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.

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