Wednesday, April 11, 2018

SFFILM 61: Day 8: I Was Born, But...

The 61st San Francisco International Film Festival began last week and runs through April 17th. Each day during the festival I'll be posting about a festival selection I've seen or am anticipating.

Image from I Was Born, But... supplied by SFFILM
I Was Born, But... (JAPAN: Yasujiro Ozu, 1932)
playing: 8:00 tonight at the Castro Theatre

What to say about I Was Born, But...? It's one of my very favorite Ozu films, one of my favorite silent films, heck, one of my favorite films of all time. As I wrote in my essay for the 2011 San Francisco Silent Film Festival screening:
Usually described as a comedy, I Was Born, But… has been compared to Hal Roach’s Our Gang series. Yet it is much more, reflecting a tumultuous 1930s Japan being shorn of its traditions. The film focuses on the family of a typical white-collar worker (“salaryman”), his stay-at-home wife, and two school-age sons, who have just moved from Tokyo’s crowded center to an unfinished suburban development. As the boys struggle to find a place in the pecking order among neighborhood kids, they outwit the dandified young Taro and his bullying protector with their wily antics, only to be humiliated when their father plays jester to his boss, who happens to be Taro’s father. Ozu uses schoolboy politics to mock the hypocrisies of adult hierarchies. 
I haven't watched I Was Born, But... since that SFSFF showing, so I'm excited to finally revisit it tonight in 35mm. The musical accompaniment at the Castro is Blonde Redhead, a band I don't think I ever listened to in their 1990s heyday, but whose somewhat Sonic Youth-esque album Fake Can Be Just as Good I've been listening to a bit over the past year or so. I'm not sure how the pairing of a New York band with roots in noise punk, and a boisterous but thoughtful silent comedy are going to gel, but I'm almost always up for giving the San Francisco International Film Festival's annual silent film/indie rocker mash-ups a try in the hopes of another sublime night like Dengue Fever & the Lost World.

Since 2011, I've been pleased to have near-annual chances to see Ozu's silent films at the Castro Theatre, thanks to the SF Silent Film Festival. They showed Tokyo Chorus in 2013, Dragnet Girl in 2014, That Night's Wife in 2016, and it was just the other week announced they'll be showing another one, his final silent An Inn in Tokyo, on the second day of its now-expanded-to-five-day 2018 festival. As an Ozu completist I love having opportunities to see on such a large screen these also-excellent films, but I have to admit the loyalty to two Japanese directors (the other being Teinosuke Kinugasa, who has seen two films show over the years), as much as I like them, gives me second thoughts when I reflect that the festival hasn't shown any films by the likes of Mikio Naruse, Kenji Mizoguchi, etc. So I was thrilled to see that for the first time SFSFF will show two films from Japan in 2018: An Inn in Tokyo and Policeman, which for more than ten years I've regretted missing at the PFA's Tomu Uchida retrospective. This means there will be an unprecedented three films from Asia in this year's SFSFF, the third being A Throw of Dice from India. It looks like a truly wonderful festival for a silent film lover like myself, with only two features selected (opening night film The Man Who Laughs and An Inn in Tokyo) that I've seen before, and the latter only on a French-intertitled VHS tape from Le Video. According to the Film on Film Foundation calendar, ten of the festival's twenty feature-length selections, as well as one full shorts program, will screen in 35mm prints; these include the Ozu & Uchida films as well as some of my most-eagerly anticipated selections like Jean Grémillon's The Lighthouse Keepers, Rex Ingram's Mare Nostrum introduced by Kevin Brownlow, the Tom Mix Western No Man's Gold, and an Italian film called Trappola which will be screening with footage of Market Street footage after the 1906 earthquake, filmed by the same brothers who filmed the famous A Trip Down Market Street just a few days before; this newly-uncovered footage will re-premiere digitally at a long-sold-out Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum screening this coming Saturday.

SFFILM61 Day 8
Other festival options: Tonight's your last chance to see The Shape of a Surface: Experimental Shorts program of 16mm works by some of the great modern practicioners of hand-made, medium-specific analog moving images. I already mentioned how the pair of the late Paul Clipson's films in the program are substitutes for two films that couldn't be finished onto 16mm prints in time for the festival, after his shocking February death. Since then I learned that another two films in the program, Pablo Mazzolo's NN and Jennifer Saparzadeh's Nu Dem, were originally intended to screen in 16mm (like the other seven films showing tonight will be) but that the sole available release prints were damaged in one case and destroyed in transit in another, thus necessitating digital presentation at the Roxie tonight. The same venue hosts the final SFFILM screening of No Date, No Signature, which I profiled yesterday, tonight as well, while BAMPFA hosts the second of three SFFILM screenings of Mila Turajlić's The Other Side of Everything, which she is expected to attend along with her filmmaking subject: her activist mother Srbijanka Turajlić.

Non-SFFILM option: In addition to being an SFFILM venue tonight, BAMPFA is hosting another installment of its Wednesday afternoon lecture and screening series led by UC Berkeley professor Anne Nesbit. The theme of the series this semester has been "Eisenstein and His Contemporaries", complementing the evening/weekend Sergei Eisenstein retrospective at the venue that will wrap up April 21st with a double-shot of Ivan the Terrible Part I & II (with a few minutes of surviving test footage from the never-made Part III). I've been able to catch a few of the screenings and lectures, and got a lot out of both viewing and lectures for Pudovkin's The Battle of St. Petersburg and Eisenstein's The General Line, as well as the lecture-less showing of the Swiss-made rarity Misery and Fortune of Women (shown half digitally, half in 35mm). But nothing compared to finally fillng one of my greatest cinematic gaps Alexander Nevsky in a great 35mm print. This is the film & print that will be discussed and be screened at BAMPFA today at 3:10. If you're free at that time you should definitely go. It's been called a masterpiece enough times to be a cliché by now, but it's true.

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