Tuesday, February 14, 2017

10HTE: Philip Fukuda

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.

Two-time IOHTE contributor Philip Fukuda is a volunteer for various local film festivals.

Elevator to the Gallows screen capture from Criterion DVD
Wicked Woman (Russell Rouse, 1953, USA). I Wake Up Dreaming series, Castro Theatre. As part of Elliot Lavine's last "I Wake Up Dreaming" series in San Francisco, he screened Wicked Woman, one of my favorite noirs. Tall, blond Beverly Michaels has both Richard Egan and Percy Helton wrapped around her finger. Or does she?? It's a pleasure to see the great character actor Percy Helton get so much screen time, too.

Earlier in 2016, Elliot Lavine also presented his last Pre-Code festival at the Castro Theatre. The Cheat (George Abbott, 1931, USA) pits glamorous Tallulah Bankhead against evil Irving Pichel. It's got gambling, partying and adultery in addition to mysterious Oriental customs. This was not a strong vehicle for Bankhead, but I found it fascinating to see her as a young ingénue who finds herself in way over her head.

Behind the Door (Irvin Willat, 1919, USA). San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro Theatre. This film was a revelation and goes far beyond what even the later pre-code films would consider acceptable. With its themes of graphic sex and taxidermy (!), Behind the Door was a stunner and my favorite film in last year's Silent Film festival.

Strike (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925, USSR. A Day of Silents, Castro Theatre. I enjoyed Eisenstein's first feature of strikers in pre-revolutionary Russia. Things don't go well for the proletariat, and not much has changed in 100 years. As relevant today as it was in 1925. The Alloy Orchestra provided superb accompaniment.

A Brighter Summer Day screen capture from Criterion DVD
A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991, Taiwan). Pacific Film Archive. I've managed to miss all the 35 millimeter screenings in the Bay Area over the past several years, so I thought I'd better catch this digital screening, or not see it at all theatrically. Edward Yang's masterpiece portrays life in 1950s Taiwan, concentrating on teenagers and gangs, but also covers the troubles the older generation faced.

The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache, 1973, France). Alamo Drafthouse. Although this theater concentrates on first-run Hollywood fare, the Alamo runs several repertory programs in addition to screening neglected classics. And The Mother and the Whore is an absolute treasure of French cinema. Jean-Pierre Léaud, now in his 20s, still plays a disaffected youth with sex and philosophy on his mind.

Crossroads (1976) and Easter Morning (2008) (Bruce Conner, USA). Bruce Conner: It's All True exhibit, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 2 short films shown as part of the exhibit. As a multi-disciplinary artist (paintings, drawings, sculpture and film), Bruce Conner frequently used found objects in his work. In Crossroads, Conner used footage of the atomic testing at Bikini Atoll from 27 different angles. Projected in slow motion, the mushroom cloud first appears beautiful, but as the images progress, I was struck by the sheer horror of it. Easter Morning, Conner's last film is a meditative collage of nature and religious images. Both films featured wonderful musical scores by Terry Riley and Patrick Gleeson in Crossroads and Terry Riley in Easter Morning.

Insiang (Lino Brocka, 1976, Philippines). New Filipino Cinema, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. This drama shows the impoverished life of Insiang and what she has to put up with until she can't take it anymore. What a great tale of revenge. It was a major loss that Lino Brocka died so young.

Grave of the Fireflies screen capture from Sentai Filmworks DVD
Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988, Japan). Roxie Theatre. For me, this Studio Ghibli animated film, about the struggles of 2 Japanese children in World War II, packs an emotional wallop even though the story is told in flashback and the viewer knows what happens to the protagonist in the first scene. Also, I think that having children doing the voiceover work in the Japanese version heightens the emotional impact.

Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle, 1958, France). Opera Plaza Cinema. From the wonderful performances of the two lead actors (Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet), the beautiful night shots of Paris filmed by cinematographer Henri Decaë, the assured direction of Louis Malle, and the music by Miles Davis, Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud) is perfection all around. 

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