Wednesday, February 15, 2017

10HTE: Monica Nolan

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.

Three-time IOHTE contributor Monica Nolan is an author and editor who regularly writes for the Film Noir Foundation and the SF Silent Film Festival.

Walker screen capture from Criterion DVD
My movies come from the usual suspects: Noir City, the International, the SF Silent Film Festival, and the PFA. Basically my butt alternated between the Castro and Berkeley, with a few side trips to the Roxie and YBCA. The odd one out was the Howard Zinn Fest screening, where the packed, unventilated room in the former Original Joe’s space precipitated some intense hot flashes during the movie. I hope the Zinn Fest does more revival programming, and I hope they up their projection skills and venue. Figure out the DVD settings before you start the film, please.

Looking at my 2016 calendar, I realize that I missed more films than I saw. Too many trips and weddings and way too many memorials pre-empted movies I really wanted to see, like Kamikaze 89 and Oh Rosalinda! This was also the year going to the PFA started to feel like a big pain. Being closer to the Berkeley BART has made the trip less appealing, if more convenient. I liked having the venue on campus, tucked away from the dreariness of downtown. I liked having two doors into the theater. I liked that the screen wasn’t hung so high above the audience’s heads you get a neck crick in the first ten rows. But I digress. The list below is in chronological order.

Girl With Hyacinths (Noir City, Castro) Lesbians! In Sweden! In 1950! The whole time I watched I kept thinking, is she going to turn out to be…could this be…no, it can’t. Not in 1950. But it could and she did.

Humoresque (Noir City, Castro) Every once in a while I see a movie that makes me think, Joan Crawford was a damn fine actress. This was one of them, especially when she first appears and looks John Garfield up and down through her glasses, holding them in front of her face, not committing to putting them on. And her delivery when she says, “I’m on a liquid diet.” And the scene where she throws a martini glass. The extreme close-up of her in an erotic swoon, heavy lidded eyes, nose and mouth filling the screen. Melodrama heaven.

Cast A Dark Shadow (SF International, Castro) Dirk Bogarde as the sleazy psychopath and Margaret Lockwood as the ex-barmaid who checkmates him (and survives him) made me forget the grungy digital quality. Another trip down gigolo alley.
Dragon Inn screen capture from A Touch of Zen Criterion DVD supplement King Hu: 1932-1997
Dragon Inn (Opera Plaza) An insanely complicated plot set in the mythical Chinese past is the excuse for stellar kung fu duels, plus some priceless eunuch baiting. I loved seeing the early days of HK action filmmaking technique, comparing it in my head to the films of the 90s that first introduced me to the genre. They’d figured out how to create illusions like that a guy has caught an arrow in mid-air, but then in the medium shots opponents are waving swords at each other from a safe distance. In the end the team of good guys (including a wonderfully competent woman) conquer the evil and powerful eunuch by running in circles around him and making him dizzy! The fun never stopped. Long live King Hu!

Gay USA (Frameline Festival, Roxie) Long and kind of tedious, but a priceless opportunity to time travel. Gay filmmaker Arthur Bressan filmed a bunch of pride parades in 1977 and interviewed parade goers and participants. What most struck me was how different people sounded: their vocabulary, the rhythms of their speech, the very timbre of their voices seemed significantly different than today’s. It’s the kind of thing even the best period movie can never capture. I kept looking for my hometown of Chicago, whose pride parade was featured, with little luck.

Variety (SF Silent, Castro) I’ve never been an Emil Jannings fan, but this film changed my mind. Plus Lya de Putti is out of control. Plus the camerawork. Plus just about everything except the moralistic framing device.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers screen capture from MGM DVD
Snatchers Body the of Invasion followed by Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Roxie) I’ve always wanted to see one of Anne McGuire’s reverse films and I’ve wanted to see the San Francisco-set version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers ever since reading Pauline Kael's review. Doing it as a double feature…the jury’s still out on that one. I was in a paranoid daze for days afterwards.

La Nuit du Carrefour (PFA) I only saw one other film in the PFA’s Maigret series, but I’m still positive that Renoir is the one who came closest to Simenon’s style and mood, especially the Simenon of the 1930s—events unfold enigmatically and all is explained at the end. There’s not a lot of nail-biting suspense—it’s all atmosphere. In Renoir’s hands the enigmas are so enigmatic the film becomes comic, absurd, and more than a little surreal.

Walker (Howard Zinn Fest, Piano Fight, with Alex Cox in attendance) I expected to see an earnest historical film about colonialism from a lefty angle. Boy was I wrong. Black comedy, deliberate anachronisms, and a touch of the Grand Guignol. Ed Harris is brilliant.

49th Parallel (PFA) I went because it was a Powell-Pressburger, but my pleasure was due to a fondness for WWII propaganda. This film had everything—Nazis so evil they pause to burn “decadent” art and a few books while on the run through the wilds of Canada! Peaceful German-speaking Hutterites, one of whom is a young Glynis Johns! And my favorite, Laurence Olivier hamming it up as a French-Canadian trapper! Just thinking of his fake accent brightens my day. The fun of the film was waiting to see which movie star the Nazis would encounter next, what aspect of democracy they would declaim about, and who would survive the encounter. Olivier is followed by Anton Walbrook, Leslie Howard, and the last nazi is finally captured by authentic Canadian Raymond Massey.

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