Tuesday, January 28, 2014

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 Magazinenotcoming.com 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.

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