Monday, February 8, 2016

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.

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