Sunday, December 20, 2015

Brazil (1985)

Screen capture from Criterion DVD
WHO: Terry Gilliam directed and co-wrote this.

WHAT: This may be Gilliam's most deeply black comedy, set in a near-future dystopian society that places great importance on bureaucracy, security, consumerism, and ceiling ducts. Jonathan Pryce plays a middle-aged everyman who dreams of escaping his life as an office drone to become a winged knight, to get a taste of life in the tropics as might be described in a dated samba song (from which this film derives its meridional title), or at least to get to better know the truck-driving young woman that he keeps fleetingly encountering. As he juggles his job duties, his visits with his plastic-surgery-obsessed mother, and unorthodox visits from the underground repairmen resistance, he comes closer to learning the cruel truth about his position in this society.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Castro Theatre, at 2:15 and 8:00 PM.

WHY: This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of this film's release in the United States. lthough it had screened all over the world starting as early as February in Europe, September in ustralia and October in the nation sharing its name, Even the 132-minute version that Gilliam was able to eventualy convince Universal to release just before Christmas 1985 was missing 10 minutes of footage now expected to be included in the print showing at the Castro today (according to the theatre's claim of a 142-minute runtime).  This is considered to be the definitive version by most modern fans, and it includes a few more overt references to the Christmas season, during which many viewers tend to forget the film is set.

There are still plenty of other Xmas-themed movies screening in Frisco Bay cinemas over the next several days. For the traditional-minded, the Stanford shows its usual December Lubitsch film The Shop round the Corner this week from Monday to Wednesday (on a double bill with The Wizard of Oz) before screening its annual 35mm Christmas Eve It's a Wonderful Life show. It's sold out of course, but the Castro screens the same film digitally on Tuesday, December 22nd.

The Roxie, meanwhile, has a MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS-presented double bill of Christmas-themed eighties movies, Die Hard and Gremlins, that provide a different sort of Yuletide experience than a Lubitsch or Capra classic, but that are increasingly well-remembered as Christmastime films by new generations of movie lovers. These are both to be screened as DCP (Digital Cinema Package) files on the Roxie's far -improved digital projection system installed this past pril.

I finally had an opportunity to see the Roxie's digital system in action this past Friday when I went to see another 30th-anniversary screening, a presentation of The Last Dragon, introduced by comedian W. Kamau Bell and with its Tae Kwon Do expert star Taimak on hand for a very lively audience q&a. Though I was initially very disappointed that the screening was not presented in 35mm as originally advertised (mainly because it meant I was missing a 35mm print of The Straight Story across town at the Castro), I do see a silver lining in that I got to see for myself that the Roxie's main house can project digitally as well as anywhere (something that recent years' experience had left me in serious doubt of), in addition to the fact that I got to see a film I'd never seen before in a packed house of devoted fans more racially diverse than I can recall seeing a movie anywhere. I sat with a couple of friends who told me they'd experienced 35mm projection problems at the Roxie the Friday before, and although I'd just seen a truly flawless presentation of Brothers Quay shorts on Sunday December 3th, I pieced together from their comments and those of a Roxie staffer I spoke to briefly before leaving the screening after the q&a, that there'd been a recent pattern of 35mm projection problems at the cinema that had led them to decide to screen The Last Dragon digitally.

The next day I mentioned the issues on my twitter feed, and within a few hours received a very thorough e-mail from the Roxie's new Executive Director Dave Cowan, detailing the three separate problems the venue recently had projecting 35mm prints, and how they were resolved. He explained that the decision to project The Last Dragon digitally was made because of "issues with the mechanisms that align and advance the positive and negative carbons in our old Peerless Magnarcs." I've never operated a 35mm projector myself, much less a vintage carbon arc projector, but I believe the problem they were trying to avoid is one I've seen occur several times at the Roxie (though never at the Stanford, which also projects carbon arc, but which is run by a wealthy cine-philanthropist who can easily afford to keep all gear in top condition at all times.) Perhaps you have too: a film's image suddenly fades to dark as the soundtrack continues to play, until a few seconds (which can feel like minutes) later, the image is restored as bright as before the problem. Not as disruptive as a frame melt (which I've experienced this year at the Castro and YBCA, once apiece) or certain digital glitches, but something that certainly would have put a damper on an otherwise positive screening.

I'm glad to hear from Cowen that the Roxie believes it has now solved this carbon alignment issue, and will test further in the following days before its next scheduled 35mm screenings of Casablanca (a film that plays a key part in a humorous scene in Brazil) on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and of Strange Days on December 30th. Unfortunately I won't be able to attend any of these showings myself, but I encourage readers who do to report back either via comment or by emailing me.

HOW: On a 35mm subversively Christmas-themed double-bill with Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.