Monday, February 11, 2019

Ian Rice'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 contributor Ian Rice is part of the curatorial committee putting on ATA@SFPL events at the Noe Valley library, including an upcoming 16mm screening of Lee Grant's The Willmar 8 March 5th. He decided to provide a list of favorites from 2017 as well as one from 2018.

Soft Fiction
Jan 13: Soft Fiction (Palace of Fine Arts, 16mm) A 2018 continuation of last year’s Chick Strand revelations, this too is a unique masterpiece in her catalogue, from its haunting (and subsequently symbolic) structuralist introduction to its harrowing storytelling and its brilliant musical interludes; it only grew more powerful on a second viewing a few months later. 

Feb 10: I Can't Sleep (SFMOMA, 35mm) Denis structures her narratives more elliptically and ultimately elegantly than most contemporary filmmakers, making them a sort of puzzle whose demands of engagement (similar to Altman’s theory of layered sound) encourage a heightened awareness of details and technique. The Intruder kept me reinterpreting its design for days and weeks afterward, but the force of the drama of this film - and its intimate, sensual compositions of skin of many colors - give it more of an edge. 

The Night of June 13
Feb 20: The Night of June 13th (Stanford, 35mm) An incredible rarity in the Stanford’s Paramount series, there are no especially great stars or auteurist signposts to recommend it - unless, with some justification, one is a Charlie Ruggles completist. It wanders across a small town with great sensitivity toward distinct characters and slowly develops its conflict only to resolve it in a remarkably radical pre-Code conclusion, not so far off from Renoir's M. Lange.

Feb 22: Elements (New Nothing, 16mm) Several more of her films would show later in the year at a Lamfanti screening the night of the Space-X launch, the same program at which “Antonella’s Ultrasound” received its world premiere, but this Julie Murray short at a Baba Hillman Canyon salon stood apart from those also-excellent works of dread and sex and mutilated found footage as a more lyrical, gorgeous journey through natural landscapes with hypnotic rhythm. 

Zodiac screen capture from Paramount DVD
May 27: Zodiac (YBCA, 35mm) My last time at the YBCA - at least until management sees the error of their ways, reinstitutes their cinema program and rehires its excellent programming/curatorial and projection staff - this was a brilliant send-off as part of a seamy San Francisco series, one of whose shooting locations I realized afterward was a few blocks’ walking distance away. Its accumulation of small details and slowly-becoming-psychotic performances are hypnotizing. 

Jul 22: Wieners and Buns Musical (Minnesota Street Project, 16mm) Thanks to an eleventh-hour update on the Bay Area Film Calendar I was able to find out about this year’s Canyon Cinema cavalcade in time to squeeze in several rare masterworks from their catalogue, including pieces by Friederich, Gatten, Brakhage, Benning, Mack, Glabicki and many others seen last year as well at the Exploratorium. This McDowell short was the most fun and perhaps the most radical musical ever filmed, with some of the best low-budget opening titles. It screened again later that year but the sound was much better the first time. 

Commingled Containers screen capture from Criterion DVD "By Brakhage"
Aug 21: Comingled Containers (Little Roxie, 16mm) Because Canyon Cinema only has a handful of his films in their catalog, the year’s many well-deserved tributes to Paul Clipson's work ran the risk of overplaying things, especially by the point in the year at which a Little Roxie tribute screening appeared. But the brilliance of this particular night was that it - overseen by a good friend - was curated by Clipson himself, fitting his works into a wide array of others in an incredible dialogue and refreshment of films that had come to feel very familiar. This Brakhage short was one of many masterpieces (including works by Marie Menken and Konrad Steiner among others) I saw for the first time, utterly and unutterably magical in its light and shapes. 

Aug 22: One from the Heart (Castro, 35mm) The second half of one of the year’s greatest two-venue double features after Todd Haynes’s spellbinding Velvet Goldmine, I began this viewing feeling like the cinematography (maybe the finest hour both of Vittorio Storaro and of Hollywood studio technique) was far better than the flimsy and insipid narrative but soon had the epiphany that this was (or at least might have been) Coppola’s intention all along - the plot is there merely as the simplest of archetypes to push the mind and eye back toward the power of the image, a different sort of “pure cinema.” 

Sep 15: The Caretaker's Daughter (Niles Essanay, 16mm) Despite discovering a slew of incredible new Laurel & Hardy and Keaton films this year there was something to me more special about getting to know the work of Charley Chase - namely the intricacy and machinations of his plots, which slowly accumulate small details that eventually coalesce into extraordinary gags, as with the pinnacle of this one, a setpiece that anticipates and even outdoes a similar one in Leo McCarey’s later Duck Soup

The Day I Became A Woman screen capture from Olive Films DVD
Sep 29: The Day I Became a Woman (PFA, 35mm) An early-in-the-year screening of Salaam Cinema became a prelude to a wonderful series that encompassed the whole Makhmalbaf family of filmmakers, none of whose work I’d ever seen before and almost all of which was quietly poetic in its storytelling while enchanting in its imagery. This tripartite work by the cinematriarch of the family gets special recognition from me because (among many other things) its middle section features the best depiction of any film I’ve seen of the experience of riding a bicycle, both how it feels to be humming along the road and how it feels to be avoiding other encroaching issues! With Lupino’s Hard, Fast and Beautiful, further proof that more women should direct sports films.

Here's top 2017, in order of screening date only, culled from a larger list

Jan 14: Showgirls (Roxie, 35mm) 
Feb 4: Come and See (YBCA, 35mm) 
Jun 18: Les enfants terribles (PFA, 35mm) 
Jul 28: Footlight Parade (Stanford, 35mm) 
Aug 4: Election 2 (SFMOMA, 35mm)
Oct 14: Loose Ends (ATA/Other Cinema, 16mm) 
Oct 15: Crystal Voyager (YBCA, 35mm) 
Oct 18: Chromatic Phantoms (PFA, 3 x Super 8) 
Oct 24: Take Off (California College of the Arts, 16mm) 
Dec 10: Light Music (The Lab, 2 x 16mm)

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