Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Stray Dogs (2013)

A scene from Tsai Ming-liang's STRAY DOGS, playing at the 57th San Franicsco International Film Festival, April 24 - May 8, 2014. Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.
WHO: Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based auteur Tsai Ming-Liang directed and co-wrote this.

WHAT: Tsai's films have long developed recurrent themes of home and rootlessness, but with Stray Dogs he uses these to create his rawest, bitterest attack on Taiwan's inequalities thus far. His first digital feature employs surveillance-style footage of his actor fetiche Lee Kang-sheng and two youngsters tramping through and setting camp in locations "stolen" whether by crew or characters. It culminates in a fourteen-minute take that's simultaneously unforgiving and about forgiveness.

That 75-word capsule is all I'm allowed to write while we await a potential commercial distribution of this film, but there are plenty of more untethered critics who have written very thoughtfully and substantially on Stray Dogs and most (though surprisingly not Martin Tsai's useful reading) are linked on the addictive Critics Round Up website.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens 3:15 PM today at New People and 6:30 PM tomorrow at the Pacific Film Archive, both thanks to the San Francisco International Film Festival.

WHY: It's been just over seven years since a new Tsai Ming-Liang feature film has appeared in Frisco Bay cinemas. The last was I Don't Want To Sleep Alone, which debuted here in April 2007 at Yerba Buena Center For the Arts. In the meantime, Tsai's 2009 film Face received mixed-at-best reviews at other film festivals around the world, bypassed local cinema screens, and has not even been officially released on DVD (though I've been told it's on Netflix Instant, I've never subscribed and have still yet to catch up with this work; I suppose I still hold out hope it may arrive through another means). And a new featurette called Journey To The West has just started making festival rounds, though it has yet to land here yet.

Watching Stray Dogs made me realize how rusty I've gotten at watching Tsai's films in cinemas, and made me want to have that experience again with one of his prior films. Not a moment too soon, I received an advance look at a program YBCA's Joel Shepard put together for this summer. One of the selections in this screening series is my own (a real honor and my first stab at programming 35mm, I picked a Robert Altman film that means an awful lot to me) but I think I'm equally excited to see the other nine films in the series. Eight of them I've never seen at all and in most cases have longed to for years, and the ninth (or should I say the first), screening July 20th, is a Tsai film I've only seen on home video before: The Hole. It was my introduction to his work way back when, and I'm thrilled to be able to get a chance to watch it in 35mm in just a few short months. Here's the full line-up for the YBCA series:

Invasion of the Cinemaniacs!
July 20 - Sept 25
Sun, Jul 20, 2pm Karen Larsen presents
The Hole By Tsai Ming-liang
Thu, Jul 24, 7:30pm Brian Darr presents
The Company By Robert Altman
Sun, Jul 27, 2pm Jonathan L. Knapp presents
Colorado Territory By Raoul Walsh
Sat, Aug 9, 7:30pm Cheryl Eddy presents
Death Wish 3 By Michael Winner
Sun, Aug 10, 2pm Adam Hartzell presents
Madame Freedom By Han Hyeong-mo
Sat, Aug 23, 7:30pm Michael Guillén presents
Hell Without Limits (El Lugar Sin Límites) By Arturo Ripstein
Sun, Aug 24, 2pm David Wong presents 
The Exile By Max Ophüls
Thurs, Sept 18, 7:30pm Alby Lim presents Pietà By Kim Ki-duk
Sun, Sept 21, 2pm Lynn Cursaro presents
Little Fugitive By Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin & Ray Ashley
Thurs, Sept 25, 7:30pm David Robson presents
The Brides Of Dracula By Terence Fisher

HOW: Stray Dogs screens digitally, as it was shot.

OTHER SFIFF OPTIONS: Day 6 allows festgoers a final chance to see Manuscripts Don't Burn, Blind Dates and All About the Feathers, and features the first of two silent film/indie rock pairings of SFIFF57: Thao and the Get Down Stay Down playing new music for Charlie Chaplin's The Pawn Shop, Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich’s The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra, and more.

NON-SFIFF OPTION: Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub's Too Soon, Too Late screens digitally at Black Hole Cinematheque in Oakland.


  1. Brian: The enterprising folks at Le Video tell me they're hoping to get Face on DVD soon. The Hole is my favorite of the Tsais I've seen, watching all that water on the big screen at Berkeley's UC , while it was pouring outside and some rain may even have been leaking into the theatre (or is that now my poetic fancy?) intensified the experience. Joel's program at YBCA is a great idea, I'm especially looking forward to the presentation, with Michael Guillen, of the Ripstein.

  2. Great news from Le Video, Larry! Glad you approve of the series; I suspect you've seen a greater portion of these before than I have. Any thoughts on other selections?

  3. Thanks for the unintentional reminder to get Visage out there.
    Stray Dogs definitely went over my head at points... especially any meaning implied by the final shots. Without the meaning, the 14 minute take of sad faces went from being powerful to painful about 5 minutes in.
    Still... as always, a gorgeous movie. Really excited about Hole playing, hopefully on 35mm.

  4. Brian: As far as the other YBCA choices go, I certainly approve of yours, Colorado Territory,The Exile, and Little Fugitive. I was mixed on Pieta, which I saw just last year, so not really up for a resee. The other I'm familiar with, The Brides Of Dracula, I may be enticed to revisit, especially if they get a Technicolor print. I've experienced a greater appreciation in recent years for Hammer in general, and for Fisher in particular, at his best he was one of the masters.