough that I got to meet him and watch this first film of his, which is still the most popular film on Israeli television every year (and which launched his international career with an award at the San Francisco International Film Festival.) Later that same day I enjoyed a sing-a-long to Fiddler On The Roof (1971) at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto (he followed that with a sing-a-long at the Castro later that day. Given the digital projection at the JCC I wish I had seen that one instead, which is why it didn't make the list.)

D. An American Tail (1986) at the Castro, as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. This was an unaccountably huge part of my childhood, watching and re-watching this movie. But (and this sounds unbelievably dumb) I never really paid attention to the Jewish content in it. What fun to rewatch it as an adult, in that context.

Dishonorable mention:
At the Roxie, as part of Indiefest, a sing-a-long to Purple Rain (1984.) I had never seen this movie, although I remember a lot of kids (mostly older, I was only 10 at the time) going crazy for it. I don't know why I had never seen it. I assumed this was just one of those classics that I might or might not get to see eventually. And I finally did. And there's no reason at all for it to be a classic. There is no objectivity in art except for this--Purple Rain is an objectively awful movie.  The acting is awful, the plot is dull, and the hero is a misogynist. The villain's music is better than the hero's. And as far as a sing-a-long, the music is much, much worse if you actually think about the lyrics. The only thing I liked is the all-girl trio is called the Apollonia Six. So there, I managed to end on a tits joke. I guess I haven't matured too much.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Two Eyes: Lawrence Chadbourne

In the San Francisco Bay Area, moviegoing is not just for the newest releases. In 2013 there were more theatrical opportunities to see films spanning the history of cinema than any one person could take advantage of. Therefore, I've asked a sampling of local moviegoers to select a few favorites seen in cinemas last year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from Lawrence Chadbourne, a film buff and video collector whom you can follow on twitter.

5 viewings of older movies in 2013 had special impact for me. The first was in April with 1963's El Verdugo (Not On Your Life) part of a  Luis García Berlanga series at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, curated by Steve Seid. I had actually seen it twice before, the last time singling out  Jose Isbert as the elderly executioner who coaxes his son in law to take over a  dreadful job and tries to mentor him. This black comedy on capital  punishment and other aspects of 1960s Spanish society, still under the repressive regime of Francisco Franco, does not seem to survive in its original 110 minute version, due to censorship, but what exists is scintillating. Why did this revival have such a strong effect this time? First, I was able to see it as part of an overall oeuvre. In fact the opportunity to fill in gaps in my filmography of this major auteur was the most interesting cinematic event this year at least for me, an aging and somewhat jaded moviegoer. Second, the archival print brought from Spain revealed as not so much before the  incredible sharpness and depth of field of ace Italian lenser Tonino Delli Colli's camerawork (it was a co-production.) This style, which I much favor over a currently increasing one where backgrounds are blurred and the viewer is given less freedom to explore the information in an image, does not call attention to itself but allows Berlanga to provide a realistic, convincing setting for his social commentary, I noticed he used it in other works in the cycle.

The second was in August when the Castro Theatre's Keith Arnold gave us a two day booking of the 1971 Max Et Les Ferrailleurs (Max And The Junkmen.) Director Claude Sautet did a number of popular star entries later in his career that seemed at the time I saw them lightweight and blandly bourgeois, but he has gotten renewed attention in recent years for his earlier crime films, due to the growing interest in all things "noir." The Rialto outfit is especially to be commended for getting several of these rereleased. In the case of "Max" the movie had actually slipped through the cracks of distribution patterns at the time, so last year it had its first ever New York City showing, and my hope for it to come to the Bay Area was fulfilled. What was so special about this particular Sautet was  Romy Schneider, who through her acting, the way she is shot (by cinematographer Rene Mathelin) and the way she is attired, brings a striking presence to her somewhat stereotypical role as the loose woman involved with gangsters. If there is indeed such a thing as Laura Mulvey's "male gaze," where some of us see movies partly to witness beautiful women on the big screen, this is evidence for it.

Soon after in August the Rafael Film Center's Richard Peterson gave us several opportunities to see Joe Dante's 2009 The Hole in 3D. This movie got a limited release to begin with, especially in that format, and this could actually have been its local premiere. That's what happens sometimes when you are a maverick like Dante, The story of two boys who find an underground portal that opens up a strange new world, gave opportunities for an interesting use of screen space and it was fun to see, in smaller roles, American International veteran Dick Miller and this year's rediscovery among the mainstream critics, Bruce Dern.

My list is rounded out by two movies that with our host's forbearance fall outside the spectrum of local repertory, One wasn't even seen on a screen. The first was from a trip to Los Angeles, my first use of the enterprising MegaBus, to catch two rare Clara Bow talkies that had been unavailable for about 80 years since they opened These were in March at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theatre, Bow was still big box office when Her Wedding Night (1930) and Kick In (1931) appeared but she was  struggling with her transition to sound and neither was popular After limited plays the two disappeared into the vaults of Paramount, the studio where both were made and to which she had a contract, and later when the company sold its pre-1950s package to Universal for TV showings, neither was found worth the trouble of making available. Only when Bow biographer David Stenn convinced Universal to clear the underlying literary and remake rights and print new theatrical 35mm copies did the two resurface, Because the archive material Universal had to work with was relatively pristine, the results are two especially clean examples of what an early 1930s Hollywood film looked like in its prime. Kick In, the one I'd like to emphasize, was actually cited by New York City's Film Forum programmer Bruce Goldstein, on the occasion of its unveiling there, as the most beautiful copy of a pre-code he'd ever seen The shadowy photography is by the great Victor Milner. Because of its pre-noir qualities (including a character who is a drug addict and references to "snowbirds":- not meaning blue haired ladies from Canada who migrate South) I have recommended it for eventual inclusion in Eddie Muller's San Francisco edition of Noir City, though for this year's festival Eddie had other plans.

Last, but not least, was a home viewing on DVD of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's elusive Frauen In New York (1977) his version of George Cukor's The Women. Or rather of Clare Boothe Luce's' original play, as translated into German, which had too many references to abortion, homosexuality, and impotence among other things to emerge unscathed at MGM under the Code. I rented the disc from my invaluable Inner Sunset Le Video, during the months that other, younger buffs were discovering some of the more well known Fassbinders in the latest touring season at the Roxie, the PFA, and Yerba Buena. While I was happy the work of this great director (my favorite, actually, of all those who emerged after World War II) was getting attention again, I was disappointed that there were none of the missing titles that I had not yet gotten to see, since I first was introduced to him in 1974. Frauen made it into New York City's 1997 Fassbinder retro, but I don't know if it's ever played the Bay Area, and as with the Bows I wasn't going to wait around. As it was shot (for TV) in 16mm it will benefit from a future presentation on a screen, since the colors, lighting and art design are all rich and dazzling. Without saying too much, the film is rigorously constructed as a set of 12 long takes, in which women gathered in changing groups reposition themselves as they move across the layered screen space, or are repositioned by the moving camera. In between these scenes as "pillow shots" there are static images of well known Edward Hopper canvases, showing us lonely single women.In the acted scenes Fassbinder sometimes emphasizes objects that block some of the characters, or figures who stand by mutely and witness the conversation: the androgynous looking child of one of the women, or a cleaning lady who keeps washing a glass window in the Reno hotel. Though from what I've said one can see this is a very cinematic work, it is also one that foregrounds the theatricality of its text, even the slightly shrill declamation of some of the lines, and does such things (more common on the stage) as having actresses play several roles within the same movie. Since Fassbinder's genius first developed in the theater, and since this was the last play he directed live, Frauen is a moving record of his particular talent. I hope others will soon be able to share my enthusiasm for this masterpiece.

Two Eyes: Susan Hahn

In the San Francisco Bay Area, moviegoing is not just for the newest releases. In 2013 there were more theatrical opportunities to see films spanning the history of cinema than any one person could take advantage of. Therefore, I've asked a sampling of local moviegoers to select a few favorites seen in cinemas last year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from Susan Hahn, a newly-minted (and job-hunting) film archivist who has run the Six Martinis and the Seventh Art blog since 2007.

I was finishing up my film studies at UC Berkeley last year and that greatly affected my cinema attendance. Truth be told, I was burnt out on watching films and I’m only just recovering now. Sadly I cannot include some amazing private screenings I experienced during my tenure as a film archivist, such as the time I watched a newly restored print of George Kuchar’s Wild Night in El Reno with a few co-workers and Mike Kuchar (ha! Got that in!). Instead this list, presented without rank, is made up of class assignments and a few that motivated me to drag my tired self back into the theater.

Directors Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack (U.S., 1927)
Pacific Film Archive
What struck me most about seeing this film in the theater (because that is the purpose of this list) was the audience. I was in the final semester of university at this time and most of my favorite professors were there. The collective film knowledge sitting in front of the screen was astounding and inspiring enough that I wrote a great paper about the film that was excerpted by my professor for the rest of the class. Good times.

The Big Trail
Director Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1930)
I knew about the lovely snow scenes in this film which is why I made the effort to get to the theater to watch a Western. I dislike that film genre immensely but this early sound film avoided most of the silly tropes that drive me crazy. Oh and it was shown in 70mm Fox Grandeur which is the only way that film should be viewed. The cinematography was breath taking, John Wayne was handsome and I was enthralled.

Director Susana de Sousa Dias (Portugal, 2009)
The description of this film makes it sound so dull but I was blown away. I had never heard about the brutal fascist regime in Portugal and the presentation was effective in humanizing the horrors while avoiding the “victim parade” that documentaries dealing with depressing subjects often adopt. I saw this as an assignment for a documentary film class featuring non-stop depictions of brutality and genocides. It was a traumatic class and this film alone balanced the horrible events with the hope of the survivors.

The Conformist
Director Bernardo Bertolucci (Italy, 1970)
One of my favorite films and so good on the big screen though I remember it was a poor print. And studying Italian the past year helped me to understand some of the dialog.

Director Raoul Walsh (U.S., 1915)
Pacific Film Archive
I had been watching lot of D W Griffith for class and this film still wins hands down. I love it more each time I watch it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Two Eyes: Lincoln Spector

In the San Francisco Bay Area, moviegoing is not just for the newest releases. In 2013 there were more theatrical opportunities to see films spanning the history of cinema than any one person could take advantage of. Therefore, I've asked a sampling of local moviegoers to select a few favorites seen in cinemas last year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from Lincoln Spector; this entry is essentially a re-post from his own site Bayflicks.

10. SFIFF Silent Movie Night: Waxworks 
Castro, May 7 
San Francisco International Film Festival 
Tinted 35mm, accompanied by Mike Patton, Scott Amendola, Matthias Bossi, and William Winant

Every year, the San Francisco International. Film Festival hosts a silent film event, where they match a movie–generally not one in the pantheon–with one or more musicians who enjoy a strong local following but are not generally associated with silent film accompaniment. The German Expressionist anthology Waxworks won’t make any list of great motion pictures, but it’s fun. Besides, the rare, archival print, tinted and toned, was good enough to make a far worse movie than Waxworks entertaining, as was the trio’s harsh, percussion-heavy music.

9. Gravity 

AMC Bay Street 16, October 5 
I feel odd putting anything I saw at the AMC on this list. The people running that place wouldn’t understand the concept of showmanship if they wandered into a circus. But Gravity demanded an immersive screen and 3D, and the AMC delivered. Easily the best special-effects flick of 2013, it’s a thrilling story and this time, the AMC did it well.
8. Lawrence of Arabia
Century San Francisco Centre 9’s XD Theater, March 20
XD, 4K DCP, humungous screen
Yes, this is the third year in a row that Lawrence made this list. But I had to include it, because this is the best presentation of this masterpiece I’ve ever seen. The XD Theater has an enormous screen, with a slight curve–a much better screen for this type of film than the Castro’s. And the 4K digital projection showed the image from the original 65mm negative better than any other medium.
7. 3D Noir Double Bill: Man in the Dark & Inferno
Noir City, Castro, February 2
My very first experience seeing old, 1950s 3D movies projected digitally. The first movie, Man in the Dark, would have been better without the 3D, but it’s clumsy use the gimmick gave me some idea as to why 3D failed in 1954. Inferno, on the other hand, was a revelation–a great story of survival and attempted murder that used the extra depth sparingly and intelligently. One of the best 3D films ever.
6. The Ring
Hitchcock 9,  Castro, June 15
DCP, accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
In June, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screened all eight existing silent films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This story of a love triangle in the world of boxing was easily the best. It’s a virtuoso work, filled with experimental use of the camera and editing table, with enough heart to paint all three leads sympathetically. And Mont Alto provided wonderful accompaniment,
5. Dial M for Murder
Rafael, July 25
Alfred Hitchcock was the only major auteur to shoot a film in 3D during the 1950s–and he did it under protest. For the most part, he ignoree the obvious 3D effects. But when he finally threw something at the screen, it was absolutely the right time to throw the right object. It was more than 30 years since I’d seen Dial M in 3D; I’d forgotten just how well it worked. Of course, sitting amongst an enthusiastic audience helped make this a real treat.

4. Safety Last!
San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro, July 21
DCP; accompanied by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Harold Lloyd understood the relationship between suspense and laughs at least as well as Alfred Hitchcock, and he never showed it better than in Safety LastThe first two thirds of this short feature make an excellent, workman-like comedy. But the film’s real brilliance comes in the last act, when Harold has to climb a skyscraper. If there is a funnier extended sequence in all of cinema, I haven’t seen it. Of course, an enthusiastic audience helped. As did personal appearances by granddaughter, Suzzanne Lloyd and historical special effects expert Craig Barron. And, once again, great accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
3. Twenty Feet from Stardom
San Francisco International Film Festival, Kabuki, April 26
DCP, filmmaker Q&A, musical performance after the movie
Yet another great movie-and-live-music event, although this time the music came after the film was over. First, the documentary, where we meet the unheralded backup singers who’ve graced some of the greatest recordings in the last few decades. We meet the amazing Merry Clayton ("Rape! Murder! It’s just a shot away!"), relative newcomer Judith Hill, and Darlene Love–who actually did quite a bit of lead singing without getting credit for it ("He’s a Rebel"). Then, after the wonderful movie, singers Clayton and Tata Vega came out and sang for us, followed by a brief discussion with the filmmakers.
2. Sony 4K Restorations with Grover Crisp Bonjour Tristesse, December 5
Taxi Driver & Alamo Bay, December 6
Pacific Film Archive
Okay, I’m cheating here, counting three movies shown on two nights, requiring three admission tickets, as a single event. But they were part of the same series, and they each featured talks by Grover Crisp, Sony Senior Vice President for Asset Management (translation: VP for old movies). Thursday night had the longer, more detailed talk, which was terrific. And the movie, Bonjour Tristessewas very good.
The two Friday talks were more concise, and the two films were full, 4K presentations (Thursday’s Bonjour Tristesse was only 2K). And one of the films was Taxi Driver.
1. A Century Ago: The Films of 1913
Rafael, December 12
Mostly 35mm film, hand-cranked, with live music. Some digital.
4K digital projection is fantastic, but it can’t compete with 35mm film hand-cranked through a restored 1909 projector–especially when that projector is outside of the booth and you can hear the clickety-clack, as well as Michael Mortilla’s expert piano accompaniment. As the name implies, these were a selection of hundred-year-old one-reel movies. And a lot of fun they were.

Two Eyes: Veronika Ferdman

In the San Francisco Bay Area, moviegoing is not just for the newest releases. In 2013 there were more theatrical opportunities to see films spanning the history of cinema than any one person could take advantage of. Therefore, I've asked a sampling of local moviegoers to select a few favorites seen in cinemas last year. An index of participants is found here.  

The following list comes from Veronika Ferdman, who writes for Slant and elsewhere.

I tend to chafe at the "canon" - I'm always a little suspicious of any film that appears shoulder to shoulder on a list between, say, Citizen Kane and The Searchers. (Note: I find both films rightfully heralded for their achievement, but when it comes to the cinematic canon I do not consider ossification a virtue.) A film that is universally acknowledged as a masterpiece has to work far harder to win me over than something that has been sitting neglected in the darkest, dustiest corner of an archive. It has to excel above and beyond on every level, whereas with a lesser known title little victories are enough to bring me to its side - a handful of good scenes, some effective use of lighting, etc.

Thus, one of the greatest delights I experienced in my rep-going this year was attending a screening of The Big Sleep at the Stanford where I promptly fell in love with it and was reminded of how silly my canon prejudice can be. An exceedingly odd film, Bacall and Bogart's banter hides the subterranean (sub-image) gutter, the suggestion of vile and abhorrent things lurking just outside of the 1.37 frame.

The double feature of two of Raoul Walsh's Westerns (which played at the PFA as part of their 14-film Walsh series), Pursued and The Lawless Breed, was an inverse experience of the one I had with The Big Sleep. Both films barely left an imprint on me when I first saw them. Even on the drive home I hardly gave them two thoughts. And now, too many months and too many other films stand between me and them for my mind to bring up more than small pockets of memory. The contempt in Teresa Wright's face and the dull silver images of Pursued and the cyans of The Lawless Breed insist on playing over and over again in my minds eye, nudging me to revisit them, and the career of Walsh at large.

Year in and year out the PFA provides some of the most interesting and daring programming in the country. Particularly exemplary of this was the PFA's Werner Schroeter retrospective where I got the chance to catch Dress Rehearsal and Goldflakes. Both are beautiful and ultimately mystifying works that I am so grateful for having gotten the chance to see, especially since Schroeter's films are rarely screened and very little known in the U.S., which is such a shame. Fassbinder ranked Schroeter as #2 - behind only Fassbinder himself, naturally - on his list of The Ten Most Important Directors In The New German Cinema.