Saturday, January 28


Odds and Shortends

All it takes is a week without a post for the items to pile up:

1. The SF Film Society had a party and press conference in Park City last weekend to unveil its big new plans to revitalize the Frisco film scene. It all sounds very ambitious, and I'm very curious to see how it shakes out.

2. Noir City 4 wrapped up at the Balboa the other night with an every-single-seat-filled double bill of the Killers and Gilda, neither of which I'd seen before. Between the Balboa and the Palace of Fine Arts, I logged a dozen films at this year's festival, a personal best. Ten of them were completely new for me, and the other two (Strangers on a Train and Thieves' Highway) were films I'd only seen on video before. The festival suffered a few minor glitches, such as when Warner Brothers shipped a print of the wrong version of the Maltese Falcon or when Charlie Hayden's Quartet West had to postpone its gig to an unspecified future date, due to some sort of scheduling conflict involving Elvis Costello. But in light of how much Noir City did accomplish, with all the beautiful prints screened, legendary guests interviewed, jazz riffs heard, and (on the first weekend at least) free drinks quaffed, it seems petty to complain. Apparantly Sean Penn's "surprise pick" was that most noir of Frisco films, Out of the Past starring Robert Mitchum. Time willing, I hope to write a little something about watching the low-budget Night Editor, my favorite from-out-of-nowhere surprise of the festival. But for now I'm just enjoying the fact that Noir City has in four years decisively proved itself to be one of the two or three best film festivals in town. Fedoras off to Eddie Muller and Anita Monga! (Now if only they'd play some Fritz Lang noirs one of these years...)

3. Two weeks is simply not enough to fit all the noir Frisco can handle, though. SFJAZZ comes to the rescue with a Jazz/Noir Film weekend at the Balboa May 19-21. Six slices of late '50s film noir featuring Jazz soundtracks will be screened, including Anatomy of a Murder featuring Duke Ellington, Elevator to the Gallows anchored by a Miles Davis score, and Touch of Evil, which Jazzhead and Orson Welles scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum only allowed as "jazzy" when I asked him about Henry Mancini's soundtrack, but pure jazz or not there's no denying that Mancini's conga drum-infused music is like another character in the film.

4. Speaking of the Balboa, they've decided to switch to a shorter calender, printed more frequently. I recently listed most of the offerings on the current slate, but I might as well fill in the blanks with the rest. Yesterday they began a week-long run of a double-bill featuring photographers, Michael Almereyda's William Eggleston: In the Real World and Heinz Buetler's Henri Cartier-Bresson: the Impassioned Eye. Monday, Feb. 6 brings a screening of the documentary Bluegrass Journey, as well as a live concert. And February 27 is the theatre's annual birthday bash, always a lively event featuring a film from the theatre's birth year 1926. For this 80th birthday the film is Rudolph Valentino in the Eagle, based on a Pushkin story. Something for a future calendar is the March 15 return of Bertolucci's the Conformist, which has never had a proper home video release and is like Citizen Kane in its visual inventiveness and its influence on films made in the decades after it premiered (in 1970).

5. The Castro has shortened its calendar too, with this new one covering a month and change, and just getting printed in time for today's kickoff double bill of Strange Brew and Up in Smoke. Films about (and for?) substance users and abusers continue until February 1st when Naked Lunch plays. Then comes the IndieFest Feb. 2, Sing-a-long Mary Poppins Feb. 3-9, and the first foreign-language film to get a week-long release at the Castro in quite some time, Quebecer Robert Lepage's Far Side of the Moon Feb. 10-16. Check back later to see what's fills the programming hole Feb. 24- Mar.2; I guess the chaos in the theatre's booking staff still hasn't completely settled down. But March brings a tribute to Richard Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker on the 4th, Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief 6-9, another MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS triple-feature on the 10th, and an inexplicably colorized version of Plan 9 From Outer Space March 11-12.

6. The Red Vic's new calendar is the same length as usual and is printed but not yet online. It's heavy on second-run screenings of the past few months' Oscar hopefuls. A few documentary premieres like Trudell Feb. 3-11. I'm glad to get a second chance at the graffiti art doc. Piece By Piece Mar. 17-21 and New York Doll about Arthur "Killer" Kane Mar 31-Apr. 1. I wonder if the screening of the original King Kong April 14-15 will also include a print of the Bugs Bunny film Gorilla My Dreams, like the Castro screening earlier this month did?

7. And finally, the new Stanford Theatre schedule is online now, and it includes some of Hollywood's most hallowed films: Gone With the Wind this weekend and next, Casablanca with the 1941 the Maltese Falcon (the one Noir City ended up playing) Feb. 10-12, and To Have and Have Not March 3-5.

Saturday, January 21


Repenting my Cinematheque

I don't know how it happened that I somehow forgot to include among my list of top cinema trips of 2005 the Peter Kubelka lecture and film screening I attended at the Pacific Film Archive in late October. This was a one of those film experiences that seems to re-arrange the connections made in my brain into new configurations, and though I sense that over the past few months since the screening the old pathways are becoming dominant again, I suspect that I'll always retain a bit of the wisdom Kubelka imparted. In preparation for a screening of his newest film, Poetry and Truth, he showed three of his "Metric Films", Adebar, Schwechater and Arnulf Rainer.

Though the films themselves were eye-openers, to say the least, it was the context he supplied through his lecture that made the evening particularly intellectually invigorating. Kubelka shared his philosophies on life and art, anecdotes about the making of these films and his attempts at creating an "ideal" screening room, and brought the projectionist down from the booth to deliver a demonstration of the physicality of film. He demystified 35mm film by having the audience unspool the reel we had just watched, letting the strip weave up and down the first several of the PFA's wide rows. He then remystified it by showing the minute-long film (Schwechater) once again. I was most taken with Arnulf Rainer, my first experience with a flicker film, and one that reinforced for me what the film medium shares with music, namely rhythm in time, silence and sound. Poetry and Truth was something else again, a collage film that superficially resembled the technique and rhythm of a film like Bruce Conner's Report but on closer inspection is quite different and brings forth notions about the nature of acting and staging that only conspiracy theorists might find in the Conner film.

Poetry and Truth, in case you missed it at the PFA or at the sold-out screening of Kubelka's "Metaphoric Films" at the Yerba Buena Center shortly after, is going to be shown again on Friday, February 3rd at the California College of the Arts (formerly known as California College of Arts and Crafts) on a program called For the Record. It's part of the new January-March SF Cinematheque calendar, not yet online but found in various bookstores and other places around town. Frankly, this is one of the most appealing (to me) seasons this experimental film organization has put together since I let my membership lapse a few years ago. I already posted a bit about the Sunday programs scheduled for Yerba Center (though the new blurb on the Feb. 12 Stan Brakhage Sound Film night makes no mention of the Stars Are Beautiful but does include other films like Christ Mass Sex Dance) and the screenings at other venues are at least as enticing. The Art Institute will host two nights of the 9th Annual Activating the Medium Festival, for example, and a CCA program Feb. 17 called Fame as Form looks totally fascinating. But perhaps the biggest must-see for me is the Nagisa Oshima double bill there March 31: Death By Hanging and Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, neither of which I've seen yet.

Tuesday, January 17


2005: a year of movies

A new year of cinephilia is truly underway. The film festivals and retrospectives have started, making frequent blog posts all the less likely. Two more film festivals just released their programs. The fourth, and so far, biggest SF Korean-American Film Festival runs February 7-12 and will include a special focus on North Korea, including a rare screening of a film made there in 1972, the Flower Girl. Also included are a number of recent films that look at North Korea through the lens of the South Korean film industry such as Oldboy director Park Chan-wook's first feature Joint Security Area, Shiri, and the way-better-than-Die Another Day spy film Double Agent. The SF IndieFest will run February 2-14, and brings a fistful of local, US and even world premieres. New films from Dario Argento and Takashi Miike stand out from a first perusal of the website.

I've been putting off doing this for a bit, perhaps because I'm still wrangling with whether to post a "Best New Films of 2005" list. But, in part inspired by recent pro-cinema discussion elsewhere, for now I'm just going to plunge in, ignore the "New Release" films I saw last year, and just list off my favorite moviegoing experiences of last year. No pontificating about whether it was overall a great year for this, or a horrible year for that, I'll just let the lists speak for themselves, and hope this year holds as many riches:

Top 10 "Movies Plus" of 2005:
1. Man With a Movie Camera with a live score by the indie rock band Oranger, as part of the Noise Pop Festival's evening at the Castro Theatre.
2. Bruce Conner discussing Crossroads and other films that played at SFMOMA's Phyllis Wattis Theatre.
3. Frank Borzage's Street Angel at the Palace of Fine Arts as part of the SFIFF, featuring live music from the re-united American Music Club and a trio of whistlers.
4. The silent version of Hitchcock's Blackmail at the same venue but with a score by the Alloy Orchestra.
5. A Matter of Life and Death and the interview with cinematographer Jack Cardiff that followed it at the Rafael Film Center.
6. Apart From You paired with Ozu's the Lady and the Beard at the Pacific Film Archive, both with Michael Mortilla providing virtuoso piano accompaniment.
7. For Heaven's Sake, the Harold Lloyd comedy which opened the Silent Film Festival with Chris Elliot behind the Castro's Wurlitzer organ.
8. The Birds and Marnie on a Castro double bill with the super-classy Tippi Hedren interviewed in between.
9. Les Blank presenting Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers and Yum, Yum, Yum! in aromaround at the Green Screen Film Festival.
10. Pudovkin's short Chess Fever backed by a bizarre but somehow appropriate musical accompaniment from a guy with a paper bag over his head when it played before the Most Dangerous Game as part of the PFA's Games People Play series.

Top 10 New Discoveries (for me) of 2005:
1. One of my last unseen Orson Welles feature films: Confidential Report at the Pacific Film Archive.
2. I Am Cuba at the Balboa Theatre.
3. Hellzapoppin' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
4. Joesph Losey's remake of M, which I found every bit as good as the original, at Noir City festival at the Balboa.
5. A restored version of Victor Seastrom's the Scarlet Letter as part of the PFA's Film Preservation Week. I remember very much liking Jon Mirsalis's piano score, so perhaps it really deserves to be on the "Movies Plus" list.
6. Footlight Parade, as part of the Castro's Busby Berkeley series.
7. The theatrical cut of Edvard Munch at the Oaks Theatre.
8. Borzage's A Farewell to Arms at the Balboa.
9. A short but absolutely fascinating "scientific film", Living in a Reversed World, a favorite of Amos Vogel's placed on the same program as Film as a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16 at the SFIFF.
10. Zabriskie Point at the Castro.

Top 10 Old Favorites "Rediscovered" in 2005:
1. A double-bill of Love Me Tonight and Design For Living was the highlight of an extremely high month of pre-code films at the Balboa last November.
2. In a Lonely Place was the greatest masterpiece I saw at last year's Noir City.
3. Seeing Singin' in the Rain on the Stanford screen made appreciate it more than I ever had before.
4. Rashomon was a special treat at the Red Vic.
5. Los Olvidados at the Balboa.
6. Rebel Without a Cause, also at the Balboa.
7. Harakiri, yet again at the Balboa during its Samurai! series.
8. It wasn't until I saw his name come up in the opening credits that I figured out the reasoning behind the Stanford Theatre's Franz Waxman-tribute double bill of Bride of Frankenstein and Sunset Blvd.
9. Bruce Conner's Cosmic Ray was another short film picked by the SFIFF to augment the Film as a Subversive Art screening, and it was wonderful to see again. I thought the freshly Oscar-nominated Taylor Hackford was an odd and perhaps misguidedly opportunistic selection for the Festival's Lifetime Achievement in Directing award and I still wonder if this selection wasn't a sly dig at that choice from another corner of the programming team.
10. After seeing a cut version on VHS in Thailand five years earlier, I was very glad the Four Star played Pen-ek Ratanaruang's crime comedy 6ixtynin9 for a week and that I finally got to see the version it was meant to be.

Special mention to the threatened Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where while on vacation I was thrilled to have an opportunity to see a favorite Anthony Mann Western, Winchester '73 (making it the last Shelley Winters film I saw before she died) in its beautiful space along with a new film for me, High Plains Drifter. I hope the Brattle is able to keep its screen flickering.

Wednesday, January 11


Vision Thing

Today marks the 10th Anniversary of the release of Showgirls in director Paul Verhoeven's Mother Holland, and it didn't take much prodding for me to be convinced to join the appreciation party happening right now in the blogosphere. Yes, I actually like this perhaps inherently misogynistic film that rates a measly 3.8/10 from imdb voters and a 16/100 score on Metacritic. I count myself among the growing number of cinephiles whose views at the very least fit under the umbrella statement, "It doesn't suck."

I first saw Showgirls in the summer of 2001 when I scored free passes to Peaches Christ's summer series of witching hour cult movies called Midnight Mass. Showgirls was the second film in the series, and unquestionably the most raucous evening of those I attended (I skipped 9 To 5). The audience was packed with drunks, butch dykes, drag queens, and a few of us token "normals" who maybe didn't feel quite so normal anymore. I had the distinct impression that my friend and I were the only ones who'd never seen the film before, especially when most of the audience seemed to be yelling half the lines of dialogue at the screen. It was clear that at least we'd stumbled into a true cult phenomenon, and indeed Peaches has screened the film to sellout crowds at least once every summer since 1998. Well, how can you not enjoy a film on a certain level when surrounded by enthusiasm like that? I even got into the spirit of the evening and at one point around the midway mark yelled out (something I never do in a movie theatre) in my most nasal geek voice, "Excuse me, I'm trying to watch the movie!" It got a laugh, but there was some truth in my mock complaint. It was fun but difficult to untangle my reaction to the film from my response to the audience's shouts and cheers. I remember thinking that the film had utterly failed at being sexy if that was the intention, but I had the impression that the sterile plasticity of the sex and nudity just might have been part of a grander scheme to satirize the American Dream. Though I hadn't yet read Charles Taylor's review of the film, I agreed with his premise that Showgirls is intentional camp. I had been exposed to the idea of Verhoeven as satirist (through Zach Campbell for one) before seeing the film, and I found myself agreeing.

Here come spoilers in case you're still a Showgirls virgin...

I was totally caught off guard by Molly's rape scene, though. It's a truly disgusting and shocking scene, and sharply contrasts the good-natured humiliation, back stabbing, lying, pimping and whoring that make up the bulk of the film. Perhaps I was reacting less to the film than to the way the Midnight Masses became so much more subdued for this scene and its aftermath, but it felt like a real miscalculation to suddenly change the film's tone so radically. It took exposure to insightful analysis by the likes of Eric Henderson for me to start to understand the function of that scene in the film, and to finally see Verhoeven's creation as something more than a fun but flawed film.

So when the call went out for participation in a Showgirls-a-thon, I was ripe to revisit the film on DVD, which I finally did last night. What follows are a few thoughts and questions, not coherently gelled into any kind of argument whatsoever.

1. I own the soundtrack on audiocassette (it features excellent tracks from likes of Killing Joke, David Bowie, and Siouxsie and the Banshees) but I'd forgotten that in her initial hitch-hiking scene, Nomi changes the music from Dwight Yoakam (who she mislabels as Garth Brooks) to a song not found on my tape for whatever reason. "Vision Thing," by one of my favorite bands of the late eighties and early nineties, the Sisters of Mercy, is a song about America's cocaine-fueled aggression and imperialism. Though we don't hear the beginning of the song (which starts off with the sound of a coke sniff) I'm sure that whoever selected it knew what Verhoeven was up to; it's no coincidence that the Bowie song that plays in the dance club is "I'm Afraid of Americans". Oh, and guess where the Sisters are launching their 2006 American tour on March 22? Sin City itself, where the streets are lined with the tossed-away hamburger wrappers left by Nomis of the world over.

2. Having recently seen Footlight Parade for the first time and being struck by the incredible speed of the first half of that film, propelled of course by the actor who personifies "rapid-fire", James Cagney, I have to say Verhoeven doesn't quite capture that feeling of intense organizational energy though he comes close a couple of times. I'm not saying he's even trying to. The 1933 Lloyd Bacon/Busby Berkeley film Showgirls usually gets compared to is of course 42nd Street which is less fresh in my mind. But I definitely feel that Footlight Parade is worth a comparative look too, if only because the milieu seems somewhat more similar; aren't the depression-era girlie shows Cagney is trying to put together in that film some of the more apt equivalents to big Vegas shows like "Goddess"? And wasn't a big part of the appeal of Busby Berkeley's most lavish production numbers (like the ones in Footlight Parade) the feminine flesh on display, even if they never provided audiences the full frontal nudity required to bat eyebrows in 1995?

3. What kind of fantasyland is this where not only does someone suggest that Janet Jackson or Paula Abdul might star in "Goddess", but that the president of the hotel actually repeats the dismissed suggestion to the media? Or am I remembering 1995 inaccurately, with my post-Super Bowl, post-American Idol perspective clouding my sense of history?

4. What's with Cristal's underdeveloped Elvis fixation? Is there some character backstory or a key line that got trimmed out somehow?

5. Least-sexy sex scene in the film: Elizabeth Berkley flopping like a fish in the pool with her groin attached to Kyle MacLachlan's abdomen.

6. Spoilers again. That means you, mom; I know you haven't seen the film. Here's a wacky and/or trite interpretation of Nomi and Molly's relationship for everyone to point and laugh at. Let me know if this has already been proven or disproven somewhere I haven't seen (like in that Film Quarterly roundtable on the film that I still haven't read). Molly, who reiterates that she hasn't had sex in many a moon at the point Nomi comes into her life, represents Nomi's virginity (or born-again virginity if you will, since we later learn Nomi's a reformed Oaktown crack-whore). Though surrounded by wanton Vegas sexuality, Nomi's roommate remains chaste, ensuring that no matter what our natural-blonde heroine goes through in her escapades at the Cheetah club or with aspiring gynecologists by which I mean choreographers, her hymen remains intact. But when Andrew Carver and his gang force their camels through the eye of the seamstress's needle (sorry about that turn of phrase but I couldn't resist) it's as if Nomi has herself been raped. And though she gets revenge on the rapist, she also feels the blame and shame rape victims (I'm told) often do. Looked at this way, it seems that perhaps her departure on the road to Los Angeles is not so much a return to blind ambition but an escape from a community where she no longer can live in her own skin. Or is that what ambition always is anyway, an escape from our selves?

Monday, January 9


Looking ahead to 2006, part IV: Wishful thinking

We're now far enough into 2006 that this series of post titles has become a bit embarrassingly outdated, but there's no way I wasn't going to take my turn openly whining to to the world (well, that teensy fraction of it that might come across this blog, anyway) my wishes regarding the films I'd like to see brought to Frisco in 2006 by local film purveyors, whether film festivals, independent-minded theatres, or other venues. This Asian-film-heavy top 20 list is not really in a precise order but consists of titles, both new and retrospective, I know have some degree of availability; many are making the rounds on the film festival circuit right now.

1. There's a Hong Sang-Soo retrospective traveling around North America this year, and I sure hope it makes a stop in the Bay Area. I was knocked out by Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors at the SFIFF in 2001, and have subsequently caught up with 3 of his other films on DVD, but would love to rewatch them, as well as his more recent Woman is the Future of Man and A Tale of Cinema, both of which have yet to premiere locally. Hong has made only six films but he's already established himself as perhaps the most essential auteur in current Korean cinema.
2. Rialto Pictures is touring a print of Bresson's Mouchette. I'm so there, wherever "there" ends up being.
3. I just can't get enough of Werner Herzog these days, and though Frisco was graced with three of his newest films in 2005, we still haven't seen the Wild Blue Yonder, which sounds at least as intriguing as any other.
4. I don't know whether to feel lucky that I caught Wisit Sasanatiang's Tears of the Black Tiger back in 2000 during its commercial run in Thailand, which coincided with the time I was living in that country, or cursed because knowing how beautiful it is on the big screen only makes me all the more furious that the film has remained unavailable to Frisco theatrical audiences. Well now his follow-up Citizen Dog is officially on the festival circuit and I'm crossing my fingers that one of the local fests decides to program it. If they're real smart maybe they'll figure out a way to get Miramax to let them pull Tears of the Black Tiger out of the vault too now that the Weinsteins and their kooky bonus scheme have left that company.
5. While I'm at it, I might as well ask for something more far-fetched but at least as mouth-watering: Wisit like many Thai directors was greatly inspired by the films of Rattana Pestonji, the first filmmaker to shoot sync sound films in 35mm after the post-war dominance of silent 16mm film distribution in Thailand. Some of Rattana's films, including Country Hotel and the reputed "first Thai film noir" Black Silk, have been making the rounds at Asian film festivals like Singapore and Pusan but wouldn't it be a coup for a local cinematheque or festival to snag the US premiere of one or more of them? I can dream, anyway...
6. Seijun Suzuki's Princess Raccoon. 'Nuff Said.
7. Police Beat, in my opinion the most interesting-sounding film from last year's Sundance Film Festival.
8. Pretty much all the critics I read hated Johanna when it screened at Cannes last May, but this Hungarian Opera film set in a hospital sounds absolutely fascinating to me.
9. I heard that when the Pacific Film Archive ran the Heroic Grace series of classic martial arts films from esteemed Hong Kong directors like King Hu and Chang Cheh in 2003, it was pretty poorly attended. I wanted to go but was too tempted by events on this side of the Bay to actually do it. But: if somebody decides to program the currently-touring sequel, including films like Dirty Ho and King Boxer, I promise I will come, and bring friends along.
10. I understand Grain in Ear is quite good, though I have no clue what that title means.
The next several films are all honorees in the Cinemarati Awards category of Best Undistributed Film; I've seen a couple of the honorable mentions but none of the top six picks and hope to rectify that this year:
11. The Sun by Alexander Sokurov.
12. the Regular Lovers by Philippe Garrel.
13. the Wayward Cloud by Tsai Ming-Liang.
14. Forgiveness by Ian Gabriel.
15. Three Times by Hou Hsiao-Hsien.
16. La Blessure by Nicolas Klotz.
17. For all the wonderful Japanese classic films that screened at the PFA and the Balboa during the last couple months of 2005, there was a particular one that didn't show up, that I'm hoping might find an excuse to play in 2006. I know a print has been recently shown elsewhere in the country: Humanity and Paper Balloons, named by many Japanese film specialists as one of that country's very finest cinematic achievements.
18. Three Friends, directed by two Thai women directors I admire (Aditya Assarat and Mingmongkul Sonakul) and one I'm not familiar with (Pumin Chinaradee), sounds fascinating.
19. I have little faith that it will be much better than mediocre, but I'm endlessly curious to see the first horror film made by a farang (Westerner) director in Thailand, in the Thai language. It's called P.
20. The New World is a uniquely beautiful creation myth put to film, and one of the best things I've seen in months, even if it was not as absolutely absorbing as the Thin Red Line was for me. I definitely want to see the New World again and I know it's being released here January 20th, so why include it in this post? Well, I'm wishing (probably vainly) that somehow I'll have the opportunity to watch the 3-hour version that was originally released in New York and Los Angeles, and not just the 2 hour and 40 minute version again. Picky? Maybe. Unrealistic? Almost certainly. But it can't hurt to throw the idea out there, can it?

Thursday, January 5


Looking ahead to 2006, part III: Cinematheques and alternative venues

Perhaps you thought I was going to stop after Part II, but no! How could I leave out some of the most interesting places on Frisco Bay to see a film? These venues may not look or smell like movie theatres but increasingly they're the places where the most unusual, obscure, and sometimes even best stuff has a chance to flicker across a screen. This will be by no means comprehensive; there are lots of venues around town I'm not familiar with or have otherwise overlooked. Remind me if there's a particular one you think I should highlight.

I'll start with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which I haven't talked about much on this blog lately but houses one of my favorite screening rooms in town. I especially liked their student prices back when I was eligible to take advantage of them. Their evening programs start up again January 19th with a documentary Monte Grand: What is Life?, and February 1st offers a 16mm print of the 1969 film starring Jean Gabin and Alain Delon, the Sicilian Clan. That month also brings a pair of Carlos Reygadas films, while March features a Human Rights and Film series, and a screening of the vivid Senegalese musical Karmen Gei on the 8th. The YBCA is also a home to the SF Cinematheque's Sunday evening programs, which commence on February 5th with Andy Warhol's Camp. Other intriguing selections include Agnes Varda's Lions Love Feb. 26, James Benning's Utopia Mar. 26, a program of Soon-Mi Yoo videos Mar. 12, and one made up of Stan Brakhage's sound films (including the Stars Are Beautiful, pictured) Feb. 12.

The early favorite for the retrospective of the year is the Pacific Film Archive's 31-film Mikio Naruse tribute starting next Thursday, but to be honest I wouldn't be shocked if they came up with something to top even that. Susan Oxtoby has taken over Edith Kramer's role as senior film curator, and so far from what I can tell, it's still the same vital institution. Tuesdays remain the night of Alternative Visions avant-garde work, the public is still allowed to sit in on the Film 50 screenings (when space is available), and Steve Seid is still curating extremely imaginative and outside-the-box programs like this one appears to be.

Another important venue, one that I didn't get to nearly enough in 2005, is Artists' Television Access. On January 19th that's the place to be to see Pamela Yates' documentary about Peru's war on terror, State of Fear. Presumably, the venue will continue to be the home of Craig Baldwin's Other Cinema Saturday series, which is expected to start up again in February.

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is now open Saturday afternoons noon-4PM, and continues its Saturday evening programs of 16mm screenings with live musical accompaniment. Starting the year off is Buster Keaton's great the General and the Harold Lloyd short Captain Kidd's Kids. The Alliance Francaise is also hosting a silent film series with musical help from The AHL-I Nafs. January 19 will be a program of George Melies delights including a Trip to the Moon and the Impossible Voyage, while February 16th's selection is Jean Epstein and Luis Bunuel's the Fall of the House of Usher. This is in addition to the usual Wednesday evening screenings hosted there.

The Danger and Despair Knitting Circle, slavish devotees of the 16mm noir film, has laid out its basic plans for 2006. It's not quite world domination or even the greatest heist ever imagined, but it sounds even more fun. Saturday nights in February the group is taking over the North Beach Recreation center and showing films like Robert Wise's House on Telegraph Hill, Nora Prentiss (also Frisco-set) and Search For Beauty (neither noir nor Frisco-set, as far as I know, but looks like a lot of fun). Their free (but by reservation only) Thursday night series will begin again in March with spy films. The dishonest-to-badness film noir returns in June with a focus on Richard Conte, Charles McGraw in the Fall, Robert Ryan in there somewhere, and more. I hope they keep to the schedule- if not to the letter of it, the spirit, because this stuff looks tasty!

I'm not done yet...

The Jewish Community Center's Kanbar Hall is turning into a regular film venue. I haven't checked it out yet, but this spring I'll be enticed by a Jazz on Film series, and a Freudian film series called Cinema on the Couch. The latter includes Hitchcock's Spellbound (April 4) and the Adam Curtis two-parter Century of the Self (May 1 & 8) among other treats.

Davies Symphony Hall will be the venue for a weekend (Feb. 17-19) of the Qatsi Trilogy with scores performed live by the Philip Glass Ensemble.

Perhaps 2006 will be the year I finally visit the Foreign Cinema restaurant. I notice they're playing Death in Venice Jan. 23-Feb. 26.

So much more to mention, including the Edinburgh Castle Film Night, SFMOMA, the Neighborhood Theatre Foundation's presumed Summer series, and way more than I can even think of right now. 2006 is already shaping up to be a busy year for finding film in less-than-obvious places.

Sunday, January 1


Looking ahead to 2006, part II: Independent Movie Theatres

It's wonderful that there are still a healthy number of repertory theatres running great, adventurous programs in and around Frisco, and I only hope that audiences will resolve to be equally adventurous in exploring what's made available in the coming year. Here's a sample of what local popcorn-munchers can expect to see in 2006:

My friendly neighborhood Balboa has announced some of the items it will be bringing in early 2006 in addition to Noir City. Carol Ballard's Duma opens January 6 (also at the Rafael). A double-bill of Barbara Stanwyck pre-codes (the much-better-than-its-title Night Nurse and the restored Baby Face) play for a week starting February 2. My favorite current Hong Kong action auteur, Johnnie To, finally will see his 2004 Cannes sensation Breaking News released theatrically here on February 10. And, perhaps in anticipation of a rumored French film noir series, Classes Tous Risques is scheduled for Feb. 17. Another Balboa rumor concerns a tribute to Janus Films (which has distributed films by Kenji Mizoguchi, Ingmar Bergman, and countless other foreign auteurs since the 1950's) featuring new prints sometime in the fall or winter. Depending on the size and scope of the tribute, this could be the film highlight of 2006.

Since I've recently learned how easy it is to use Golden Gate Transit to get from downtown Frisco to downtown San Rafael, a short walk from the Rafael Film Center, I expect to take advantage of the programs offered there more often in 2006. The highlight of the year's first calendar for me is the series of selected submissions to the Academy Awards' Best Foreign Film category called For Your Consideration. Most of these films are completely unknown quantities for me, but I notice that Jonathan Rosenbaum put the Chilean film Play on his best-of-the-year list. I'm also curious to see Thailand's the Tin Mine, Romania's the Death of Mr. Lazarescu, and the student activist biopic Gie, the biggest-budgeted Indonesian film of all-time and subject of Amir Muhammad's most unusual "making-of" documentary the Year of Living Vicariously. The series runs Jan. 13-26. Other Rafael calendar items of note include the Real Dirt on Farmer John, opening Jan. 27 (when it also comes to the Presidio Theatre), and a revival of Oh! What a Lovely War Mar. 24-30.

Every year I promise myself to visit the Parkway more but in 2005 I only made the trip to the Oakland venue twice. They're starting this year's special events series with a strong January line-up including the 7th Voyage of Sinbad Jan. 12, Time Bandits Jan. 17, This is Spinal Tap Jan. 24, and Cannibal Holocaust Jan. 26. The last time I went to the Red Vic, they were asking for community support for a license to sell alcoholic beverages. I've often wondered why there wasn't a place on this side of the bay doing what the Parkway and other theatres in places like Portland, OR and Austin, TX do to attract customers through the enticement of beer, and the Red Vic seems like the most logical candidate.

Rounding-up the rest of the area's cinephile-friendly theatres, I recently wrote about the developments at the Roxie Film Center and the Four Star Theatre here and wish both venues the best of luck in the coming year. I also hope Oakland's Paramount Theatre can bring back its classic movie series in 2006; it's depressing to think that the last film shown in that priceless movie palace might be You've Got Mail last March. The Stanford Theatre hasn't released its new calendar yet, but promises to bring Ronald Colman films in 2006. The Landmark theatre chain is of course busy exhibiting Oscar bait early in the year, but all expectations point to them still hosting the occasional reissue or midnight movie series. For example, Jan. 27 & 28 brings Live Freaky! Die Freaky! to the Lumiere, as well as to the Act 1 & 2 as a kick-off to a 10-week series of midnight movies there, including 1980's special effects films like Back to the Future (Feb. 3-5) and Tron (Mar. 3-4), more recent comedies like the Big Lebowski (Mar. 24-26) and Wet Hot American Summer (Mar. 10-11) (an inspired midnight movie choice), and even a rare East Bay appearance from Peaches Christ, who brings Pee-Wee's Big Adventure Feb. 25. And Jesse Ficks promises to continue bringing monthly midnight movies to the Castro as part of a $12 triple-bill package called "Freeky Fridays". The first one on January 27th features Scott Baio, Maureen McCormick and Patrick Swayze in Skatetown, U.S.A., capping off an evening of roller-disco excess featuring Roller Boogie and Xanadu.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?