Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Rufino Tamayo: the Sources of His Art (1973)

Image from brief youtube excerpt from the film.
WHO: Los Angeles filmmaker Gary Conklin directed this 28-minute documentary.

WHAT: I wrote this brief blurb on this film for the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) website:
An investigation of one of Mexico's most intriguing painters, known especially for his use of color (thankfully SFPL's print has retained all of its lovely hues.) Born in Oaxaca and proud of his Zapotec Indian heritage, Tamayo was one of the twentieth century's most prominent artists influenced both by pre-Columbian art and by European modernists such as Picasso. These inspirations, as well as the visual characteristics of Mexico itself, are presented in conjunction with interviews with Tamayo. In addition, Hollywood director John Huston (the Treasure of Sierra Madre, Night of the Iguana) speaks a narration written by Nobel laureate Octavio Paz; director Gary Conklin would later return the favor by documenting the filming of Huston's final Mexico-set feature, Under the Volcano. Conklin has also made film portraits of Gore Vidal, Paul Bowles, and Ed Ruscha.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens 6:30 PM tonight only at the SFPL Noe Valley branch's meeting room.

WHY: I sense that Frisco Bay is feeling a smaller presence of 35mm this September than in any month since the nineteenth century. With the PFA closed as it prepares its move down the hill into downtown Berkeley, with the Stanford shuttered until October for remodeling, and with the Alamo Drafthouse's New Mission location still without a publicly-announced grand opening date, it feels like a moment of uncertainty and waiting. Meanwhile Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is presenting a Neil Young screening series (to be followed by an Architecture & Design doc series) with only one 35mm print (his blown-up-from Super-8 Greendale), and the format is running a distant third (with 13 shows) even at the Castro behind digital shows (well over 20) and 70mm screenings (10 Labor Day weekend Vertigo shows plus 5 of Lawrence of Arabia this weekend = 15). The 4-Star Theatre, the last San Francisco cinema still regularly showing new releases in 35mm, has the digitally-shot Straight Outta Compton, and though the South Bay's BlueLight Cinema is showing 35mm prints of 50% of its current offerings (including four shot-on-video action films and one shot-on-35mm drama by a guy whose films I currently refuse to see), I imagine that percentage will drop in the near future, at least if its kickstarter to raise funds for better digital projectors is successful. Finally, the Paramount in Oakland will be showing a 35mm print of the original Mad Max on Friday, although I've been told to expect the American-dubbed version.

When I can rattle off a month's worth of 35mm showings in the region in a single paragraph, it's pretty clear I'm talking about a waning format, perhaps an "inevitable" transition as a panel at the newly-announced Mill Valley Film Festival seems set to prove. But even if 35mm were to die tomorrow, it wouldn't mean the end of projected reels as long as there were 16mm-centric venues like Oddball Films and the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and the Exploratorium (which is showcasing a set of brand new 16mm preservations this Thursday) around and thriving. Artists' Television Access (A.T.A.) is another venue which values 16mm projection and which is busier than usual this September; Craig Baldwin traditionally involves 16mm in every one of his weekly Other Cinema programs, and my girlfriend Kerry Laitala will be presenting 3 different multi-projector performances this Friday at her show with Voicehandler at the Valencia Street venue. I highly recommend attending, especially if you missed one or both of their shows at Oddball and Shapeshifters Cinema this past July.

in 2015 I've become involved with a group of A.T.A. volunteers who are spending evenings going through the San Francisco Public Library's collection of 16mm prints, most of them untouched in 20 years or more. The library has a collection of hundreds of films intended for teenage and adult viewers, most of which appear to have been acquired for the collection in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. We're looking at some of the more intriguing-sounding films and putting screening programs together of the best (both in physical and aesthetic quality) prints we're coming across. Our first program screened this past June at the Noe Valley library, and showcased five diverse documentaries, most of them unavailable on any home video format or (as far as we've been able to find) the internet. Our second program, screening tonight, is a little more focused, bringing together two nearly-half-hour films about North American artists. Rufino Tamayo: the Sources of His Art, a color film about a painter, is paired with My Childhood, Part 2: James Baldwin's Harlem, a black-and-white film about a writer of poetry, plays, essays, etc. that was broadcast on television in 1964. In addition to helping to select the films, I wrote short blurbs about both, but as I reprinted the Rufino Tamayo one above, I'll make you follow a link to read what I wrote on My Childhood. I hope you can make it tonight's showing of the two films. Admission is free and there will be an opportunity for discussion afterward.

On strange coincidence I discovered after the pairing of these two films was made. As I noted above, Rufino Tamayo's director Gary Conklin later made an hour-long documentary about the filming of John Huston's final film shot in Mexico, Under the Volcano. The documentary is available through the Criterion Collection edition of the 1984 feature. Well, it turns out that one of the key filmmakers involved in making My Childhood, cinematographer Ross Lowell, also traveled to Mexico to document the making of a John Huston film, namely the 1964 Night of the Iguana. Lowell's 15-minute final product is available on the Warner DVD of the Huston film. Just to add another layer to the coincidence, it was well after we selected these two films to play together tonight that I learned the Castro Theatre would be screening a 35mm print of Huston's first Mexico-set feature (and my favorite of the three), Treasure of the Sierra Madre, on September 27th.

HOW: Rufino Tamayo: the Sources of His Art and My Childhood, Part 2: James Baldwin's Harlem will screen together in 16mm prints from the SF Public Library collection.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Screen capture from New Line Entertainment DVD
WHO: Wes Craven, who died of brain cancer last weekend, wrote and directed this.

WHAT: In an age where we love our screens so much that we like to take them to bed with us, the above-pictured scene, starring Johnny Depp in his very first movie role, seems eerily prescient. Or maybe it's just fun. Either way it's a great moment to see in a theatre full of other moviegoers.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens at the Roxie tonight and tomorrow at 9:45 PM, on Sunday at 3:00 PM, and next Wednesday at 9:45 PM

WHY: The very first of the nine-and-counting "official" films featuring modern bogeyman character Freddy Krueger was never expected by its writer-director to launch a franchise, but it touched such a nerve in popular culture that it was inevitable to occur. I was a horror-averse preteen and, later, teenager when these movies came out so I never saw them at the time, but that doesn't mean I wasn't constantly exposed to Freddy through schoolmates descriptions of him, through Halloween costumes, through novelty songs, and the like.

I finally saw my first Freddy film (this one) in October 2007 when Jesse Hawthonre Ficks of MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS played it on a Castro Theatre triple-bill with Flowers in the Attic (which Craven was slated to direct but ultimately didn't, to the finished product's detriment) and the 1977 The Hills Have Eyes, which I instantly recognized as the best of the handful of Craven-directed films I'd seen thus far. Though to my regret I haven't added to that small list in the nearly eight years interim (aside from a DVD viewing of his underrated The Serpent and the Rainbow). Nor have I watched any of the many non-Craven-directed Freddy Krueger movies aside from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge when it screened at the Frameline festival a couple years ago after a stage show featuring drag queen Peaches Christ wearing a red-and-olive green sweater lipsynching the Hell out of "Enter Sandman".

It's a shame that it's taking the horror icon's death for me to realize how desperately I need to familiarize myself with his legacy. In addition to this week's Roxie screenings, Ficks (who told me about the sad news in person when we ran into each other at Sunday's Castro screening of King Vidor's The Crowd- the venue's final silent film to be performed with the current Wurlitzer organ before it's replaced with a new one in the coming weeks) has booked 35mm prints of two 1990s Craven films for October 30th at the Castro: Scream (the first Craven film I ever saw) and New Nightmare, his return to the franchise he never intended to be one, that has always sounded fascinating to me, set as it is on the production of Freddy Krueger movie (how meta!) I'm not sure I'll make time to fill in the gaps and watch A Nighmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors through Freddy's Dead: the Final Nightmare on DVD before then, as it appears from this list of references that I've probably seen enough of the series already to follow along with the film nicely. I'd rather spend time watching some of the more highly-recommended Craven films like Swamp Thing and Shocker, assuming they're available from Le Video. Or watching other films on the new Castro calendar such as the other MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS auteur tribute, on October 2nd (John Carpenter's They Live and Assault on Precinct 13).

HOW: The Roxie will show A Nightmare on Elm Street via DCP, a format they became able to screen this past April but which I haven't experienced there for myself yet, having only seen 35mm and DVD-projections there in the meantime. I'm sure this digital format will look better than the latter, even if it can't quite maintain some of the essential qualities of the former. It seems DCP is only available in the "Big Roxie" and not the "Little Roxie" so take that under consideration in picking your showtime for The Tribe (a film I have much more to say about than to simply recommend or dismiss) should you decide to see it during its current run. I'm pleased that the venue was able to bring in DCP without giving up its ability to show 35mm, which it will from October 30 to November 3rd when it brings a set of Quay Brothers shorts along with a documentary by Christopher Nolan.