Monday, February 10, 2014

Two Eyes: Michael Guillén

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 Michael Guillén, who blogs at The Evening Class.

Absence makes the cinephilic heart grow fonder.  Relocating to Boise, Idaho from San Francisco has all but meant letting go of repertory programming.  Although Boise's movie "palace" The Egyptian offers some older fare, they project from DVD onto a large screen and resolution suffers accordingly.  Hardly the ideal in-cinema experience.  Thus, I rely on my sojourns back to San Francisco and film festivals here and there to satisfy my hunger for restorations and revivals.  Here's what I've enjoyed in San Francisco and the Bay Area in 2013.

Gun Crazy (Castro / Noir City / 01/25/13)—The term "value added" has come to qualify the spectatorial experience.  Although the Film Noir Foundation's annual Noir City prides itself on screening titles generally unavailable on digital formats, they know how to up the ante when a film is available on DVD, Blu-Ray or online streaming.  Case in point would be the opening night for the 11th edition of Noir City where Peggy Cummins—"the deadliest female in all of film noir"—was fêted in an onstage conversation with "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller.

Curse of the Demon (Castro / Noir City / 01/26/13)—Featuring Peggy Cummins once again, and one of my favorite Jacque Tourneur vehicles because of its supernatural audacity, catching Curse of the Demon (1957) at an afternoon matinee screening made me feel all of 12.  Never discount how the movies can provide the sense of recapturing one's youth; surely one of the presiding aesthetics that inform repertory viewings.

Try and Get Me! (Castro / Noir City / 01/26/13)—There are absolutely no 35mm screenings in Boise, Idaho.  None.  Thus—as Paolo Cherchi Usai has recently argued—the screening of a 35mm restoration has all the earmarks of a "special event."  Attending the world premiere of a brand new 35mm restoration by the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film and Television Archive is about as special as filmgoing gets.  Stir in local interest—the film's narrative borrows from events in 1934 San Jose—and it makes for a tasty Saturday night experience.

The Other Woman (Castro / Noir City / 01/31/13)—Along with the aforementioned aspect of recapturing one's youth through revival screenings, sometimes films like Hugo Hass's The Other Woman (1954) featuring the voluptuous Cleo Moore harbor fascination for not being the literal films of one's youth but more films that informed the culture one is born into, especially with regard to sexual attitudes of the time.  As a young gay boy growing up in the hinterlands of Idaho I wanted desperately to be a bad girl.  My self-image virilified over time but I've never let go of thoroughly enjoying a Bad Girls Night at the Castro Theater.  It's an indulgence I look forward to once a year.

In effect, I could easily replicate the programming of Noir City 2013 to satisfy the 10-film requirement of this year-end wrap-up; but, that wouldn't be fair to the rest of the fine programming executed in the Bay Area during the rest of the year.  Before leaving Noir City, however, I have to give honorable mentions to the world premiere of a 3-D 4K digital resoration of Man In the Dark (1953), its Technicolor counterpart Inferno (1953)—also in a brand new 4K digital restoration—a traumatized Lee Remick in Blake Edwards' Experiment in Terror (1962), Edward Dmytryk's tense and engaging The Sniper (1952), Clarence Brown's 1949 adaptation of William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust, the over-the-top close-ups of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950) where Gloria Swanson's iconic and unhinged Norma Desmond stares out at all those faces in the dark, and the pre-Code proto-noir A House Divided (1931), notable for an early version of Walter Huston's infamous Treasure of Sierra Madre jig.

The Thief of Bagdad (Castro / Silent Winter / 02/16/13)—As I reduce the number of film festivals I'm attending, some cannot be forsaken for being so unique and stellar; namely the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's bi-annual events.  At Silent Winter 2013 I was thrilled to the marrow by Raoul Walsh's The Thief of Bagdad (1924) wherein Douglas Fairbanks embodied the role of Ahmed with athletic virtuosity to the welcome accompaniment of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.  Honorable mentions at Silent Winter 2013 would have to include J. Searle Dawley's Snow White (1916), which contextualized both Disney's animated version of the tale, as well as more contemporary efforts such as the Spanish Blancanieves and Hollywood's Snow White & The Huntsman.  Also, Buster Keaton's shorts, Sam Taylor's My Best Girl (1927) featuring sweetheart Mary Pickford, and F.W. Murnau's atmospheric adaptation of Goethe's Faust rounded out a satisfying edition.

Blood Money (Roxie / Pre-Code / 03/01/13)—Rowland Brown's Blood Money (1933) was one of the highlights of Elliot Lavine's "Hollywood Before the Code: Deeper, Darker, Nastier!!"  With its endearing portrayals of transvestism and sadomasochism, Blood Money titillated, entertained, and/or offended its Roxie audience as much as it did 70+ years ago.  Add Judith Anderson's film debut, Frances Dee at her kinkiest, Katherine Williams' sapphic "Nightclub Woman Wearing Monocle" and Blossom Seely's bluesy musical numbers, and it was blood money well-spent.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Castro / SF International / 05/05/13)—Philip Kaufman was the recipient of the San Francisco Film Society's 2013 Founder's Directing Award.  The catalog related a lovely anecdote of how Kaufman met Anaïs Nin at the University of Chicago in 1962.  They spent the day together, shared ideas, and she encouraged him to become a film director.  Among the remarkable roster of films to follow, his 1978 adaptation of Jack Finney's classic novel updated Finney's 1950 Cold War paranoia to post-Nixon era San Francisco.  One could extend that narrative to the present day to wonder if all these Google buses aren't actually transporting pod people?  Just as the HBO series Looking weaves its San Francisco locations into its narrative design, Invasion of the Body Snatchers likewise provides a tangible sense of '70s San Francisco, such that to this day I can't walk through Civic Center without fearing that I'll encounter something half human, half dog.

Wild Girl (PFA / Kehr / 08/01/13)—Back to the notion of a "special event", Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive brought New York Times film critic/historian Dave Kehr to the Bay Area to introduce and contextualize three Raoul Walsh westerns: Wild Girl (1932), a new print of The Lawless Breed (1953), and the "noir western" Pursued (1947).  Having the opportunity to dine with one of my favorite film writers, hearing him in conversation with local critic Michael Fox, and sharing the experience with Idaho filmmaker Zach Voss who was visiting the Bay Area made for a special event indeed.  Further, on the occasion of these screenings, Film International granted permission for me to republish my seen-by-few interview with Dave Kehr upon the publication of his book When Movies Mattered: Reviews From A Transformative Decade.

Sorcerer (PFA / 09/19/13)—With my habit for recording nearly every public film appearance in the Bay Area, it seems almost unbelievable that I didn't bother to record or have recorded my on-stage conversation with William Friedkin when the newly restored digitally remastered Sorcerer (1977) screened mid-September at the Pacific Film Archive during their Friedkin retrospective.  Memory will have to serve with this one; but, oh, what a memory!!

The Gospel According to Matthew (PFA / 09/22/13)—I gave up on Pier Paolo Pasolini after being introduced to him via Salò: 120 Days of Sodom, which I was way too young and inexperienced to absorb.  But wooed back to his oeuvre by Fandor who invited me to interview Ninetto Davoli, one of Pasolini's key actors, during a Bay Area multi-venue retrospective of Pasolini's films, I was stunned to—first of all—discover that I could now appreciate Salò on its own merits (perhaps because of years of watching torture porn in the horror genre, which makes Salò seem nearly quaint by comparison), but just how beautiful some of his earlier films were, particularly the incandescent Gospel According to Matthew, which aligned neatly with my interest in the Historical Christ and the Gnostic Gospels.  Not only did this film reawaken my interest in Pasolini, but it literally reawakened my passion for arthouse cinema.

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