Saturday, October 29


Saturday Nitrates

The other day a fellow cinephile asked me if I'd seen Good Night, and Good Luck or Capote yet. My answer was no, that these days I'm generally not drawn to seeing films that seem to me (perhaps I'm being short-sighted) to be made for DVD or cable TV as much as they're made for theatrical release, no matter how good they're reported to be. I'm much more likely to put a priority on seeing something purely cinematic like The Weeping Meadow, especially since I've never seen a Theo Angelopoulos film in a cinema before. His previous film, the Cannes Palme d'Or-winning Eternity and a Day was theatrically released while I was living abroad in a city where prints of his films probably have never played, and Ulysses' Gaze before my cinematic interests included 3-hour art films by Greek auteurs. I won't pretend that I understood the significance of everything I saw in The Weeping Meadow, but I can assure you that my eyes popped over and over. This epic, which Angelopoulos intends to follow with two sequels, is undeniably composed for large screen theatrical viewing, not for even the most audacious of home systems. His long shots need to overpower the viewer with their complexity and their size. His long takes cannot be interrupted by the distractions of the home environment. A pause button would kill this film, and its incredible debut performance by Alexandra Aidini. Perhaps that makes it somehow too fragile to be of much use in the current aesthetic climate, but as long as there's a place like the Balboa taking the risk of showing such a film (if only for four days; The Weeping Meadow ends this Monday Oct. 31!) I'm going to be there.

The same reasoning draws me to as many revived classic films as I can fit into my viewing schedule. Films made in the era before anyone thought seriously of reducing and broadcasting them to mass audiences can feel like revelations when returned to their natural setting. Such was the case of Singin' in the Rain, which I saw at Palo Alto's Stanford Theatre last weekend. I'd only ever seen it on a television set before, and though I liked it, to be honest I'd never quite grasped why it could be so highly esteemed as to earn a place on so many notable top 10 lists; why it had become perhaps the quintessential Hollywood musical. No wonder; in a way I'd never really seen it! It wasn't just that the vastness of the screen helped me to see details like the broken hairs on Donald O'Connor's bow by the end of "Fit as a Fiddle", or the wrinkle in Cyd Charisse's panty hose when she appears in the "Broadway Melody" sequence. It was that the deep blacks, bright whites and vivid candy store colors emphasized the story's fantastic elements and made me more easily forgive the anti-historical, pro-talkie mythologizing. I was able to dream along with the film.

I don't think I'd ever seen any Technicolor print so rich in color and clarity. So when I noticed that the Stanford's printed calendar boasted that every Saturday would feature a screening of "a beautiful original print (usually nitrate from the UCLA film archive)" I had to wonder if I had just seen a nitrate print! I was familiar with Paolo Cherchi Usai's term "epiphany of nitrate", meaning the moment a cinephile may have when viewing cellulose nitrate (the Stanford being one of the few places in the world insured to run the obsolete material through its projectors for the general public) when the palpable difference between it and safety stock is understood, and all but assumed that my experience with this Singin' in the Rain print must have been mine!

But subsequent research showed me to be wrong. I found sources saying that the original nitrate print of Singin' in the Rain had been lost forever, and others implying that Singin' in the Rain was not quite old enough to have been distributed on nitrate prints, the format having been retired in 1951. In any case, a call to the Stanford Theatre's box office confirmed that the Saturday nitrate screenings will always be for the films being shown at 7:30 PM. I had seen nitrate after all; the other half of the double bill. It was a nicely-colored, but horribly scratched (the worst I've seen at the Stanford) and badly spliced print of the airheaded Don Ameche/Betty Grable musical Moon Over Miami. Nothing jawdropping. No epiphany, nitrate or not.

But I'm going back. According to the person I spoke to on the box office phone number, they'll be showing at least six more nitrate prints over the next few months, including Seven Days to Noon (tonight), Stormy Weather (Nov. 5), Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus (Nov. 12, and specifically promised to be "gorgeous" in the program guide), Down Argentine Way (Dec. 3), Ernst Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait (Dec. 10) and Cover Girl (Dec. 17). I know you can't expect to force an epiphany, but I'm going to see if I can't try anyway. And who knows, maybe there will be some incredible safety stock restorations as second features?

Wednesday, October 19


Boom Crash Opera

Nobody would mistake me for a regular operagoer. In 1990 I went on a high school field trip to see a matinee of Die Fledermaus at the SF Opera. On a 1996 trip to New York I caught a performance of the Philip Glass opera the Voyage at the Met. And the other night I saw my third-ever "legitimate" opera performance, Doctor Atomic, about Robert Oppenheimer and the Trinity test. I was impressed. The John Adams score was great (admittedly I'm a partisan; I think Harmonium just might be the greatest piece of music composed in my lifetime.) The starkly radioactive design of the sets, lights and costumes created an otherworldly space on the War Memorial Opera House stage. The placement of the actors' bodies on the stage reinforced the sense that humanity was at this moment perhaps more clearly than at any other, dealing with something it was simply unable to truly comprehend. The final moments of the opera were particularly breathtaking and intense.

Yet something felt missing from the experience. I'm inclined to agree with the various reviews I've found that place the blame on the libretto, which was built out of a wildly diverse selection of texts of completely different registers, including favorite poems of Oppenheimer's and declassified government documents. Such blending is not a bad concept and in fact fits with Adams's record as a "populist" composer. Except that it didn't really feel as if there was any blending, sonnets difficult to absorb on a single listen unceremoniously dumped next to transcripts of a lot of talk about the weather. As a result, the opera felt entirely too episodic, without enough consistency of threads of theme or character running through it to sustain a sense of drama. Project setbacks would be introduced and seemingly solved before the next aria. Though the music conveyed an urgency that would make me susceptible to being grabbed by the throat and pulled headfirst into the monumental ethical dilemmas inherent in this moment in history, only in a few scenes did "Doctor Atomic" approach that feeling.

Perhaps I was supposed to be already quite familiar with the poems and/or the other documents used as text, and if I had been I would have been able to comprehend how they actually subtly fit together to form a narrative line. Or perhaps narrative line was intentionally out the window, or simply boiled down to a three-hour anticipation of the inevitable detonation. But somehow I don't think an effect that deliberate was really the basis of this pastiche libretto. More likely it was a compromised consequence of Alice Goodman's sudden withdrawal as librettist shortly before its due date. Goodman's recent explanation for bowing out doesn't seem borne out by the finished product. Whether this is because her concerns about anti-Semitism in the opera's structure were overblown all along, were remedied without her participation, or were valid but undetectable to an inexperienced audience member like myself, it's a fascinating subplot, and one that I somehow doubt will come to light until a day when the various parties' own documents become declassified.

A reason why Doctor Atomic's backstage drama is so fascinating connects to the reason why I felt compelled to see the opera in the first place: the Death of Klinghoffer. It's some kind of irony (which kind probably largely depends on your political persuasions) that Goodman reused the same "anti-Semitism" label that had been applied to her last collaboration with Adams and Sellars. I only became familiar with this opera about the 1985 hijacking of a cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists through the Penny Woolcock film, which I first saw with a rather small Castro Theatre crowd at the 2003 SFIFF. I was incredibly moved, most-especially during the scenes where the panicked hijackers begin terrorizing the infinitely-more-frightened passengers and crew in the ship's dining room. Somehow, in the tragedy of the abrupt violence, singing feels like not only an operatic convention but a hyper-realistic effect even more appropriate than crying or shouting to convey the anguish of the situation. Woolcock's decision to shoot in a very immediate documentary style paradoxically minimized distraction from the music and text at the same time that it fleshed out details of character and setting.

This was my first time seeing an opera on film (opera really has been a big blind spot for me!) and I was as impressed by the BBC production's ambitiousness and daring as I was emotionally drained by the experience. I was disheartened to see how neglected the film was by critics, audiences, and theatre bookers that year. I can only assume that people are either scared off by the "opera" tag or the "anti-Semitic" one that has followed the Death of Klinghoffer since before its premiere nearly 15 years ago. Perhaps the opera and/or the film are indeed anti-Semitic; it's not obvious to me. I've encountered compelling arguments why it isn't, made by Adams and Woolcock on the DVD commentary track and by this guy here. I haven't yet heard a compelling case that it is though.

I've since taken a few stabs at trying to see how other opera films look next to Woolcock's. Bergman's the Magic Flute is a light confection in comparison. I didn't have the patience to watch more than the first 20 minutes of Losey's Don Giovanni on DVD. Maybe it was just my occasional Mozart allergies acting up again. Aria was an interestingly weird experiment but in an entirely different vein. Three Tales was even more interesting, weird, and different (and, like Doctor Atomic, strangely unsatisfying as a whole). I'm excited to try out the Tales of Hoffman when Criterion releases it next month, but I'm not expecting similarities between it and the Death of Klinghoffer. I'm perhaps most intrigued by Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium, directed by its composer. (Should I say composed by its director?)

Anyway, what I'm trying to get around to saying is that I highly recommend cinephiles take a look at the the Death of Klinghoffer DVD, even if you've had bad experiences with opera in the past. Let me know what you think of it, if you think it's anti-Semitic or not, if there are other opera films you've seen that share its aesthetic philosophies, or if I need to wipe off my Harmonium afterglow before you'll trust a John Adams recommendation from me again.

Oh, and check out the final final few Doctor Atomic Goes Nuclear programs at the PFA. I've been remiss.


Finish planning your year.

I don't have time to fully scrutinize each of them right now, but three major Bay Area rep. houses have just released new calendars running through the end of 2005:

The Red Vic has distributed its new calendar around town. Lots of documentaries including a Frisco premiere of Herzog's Wheel of Time Nov. 11-17. After several months with music docs de-emphasized they're back, including the great Bob Dylan profile Don't Look Back Dec. 1-3. I was just thinking it was about time to see Down By Law (Dec. 20-21) again, and if I haven't given a History of Violence a (mandatory for Cronenberg fans) second-viewing by January 3-4, you'll definitely find me on Haight Street then.

The Stanford Theatre has a new four-nights-a-week line-up of Hollywood and UK classics, nicely eclectic with a bias toward musicals (starting with Singin' in the Rain and Moon Over Miami this Friday-Sunday). A few of the Powell & Pressburger films playing the Rafael will also appear there. I'll point out one particularly enticing double-bill: Portrait of Jennie with Heaven Can Wait December 10-11.

Finally, the Pacific Film Archive just put its November & December schedules online. Tuesday nights look especially strong with avant-garde work from Gehr, Brakhage, Snow, Mekas, etc. Retrospectives on Sam Peckinpah and Marcel Pagnol are complimented by a mouth-watering array of mostly pre-war Japanese films. How many BART trips can I afford before Christmas anyway?

Friday, October 14


Los Angeles, You Played Yourself

There are many reasons why I count Vertigo among my very favorite films but it would do no good to pretend that its setting in my native Frisco isn't one of the big ones. Likewise, it's too tempting not to count among the flaws of a film like Basic Instinct its terrible sense of Frisco geography. Even a film like The Graduate loses its ability to keep local audiences sucked into the story when Dustin Hoffman drives the wrong direction across the Bay Bridge and visits the Berkeley Zoo. (What Berkeley Zoo?- that looks like Monkey Island at Fleishacker to me! Yes, Frisco's zoo once bore a name that means "butcher" in German.) If you've ever lived in a place that's been filmed by Hollywood crews, you know these kinds of dissections. When I lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand I couldn't escape it; conversations about the use of the local airport in filming Air America periodically bubbled up, even though that film had pretty much vacated general consciousness years before. Apparently, even those living directly under the very shadow of the Hollywood sign can be fascinated by what the entertainment industry's cameras capture when turned toward its own home. Thom Andersen's essay film Los Angeles Plays Itself is exhibit A. It opens today at the Roxie, joining another documentary tribute to cinephilia that's been playing for a week already though I haven't seen it yet, Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinematheque.

Los Angeles Plays Itself was one of my favorite films seen last year (it had a couple local screenings and was accompanied by a series of Los Angeles-shot films at the Pacific Film Archive) because it aligns with my desire to view films as more than vessels for stories, or even aesthetic artifacts, but also cultural, historical and geographical records. And it does so taking full advantage of Andersen's vast knowledge, strong opinion, and dry wit. His thesis boils down to "if we can appreciate documentaries for their dramatic qualities, perhaps we can appreciate fiction films for their documentary revelations," and he does just that, using pertinent clips from an extensive and extremely genre-diverse collection of films to trace a history of the city of Los Angeles, its flagship industry of image-making, and the often uneasy symbiosis between the two. He looks at how films have utilized architecture to express character and emotion, pointing to the repeated use of certain buildings like the Bradbury Building (used in D.O.A., Marlowe, and Blade Runner among others.) He talks about Hollywood's portrayal of the city's dirty cops and politicians, and though he's not as concerned about the Owens Valley water grab (pointing out that what our forebears did to Hetch Hetchy up here was even more destructive) as the makers of Chinatown were, he still appreciates that film as an illustration of the struggle to get around town without a car. He shows how different directors had different touristic approaches to the places they film, distinguishing "low tourists" like Woody Allen from "high tourists" like Roger Corman and Andy Warhol. Europeans like Demy were usually of the latter variety, he argues, but Hitchcock was low through and through, which is why he preferred to shoot in picturesque Frisco and only made one film partially set in Los Angeles (Saboteur.)

Three hours fly by. Though Andersen's stream-of-consciousness is fascinating to listen to, narrated as it is over a parade of rare and familiar film clips (literally everything from the Music Box to the Exiles to Hanging Up), I also found the film absolutely inspiring. First of all, it made me want to see more of the films excerpted. There will be plenty of opportunities coming up for such a follow-up; Night of the Comet plays October 25 at the Parkway and This Gun For Hire October 26th at the Yerba Buena Center. Zabriskie Point will be at the Castro November 30 and December 1, and though the Noir City festival showcased Los Angeles-set noirs (including the title Andersen most regretted leaving out of his film when asked at the q-and-a last year, Joseph Losey's remake of M) in its 2005 edition earlier this year, the January 2006 version will also have a strong showing including the Blue Dahlia, Suspense, Nocturne, and the Big Sleep at the Balboa and Nobody Lives Forever and Hollow Triumph at the Palace of Fine Arts.

I also think Los Angeles Plays Itself will be a great inspiration to filmmakers, critics, scholars and curators with an eye toward geographical readings of films. I can't wait to see a Frisco filmmaker with strong opinions about Vertigo, the Graduate, the transformation of Union Square in light of Coppola's The Conversation, the disappearance of the eerie locations from the Lady From Shanghai (most recently the now-demolished aquarium), etc. make a film of this type. I might even try to figure out how to do something like it myself one of these days, though I'm certain I won't come up with anything nearly as rich or (dare I say) entertaining as Andersen's film. Meanwhile, it looks like this Promiscuous Cinema program on the latest SF Cinematheque calendar might be an event in the same spirit.

Thursday, October 6


I Know Where I'm Going: San Rafael

It's not nearly as hard to get to as Kiloran was for Wendy Hiller in the Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger masterspiece, I Know Where I'm Going!, but ever since I donated my car a couple years ago I haven't been over to Marin County very often. Which means that I've completely missed out on the last few editions of the Mill Valley Film Festival (this year's festival opens tonight and runs through October 16) much to my regret. I don't so much mind that I miss out on the Bay Area premieres of films eventually destined to play here in Frisco, like (to take examples from last year's lineup) Vera Drake, Moolaade, and Nobody Knows. But the festival is becoming an ever-increasingly reputable place for exclusive NorCal screenings of important, intriguing films like James Lee's the Beautiful Washing Machine, Abbas Kiarostami's Five, and Rob Nilsson's SAMT, none of which have screened anywhere in the area since I missed my chances in Marin. One indication of the MVFF's growing reputation for premiering major work was that when I asked a member of the SF International Film Festival's programming staff why Taiwanese titan Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Cafe Lumiere hadn't been selected for that festival this past spring, the response was "didn't that play Mill Valley?" I answered no, but wondered to myself if perhaps Hou's stylistically austere films do seem a better fit there than at the SFIFF of late (I suspect I'll need to resort to the copy at Le Video if I'm going to be able to see Cafe Lumiere.)

I'm not sure if there's anything as unique and daring as Five in the lineup this year, but a few of the offerings that sound particularly intriguing and don't (to my knowledge) have distribution deals at this moment include the International Premiere selection Girlfriend, Someone Please Stop the World by Vibrator director Ryuichi Hiroki, Bye Bye Blackbird, which stars Charlie Chaplin's grandson James Thierree, the South Korean hit Springtime, and The Lady From Sockholm, which, as the world's first-ever feature-length sock puppet movie (based on an Edward Gorey tale!) sounds absolutely too weird to let slip through my fingers. Of all the festival's selections, though, I'm most excited about the Powell/Pressburger films. Having only seen their films on television sets, I'm thrilled to have an opportunity to see I Know Where I'm Going! and the Red Shoes on the big Rafael Film Center screen.

The Rafael is one of several theatres hosting the MVFF this year (the majority of screenings are held there, the Sequoia or 142 Throckmorton) but it's also one of the most thoughtfully programmed theatres in the Bay Area year-round. And its newest calendar, running through December, is now showing up in the usual spots (bookstores, theatres, etc.) around town, though it's not online quite yet. Among the more compelling reasons for me to learn to use Golden Gate Transit is an October 21-23 Artist-in-Residency for cinematographer/director Joan Churchill in which Punishment Park (which she shot) and Soldier Girls (which she directed with Nick Broomfield) will be shown. A collection of Jay Rosenblatt short films including Phantom Limb and the extraordinarily moving Prayer will play for a week (November 18-24). A "Reel Politics" series brings Bay Area politicians to screen and speak about a favorite film; Senator Barbara Boxer with Norma Rae October 29, Assemblyman Mark Leno with the Grapes of Wrath December 8, etc. And the Powell/Pressburger films will continue past the MVFF every Sunday and Thursday through the rest of the season, culminating in a Jack Cardiff tribute screening of A Matter of Life and Death on December 7.

Other selections I'm personally less likely to cross the bridge for (if only because I anticipate a chance to see the film on this side, if I haven't already) include The Overture, the prosaically-scripted but spectacularly-soundtracked Thai xylophonist drama that opens there October 17 (after a run at the Balboa starting tomorrow), a filmmaker-in-person screening of the extraordinary the Joy of Life December 6, and a run of the new documentary Ballets Russes that starts November 11, a week after its November 3rd opening slot at Kanbar Hall in the Film Arts Foundation Festival of Independent Cinema (which, incidentally, also just released a strong-looking lineup.)

Tuesday, October 4


Touch the Sound; the new Balboa calendar

I went to go see Thomas Riedelsheimer's Touch the Sound at the Balboa the other night, and was very much impressed. It's very much a worthy follow-up to his sublime Rivers and Tides, the surprise hit doc of 2002, at least here in Frisco (no, I don't think Bowling For Columbine counts as a surprise.) The two films share a number of similarities, not the least that they both serve as a record of the transitory art actualized by a singular creator, in the case of Rivers and Tides sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, and in this case percussionist Evelyn Glennie. Though Goldsworthy and Glennie work not only in different media but ostensibly in completely different sensory realms, they seem to be kindred spirits, at least when viewed through Riedelsheimer's lens. In Rivers and Tides he emphasized Goldsworthy's tactile understanding of his materials- the sticks, rock, leaves, and bits of earth he perhaps instinctively sculpted in concert with the rhythms of nature. In Touch the Sound he demonstrates how Glennie's approach to music comes out of her harnessing of the sense we normally separate from hearing and call touch (as explained in the film and more thoroughly on her website, Glennie is profoundly, though not totally, deaf.)

Unfortunately, Touch the Sound has not been nearly the smash that Rivers and Tides was. There were no more than a few dozen in the audience when I went, and it has not been held over this week. As I left the theatre, I saw Gary Meyer in the lobby, and he told me that for whatever reason it's been the Balboa's worst draw all year. I wonder why; is it simply because people tend to think of visual art as more cinematic and appealing on film than music? Riedelsheimer's loving attention to the interplay between Touch the Sound's images and its carefully observant soundtrack would do a great deal to dispel that notion. To see for yourself, the film is still playing for a couple more days at the Rafael.

Gary also had good news, though. The new Balboa calendar should be available around town later this week (it just became available online), and it has a lot of tantalizing stuff packed in it. He was even kind enough to let me take a quick peek at the proofs on their way to the printer, and I think I had to struggle to maintain the composure not to drool all over them. I'm quite intrigued to see Darwin's Nightmare when it opens October 14, and it's exciting to see that the latest Theo Angelopoulis film The Weeping Meadow is on its way to my neighborhood theatre in late October, but it's November, while more than 40 different pre-code (1930-1934) feature films play on double bills for three straight weeks, when I'll really be making my second home there. The kicker is that they're all films produced by Paramount, whose costume dramas and smooth-as-silk comedies filled with continental morality make it my favorite Hollywood studio of the early 1930's. The directors working there at the time included Ernst Lubitsch, Josef Von Sternberg, Rouben Mamoulian, Mitchell Leisen and Cecil B. DeMille, for starters. Among the stars under contract were Marlene Dietrich, Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Mae West, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, W.C. Fields, and the Marx Brothers. Oh, and of course Betty Boop; some of the greatest, most surreal cartoons ever made were the ones the Fleischer Brothers created and Paramount distributed during this period. Some sample programs booked: Duck Soup and W.C. Fields' Million Dollar Legs (and a Betty Boop cartoon) Nov. 6; a Lubitsch two-fer The Smiling Lieutenant (pictured) and Trouble in Paradise on Nov. 20; DeMille/Colbert team-ups Cleopatra and the Sign of the Cross on Nov. 19; Gary Cooper in a Farewell to Arms and the incredible Morocco on Nov. 23. You get the picture, though I'm tending to highlight the well-known quantities while I'm really just as excited to see unearthed rarities like the Faulkner adaptation the Story of Temple Drake (playing a special late show Nov 4). which features the now-underrated Miriam Hopkins and is simply unlikely to be seen any other place at all.

Very nearly as exciting to me as the "Sin in Soft Focus" pre-code series in November is a samurai film series running through most of December. It will include everything from seminal Akira Kurosawa / Toshiro Mifune films that I for one have yet to see on the big screen, such as Throne of Blood (Dec. 7-8, pictured) and Seven Samurai (Dec. 17-18) to 1960's Zatoichi films to the blood-drenched Sword of Doom (Dec. 19-20) to the ultimate critical Samurai film, Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri (Dec. 2-6), which lays bare the corruption found at the core of samurai society the way an Anthony Mann film like The Far Country disassembles the myth of the heroic lone cowboy propagated by the Hollywood Western. (Why does it always feel so inevitable to compare samurai films with great Westerns?) While you anticipate the Balboa's jidai geki madness, this coming Saturday the Pacific Film Archive will hold a 1PM matinee of Kobayashi's period horror film Kwaidan.

Saturday, October 1


Oo-ee baby

So in the past couple weeks I've been seeing a lot more new releases than usual. Some (a History of Violence, Touch the Sound) have been much better than others (Crimen Ferpecto, Corpse Bride). Oliver Twist and The World were very good, but I think I liked Junebug a bit better overall because I didn't go in with as high expectations. At any rate, I'm not inspired to write much about any of them right now, probably because I'm still thinking about a VHS tape I recently borrowed from the public library. It's Les Blank's 1978 documentary record of New Orleans, the Mardi Gras Indians, and the musical lifeblood of that city, entitled Always For Pleasure.

I've only seen a small fraction of the dozens of "Blankumentaries" this Florida-born, now Berkeley-residing filmmaker has made, but so far they all absolutely fall into the description on the front page of his website, "Real Food, Roots Music and People Full of Passion for what they do." Always For Pleasure perhaps the most quintessentially so. A camera closely observing seeing huge quantities of ingredients being prepared for a celebratory feast has become almost a trademark Les Blank pleasure, and this film certainly includes such scenes. The musical selections, from Frankie Ford's opening "Sea Cruise" to Professor Longhair's "Big Chief" come off like wonderfully joyous anthems, and again Blank likes to get his camera in close to show the piano player's fingerings and the singer's vocal chords get a physical workout. And passion- what better place than New Orleans during Mardi Gras season to find people with an almost compulsive desire to party. Passionate self-expression seeps out of every frame in this film.

Blank doesn't shove an agenda down our throats, but he doesn't censor uncomfortable moments either. Its impossible not to notice how few of the gatherings and parties he shows us are racially integrated. One of the few moments of integration is quite fleeting; a parade of revellers walking in one direction crosses paths with another small group heading in a perpendicular direction; the two parades, one all black and the the other exclusively white, mingle momentarily on the way to their destinations. It was an image I couldn't help but keep in my head after hearing so much about the city's troubled racial history in recent weeks. Other scenes more directly address race, such as a visit to Congo Square, famously the only place where blacks were allowed to gather to play music until after the end of slavery.

I don't know New Orleans well; I've only been once for a day or two in July when I was a teenager. But I've long thought of it as one of the world's great cities, with a unique spirit that makes me proud to share a country with it. Hearing the heartbreaking daily tragedies in the news and stories coming from the region over the past month or so has made it hard to feel like celebrating anything (I'm far behind on my annual Halloween preparations, for example). But seeing the second line Blank shows near the beginning of the film, so utterly different than the mockery depicted in a film like Live and Let Die (which is, incidentally, one of the films playing at the Parkway's Hurricane Katrina Rescure Benefit this coming Thursday night) helped me to remember that the spirit of New Orleans and Mardi Gras will return, and even if I never get to go myself (though I hope I can someday), I can always revisit the 1977 version by rewatching this film.

If a trip to the Frisco public library is inconvenient, Le Video, Lost Weekend, and Leather Tongue stock it, and any video store that still has a strong VHS collection should have it. It's also for sale on Blank's Flower Films website. The UC Berkeley Media Resource Center also has three brief clips along with clips from other Blankumentaries on its website. Be careful watching clip #3 if you don't want the irresistably catchy song "Meet De Boys On De Battlefront" performed by Wild Tchoupatoulis and the Neville Brothers stuck in your head for days.

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