Thursday, February 4, 2016

David Robson: 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 and cinephile-at large David Robson documents his offline movie-viewing at a number of online film sites, like his own blog the House of Sparrows, and he cohabitates with those adorable simian cinephiles at Monkeys Go To Movies.

I usually limit myself to one movie per filmmaker for these, but Max is great enough to list twice. Ever since David Wong introduced The Exile during the Invasion of the Cinemaniacs! at YBCA I've been "collecting" the films of Max Ophuls, i.e. seeing every damn screening of his movies that I can. I was delighted that the hard-bitten mofos at Noir City basically book-ended the year with Ophuls, showing the exquisite Caught during the Noir City festival in January and The Reckless Moment during their winter preview in December. Watching Ophuls navigate his camera thru the psychological extremis of his characters is one of classic cinema's most savory delights; James Mason is pretty grand in very different roles in both movies, too.

Even after three viewings I continued to struggle with Godard's Goodbye to Language. And yet the ongoing struggle seemed to cleanse the palate for a lovely 35mm print of his mid-80s, Cannon Films-produced King Lear, which played fast and loose with Shakespeare's play but resonated with surprising, often graceful, clarity on all of its subjects. Amid all of Godard's theorizing and deconstruction his cast land their marks with considerable emotion and grace. No surprise that Burgess Meredith should make his Lear-infused gangster resonate across both genre and Shakespearean lines, but Molly Ringwald (who made this movie amid the John Hughes teen flicks that landed her permanently in the 80s firmament) is equally graceful, and, in a bit part as a shady editor,  Woody Allen registers with a conviction and gravitas no one else bothered to ever mine in him. A theatre friend with whom I saw the thing called it a terrific piece of devised theatre, and he's right. Bonus: the quick but graceful callout to Orson Welles in reel 2.

Yerba Buena Center's Cracked Actor series offered a fine retrospective of the film performances of the late David Bowie. The Prestige turned out to be the eye-opener in the series, showcasing not just Bowie's fantastic supporting performance (suggesting his particular charisma is best served by such roles) but a surprisingly emotional mid-career opus by its maker, Christopher Nolan. Nolan's work had always left me more impressed than touched or moved, but between this and Interstellar (seen in glorious 70mm at the Castro early last year) I'm reconsidering my bias.

It was pretty genius, the pairing of Hitchcock's The Birds with Larry Cohen's Q. Very much a yin/yang pairing: whereas the lives of carefully delineated characters in a realistic setting are disrupted by an unexplained bird attack in the Hitchcock, Cohen offers a carefully explained series of attacks by a winged serpent on New Yorkers and fills the rest of the movie with a bewildering rogues gallery of engaging weirdos and apparently improvised moments - Michael Moriarty's singing of his own song "Evil Dream" is just the beginning of a performance more like a jazz solo than any other piece of film acting I can recall, but David Carradine finds his own space to add accents around Moriarty, even as he can't quite believe what the hell is going on in front of him. And the undercover mime should have become a franchise. Hitchcock's ambiguities let his movie linger in the mind, but Cohen's never-ending and increasingly lunatic pre-Giuliani NYC smorgasbord is just as fulfilling.

Sure, the Silent Film Festival offered more monumental, moving and graceful works, but when, during the Charlie Bowers comedies, the stop-motion squirrel fished all of the shit out of her purse in search of a nutcracker, I absolutely lost it. And that's just one little throwaway incident amid four works bristling with avant-garde fearlessness and boundless imagination; Bowers is exactly the kind of unique but under-known talent that rep cinema is supposed to introduce to its audiences.

As is Robert Montgomery, perhaps, whose Ride the Pink Horse attained true cult status last year. I'm grateful to Elliot Lavine for booking a lovely print of the movie during his Castro noir series, allowing this sweaty and nuanced yarn to breathe new life.

A startlingly well-built Wim Wenders retrospective began making the rounds of the US late last year, and the Castro gave up all of its November Mondays to many of the movies. As nice as it was to see them all (including many a cinephile's holy grail: the five hour cut of Until The End of the World), The State of Things resonated most strongly with me. Seen in the context of Wenders' other largely-improvised movies, The State of Things (inspired strongly by delays on another movie) reflects beautifully on the ongoing conflict between art and commerce, and the everyday lives of those caught between. Even the car chase, beautifully executed within a single longshot taking in several city blocks, seems to have picked up on the movie's quiet, laid-back resonance. Lovely performance by Samuel Fuller as the practical but all-knowing cinematographer.

I suspect many found it dated or had other reasons for not engaging with it (the buzz one feels after a movie grabs an entire audience, then gently releases them, seemed utterly gone), but goddammit, I'd grown up watching Laurie Anderson's concert movie Home of the Brave on video, and finally seeing it projected, on 35mm, and HEARING it, was that rare experience of seeing a movie one knows by heart for the very first time. Obviously there's a bias on my part that lands this movie, a crucial influence and touchstone on my youth, on this list. But even if its gorgeous and awe-inspiring reveals - the yonic chasm that Anderson's sampler/violin tears thru the climax of "Smoke Rings"; the detonation of the full vocal sample at the end of "Late Show"; the siren that I found, THIS WHOLE TIME, had been baying unobtrusively but insistently behind Adrian Belew and David van Tieghem's otherwise spare and quiet duet - meant nothing to to one in the theatre but me, I felt reconnected, inspired, restored, alive.

And if Home of the Brave connected me to myself, David Lynch's The Straight Story (my final 2015 Frisco Bay screening) connected me: to Doris, a fellow Lynchian as psyched to see this never-screened gem as I; to Richard Farnsworth, the elderly and frail but determined star of the movie, given another curtain call; to Lynch, crafting one of his most personal works, a G-rated Disney family movie that no one but David Lynch could have made; to Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, whose intro didn't mention "neo-sincerity", his patented term for his non-ironic approach to older movies, but was instead delicately, movingly, simply, sincere; to my family, the bundle of sticks that don't break; to my fellow cinephiles and other interested parties in the rep theatres of San Francisco; to the coming holidays; to the very universe itself. David Lynch's The Straight Story, it turns out, remains one hell of a movie. Can't wait to see what's next.

1 comment:

  1. Always great to review your year-end ten, David. Laughed outloud at: "The undercover mime should have become a franchise."