Friday, February 8, 2019

David Robson'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

Six-time IOHTE contributor and cinephile-at large David Robson documents his offline movie-viewing at a number of online film sites, like his own blog the House of Sparrows, and he cohabitates with those adorable simian cinephiles at Monkeys Go To Movies

I Know Where I'm Going! screen capture from Criterion DVD
In order seen, mostly: 

I Know Where I’m Going!Castro Theatre, February 14 

The Castro Theatre had shown a couple of Powell & Pressburger films in January, right around a visit from director Paul Thomas Anderson – I regret being out of town for his chat with Castro Special Forces Director Stephen Eric Schaefer. A month later the strands of programming came together on Valentines Day, with a 35mm print of Anderson’s Phantom Thread paired with the Powell & Pressburger romance I Know Where I’m Going! This was indeed a day for lovers, and the latter film became a new favorite. It felt like a Scots counterpart to Ford’s The Quiet Man, but resonant in its own right as a deeply felt romance, with tangible chemistry between Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey. 

The WNUF Halloween Special image provided by contributor
The WNUF Halloween Special – Balboa Theatre (Unnamed Footage Festival), March 25 

I wasn’t able to catch as much as I would have liked of the Unnamed Footage Festival, a new fest (full disclosure: run by dear friends) dedicated to found footage horror and similar outlying genres. But I’m glad I got back to the Balboa in time for the fest-closing screening of this odd pastiche of Halloween news programming. It’s a winningly wacky and genuinely unsettling story loaded with spot-on parodies of independent television advertising, and even its somewhat mean-spirited ending didn’t reduce from the fun of seeing it with the Unnamed audience. 

To Be Or Not To Be - SFMOMA Wattis Theatre (San Francisco International Film Festival), April 14 

Always happy when our friends at SFFILM bust out a classic movie during the film fest. It was a joy to see this movie for the first time – a timely WWII offering that tackled the Nazi invasion of Poland with both necessary gravitas and genuine hilarity. The screening was given wonderful context by Mel Novikoff Award-honoree Annette Insdorf, whose engagement with history and profound cinematic intelligence made for a compelling afternoon. She even asked for, and got, a 35mm print of the movie, too. 

On Dangerous Ground Stanford Theatre, May 2 

Delighted to get another shot at this Nicholas Ray/Ida Lupino feature, having missed a February screening due to illness. It’s a tight and intimate noir drama, with a bitter police detective (Robert Ryan) finding new reason to live courtesy the blind sister (Lupino) of a suspect he’s chasing through wintry upstate New York. And the Bernard Herrmann score turns it into a sweepingly romantic operetta, capturing my favorite cinematic subject: the rebirth of a human soul. Absolutely captivating, and paired by the Stanford with the nearly-as-engaging The Spiral Staircase

A Bronx Morning screen capture from Flicker Alley DVD "Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film"
A Bronx Morning – Castro Theatre (Silent Film Festival), June 1

I would have slept on the avant-garde shorts program at the Silent Film Festival if my father (who visited SF for the festival, and wound up taking in eight programs) hadn’t indicated strong interest, and honestly I’d have been poorer for it. After a legendarily mind-expanding introduction by Craig Baldwin, the program ran with sterling musical accompaniment by the Matti Bye ensemble, a group whose contributions to the Festival I’d undervalued in the past. These largely familiar movies took on new life with their music, and the rainy, ambient music accompanying Jay Leyda’s eleven-minute city symphony brought it to life. I experienced the cinematic high that all IOHTE contributors spend our lives chasing, and this music, with this film, on this day, took me outside myself. 

The ShiningCastro Theatre, July 10 The Castro put together a nice series of Kubrick films around the new documentary Filmworker, which detailed the career and work of longtime Kubrick associate Leon Vitali. After acting in Barry Lyndon, Vitali began his arduous backstage career working on The Shining, his responsibilities revolving mainly around Danny Lloyd, the young lead of that film. I saw this movie again (and Filmworker for the first time) having just finished reading for the first time the source novel by Stephen King (and its decades-later sequel Doctor Sleep), and I was amazed by the parallels between both books and both films. A motif in the books – “When the student is ready, a teacher shall appear” – is naturally manifested in The Shining in the relationship between Danny Torrance (played by Lloyd) and Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), but it also spoke to the relationship between Vitali and Kubrick, and extended to the friendship that evolved between Vitali and Lloyd. With the book fresh in mind, I appreciated more than ever how dedicated Kubrick was to both young Danny Torrance (the movie is VERY much his story) and the actor who played him. And I finally realized that despite the obvious commitment and energy he brings, Jack Nicholson’s lead performance is pretty terrible. 

Eve's Bayou image provided by contrbutor
Eve’s BayouSFMOMA Wattis Theatre, July 15 

SFMOMA and SFFILM juiced up their quarterly programming with some truly inspiring series, not the least of which was Black Powers: Reframing Hollywood. I didn’t get to nearly as many programs in it as I’d have liked, but was delighted to finally see Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou projected, its humid and swampy atmosphere (and uniformly solid performances, not the least of which an uncharacteristically downplaying Samuel L. Jackson) finally given celluloid space to breathe. I was overjoyed when, a few months later, the movie was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. 

The Smallest Show on EarthCastro Theatre, August 19 

Sometimes the Castro’s booking philosophy seems to be “what the hell, let’s give everybody a present.” Such was the spirit animating this screening of an imported print of a black-and-white British comedy about newlyweds who inherit a rundown movie house, and their efforts to turn it into a successful business. It was a charmer, with fun supporting performances by Peter Sellers, Margaret Rutherford, and Bernard Miles, and at one point, in a marvelous instance of life imitating art, the film broke, sending the Castro audience into the same darkness experienced by the film’s characters. Joy. 

The Longest Yard Castro Theatre, October 13 

The Castro gave three Wednesdays to double features starring and celebrating the late Burt Reynolds. This one wasn’t necessarily my favorite of the films screened, though I would agree with Joel Shepard’s assessment, offered repeatedly both before and after the screening, “It’s a really good movie!” I highlight it here as I felt it was the best showcase of Reynolds’ magnetism and star power, as well as the particular anarchic comedy that he always threaded through his performances so effortlessly; by the time of the film’s climactic football game the whole audience is on Burt’s team. All of this in a lovely 35mm print, no less. 

Time Regained image provided by contributor 
Time RegainedYerba Buena Center for the Arts, March 18 and 25 

In previous years I’d avoided listing any movies that I watched or introduced at YBCA; there were feelings that there was a conflict of interest naming movies that I screened at my former workplace. Now that YBCA has scuttled its film program, however (with no apparent plans for a full-time replacement), I’m going to throw such concerns aside and say that Time Regained (screened in a beautiful digital restoration courtesy Le Petit Bureau with support from France’s CNC) was the best thing I saw last year, an incredible tour de force from Raul Ruiz that largely ignored the plot of Proust’s Remembrance of Times Past but explored the hell out of its themes, using devices from literature, theatre, and cinema to capture and explore the memories of the past that remain alive with us in the present. I introduced both screenings, taking as much pleasure in cramming Ruiz’ life and work into a three-minute intro as he did jamming seven volumes of Proust into a single three-hour feature, and stayed through both screenings, which were over before you knew it.

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