Saturday, February 11, 2017

10HTE: Lincoln Spector

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 2016. An index of participants can be found here.

Nine-time IOHTE contributor Lincoln Spector operates the Bayflicks website. This list is edited from this post on that site.

Chimes at Midnight screen capture from Criterion DVD
8: Great Shakespeare adaptations digitally restored
Pacific Film Archive

On one glorious day, the PFA screened two unusual Shakespeare adaptations, both of which are great films in their own right. Orson Welles boiled Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, with a smattering of dialog from Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Winsor, to make the brilliant Chimes at Midnight. Akira Kurosawa rethought King Lear into his last masterpiece, a Japanese fable called Ran. The digital restorations bring both of these films to life – especially Chimes, which until now had never been screened as Welles intended.

7: The Long Voyage Home
Pacific Film Archive
New 35mm preservation print

John Ford, at the peak of his powers, turned four plays by Eugene O’Neill into one coherent story about merchant marines (screenwriter Dudley Nichols and cinematographer Gregg Toland helped a lot, of course). The sailors talk about giving up the sea, but they never do. UCLA recently created a new preservation negative; the print I saw – struck from that negative – was a thing of beauty.

Runaway Train screen shot from Warner DVD of Electric Boogaloo: the Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
6: Trains on Film
35mm & DCP

Film historian David Thomson and poet/novelist Michael Ondaatje took over the Rafael’s main theater for a three-day festival about the mixture of cinema and locomotives. I attended Saturday, and caught a gorgeous print of Shanghai Express, a beautiful, digital presentation of The Lady Vanishes, and a stunning, mouth-watering studio print of Runaway Train. Each movie was preceded by clips from other films, and followed by a discussion with Thomson and Ondaatje.

5: Blood Simple & Criterion
San Francisco International Film Festival

The SFIFF celebrated Janus Films and the Criterion Collection with two panel discussions and a screening of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple. The event started with film critic Scott Foundas interviewing Criterion’s Jonathan Turell and and Janus’ Peter Becker. Then they screened Blood Simple, newly restored by the two often-collaborating companies. Then the Coen Brothers and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld (now a director) came on stage for another panel discussion. Great movie, and great talk, as well.

4: Singin’ in the Rain 
Pacific Film Archive
My favorite musical contains several of the best dance routines in film history. And when no one is singing or dancing, it’s one of the funniest comedies of the 1950s. I doubt there’s a better piece of pure entertainment. The DCP’s image quality was decent, but I’ve seen better; and the audio was a relatively new 5.1 mix rather than the original mono. But the audience response, with laughter and applause (and one little kid’s “Yeww!” at a kiss), reminded me just how wonderful Singin’ works theatrically.

3: Diary of a Lost Girl
New Mission

G.W. Pabst made Diary of a Lost Girl in 1929, but its story of sexual hypocrisy seems very appropriate today. Men use attractive women, worship them, then toss them to the curb. And only the women are punished for what the men do to them. Louise Brooks, always brilliant and beautiful, plays a rape victim thrown out by her family and forced to make her own way. The New Mission’s beautiful Theater 1 provided a great venue, and The Musical Art Quintet combined classical music and jazz to carry the emotions and enhance the occasional humor. A presentation from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Image provided by contributor
2: Do the Right Thing
Pacific Film Archive

For a 27-year-old film, Do the Right Thing feels very much like the here and now. By focusing on a few blocks of Brooklyn over the course of one very hot day, Lee dramatizes and analyzes everything wrong (and a few things right) about race relationships in America. And yet the movie is touching, funny, warm-hearted, and humane. It’s beautifully written, acted, photographed, paced, and edited. The blazingly glorious 35mm print was a revelation, and the PFA’s Meyer sound system found new strength in the original Dolby Stereo Spectral Recording soundtrack.

1: The Italian Straw Hat
San Francisco Silent Film Festival

I’ve known about this French silent comedy for years, and when I finally got to see it, I wasn’t disappointed. A man on his way to be married runs into trouble when his horse eats a woman’s hat. If she comes home without her hat, her husband will figure out that she has a lover. And that lover is a short-tempered army officer who insists that our hero find an identical hat immediately. The story is ridiculous, but who cares when the movie is this funny. The laughing audience and the live accompaniment by the Guenter Buchwald Ensemble kept the energy flowing.

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