Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Scarface (1932)

Screen shot from Universal DVD
WHO: Howard Hawks directed this.

WHAT: I believe this is the first Hawks film I ever watched as a Hawks film, (I'd seen Bringing Up Baby long before I'd heard the word auteur, or at least known what it meant). It still informs my ideas of that director's interest in men and women and the spaces they inhabit more than any other film, probably. Which makes sense, as it was usually cited by Hawks himself as his own favorite of his films. Richard Brody has collected a salient quote from a Joseph McBride book, while himself calling the film
by far the most visually inventive and tonally anarchic movie that Hawks made. Among other things, it’s a tribute to the freedom that independent producers afforded directors then—and still do today. 
WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at the Castro Theatre at 7:45 PM.

WHY: Scarface is the ideal opening salvo in Elliot Lavine's I Wake Up Dreaming series of so-called "pre-code" films released before the enforcement of the a censorship code for Hollywood films began in 1934, which morphed into the MPAA rating system in 1968 (still in place and constantly obsessed over in certain quarters today). Lavine earned a reputation as one of Frisco Bay's most creative film programmers in part by putting together week-long or longer binges of these films to the Roxie Theatre beginning in the 1990s. Now, following on bringing last summer's successful series of film noir to the largest repertory screen in town, the Castro, Lavine launches a 14-title pre-code series in that venue, reserving each of the next six Wednesday nights for double- and triple-bills of films featuring sex, violence, political content and other subjects that would be taboo on American movie screens just a few years after they were made. I was able to interview Lavine briefly last week, and here is a transcript of part one of our discussion. Expect more of the interview in this space in coming weeks.
Hell On Frisco Bay: I noticed that this festival is focused very narrowly on films released during a twenty-two month period: November 1931 to September '33.

Elliot Lavine: Yeah. It's the center of the apple. Especially '32. '32 is a ground-breaking year, actually. Some of the best films were made in '31. My personal favorite was made in '31, which is Safe In Hell. But '32 is endless. You could do a whole festival. It's to pre-code what 1947 is to film noir.

HoFB: I think New York's Film Forum did a 1933 festival at one point.

EL: Not a shabby year either. You even find some good ones in 1934 before the boom came down. The Black Cat is one that came out that year.

HoFB: Why is this the center of the apple?

EL: Maybe because in '31 they were perfecting things. Getting away with murder. A code that nobody chose to enforce. And I'm sure they were feeling really frisky. Like European artists, they could do whatever they wanted. People in bed together, smoking opium, getting away with shit. It was really kind of unbridled. It was like the Wild West in the 1880s or something. I think at some point you have to peak. There's a zenith. Call Her Savage came out in 1932. The Story of Temple Drake. One after another, and all of them are just phenomenal. It's wide-ranging. It's not just sex shows; it's things like I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang. Two Seconds- that's 1932. So it's film after film after film after film. And I think it was like the Alps, right up there at the peak. Which is not to say that '33 slipped off, but by '34 it was gone, so it gave you a very short window to measure. And you could almost get a micrometer in there and say, 'when did it peak'? 'Well, September 1932.'

HoFB: Do you have any theories on what was the impetus for making these kinds of films in the first place?

EL:  I would say it was a combination of knowing that they could get away with a lot; that nobody was going to enforce any kind of censorial nonsense on them, up to a point. I mean they can't have people fucking in them but they can allude to it.

HoFB: Or saying 'fuck.'

EL: Right, but they didn't care about that. They just wanted to be able to deal with adult themes in a way that translated to an audience, especially an audience that was being kicked to death by the Depression. That is a big component to why the films work so incredibly well. That layer of doom and despair. It's like World War II's relationship to film noir- a horrible crisis that is complicating everybody's lives. It's a dominant motif of the world. So many of the stories reflect that. Wild Boys of the Road more than any- now that's 1933. Probably more than any film of that generation. I think it's a combination of smart directors who are artistically valid and interesting guys, in an environment where people felt desperate and in need of stories that reflected their own reality. Who the fuck wants to see happy-go-lucky musicals all the time? That crowd was being taken care of. But the other people who were making hardly any, or no money, and they would try to scrounge to keep things going. Scrape together that nickel, you know. They wanted to see something that makes sense. They didn't want an escapist fantasy.

HoFB: Of course some of the best happy-go-lucky musicals had a lot of sex in them too.

EL: That was de rigeur. It probably never occurred to these writers and directors that it would be any other way, ever. They probably thought, 'this is the way it's gonna be. It's gonna get better and better and better. By the forties we'll be showing everything, like Sweden.' Obviously that was not meant to be. There had to be a way of mollifying the great middle crossroads of America. People dug it in New York, L.A. and San Francisco. Everywhere in between, exhibitors were feeling the pinch because people just weren't coming. They were boycotting the movies. They were saying "we're fed up. We don't like all the sex and the murder, and it's not what we want to see. We're gonna stop coming to your theatre unless you start showing more wholesome entertainment." So [exhibitors] would say "Okay Warner Brothers, this is your friend Bob in Ohio, and I'm telling you my patrons are clamoring for cleaner entertainment." When you start hearing it from thousands of exhibitors, "we won't go to your shows." "We will boycott Warner Brother films." They had to listen. That was the sole motivating principle behind enforcing the code.

HoFB: Some of the histories indicate the provocative material was a desperate grab for box office.

EL: Yes because the marketing department of every studio was looking for hooks to hang everything on. What's gonna get people in New York interested about this movie. People have seen everything. They've done everything. Let's promise them a movie that will measure up to that level of recognition. They're gonna see people having sex, taking dope, committing murder, all kinds of fun stuff that you only get in the movies. It's a shame because censorship in any form is not welcome. It's not a good thing. However it did drive the industry in a slightly different way. I think we had a greater gravitational pull for directors who could work within those restrictions and still turn out interesting films. They may not have been as provocative or real as the pre-code films but they achieved some different artifice.  I guess we should, just because it's what we wound up with, feel grateful for that.

HoFB: Speaking of directors, I want to talk about Howard Hawks and Scarface, because although it was released in 1932, it's the one film you're showing that was made before the others. I read it was originally slated for release in 1931.

EL: Ready to go in '30.

HoFB: And it was held up precisely for some of the things you've been talking about.

EL: It went farther than most other films were going at the time, and most films were going pretty far. But he kept running into problems. Censorial problems, essentially around sex. The violence was pretty extreme. Really casual. People were dispatched very routinely. That went against what would ultimately be deemed the moral tempo of the film- that people could just murder people casually! And kids in the audience are cheering.

HoFB: Do you think people in Hollywood found ways to see this film? Did it have a reputation before its release?

EL: Insiders probably saw it.

HoFB: Do you think it had an influence prior to its actual release?

EL: It's funny because when people talk about classic gangster films of the 1930s they'll immediately bring up The Public Enemy and Little Caesar- well, actually Little Caesar was made in '30 as well if you look at the release date [January 9, 1931], but nevertheless Scarface, by people only looking at the numbers printed on the pages, "well that was in the aftermath" But that was the predecessor. Had it gone out in '30 or even '31 it would probably be a better known film. It's not that it's not known. To be honest with you a lot of people who come to Little Caesar and Public Enemy, while they're impressed by certain things about it, they don't really enjoy the films that much. And they think, "I don't need another one. I don't need to see Scarface. I'm done with that. Show me a musical now, or a prostitute movie." So I think it suffered a little bit. It also had sketchy ownership issues for a while. You couldn't see the film, even after it had been released. I can't think of a single time, growing up, that I ever saw it listed on television. Maybe it did sneak in here and there but I was glued to the TV Guide. I was a nine-year-old kid with a subscription to TV Guide. So it comes as a big, pleasant surprise, because it wipes the floor with those other movies. Public Enemy, if you were to excise maybe 10 minutes...

HoFB: It doesn't exist in its original form anyway.

EL: Hardly any of them do. Freaks- can you imagine seeing a 90-minute version of that? Which is what people did see in a preview setting.

HoFB: Is that why so many of these films are so short?

EL: Many of them. They probably lose at least five minutes because they've gone too far somewhere. Someone says, "oh the hand is going under the dress..." Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was re-released in the mid-'30s, heavily cut. Seven or eight minutes were cut out. They're back in the 97-minute version that Warner Brothers now has the print of.
HOW: Scarface screens on an all-35mm double-bill with another pre-code crime picture, Two Seconds.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

I Only Have Two Eyes 2015

El Sur screen capture from Spirit of the Beehive Criterion DVD (disc 2 supplement)

Though June 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of this blog, I didn't feel a strong desire to mention it at the time. Sometimes I wonder about the utility of an amateurly-put-together, ad-free site with an outdated design in today's era of feeds and streams and an increasingly video-centric online culture. But around this time of year (slightly later than usual, sorry) I remember one of the main annual joys I get to experience as founder and proprietor of Hell On Frisco Bay: collecting and posting repertory round-ups from some of the most thoughtful and devoted local cinephiles in my "I Only Have Two Eyes" project, so-named because it's impossible for one person to witness every great film screening occurring in a Frisco Bay cinema in a given year.

Unbelievably, this is the ninth consecutive year that I've conducted this survey, and this year's responses are as wide-ranging and reflective of the cinematic highlights of Bay Area revival/repertory screens as ever, in my opinion. Huge thanks to each and every one of the contributors this year! Without further ado, the list of entries (which will grow multiple times daily for the next week or so):

2/1/2016: Max Goldberg, archivist and critic whose writings are collected at
2/2/2016: Claire Bain, Canyon cinema filmmker, artist and writer. Her website.
2/2/2016: Brian Huser, high school teacher & film/media studies graduate.
2/3/2016: Lincoln Spector, proprietor of Bayflicks.
2/3/2016: Terri Saul, Berkeley-based artist.
2/4/2016: Ben Armington, who works for Box Cubed and participates in this podcast.
2/4/2016: David Robson, who blogs at the House of Sparrows.
2/5/2016: Adrianne Finelli, artist and co-curator of A.T.A.'s GAZE film series.
2/5/2016: Carl Martin, who maintains the Film on Film Foundation' Bay Area Film Calendar.
2/6/2016: Maureen Russell, cinephile and Noir City volunteer.
2/6/2016: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, educator, writer & Midnites For Maniacs curator/host.
2/7/2016: Frako Loden, educator and writer for outlets such as
2/7/2016: Adam Hartzell, writer for as well as other outlets.
2/8/2016: Philip Fukuda, volunteer at various local film festivals.
2/8/2016: Michael Hawley, who runs the blog film-415.
2/10/2016: Marisa Vela, cinephile and artist.
2/11/2016: and my own list.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Brian Darr: IOHTE

Screen capture from Columbia DVD
Thanks for reading the 2015 edition of I Only Have Two Eyes, my annual survey of Frisco Bay cinephiles' favorite cinematic revivals seen in local cinematheques, arthouses, museum screening rooms, movie palaces and other public spaces between January 1 and December 31, 2015. The hub page for this year's results will point you to the selections and, in many cases, eloquent write-ups, by sixteen esteemed allies in appreciation of the screen, the programmers, and of course the films that could be seen in Frisco Bay venues last year. Though not all by one person, as the name of the survey should suggest.

I compile a survey that eschews new releases in favor of focusing on our cinematic heritage not because I don't have interest in new films (you can see some of my own favorites listed here), but because I feel there are plenty of others covering that ground. And, perhaps as importantly, because I feel that the usual film rankings often obscure the circumstances under which they're viewed. So many variables play into how a viewer receives a film: method of delivery, reaction (or lack thereof) of fellow viewers, preconceptions before viewing, mood of viewer, among others competing with "quality of the film" in shaping a judgment. I know there are fastidious critics who take care to rewatch a film multiple times, often in multiple ways, before committing it to a top ten list, but though I admire the approach, it feels too much like a vain attempt to cram opinions into boxes made for facts for me to adopt it myself. Rather I prefer to present a year-in-review that emphasizes the unique nature of every viewing of a film. In-cinema screenings of older films are easier for most of us to think of as unique, I feel (in part because they very often are!)

Screen capture from Criterion DVD
I suspect the timing and placement of my first-ever viewing of The Honeymoon Killers couldn't have been better for appreciation of this exceedingly disturbing 1969 portrait of the murderous Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck. It was the final film shown at the January 2015 edition of Eddie Muller's Noir City film festival, pushing an audience who'd just taken in a week full of mysteries, thrillers and melodramas made in the classical Hollywood style (square frame, presentational acting style, continuity cutting, the works) out into the world on a completely different note. It's the only film written and directed by opera composer Leonard Kastle, with a few scenes filmed by a very young Martin Scorsese until the producers determined his methods ate up too much of the film's quick schedule and extremely low budget. Kastle created a raw and unflinching window into a notoriously lethal marriage, filmed mostly in long takes, in cars and in non-descript dwellings, giving the feeling of a nightmarish home movie exploding in widescreen on the the Castro screen. I felt shell-shocked after the screening and felt like I wouldn't want to watch another noir again for at least another year (although this wore off eventually, certainly in time for me to see the majority of screenings in the Castro's summer noir series hosted by Elliot Lavine.)

2015 was the last year, or should I say half-year, of the Pacific Film Archive's existence at its 16-year "temporary" location at 2575 Bancroft, across from a lovely Julia Morgan- & Bernard Maybeck-designed gymnasium. I witnessed so many outstanding screenings inside this corrugated shed, and though the new location holds great promise, I'm sure I'll miss the cozy purple-cushioned seats and the walks from the BART station through the forested campus quite a bit, if not as much as I'll miss some of the staff that was not invited to make the hyperspace jump to the new screening space when it opened this past week. Luckily I took great advantage of the old space during its final few months, sampling great retrospectives for filmmakers like Billy Wilder, Gregory Markopoulos, John Stahl, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Victor Erice. But I think my favorite PFA screening of 2015 was a mystical film completely unknown to me before viewing it in February: The Day is Longer Than the Night, with the director Lana Gogoberidze on hand to discuss her poetic, pictoral approach to national narrative (my tweet at the time), in a nation that didn't exist independent of the Soviet Union at the time she made it, and the fallout from its success at a crucial moment in Soviet film history. I wish I'd been able to take in a lot more of the PFA's monumental survey of Georgian film during late 2014 and early 2015, but I'm sure glad I at least caught this precious work.

Screen capture from Lionsgate DVD
There's no getting around it: now that I no longer live three blocks from the Roxie Theatre (since moving to Grant Avenue almost two years ago) I don't find myself there nearly as often as I used to. It may just be an optical illusion that has me thinking there's not quite as many can't-miss screenings happening there since I moved away- at least for a film-on-film proponent (though not purist). I did get to see perfectly-projected 35mm prints of Brandy In the Wilderness, Takeshi Miike's Audition, and a set of Quay Brothers shorts there in 2015, and am glad that Polyester screens in 35mm AND Odorama tonight (though I'll be helping present The Fall of The I-Hotel at the nearby Artists' Television Access instead). But my favorite recent-ish screening there has definitely been last March's showing of Kathryn Bigelow's solo directorial debut Near Dark, a post-punk vampire variant set in rural American states where, (as I tweeted after the screening) "blood flows as cheaply as beer & gasoline". I think it's my new favorite Bigelow film. The screening was presented by the Film On Film Foundation, which paired the film with the schlocky Stephanie Rothman grindhouser Terminal Island, but my mind really connects it with a more closely-kindred film seen at the Castro a month and a half before: Abel Ferrara's 1993 Body Snatchers remake.

More than fourteen years ago, after I saw my first Budd Boetticher Westerns midway through a Pacific Film Archive series, I started to visually devour as many as I could get my eyes on, whether via VHS tapes or Turner Classc Movies airings (at my neighbor's house, since I've never subscribed to that channel myself). But for some reason I'd always held that series opener The Tall T (pictured at the top of this post) at arm's length, in the hopes of another theatrical opportunity arising. Meanwhile, the movie was released on DVD, and then went out of print, and then back in again (this time only as an on-demand DVD-R), with no such screenings appearing in this cowboy-hat-averse region until this past April when the intrepid Yerba Buena Center for the Arts finally booked it as part of a very fine Western series (couched as "Noir Westerns" to help lure in horse opera skeptics). It proved itself to be the most formally and narratively "perfect" of Boetticher's Ranown films made with unassuming star Randolph Scott. A case in which my patience really paid off in a tremendous first-time viewing.

Screen capture from Parlour DVD
"If you don’t want anything, you won’t have anything, and if you don’t have anything, you’re nothing. You might as well be dead. You're not even a citizen of the United States." The greatest film I saw at the San Francisco International Film Festival this past Spring was a 45-year-old revival of the sole feature film directed by its star, who also wrote the screenplay and won an award at the Venice Film Festival back in 1970. There's not much new I can say about Barbara Loden's Wanda in a world where Bérénice Reynaud's essential Senses of Cinema article on the film exists, but I will add that Rachel Kushner's introduction to the Castro Theatre congregation not only quoted a passage from her novel The Flamethrowers that discussed the film, and gave shout-outs to Frisco's fallen repertory houses (the York, the Strand, the Red Vic), but debunked one notion in Reynaud's article: that Wanda never screened in the United States beyond an initial New York run. The SFIFF catalog refers to at least 1970 screening in San Francisco, and Kushner spoke eloquently of how her mother saw the film in an Oregon arthouse and always maintained it was the best film ever made. Watching with those words ringing in my ears, it was hard to disagree, at least for the 102 minutes it played, which is the most I can ever ask of a film anyway.

This past May's San Francisco Silent Film Festival was filled with gems, and I didn't even have time to see all of them, I'm sure. Most of my festival favorites (Ben-Hur, the Swallow and the Titmouse, the Bert Williams presentation) have been mentioned by other IOHTE contributors this year, but since nobody else mentioned another silent film event that happened earlier that month and opened my eyes equally wide to the place of pre-talkie cinema history in modern life, I'm going to use this slot to give it some attention. It's an experimental silent film called The Big Stick/An Old Reel by Massachusetts filmmaker Saul Levine, who made a rare Frisco Bay public appearance courtesy of an SF Cinematheque co-presentation at Oakland's more underground Black Hole Cinematheque, an admission-always-free screening space that will celebrate its fifth year of operation later in 2016. The Big Stick/An Old Reel is quite simply one of the most effective "found footage" films I've ever witnessed, and a 10-minute manifesto of how "old" films don't survive simply to be seen, but to be applied to our lives. Between 1967 and 1973 (it took him six years to perfect), Levine expressed this by splicing together footage of police trying to quell a mass protest, shot with his regular-8mm camera off a television broadcast, with fragments from 8mm reduction prints of pertinent Charlie Chaplin comedies. Namely 1914's Getting Acquainted, in which the Little proto-Tramp evades Edgar Kennedy's Keystone Cop as he interacts with Mabel Normand, Mack Swain, Phyllis Allen Cecile Arnold and Harry McCoy (strangely, much of the literature identifies this film as In The Park, which Chaplin filmed in San Francisco with an entirely different cast for Essanay in 1915), and 1917's Easy Street, in which Chaplin himself plays the cop- and a pretty outrageously abusive one. As if juxtaposing these three sources together didn't create an intense enough layering, Levine creates even more with additional interventions such as blackening parts of the image and varying the rhythm of the cuts. Indeed the very nature of 8mm splices, which leave a highly noticeable scarring on the frame (perhaps exacerbated when blown up to 16mm, as I believe the print I saw was?) creates more texture in an already-dense film. And context adds yet another level of layering. Watching cycles of violence so embedded into a film print in 2015 Oakland of all times and places felt like a particularly apropos summoning.

Screen capture from Universal Vault DVD
Last year the Stanford Theatre provided opportunities to watch all of the feature-length talking pictures Ernst Lubitsch directed up through 1939, and I took advantage of the opportunity to see the two from this period that had eluded me up to now: The Man I Killed, his sole pure drama during this period, and which is also known as Broken Lullaby, and the film I now think might be the summation of his powers, the 1937 Marlene Dietrich/Herbert Marshall/Melvyn Douglas love triangle Angel (which could also bear the title Broken Lullaby, as I noted in a post-viewing tweet). It was released after the longest period of apparent inactivity in Lubitsch's career as a director, which I can't help but notice coincides with the period of strict enforcement of the Hays Code (the precise date was July 1, 1934, two weeks before the end of principle photography on Lubitsch's prior directorial effort The Merry Widow). It's as if he needed a period of time to regroup and rethink how to extend his "Touch" into a more censorious Hollywood environment. He found some marvelous solutions, creating a masterpiece that walks a fine line between marital drama and aching comedy that somehow befits the strange combination of satisfaction and melancholy I feel at the thought that I'll never again see a 1930s Lubitsch feature for the first time. At least there are still a couple from the 1940s and a slew from the 1910s and 1920s I can look forward to making the acquaintance of...

The Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco presented its third annual tribute to a filmmaker from "the beautiful country"; after Pasolini in 2013 and Bertolucci in 2014 this year's maestro was Vittorio De Sica, still world famous of course for Bicycle Thieves, but whose lesser-known works like Shoeshine and Miracle in Milan are more beloved to me personally. The second Castro screening that September day was another for me to add to that list: Gold of Naples, a wise and witty portmanteau film made on the streets of De Sica's hometown, featuring six (approximately-) equally-wonderful Giuseppe Marotta short story adaptations. Sofia Loren plays a philandering wife with a misplaced wedding ring. Silvia Mangano a prostitute who takes revenge on a self-loathing nobleman. De Sica himself plays an inveterate gambler (a role that his friends considered his most autobiographical) and Totò (another Neapolitan) a put-upon clown. Other segments portray a neighborhood problem-solver and a haunting funeral procession for a dead child. Each vignette could stand on its own as a top-notch short film; together they conspire to create a filmic work worthy of standing with Rossellini's Paisan and Pasolini's Trilogy of Life films as proof that Italians have understood the power of portmanteau better than anyone.

Screen capture from Mileston/Oscilloscope DVD
I knew I'd be filling a major gap in my understanding of documentary history when I went to a 35mm showing of Marcel Ophuls' The Sorrow and the Pity at the Rafael Film Center. I didn't realize, however, just how much I'd learn from, be moved by, and even, dare I say, entertained by, this 1969 epic (over four hours, not including intermission) of cultural history and its intersection with "harder" political history. Ophuls, in San Rafael to receive a Mill Valley Film Festival tribute and to introduce a newer film as well as this one, sat and watched this one along with the audience, as if he hadn't already viewed it countless times before. Here he tears apart the myths associated with resistance in Nazi-occupied France, not as a radical but as a sly provocateur, using techniques that have since becomes hallmarks of successful documentary: the incorporation of disturbing "ephemeral" film footage (years before The Atomic Cafe solidified an American vogue for such), and of "enough rope to hang themselves" interviews like that of a merchant asked to explain why he took out an a newspaper ad proclaiming himself "100% French". Few of the interviews were as self-incriminating as this one, but they all wove together a damning self-portrait of a nation still unreconciled with its past. I'll never watch a Maurice Chevalier film in quite the same way again.

Finally, another French film that might never have been made without the unwitting participation of Nazi Germany: Fritz Lang's only film completed during his brief stay in Paris after fleeing Hitler's Germany (in style), albeit less abruptly than he'd maintain in later interviews. The film was Liliom, a 1934 adaptation of the same Ferenc Molnar play that Frank Borzage had made with Charles Farrell in 1930. The Stanford Theatre screened both back-to-back as part of a rapturous 100-year anniversary  tribute to the Fox Film Corporation, providing opportunities for me to rewatch rarely-revived personal favorites like the Borzage Liliom and Henry King's State Fair, and to see great works like John Ford's Steamboat Round the Bend for the first time. But none I'm as glad I made sure to trek to Palo Alto for as Lang's Liliom, which emphasizes the fatalistic elements of Molnar's play while presenting a "poetic realist" setting for its events to unfold in. Charles Boyer is particularly wonderful here as the title character, effectively differentiating his performance between different phases of life in a way that Farrell didn't even attempt. And the scene in which he watches his life unfold via a film projection is one of Lang's most inspired ever. Apart from a few late-career Satyajit Ray films co-produced by Soprofilms or Canal+, this is the first French film (made under the Erich Pommer-led Fox Europa) that I can recall the Stanford screening in the decade-and-a-half I've been paying attention to the venue's programming. I'd certainly be happy to see more.

Marisa Vela: IOHTE

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2015. An index of participants can be found here

IOHTE contributor Marisa Vela is a cinephile and artist.

So much of my focus this past year was fighting for the right to remain in our studio spaces, a fight that we ultimately lost. I did not make it to as many films as i would have liked.

1. Wanda- Barbara Loden 1970 SFIFF screening Castro Theater. introduction by Rachael Kushner, who wrote about the film in her novel, The Flamethrowers. Beautiful, painful film, it has stayed with me. Saturated color and graininess of 16mm blown up to 35mm

2. The Wild Wild Rose- Tian-Ling Wang 1960 A Rare Noir Is Good To Find, Roxie. Grace Chang dazzles in this Hong Kong nightclub update of Carmen.

3. The Swallow and the Titmouse- Andre Antoine 1920 Silent Film Festival, Castro Theater. Woefully under attended, being the final film of a long day. Gorgeous scenes on a barge floating down waterways, with a tougher more perceptive view of the characters than one is initially led to believe.

4. The Honeymoon Killers- Leonard Kastle 1969 Noir City, Castro Theater. What’s not to like?

5. The Sleeping Tiger- Joseph Losey 1954 Noir City, Castro Theater Dirk Bogarde bringing that “something” to the screen that we will see more of in The Servant.

6. The Devils- Ken Russell 1971, Castro Theater. A full house on a Tuesday night.

7. Dementia- John Parker 1953, I Wake Up Dreaming, Castro Theater. A dark dream with a George Antheil score.

8. The Scarlet Dove- Matti Kassila 1961 A Rare Noir Is Good To Find, Roxie. Shared a double-bill with The Wild Wild Rose. This Finnish film is a cautionary tale of the lengths the protagonist will go once he begins to doubt his wife.

9. A Man Escaped- Robert Bresson 1956 Roxie.

10. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me- David Lynch 1992, Castro Theater.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Michael Hawley: IOHTE

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2015. An index of participants can be found here

IOHTE contributor Michael Hawley runs the film blog film-415.

Favorite Bay Area Repertory/Revival Screenings of 2015
Screen capture from Flicker Alley DVD
Cibo Matto: New Scene (San Francisco International Film Festival, Castro Theatre) 
My top repertory highlight of 2015 was this inspired pairing of fave rock band Cibo Matto with seven avant garde shorts, including Marcel Duchamp's 1928 Anemic Cinema, the 1970 adaptation of Oskar Schlemmer's trippy, geometry-obsessed Bauhaus-era Das Triadische Ballet, and most fabulously, Yoko Ono and John Lennon's Fly.

The Honeymoon Killers (Noir City, Castro Theatre) 
I was gobsmacked by this revisit to one-film-wonder Leonard Kastle's 1969 American true crime shocker, shown at Noir City in a pristine 35mm print. François Truffaut once called this his favorite American movie. I'd always gotten a kick out of it, but hadn't realized what a god-damned masterpiece it was until now.

Rebels of the Neon God (Landmark's Opera Plaza Cinemas
Perhaps the most unlikely commercial re-release of 2015 was slow-cinema, Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang's 1992 debut feature, which I missed seeing at the 1993 San Francisco International Film Festival. It was worth waiting 22 years for a second opportunity.

The Happiest Girl in the World (Romanian Film Festival, Coppola Theatre, SF State University) 
I had read many terrific things about Romanian New Wave director Radu Jude, but none of his features ever came to town (nor had any reasonably priced, small screen options presented themselves). I was therefore thrilled when this previously unknown-to-me festival, now in its fifth year, finally brought Jude's droll 2009 social satire to town last fall.

Screen capture from Miramax DVD of My Voyage To Italy
Two Women & The Gold of Naples (Castro Theatre) 
Cinema Italia San Francisco brought a one-day, five-film Vittorio De Sica retrospective to the Castro in late September. The program featured two spanking new 35mm restorations, including Sophia Loren's Oscar®-winning performance in 1960's Two Women followed by 1954's The Gold of Naples. The latter was comprised of six self-contained short stories set in Napoli, the best of which starred De Sica himself as a pathetic gambling aristocrat.

54: The Director's Cut (San Francisco International FilmFestival, Castro Theatre)
While hardly the "minor masterpiece" some critics wanted us to believe, this reconstruction of Mark Christopher's 1998 ode to NYC's famed discotheque, featuring 44 previously unseen minutes, was the most fun I had at the movies last year. In addition to director Christopher, stars Ryan Philippe and Brecklin Meyer were on-hand for the revival's U.S. premiere. They were ogled both on-screen and on-stage by a whooping, exuberant Castro audience. 

It's a Gift (Sunday Funnies: Laurel and Hardy and W.C. Fields, Pacific Film Archive)
W.C. Fields is a hen-pecked hubby trying to get some sleep on the back porch in this raucous, 1934 featurette from director Norman Z. McLeod. It's my favorite comedy of all time and I'd never seen it on a big screen (let alone in 35mm) until last summer at the PFA.

Screen capture from Warner Archive DVD
Noir City, Castro Theatre
In addition to The Honeymoon Killers, there were other perverse delights at last year's Noir City. I was particularly taken by the Saturday afternoon triple bill of nail-biting suspense dramas The Steel Trap (1952), Julie (1956) and Cry Terror! (1958), all from Hollywood husband-and-wife filmmaking team Andrew and Virginia Stone (he wrote and directed, she produced and edited). Who knew that Doris Day singlehandedly landed a jet plane 19 years before Karen Black? Other Noir City 2015 flicks I'm still thinking about one year later include Ossessione (Luchino Visconti's 1943 homoerotic adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice), Robert Siodmak's The Suspect (1944) and Douglas Sirk's Shockproof (1949).

San Francisco Silent Film Festival (Castro Theatre)
The world's second most prestigious silent film showcase celebrated its 20th edition back in May with a tremendous 21-program line-up. What I remember most fondly are three comedies. In the UK/German co-production Ghost Train (1927), hijinks ensue when passengers take refuge in a haunted railway station overnight. Harold Lloyd's final silent film Speedy (1928) featured Babe Ruth in a supporting role (as himself) and an unforgettable 20-minute sequence set in Coney Island's famed Luna amusement park. Then in Amazing Charley Bowers, preservationist/showman Serge Bromberg introduced us to the surrealistic genius of American comic Bowers and his insane combinations of live action and stop-motion animation. At that same festival I was also blown away by the intense eroticism of John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in Flesh and the Devil (1926) and the immense spectacle of Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925).

Backstreet (Melodrama Master: John M. Stahl, Pacific Film Archive)
While I didn't get to the PFA as often as I would've liked in 2015, I'm sure glad to have caught this low-key but intensely moving 1932 adaptation of Fanny Hurst's novel, starring Irene Dunne as a career woman who spends 25 years as a married man's mistress.

Philip Fukuda: IOHTE

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2015. An index of participants can be found here.

IOHTE contributor Philip Fukuda is a volunteer at various local film festivals. 

 Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society
Monte-Cristo (Henri Fescourt, 1929, France). San Francisco International Film Festival, Kabuki Cinema. Lenny Borger, this year's SFIFF Mel Novikoff award winner, elected to screen the 3 plus hour silent Monte-Cristo. Based on the Alexandre Dumas, père novel, the director's meticulous attention to detail made this classic tale of revenge a delight for me. I'm convinced that the French were masters of the epic historical drama.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Swallow and the Titmouse (Andre Antoine, 1920/83, France) is a simple drama. Screened at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro Theatre. Filmed in a quasi-documentary style, The Swallow and the Titmouse (L'hirondelle et la mésange) shows the countryside pass by at leisurely pace as the barge travels between France and Belgium. Stephen Horne's piano and Diana Rowan's harp were the perfect accompaniment for the film.

100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History. San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro Theatre. This was one of the highlights of 2015's Silent Film Festival for me. This program presented footage discovered in the Museum of Modern Art's collection which consisted of scenes from Lime Kiln Field Day, shot in 1913 but never completed, USA featuring Bert Williams. It was a treat for me to see the pioneering black entertainer Bert Williams and showed why he was considered one of the top comedians of the day. I was also fascinated to see the performances shift over the course of multiple takes.

Screen capture from Miramax DVD of My Voyage to Italy
Ossessione (Luchino Visconti, 1943, Italy). Noir City 13, Castro Theatre. I enjoyed this adaptation of James M Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice for its unglamorous and realistic view of the rural Italian countryside and equally earthy people that inhabit it. Visconti's love of the male body and opera are in full display in the film.

Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950, USA). Castro Theatre. I've seen this film many times, but I'm still knocked out by Gloria Swanson's bravura performance and Billy Wilder's and Charles Brackett's whip-smart dialogue. It's wonderful (and startling too) to see closeups of the still-beautiful 50-year old Swanson.

The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955, USA). Castro Theatre. Charles Laughton's sole film directorial effort was a memorable one. It's German Expressionism meets Southern Gothic. I think the sets are wildly artificial yet so beautiful. Robert Mitchum's Rev. Harry Powell was a menacing a villain as I've ever seen. Though I'd seen it several times on DVD, this was the first time I'd seen it in a theater, and what better place than on the Castro's big screen.

The Wild, Wild Rose (Wang Tian-lin, 1960, Hong Kong). A Rare Noir is Good to Find! series, Roxie Theatre. Grace Chang, a pop mega-star in Hong Kong, chews the scenery and belts out Carmen in Chinese in this wildly entertaining film. One of my guilty pleasures of 2015.

Hope and Glory (John Boorman, 1987, UK). Mostly British Film Festival, Vogue Theatre. I thought it was a charming film showing both the childrens' and adults' reactions to the Blitz in World War II.

Screen capture from Wellspring DVD
Rebels of the Neon God (Tsai Ming-liang, 1992, Taiwan). Opera Plaza Cinema. Slacker teens, petty crime, video arcades in early 1990s Taipei. For me, it adds up to a lot more than the average teenage flick.

A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005, USA) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Though I only saw a few films at the David Cronenberg retrospective at YBCA screening room, A History of Violence was a standout. As the title implies, the film was full of thrills, but it was also full of knockout performances.