Wednesday, January 28, 2015

IOHTE: Ben Armington

"IOHTE" stands for "I Only Have Two Eyes"; it's my annual survey of selected San Francisco Bay Area cinephiles' favorite in-the-cinema screenings of classic films and archival oddities from the past year. An index of participants can be found here.

Contributor Ben Armington self-describes as "Box Cubed Box Office guy for many Bay Area Film Festivals; watcher of movies"

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1.    The Shanghai Gesture (Castro, Noir City)
A humid colonial melodrama with a very noir heart, oozing erotic obsession and creeping hysteria from it’s every plothole.  My favorite from a fun line up of international films at Eddie Mueller’s great Noir City film festival.  Legend has it that sultan of cinematic sultriness Josef Von Sternberg directed most of this hallucination while lying on his back on a cot (he was sick, the story goes).

2.    Je t’aime, Je t’aime (Castro)
 Alain Resnais’ death-haunted sci-fi head trip up, down, around memory lane is strongly reminiscent of his sometime collaborator Chris Marker’s masterpiece La Jetee, but has a heartbreaking sense of despondency all it’s own embedded in it’s flawless montage.  Featuring the weirdest time machine ever to grace the big screen.

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3.    Goodbye South, Goodbye (PFA, HHH retro)
All seven films I saw at the travelling retrospective of director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s work that landed at the PFA towards the end of the year were worthy, even revelatory, experiences, but Goodbye South, Goodbye was the one I plugged into the most so it’s getting the shout here.  Something about the hard-luck inertia the characters are mulishly wading through combined with images of fleeting, exhilarating motion rang very true, very affecting.  Here’s hoping that Hou finishes his new film soon!

4.    The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (Roxie, I Wake Up Dreaming)
A nifty, fleet-footed gangster saga with a pretty grim view of what we’ll call the success ethic.  Directed by Budd Boetticher with the same lean and mean precision that can be found in his celebrated Ranown cycle of westerns and co-starring Warren Oates as the sickly brother.
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5.    Don’t Look Now/Daughters of Darkness (Castro)
Diabolical, super-stylish double feature of films often classified as horror but which strike me more as gothics, in the sense that they are about past traumas haunting the present and repressed sexual tensions bubbling up screaming to the surface more than the wheezy hack and slash dynamics often associated with the horror genre... anyways, I love them both and was thrilled to see them on the big screen at the Castro.
6.    Ora, Plata, Mata (YBCA, Filipino Film Festival)
A rip-roaring historical epic in the Gone With the Wind mode following two upper-middle class families’ travails through the strife of the Second World War in the Philippines.  I went to this one mainly because friends were going only to be helplessly sucked into it’s entertaining embrace.
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7.    Popeye (Castro, M4M)
I wouldn’t want to make a case for the subversiveness of this oft unfunny major studio release from noodly autuer Robert Altman, but I do find it’s ornery bizarreness captivating, and enjoy Altman’s anarchic refusal to focus on  plot points in favor of letting the rhubarbing cast squawk at each other.  It was very poignant to watch Robin Williams mumble his way through the lead role with characteristic good nature and grace.  This was his film debut.  With songs by Harry Nilsson.

8.    Side Street/Une Femme Marie (PFA)
A seemingly random double feature of less-heralded films by filmmakers I compulsively return to (Anthony Mann and Jean-Luc Godard) that seemed to speak to each other in subliminal and nigh subterranean ways.
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9.    The Long Riders (Castro)
I’m a big fan of westerns and director Walter Hill, so this one pretty much had me from the opening credits.  A re-telling of the familiar James/Younger gang myth colored in with the stunt casting of real-life brothers as brothers in the narrative (the brothers Keach,  Carradine, Quaid and Guest all saddle up), the film really comes alive in it’s interstitial dialogue with other westerns (most plainly The Wild Bunch) and in Hill’s dynamic staging of the breathtaking and bloody action scenes. 

10.  The Violent Men/40 Guns (Stanford)
More westerns!  The fun of this double bill was how, even though both films are in the same genre and thus speak the same language, they were completely different in execution.  Rudolph Mate’s The Violent Men is like a smooth ride in a stately carriage, comfortable and serene, whereas Sam Fuller’s 40 Guns is like jumping on a careening roller coaster and realizing that the brake man is passed out drunk.  You arrive at the same place, basically, with both films, but the difference in delivery is illuminating.  Also, it was a high point in my cinematic year watching Barbara Stanwyck spit out Fuller’s rapid fire dialogue.

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