Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Screen capture from Warner DVD
WHO: Oscar Wilde, the "Irish dramatist, poet, novelist and essayist known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress, glittering conversation and enduring artistic achievements" wrote the novel on which this film is based. The quote comes from Wilde's plaque on the Rainbow Honor Walk on the sidewalk just a few dozen feet down the hill from the Castro Theatre. Thankfully the original plaque, with its embarrassing typo ("bitting wit") has been rectified.

WHAT: I read Wilde's novel years ago and loved it, but have yet to see this adaptation. Dave Kehr calls is "a good movie" and it takes a pretty stratospheric place on Jaime Christley's 1945 top ten list. On the other hand Fernando Croce calls it "an instance in which an outright debacle would have made a much more interesting film," taking director Albert Lewin to task while praising its performers Hurd Hatfield, Angela Lansbury and George Sanders, if not quite their performances. This is still probably the most well-known version of the novel, despite a 2009 British production that has some fans.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens 7:15 tonight only at the Castro Theatre as part of Noir City

WHY: What better place to see an Oscar Wilde movie than at the Castro Theatre? A 1400-seat Timothy Pfleuger gem built in an era much closer to Wilde's than our own, but in a neighborhood that still feels like it owes a debt to prominent pioneers like him. The Castro has been San Francisco's home to Noir City for twelve of its fourteen years and is an example of an event and a venue being a perfect match for each other. Castro regulars know that for ten days they'll have to plan their bathroom visits carefully in order to avoid long lines, and in exchange they're allowed to sit in the usually-closed-off balcony, where the most comfortable seats in the house are located.

The Castro just announced its February calendar on its website and it's pretty outstanding (it has to be, I suppose, to stay relevant now that the new Alamo Drafthouse is deep in its "signature" programming, and the Pacific Film Archive is set to grab a lot of attention as it re-opens in a new location close to the Berkeley BART station next week). Some potential highlights include: underrated neo-noir Copland screening Wednesday February 3rd in a Stallone double-bill with Creed; a February 13 pairing of Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans with Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon; a Valentine's Day marathon of Casablanca with Notorious (also screening together at the Stanford this coming weekend) as well as the new documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut (a love story of a more cinephilic sort); Truffaut's Jules & Jim on February 18 (a day after his counterpart Jean-Luc Godard's rarely-shown Sympathy For the Devil); A February 15 pairing of George Lucas's American Graffiti (his best film, IMHO) with Steven Spielberg's (and perhaps more importantly the late great cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's) Close Encounters of the Third Kind; more great Zsigmond showings including McCabe & Mrs. Miller February 21, Deliverance February 23, and Heaven's Gate February 28 (a very good Oscar night alternative). There's also a hint of March offerings including a Jean Cocteau double-bill on the 3rd and a David Bowie tribute screening of The Man Who Fell To Earth with co-star Candy Clark in person, on March 12th.

A February 24th showing of Howard Hawks's Scarface marks the beginning of a six-Wednesday stand of 1931-1933 "pre-code" gems programmed by Elliot Lavine. I've seen eleven of these fourteen sex- and crime-oriented entertainments, and there's not a one I wouldn't recommend to someone who hasn't seen it before. The ones I'm eager to see for myself for the first time are Two Seconds (also on the 24th), Torch Singer on March 2nd, and (not listed on the Castro site) Downstairs on March 23rd (paired with The Bitter Tea of General Yen). I'm also always up for a big-screen rewatch of films like Shanghai Express and Safe in Hell (March 9th), I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang and Wild Boys of the Road (March 16th) and Island of the Lost Souls, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Freaks (March 30th). Every one of these films should appeal strongly to almost any Noir City regular; this period of the early 1930s and the mid 1940s have some interesting affinities in Hollywood.

HOW: The Picture of Dorian Gray screens on a double-bill with the UK rarity Corridor of Mirrors. The latter will be screened as a DCP, while the Picture of Dorian Gray will screen as a..., well, I'd rather let Eddie Muller break it to you. This is what he said when I interviewed him for Keyframe Daily recently:
I had my heart set on finding an original print of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Have you ever seen that? It has Technicolor inserts in the film. I was always like, "why hasn't there been a restoration of this?" Harvard Film archive has a 35mm print. But they admitted, under slight pressure, that the color sections had faded. Warner brothers, which owns the rights to the film, restored it digitally to put it out as a Blu-Ray. But there's no film. So I said, "you know what, I'm just gonna show the Blu-Ray". Because I felt like I wanted the experience for the audience to be as close to what it was like when that film came out as possible, and that meant that those color sections had to be shocking. Like, "oh wow, this gorgeous black and white is now vivid Technicolor". And that's not gonna happen with a faded print. You're left trying to imagine what they intended. I'd rather show you, as close as possible, what they intended.

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