Thursday, February 21, 2019

I Only Have Two Eyes 2018*

Screen capture from HBO DVD of The Holy Girl
The past two or so years have been full of life changes for the proprietor of this blog. After well over a decade scraping together a living by working in part-time positions, I secured a full-time position working in an academic library in late 2016. In mid-2017 I moved in with my incredible girlfriend (filmmaker, photographer and installation artist Kerry Laitala) and our two tuxedo cats, Sherlock and Watson. Kerry I got married in her Maine hometown in July, 2018. The elation from these wonderful highlights have been somewhat tempered, of course, by far darker events, including the deaths of friends and family members, and the day-to-day dispiriting melancholy of living in a rapidly-transforming city that nonetheless still feels like some kind of oasis in the hellscape that our nation has become under our federal political regime.

Which is all to say, though I still try to take advantage of the unique screening opportunities offered in the Bay Area (here's a rundown of my favorite newer moving image works of last year), making time to blog at Hell On Frisco Bay has become a comparatively low priority; I didn't even run my annual survey of the best repertory presentations this time last year, interrupting a ten year streak of collecting and posting cinephile reactions to a year of viewing films from the past in the cinematic spaces of the present.

But I'm back with another great set of lists from perceptive viewers of time-tested classics and unearthed gems during the year 2018. And I've even invited folks to name favorites from 2017 as well, to make up for my uncompiled year. That's why I'm calling this year's iteration "I Only Have Two Eyes 2018*"- the asterisk indicating that a few of the following links (marked with an *) will lead to lists (or in one case, a single title) of films seen in 2017 as well as 2018. This will be the "hub page" for this year's project, and the list of participants below will grow every day until I publish my own list.

02/06/19:   Monica Nolan, author and contributor to festival program guides
02/07/19*: John Slattery, a filmmaker based in Berkeley
02/07/19:   Lucy Laird, a writer, editor, and co-producer of Nerd Nite San Francisco
02/08/19:   David Robson, proprietor of the House of Sparrows blog
02/08/19:   Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, educator, writer and host of MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS
02/09/19:   Joel Shepard, independent film programmer; his blog archive is well-worth perusal
02/09/19:   Claire Bain, San Francisco-based artist
02/10/19:   Terri Saul, Berkeley-based artist and writer
02/10/19:   Carl Martin, who maintains the invaluable Bay Area Film Calendar
02/11/19:   Michael Fox, who writes for KQED Arts & hosts screenings at the Mechanics' Institute
02/11/19*: Ian Rice, part of the ATA@SFPL curatorial committee behind screenings like this
02/12/19:   Frako Loden, educator and writer for and elsewhere
02/12/19:   Ben Armington, ticket-selling maestro for Box Cubed
02/13/19:   Lincoln Spector, who founded and continues to maintain the venerable Bayflicks site
02/14/19:   Michael Hawley, cinephile and blogger at film-415
02/21/19:   Brian Darr- that's me!

My 2018 Eyes*

I'm oh-so pleased that I was able to convince sixteen other cinephiles to allow me to publish their lists of favorite repertory/revival screenings seen in San Francisco Bay Area cinemas and other exhibition spaces. Though I don't use this blog space for much anymore (if you want my latest quick thoughts on the Frisco Bay cinema scene and a few other topics I encourage you to check my twitter feed), I'm proud that I can still occasionally use it for something I think is still valuable: a collective "thank you" to the people who make Frisco Bay a still-vital site for audience re-appreciation of the world's cinematic heritage. 
My own cinema-going year in 2018 was just about as exciting as ever, despite it being the first full year that I removed an active 35mm revival venue from my moviegoing itinerary; please read the first two paragraphs of this post to learn why I no longer attend the New Mission/Alamo Drafthouse. I do give an early-2017 screening there a nod in my make-up list of 2017 repertory cinema highlights at the very bottom of the piece you're currently looking at.
As usual, I focused the following selections on films brand-new to me, mostly because I'm usually so much more energized by falling in love with a new-to-me movie for the first time than by even the most fruitful re-visitation of an old friend. Although 2018 brought some very fruitful re-visitations, such as seeing 70mm prints of 2001: A Space Odyssey and West Side Story (the latter for the first time in that format), and 35mm prints of Eyes Wide Shut and Shadow of a Doubt (again, the latter for the first time in that format), all at the Castro, or revisiting Sátántangó in 35mm at BAMPFA and viewing an IB Technicolour print of All That Heaven Allows at the same venue. I even saw, under not-to-be-disclosed circumstances, a collector-held original-release IB Tech print of the first film I ever fell in love with as a young child, which was quite the nostalgia trip. But in most every way I appreciated all the following screenings even more:
Alexander Nevsky screen capture from Janus DVD
Alexander Nevsky, February 16, 2018
Though this list is made up about equally of films I'd barely if ever heard of before they appeared on a local repertory calendar and films I've been wanting to see for many years, this early-year BAMPFA presentation not only fit squarely in the latter category, it was perhaps the most prominent and long-standing example of it. My desire to see Alexander Nevsky preceded my cinephilia, going back to my youthful days as a Sergei Prokofiev-loving prospective music major. My mother sang in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus when they accompanied it at Davies Symphony Hall in the 1990s, while I was attending college in the Midwest. Having missed that chance, I kept hoping for a reprise to be my first experience with Sergei Eisenstein's sync-sound debut, but upon seeing the Symphony's cinematic programming moving away from foreign-language masterpieces featuring music composed by concert-hall regulars, in favor of Hollywood hits, I decided to give up on such dreams and take the first 35mm opportunity I could get, which ended up being this extremely stirring screening. I'm actually glad I first saw this extraordinary 1938 work of form & emotion in a setting in which the music did not threaten to overwhelm image any more than it occasionally does, but then the push-pull of the two Sergeis in its creation is one of the most dynamic aspects of a film that shouldn't be categorized only as anti-Nazi propaganda, though it is of course that too.
Merrily We Go To Hell, March 14, 2018
No single 2018 series at the always-35mm Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto matched 2017's spotlight on five decades of Warner Brothers films in its breadth of satisfying films from various eras & genres, but the follow-up focus on 1930-1935 Paramount was at least as welcome, for its willingness to unearth more rarities (and to also include cartoons, in this case mostly featuring Betty Boop instead of Bugs Bunny). I caught five of the series double-bills including a knockout pairing of Mitchell Leisen's barely-known debut Cradle Song with Josef von Sternberg's severely underrated An American Tragedy. But the single-best new discovery for me of the set was director Dorothy Arzner's 1932 Merrily We Go To Hell starring Frederic March essentially reprising his Jekyll & Hyde role but through the avatar of a Depression-era dipsomaniacal journalist, and with Sylvia Sidney excelling in the audience-stand-in role of a young woman who falls in love with him. The film is proof that the appeal of Pre-Code Hollywood goes well beyond the "naughtiness" that often gets played up in promotions of the era's films, and that these early talkies were elegant vehicles for discussions of serious social problems in a serious (yet no less entertaining) way that tended to dissipate once the Hays Code became generally enforced in 1934.

Road House, May 18, 2018

Another surprisingly serious take on the deleterious effects of alcohol, this time focused less on the over-indulgers than on the capitalists battling each other to control profits from one town's drunks, smuggled into the skin of a corny 1989 action movie in which a beautifully be-mulletted Patrick Swayze plays a nationally-renowned bouncer. (I clearly do not travel in the correct circles to know if such a characterization has any basis in reality). Ben Gazzara plays the corrupt local kingpin and Sam Elliott has a role not so far-removed from the one he's currently up for a A Star Is Born Oscar for. On one level this Razzie-nominated movie hits you repeatedly over the head with all the most shopworn cliches of Rehnquist-era cable-television staples, but on another level it perfects and transcends all the cliches, becoming a ballet of bodies in motion that was staggering to behold on the Roxie Theater screen. I don't know anything about Rowdy Herrington, but for these 114 minutes he became my favorite director, and I can't ask much more from a movie.

Patty Hearst screen capture from MGM DVD
Patty Hearst, May 25, 2018

It appears May was a particularly strong month for 35mm prints of late-1980s American films with a touch (or more) of the exploitation film about them; just a week after Road House I saw Paul Schrader's 1988 docudrama about the inspiration for Citizen Kane's granddaughter and her infamous kidnapping into the Symbionese Liberation Army. But Patty Hearst makes its artfulness far more apparent, especially through Natasha Richardson astonishing performance and Bojan Bazelli's immersive cinematographic techniques. It didn't debut at Cannes for nothing, even if it didn't garner any prizes. Maybe it should have; for me it stands at least as high as Schrader's best-directed features like Blue Collar, Mishima: a Life in Four Chapters and First Reformed. Filmed locally in large part, Patty Hearst was part of a brilliantly-packaged set of films wrangling with "San Francisco's dark decade" that served as hangover to the Summer of Love at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; most unfortunately this was one of the final series programmed at YBCA by Joel Shepard before he and curatorial assistant David Robson were misguidedly dismissed by this shadow-of-its-former-self arts organization that appears bent on hastening its complete assimilation into the orbit of the nearby convention spaces that, like YBCA itself, rest on land that was until that "dark decade" home to more low-income residents than perhaps any other neighborhood in town. Tragically for cinephiles, YBCA's film program essentially doesn't exist any longer, replaced only by rentals from festivals and other organizations like SF Cinematheque, the latter a partnership I understand Shepard in one of his last acts encouraged to be continued in his absence.

The Lighthouse Keepers, May 31, 2018

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival continues to expand, this year for the first time moving its opening night to a Wednesday and running a full day of programming on a Thursday. That day wasn't easily-skippable stuff for cinephiles either, unlike some previous years' weekday programming choices; it included the Amazing Tales From the Archives program and two of my favorite films seen previously only in highly-compromised video copies: Carl Dreyer's Master of the House and Yasujiro Ozu's An Inn In Toyko. But the day ended with an eye-popping visual hurricane by a filmmaker I'd long wanted to acquaint myself with for the first time: Jean Grémillon, represented at the festival by his second feature film The Lighthouse Keepers from 1929. Presented in a rare 35mm print from the National Film Archive of Japan of all places, this cinematic approximation of an injured island-dweller's increasingly frenzied mental state also benefited from a dose of only-at-a-festival psychogeography. Set and shot on the Britanny coast, the film was accompanied perfectly by pianist Guenter Buchwald, who (I later learned) drew upon his young experiences living in and playing traditional music of that region. Buchwald has been a gifted SFSFF mainstay since 2013, but for me this was by far the best showcase for his talents I've seen, bettering even last year's SFSFF screening of Lubitsch's The Doll and that afternoon's Ozu presentation. (No coincidence, I suspect, that SFSFF percussionist Frank Bockius joined him on all three of these accompaniments; Bockius's contribution to An Inn In Tokyo particularly made me hanker to hear him anchor an entire score on his own sometime; perhaps another Ozu since he's typically so difficult to accompany). The Lighthouse Keepers cemented the festival's first jam-packed Thursday as the day to beat for the rest of the weekend, and though Mother Krause’s Journey to Happiness on Friday, No Man’s Gold, Trappola and The Saga of Gösta Berling on Saturday, and perhaps especially the Serge Bromberg presentation and Stephen Horne accompanying Soviet phantasmagoria Fragment of an Empire on Sunday tried to give it a run for its money, I don't think any of them quite succeeded.
Sisters, June 28, 2018

The Castro Theatre is probably the ideal venue for any film festival aiming to bring revived classics to a large and appreciative audience, as proven not just by the aforementioned Silent Film Festival but also Noir City (where I had great first-time screenings of films like Address Unknown, Jealousy, Bodyguard and The Underworld Story), Frameline (which hosted a moving presentation of a newly digitized Buddies) and Cinema Italia SF (which included a rare showing of A Special Day in a Mastroianni marathon). But I'm equally appreciative when the venue screens, between its festival four-walls and second-run showings of recent multiplex and arthouse fare, great repertory selections programmed in-house. Some of 2018's highlights along these lines included my first big-screen viewing of John Boorman's Deliverance and my long-awaited first-ever viewing of Frances Ford Coppola's One From the Heart. Very enjoyable, but neither as gleefully enjoyable as my first-ever viewing of the breakthrough film by another New Hollywood director who happens to share my first name. I don't think that's the reason I find I have a particular affinity for Brian De Palma's films (well, not all of them, but the ones that hit me hit deeply) as I was a Carrie fan before I knew or cared what a director was. At any rate, Sisters was a film I'd wanted to see for many years but, like Alexander Nevsky, was willing to wait to catch in ideal circumstances. The Castro Theatre in 35mm, surrounded by sparsely-assembled but devoted Margot Kidder mourners, fit that bill. On twitter afterward I called it "the last horror movie of the pre-Roe v. Wade era", which may or not be technically true but feels spiritually so. At any rate, it's the earliest De Palma film I've seen that clearly has his Hitchcock-infused brand stamped clearly upon it.

A Moment of Innocence screen capture from New Yorker Video DVD
A Moment of Innocence, September 6, 2018

How did I let myself go so long as a cinephile without seeing this metacinematic masterpiece made the year I first began actively turning my eyes toward non-mainstream cinema, 1996? I guess my excuse is that I was then still taking baby steps and films like Lone Star and Dead Man were my idea of "non-mainstream". Iranian cinema wasn't on my radar screen until a couple years later, and though I did enjoy early films by Mohsen Makhmalbaf like Boycott and The Cyclist when I caught up with them on home video, I never dove deeply into his complete filmography. So I was very glad for BAMPFA's Autumn showcase of films directed by Makhmalbaf as well as his wife and two daughters. I'd actually seen most of the womens' films before, but none of the five by Mohsen programmed; I was able to catch up with three of them, all via imported 35mm prints: his Istanbul-filmed Time of Love, the also-amazing Salaam Cinema and this investigation into the very hows and whys of making and re-making cinema. It's the kind of film that recalibrates your understanding of the arbitrariness of lines between professional and amateur, of spectator and maker, of documentary and fiction, etc. And the titular "moment" is just perfection. There was talk of a follow-up series of Abbas Kiarostami films coming to BAMPFA soon (perhaps this year?) but with the political impediments to bringing Iranian films into the US under the current culture-hostile regime, I'm not sure how likely that has become; I'm told a November screening of Dariush Mehrjui's The Cow was hindered when the new DCP was confiscated by our customs officials and BAMPFA was forced to track down an inferior transfer already within US borders to screen.

Forty-six films by Kurt Kren, September 22-23, 2018

Located just one block from the 16th & Mission BART station, The Lab is a crucial performance and art space that in recent years, under the direction of Dena Beard, has become an increasingly important square in the quilt of local film exhibition, especially of the "bubbling up from the underground" sort. In 2017 the venue hosted Frisco Bay's only guaranteed all-celluloid film festival, Light Field, and a March 2019 iteration has been unveiled as well. It was also venue for a years-in-the-making near-complete two-evening retrospective of the films of Vienna-born experimentalist Kurt Kren, with introductions by archivists, scholars and people who knew the filmmaker before he died in 1998. I don't know if I've ever had quite this kind of intensive immersion in a moving image artist's work before; one Saturday afternoon I'd seen just a single Kren film in my lifetime (31/75: Asyl) and less than thirty-six hours later I'd seen almost all of them.  The forty-five that were new to me can't be summed up in a sentence or a paragraph as they ran the gamut of approaches and effects, and I didn't even like all of them; some went way over my head and others (especially the naked body-, food-, and fluid-filled "Action Films" documenting Otto Mühl performances in the mid-1960s) were varying degrees of repulsive. But finding that films as singular as 2/60: 48 Heads from the Szondi-Test and 47/91: A Party or 36/78: Rischart and 46/90: Falter 2, or 18/68: Venice Destroyed and 32/76: To W+B came from the same individual's camera was almost unbelievable and rather inspiring. I think my very favorite of the films was 3/60 Trees In Autumn, a kind of skyward update of Oskar Fischinger's Walking From Munich to Berlin that I was very glad to see again amidst a handful of Kren films a month and a half later at BAMPFA, alongside work by a modern-day filmmaker whose work owes much to Kren's: Tominari Nishikawa, whose Lumphini 2552 felt particularly connected to this botanical strand of Kren's work, as well as its use of its year of creation in its title as Kren always did (in the case of the Nishikawa the year number is the Thai solar calendar equivalent of 2009). Almost every major experimental film screening organization in town (besides Other Cinema I guess) had a hand in the Kurt Kren weekend; it was co-organized by Black Hole Cinematheque, Megan Hoetger & Canyon Cinema, the latter of which also put on contending highlights in its salon series (seeing Sky Hopinka present Peter Rose's The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough among other works was extremely memorable). And the community sponsors included SF Cinematheque, via which I also saw great 16mm revivals like The Hart of London and All That Sheltering Emptiness, and BAMPFA, whose Fall Alternative Visions series provided me with great big-screen experiences with new-to-me films by Andy Warhol, Stan Brakhage, Enrique Colina & other Latin American avant-gardists, while First Person Cinema did the same with 16mm works by Ute Auraund, Margaret Tait & Marie Menken. It will take a similarly collective effort on a larger scale to save The Lab and the other non-profit organizations, writers and artists that make use of the historic Redstone Labor Temple from displacement in the face of the current real estate speculation boom in San Francisco. Please sign a petition and/or attend a FREE event if you want to be involved in keeping this space available for amazing events like the Kren immersion for the foreseeable future!

The Goddess screen capture from Music Box DVD of The Story of Film: an Odyssey
The Goddess, October 21, 2018

Another opportunity for diving into the filmography of an under-screened moving image artist was provided in the screening room at SFMOMA, which made Bengali auteur Satyajit Ray the focus of the seventh iteration of its recent Modern Cinema collaboration with SFFILM. I'm told the current "eighth season" was programmed by SFMOMA's Gina Basso on her own, and future sets such as a summer 2019 spotlight on book-to-film adaptations will be all hers as well, part of a much-welcome expansion of the screening program at San Francisco's most prominent artistic institution. But if the Ray series was the last of these triannual partnerships, it was apropos, as SFFILM's San Francisco International Film Festival provided the U.S. premiere and two prizes for Ray's debut Pather Panchali as part of its inaugural festival in 1957. It was also extremely valuable to someone like me, who'd seen a little more than a handful of Ray's films but was able to double my exposure to his work in the space of three weekends. New favorites included some of his delvings into the darker corners of post-colonial Indian society such as The Big City, The Coward, Company Limited and The Middleman, but I think the most powerful of them all was The Goddess, also frequently referred to as Devi. Arguably as cynical as any of those four but in a period setting rather than a contemporary one, this 1960 piece takes religion as its central theme and has the benefit both of Sharmila Tagore's magnetic screen presence and a sumptuous visual design unmatched in any Ray film I've seen other than (perhaps) The Music Room. It was the new-to-me highlight of one of 2018's deepest auteurist dives, just as The Spook Who Sat By The Door was the new-to-me highlight of a very solid summer series focusing on African-American directors, and Chocolat of an emotionally-fraught set of films by Claire Denis and her cinematic ancestors. It was during this February series that SFMOMA's lead projectionist Paul Clipson unexpectedly died, leaving a gaping abyss in the middle of not only the Bay Area film community, but in the wider circle of interlocked international communities of experimental film and music performances in which Paul traveled. Less than a week after his death SFMOMA organized a memorial tribute in which the five 16mm prints of Clipson's own magnificent film work held by Canyon Cinema were presented to a mourning public. Though I'd had the great pleasure of knowing Paul for several years, and seen dozens of screenings of the prolific artist's work in various contexts, I had never before seen one of his greatest single-channel masterpieces Union before; it's a stunner and perhaps deserves its own slot on this list, but somehow it feels more appropriate to honor a 35mm screening of a gorgeous Indian film, projected by Paul's protégés in the SFMOMA booth where he seemed so at home.

The Emperor's Nightingale, December 15, 2018

Frisco Bay cinemas provided a good number of director retrospectives that I unfortunately was unable to take advantage of as thoroughly as the previously-mentioned Kurt Kren or Satyajit Ray concentrations. Most of them were held at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, which is conveniently closer to BART in its now-three-year-old "new" location, but inconveniently tends to spread its series programming out across weeks, months, or even (in the case of a 2018-long Ingmar Bergman focus) a whole year. I'm sure this pleases the majority of BAMPFA customers, especially those who live in Berkeley and don't particularly relish seeing more than one movie a day, but still aspire to catching every screening in a given series. But as someone who lives across a bridge and likes to save time and BART fare, I miss being able to see more than one film in a series on a single trip, something that used to happen occasionally at the old Bancroft Way location, but now seems to occur only when a filmmaker is in town (like Ulrike Ottinger next month). On the other hand, I now am more likely to sample at least one program in almost every series programmed, at the expense of honing in on one or two per calendar. In 2018 I caught just a couple films in BAMPFA's Alain Tanner series (I particularly liked The Middle of the World), their Lucrecia Martel restrospective (The Headless Woman was wonderful to revisit), and their Frederick Wiseman spotlight (Belfast, Maine was a highlight), while finding time for just a single film apiece in hefty programs dedicated to Aki Kaurismäki and Luchino Visconti (La vie de Bohème and Conversation Piece both knocked me out), and just one program from a series dedicated to Czech animator Jiří Trnka. The Emperor's Nightingale, the main attraction in this two-film program, was quite simply one of the greatest stop-motion animation films I've ever seen, by a filmmaker I'd been barely familiar with previously and might not have sampled if this showing hadn't landed on a day in which two programs from other series tempted. Based on this 1949 film, it's clear that Trnka created an absolutely unique style influential to but not fully assimilable by descendents like Jan Švankmajer and Arthur Rankin Jr., and that (as I noted in a post-screening tweet) "calling it ‘puppet animation’ is too limiting, when lighting, lenswork and even film grain itself are as crucial the illusion of movement in this Fabergé world."

Because I didn't run a "I Only Have Two Eyes" survey at this time last year, I also present (without commentary) my favorite repertory/revival screenings of 2017:

The Limits of Control, February 15, 2017, Alamo Drafthouse at New Mission Theatre
Goshogaoka, February 18, 2017, SFMOMA
Los Ojos, I Change I Am the Same, Filmmaker, Rumble & Peyote Queen among others, March 2, 2017, Exploratorium
Angels of Sin, March 5, 2017, BAMPFA
Until They Get Me, June 23, 2017, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum with Frederick Hodges accompaniment
Marie Antoinette, June 25, 2017, Roxie
Captain Horatio Hornblower with One Way Passage Rabbit Hood, August 23, 2017, Stanford
Phantom Lady, October 2, 2017, Castro
Sweet Charity, November 11, 2017, YBCA
Spite Marriage, December 3, 2017, Rafael Film Center with Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompaniment

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Michael Hawley's 2018 Eyes

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 2018. An index of participants can be found here

Eleven-time IOHTE contributor Michael Hawley is one of only three people (including myself) who have contributed to every single one of my (nearly) annual "I Only Have Two Eyes" repertory round-ups. Sadly, he moved out of state shortly after we attended the last screening on this list together, so this will likely be his last year contributing. But he still keeps his eye on the Frisco Bay screening scene and even wrote about it once since departing, at his film-415 blog.

2018 Favorite Bay Area Revival-Repertory (listed in order seen)

Quiet Please, Murder (1942, dir. John Francis Larkin, 35mm, Castro Theatre, Noir City)

Woodstock screen capture from Warner DVD
Woodstock (1970, dir. Michael Wadleigh, 35mm, Pacific FilmArchive, with in-person intro by Country Joe McDonald, preceded by 1967 KQED short, A Day in the Life of Country Joe & the Fish, digital, with director Robert Zagone in person)

Flesh and Fantasy (1943, dir. Julien Duvivier) and Destiny (1944, dir. Reginald Le Borg and Julien Duvivier), (both 35mm, Castro Theatre, Noir City)

Trouble Every Day (2001, dir. Claire Denis, 35mm, SFMOMA, in conjunction with SFFILM, series "Claire Denis: Seeing is Believing")

Wicked Woman (1953, dir. Russell Rouse, 35mm, Castro Theatre, Noir City)

Red Desert screen capture from Criterion DVD
Red Desert (1964, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, DCP, Instituto Italiano di Cultura series "Michelangelo Antonioni at the Castro Theatre")

Cold Water (1994, dir. Olivier Assayas, DCP, Roxie Cinema)

Eight Hours Don't Make a Day (1972-1973, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, DCP, Pacific Film

Battling Butler (1926, dir. Buster Keaton, DCP, Castro Theatre, San Francisco Silent Film Festival)

Car Wash (1976, dir. Michael Schultz, 35mm, SFMOMA, in conjunction with SFFILM, series "Black Powers: Reframing Hollywood," with Michael Schultz in person)

She Wore A Yellow Ribbon screen capture from Warner DVD
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949, dir. John Ford and The Quiet Man (1952), both in 35mm at the Stanford Theatre)

Jonathan Marlow's 2018* Eyes

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 2018. An index of participants can be found here

First-time IOHTE contributer Jonathan Marlow [PARACME  |  CALIFORNIA FILM INSTITUTE  |  ARBELOS] didn't exactly color within the lines in compiling this list, but I'm pleased he's placing local showings into a wider context. He also includes a screening from 2017, which he hopes will reprise in 2019.

2001: A Space Odyssey screen capture from Music Box DVD of The Story of Film: An Odyssey
Rarely one to let guidelines apply, a handful of non-Bay Area-centric selections are represented below. I would be entirely remiss if I did not bend otherwise agreeable rules to include these absolute highlights, accordingly (with everything thereafter listed alphabetically).

In keeping the whole assortment to ten, I removed such mainstays as 2001 at the Castro Theatre and everything from Noir City (as I was out-of-town for the duration, unfortunately). I will briefly mention here one from December which I sadly missed, much as I adore it: Exit Smiling (at the Day of Silents).

Honourable mention: anything whatsoever screened by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks. Dishonourable mention: the continued absence of Joel Shepard from YBCA. 



Elégia [Elegy] (1965) dir. Zoltán Huszárik
Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Oberhausen, Germany 
digital restoration

** Oberhausen has an extensive archive of its past award-winners and last year they opted to screen recent restorations. I knew little about the film (nor its filmmaker) in advance but I haven't stopped thinking about it since. Absolutely stunning in every way!
Uprising in Jazak screen capture from excerpt at

Ustanak u Jasku [aka Uprising in Jazak] (1973) dir. Želimir Žilnik
Flaherty Film Seminar, Hamilton, New York

** Although Žilnik's work is relatively well-known in some circles, this shorter film is not. It truly should be seen by everyone--and fortunately can be found online as well albeit in somewhat inferior quality--as a masterpiece of resistance and human ingenuity.

The Parallax View (1974) dir. Alan Pakula
Local Sightings [NWFF], Seattle, WA
Paramount digital preservation copy

** Nothing spectacular in the particular visual presentation (except that a digital master needed to be created at my own expense). The draw was the musical pre-show (and thereafter) with Amanda Salazar, John Massoni, Dale Lloyd and myself, a "super group" of players from different cities playing together for the first (and perhaps last) time ever.

The Infernal Cauldron screen capture from Flicker Alley DVD Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913)

Le chaudron infernal [aka The Infernal Caldron and the Phantasmal Vapors] (1903) dir. Georges Méliès
35mm duo-print projected as DCP

** What happens when you take two negatives shot by two cameras side-by-side (for sensible purposes difficult to explain with any brevity) and print them together?  Unintentional 3D (with master showperson Serge Bromberg)!


The Last Movie (1971) dir. Dennis Hopper
Arbelos 4K digital restoration

** Hopper's unfairly maligned and too-little-seen follow-up to Easy Rider, lovingly restored by Craig Rogers at Arbelos! A great year for restorations, admittedly, with Barbara Loden's extraordinary Wanda returning to screens last year as well.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Sen noci svatojánské [aka A Midsummer Night’s Dream] (1959) dir. Jiří Trnka

** Irena Kovarova curated this exhaustive touring Trnka program and the PFA brought a fair portion of the series to our neighbourhood. [My only disappointment was that no other institution stepped-in to present the handful of films missing from the complete set (despite our repeated encouragements to participate).]


Sphinx on the Seine (2009) dir. Paul Clipson
16mm wild-sync

** Undoubtedly an emotional peak of the recent Camera Obscura arrived early with a screening of Paul Clipson's Sphinx... with Seth Mitter projecting and I wild-syncing Jefre Cantu Ledesma's score. Between this and a brief tribute to Robert Todd (with Lori Felker) the following day, it was a woeful weekend of quiet reminiscence and reflection.

That Woman image from Canyon Cinema website
That Woman (2018) dir. Sandra Davis

** Although Sandra Davis only recently completed this hybrid non-fiction/dramatic re-enactment (and, therein, not a revival whatsoever), That Woman presents an ideal opportunity (among its other ample merits) to see the painfully missed George Kuchar (as Barbara Walters, no less)!


36.15 code Père Noël  [aka Game Over] (1989) dir. René Manzor
Alamo Drafthouse [“Terror Tuesday”]
c0-hosted by Kier-La Janisse

AGFA 2K digital restoration

** A proto-Home Alone in French? Indeed! Whatever you might imagine this to be, it is everything you'd suspect and ever-so-much more.

Invention for Destruction scree capture from digital restoration trailer
Vynález zkázy [aka Invention for Destruction] (1958)
Muzeum Karla Zemana 4K digital restoration
** I travelled to Prague to fetch the DCP of this (and another) outstanding Zeman film for a pair of screenings at the Smith Rafael Film Center. Well worth the expedition to see the audience reactions to his outstanding work!

foreshadow ahead: 2019
Filibus (1915) dir. Mario Roncoroni
** I first had the opportunity to see this extraordinary film at the 2017 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The wonderful folks at Milestone Films have been working on a restoration which (ideally) should screen locally in the months ahead.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Lincoln Spector's 2018 Eyes

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 2018. An index of participants can be found here

Ten-time IOHTE contributor Lincoln Spector writes under Bayflicks, where a more extensive version of this list was originally published here.

Watermelon Man screen capture from How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (& Enjoy It) streaming on Kanopy
Watermelon ManModern Cinema/Black Powers: Reframing HollywoodSFMOMA, archival 35mm print
My stepfather worked on Melvin Van Peebles’ only studio movie, so the experience of seeing it again was especially entertaining. Watermelon Man is a very funny movie, and a very pointed one. A white, a middle-aged, middle-class bigot (Godfrey Cambridge in whiteface) wakes up to discover that he’s suddenly turned black. The print looked glorious.

Serge Bromberg Presents…San Francisco Silent Film FestivalCastro, DCP
Serge Bromberg is not only an important film preservationist; he’s also a great showman – even in English, which is not his native language. This very fun program consisted almost entirely of early 3D films, with a focus on George Méliès’s accidentally stereoscopic movies. Just delightful. And, of course, Bromberg set a piece of nitrate film on fire.

The Big Heat screen capture from Columbia DVD
The Big HeatNoir CityCastro, DCP
A cop commits suicide, and the first person the new widow calls is a mob boss. The mob runs the unnamed city and the police do what they’re told – except for the one honest detective assigned to the case (Glenn Ford). I waited years to see Fritz Lang’s morally ambivalent noir. The digital restoration looked damn near perfect.

A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven) & The Red Shoes, Castro, DCP & 35mm
A Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger double bill. In Matter of Life and Death, a British bomber pilot (David Niven) who should have died survives, creating a serious problem for heaven’s bureaucrats. But the pilot is newly in love and refuses to enter the afterlife. The great cinematographer Jack Cardiff mixed color and black and white in ways that seem impossible with 1940s technologies. I’ve seen the other film, The Red Shoesmany times, and it just keeps getting better. Although both films were digitally restored, only Matter was on DCP; Shoes was in 35mm. Some four months later, I saw an original, Technicolor nitrate print of The Red Shoes at the Nitrate Picture Show.

All That Heaven Allows screen capture from Cohen Media DVD of What Is Cinema?
All That Heaven AllowsBAMPFA, vintage Technicolor IB print
I’m not one of those cinephiles who gets excited at every screening of a 35mm print. But when it’s a vintage Technicolor IB print…well, that’s exciting. And it was the print, more than the movie, that drew me to see this 1955 romantic drama starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. The movie was pretty good too, and historically fascinating with its story of people trying to break out of ’50s conformity. You can read my full article on the film and Technicolor’s technology.

Battling ButlerSan Francisco Silent Film FestivalCastro, DCP
Buster Keaton gives one of his most complex and subtle acting performances, while still being extremely funny. He plays a spoiled rich kid who pretends to be a professional boxer to impress his girl, and matures in the process. The spectacular stunts we expect from Keaton are smaller and more intimate here, but they’re still impressive and very funny. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra provided a wonderful musical accompaniment.

Exit SmilingSan Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Day of SilentsCastro, 35mm 

The screamingly funny, beautiful, and all-around loveable Beatrice Lillie should have become a major film star; the camera just loves her. Thanks to her abilities, this backstage comedy makes you laugh from beginning to end. With Franklin Panghorn at his gayest. Wayne Barker did a wonderful job on piano; he even kept us entertained when the screen went blank and the projectionist had to fix something.

To Be Or Not To Be screen capture from Warner DVD
Mel Novikoff Award: Annette Insdorf & To Be or Not To BeSFFILMSFMOMA, 35mm print
Columbia University film professor Annette Insdorf discussed cinema, her life, and her expertise on Holocaust films, answering questions from Anita Monga and then the audience. Then they screened an unfortunately poor 35mm print of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942, dark, brilliant, anti-Nazi comedy, To Be or Not to Be (you can read my Blu-ray review). Nevertheless, the audience enjoyed it immensely.

2001: A Space OdysseyCastro, 70mm; Metreon IMAX Theatre, 70mm; Castro, 4K DCP

Yes, three separate screenings of the same film, months apart, tie for my my best moviegoing experience of 2018.
Castro, 70mm: In May, I saw Christopher Nolan’s “unrestored” version projected on the very large (but not huge) screen at the Castro. I had lost my love of this film over the decades, but with this presentation, I fell in love with it all over again.
Metreon IMAX Theatre, 70mm:
2001 was designed to be shown on a giant, curved screen – something the Castro cannot provide. The huge, slightly-curved screen of the Metreon’s IMAX theater provided something closer to the original experience. Again, it was Nolan’s version, this time on an even bigger 70mm IMAX frame.
Castro, 4K DCP: This time, the Castro screened Leon Vitali’s new digital restoration. The colors were better, and there were no scratches or vibrations.