Sunday, September 14, 2014

Our Man In Havana (1959)

Screen capture from Sony DVD
WHO: Alec Guinness, the versatile English actor who would have turned 100 earlier this year if he were still alive today, stars in this film directed by Carol Reed.

WHAT: I haven't seen this particular Guinness film, but Cheryl Eddy, in a recent article on Guinness, describes it thus:
Guinness is brilliant as an expat whose desire to provide a better life for his materialistic teenage daughter (Jo Morrow) leads him to set aside the vacuum-cleaner biz and accept a gig as a British secret agent. Thing is, he'd rather just sip daiquiris than engage in espionage, so he fakes his way, with luck and imagination, into being "the best agent in the Western hemisphere."
WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Rafael Film Center at 4:30 & 7:30.

WHY: Our Man in Havana screens as part of a seven-title centennial Guinness tribute that's been running each Sunday since August, and which winds down the next two weekends with new DCPs of his Ealing comedies The Man With The White Suit and The Ladykillers. Of course the irony of Guinness's legacy is that he's by far best remembered for a role he frequently voiced his disdain for, that of Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas's original Star Wars and its two immediate sequels. Though these films have been left out of this mini-series, fans of Guinness as Kenobi will be able to see him on an even bigger Marin County screen on Monday, October 6th, when The Empire Strikes Back (or the 1997 revision thereof, to be precise) is brought to the Cinema Corte Madera by the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF).

One of Frisco Bay's largest remaining single-screen theatres, the Corte Madera is where I first saw The Empire Strikes Back upon its original 1980 release, a still-vivid memory for this then-seven-year-old. I'm a bit surprised to see this Marin-made blockbuster in the line-up, as it just screened the festival in 2010, on the 30th anniversary of its release, kicking off an annual string of Lucasfilm productions revived on some multiple of five years after it's debut (1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark in 2011, 1977's Star Wars in 2012, and 1983's Return of the Jedi in 2013). I was expecting this year to bring a 30th anniversary showing of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or a 25th anniversary of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but it appears the expectations for the 2016 arrival of new Star Wars saga episodes is "altering the deal." The MVFF program guide refers to a "count down" so perhaps we might expect the 1977 Star Wars, which (spoiler alert) features Guinness's Obi-Wan in a larger part, to appear at the Corte Madera next year...

This is one of the many surprises the MVFF program had in store when last week it revealed the full program for its 37th edition, to be held in Mill Valley, San Rafael, Larkspur and Corte Madera from October 2nd-12th. The longest-running and highest-profile of Frisco Bay's "general interest" film festivals outside of the San Francisco International Film Festival, MVFF has built loyal audiences through employment of a successful formula over the years: securing Northern California (and sometimes West Coast or even U.S.) premieres of several major end-of-year awards "hopefuls", most with acting and/or directing talent expected in attendance, bringing a healthy selection of documentaries and unsung independent films, many with local ties, choosing foreign-language films fresh from Cannes and other festivals, and filling out the program with shorts, retrospectives, and the annual "Children's Filmfest" within the main festival. Lincoln Spector of Bayflicks has written a good first overview on his site, and I plan to write more soon myself. In the meantime, look at the list of MVFF films at or near RUSH status for a sense of what tickets to buy in advance if you're thinking of attending this year.

HOW: It's rare for the Rafael to screen 35mm prints these days, but they still have the capability, and will be utilizing it to screen Our Man In Havana. The next print scheduled to play there is of Yoji Yamada's award-winning follow-up to last year's wonderful MVFF selection Tokyo Family, entitled The Little House, which is the only 2014 MVFF title expected to unspool in 35mm.

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