Sunday, February 19


Festivals, Naruse and the PFA

If you've been to the movies sometime since Tuesday, you've probably seen that the newly renamed Center For Asian American Media (CAAM, formerly NAATA) has distributed the program schedule for the 24th edition of its International Film Festival to be held March 16-26. And it looks like a very tasty line-up, heavier on films by established and emerging critically-acclaimed auteurs than last year. I'm thrilled, of course, to see that they're helping to fulfill three of my top 20 film wants for 2006: Wisit Sasanatiang's Citizen Dog plays March 17th and 18th, Zhang Lu's Grain in Ear plays the 18th and the 19th, and four Shaw Brothers martial arts classics from the Heroic Grace II series, including Quentin Tarantino's favorite kung fu film King Boxer a.k.a. Five Fingers of Death, take over the Pacific Film Archive as part of the festival's final weekend. (The rest of the films in the series are promised to play the Balboa in May if you can wait that long.)

But there's a lot more I never would have anticipated. First, I'd all but given up on seeing Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 2003 tribute to Yasujiro Ozu, Cafe Lumiere showing on a local screen, but it will happen at the Castro March 19 and at the PFA March 25. I'm also particularly interested in the Burnt Theatre (Mar. 21 & 22), the latest from Cambodia's leading documentarian Rithy Panh, whose S21: the Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and the Land of the Wandering Souls both bowled me over. Sam Fuller fans take note of a March 18 screening of his 1959 twist on the buddy/cop film packed with themes of racial tension and post-war reconciliation the Crimson Kimono, the first role for pioneering Asian American leading man James Shigeta who earns a spotlight on his career also including Walk Like a Dragon and Bridge to the Sun. He'll be interviewed at the Crimson Kimono's screening. Tributes to the late Kayo Hatta (the Picture Bride, March 22) and Pat Morita (the Karate Kid, Part II, March 21) will feature Tamlyn Tomita, who worked with both, at "select screenings". And a special event happening only March 25 at the San Jose venue, Camera 12, is a look at the National Film Registry-selected home movie footage shot surreptitiously by David Tatsuno at the Topaz, Utah internment camp during World War II.

There's so many other intriguing titles that I don't know where to stop. Just a few more of the many that entice me: Singapore's Be With Me, Japan's Linda Linda Linda, and the local production Colma: the Musical. I'm reminded again why this is usually one of my favorite film festivals of the year.

Another rapidly approaching film festival has released its program online: San Jose's Cinequest, running March 1-12. I've never made the trip down the peninsula to check this reportedly filmmaker-friendly festival out for myself, but this year I've already spotted a few offerings that might entice me in the retrospective and/or experimental vein. In the latter category, Jon Jost's Oui Non plays the Camera 12, March 2 & 4. In the former category, the restored California Theatre will host Friday evening silent films with live organ accompaniment, Fritz Lang's Metropolis on the 3rd and Buster Keaton's Seven Chances (with the short One Week) on the 10th. In both categories, William Greaves' 1968 Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One and his 2005 follow-up Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2 play on the same program at the California on the 4th and 5th of the Month. Cinequest closes with Deepa Mehta's Water, one week before it plays CAAM's festival.

On Thursday I attended my 13th and final film in the Mikio Naruse retrospective, Her Lonely Lane, an adaptation of the autobiography of poet and novelist Fumiko Hayashi, who wrote five novels Naruse adapted into films before this, including his most agreed-upon masterpiece Floating Clouds. Add that to the three "pre-retro" films I saw last November and the two I've seen on video, and Naruse (18) beats Ozu and Kurosawa (14 apiece) as the Japanese director from whom I've seen the most total films. Though I actually missed more Naruses in this series than I saw, I really appreciate the PFA's decision to present them in approximate chronological order. It was fun to see stylistic tendencies and themes emerge and retreat, even with an incomplete sampling of an incomplete (as so many of his films are considered lost) retrospective. For example, it could only be taken as a sign of directorial maturity to notice that by a certain point in the series he had all but abandoned recurrent visual motifs like the damaged shoe or sock to indicate a character's poverty, or narrative crutches like the vehicle accident (sometimes it worked better than others). And to compare Hideko Takemine's go-getting eponymous (doubly so when you realize the character's name is Okoma, not Hideko) role in the 1941 Hideko the Bus Conductress to her 1962 portrayal of Hayashi as all but completely beaten down by poverty and bitterness, but still able to maintain an artist's spark, was all the more moving having seen her in the likes of Floating Clouds and Flowing in the meantime.

I'll miss Naruse, but anyone who literally missed Naruse's wonderfully comic Wife, be Like a Rose! in November will get a second chance at 3PM on April 9 when it screens alongside a talk and signing by Phillip Lopate, who has a new book on the history of film criticism in this country. Though you won't find word of the screening on the new printed March-April calendar; it was announced by Susan Oxtoby before Her Lonely Lane. What is on the calendar, besides the Asian American Film Festival, is a mini-retro for Jacques Demy featuring five of his most beloved films plus his widow Agnes Varda's memorialization Jacquot, a single screening of Victor Erice's the Spirit of the Beehive on April 16, and a fun-looking series of Earthquake-related films marking the centenary of the biggest "Big One" Frisco's seen. They'll be showing Flame of Barbary Coast, the Night the World Exploded, Earthquake with a simulation of Sensurround, and a number of experimental and documentary shorts April 6-9. There will actually be a lot of documentaries there in the next couple months; Michel Brault (in March) and Kim Longinetto (in April) will be presenting a healthy portion of their work. And Tuesdays will bring a six-evening series called Vantage Points: New Documentaries by Women, ending on April 18th with Jenni Olson's the Joy of Life, which you must see if you still haven't caught it yet.

A few last things to note: Artists' Television Access has some interesting upcoming screenings including the Passion of Joan of Arc February 23 and Salt of the Earth March 2. Other Cinema has released its spring schedule too. The Castro will be playing the Heart is Deceitful Above All Things March 24-30 and L'Intrus March 31-April 6. The Roxie, which since affiliating with New College of California seems to have become something resembling a second-run house, at least in part, is promising a James Toback retrospective to go along with the Outsider when it screens April 7-13. Take a look at the Parkway's special events schedule if you haven't in a while. And have a good day.

Nice rundown. I always look forward to the Asian American film fest, and this year I've already circled Café Lumière on the schedule. It's the only Hou film that I felt ambivalent about after one viewing (although moments are unquestionably great), but I also know that absorbing his movies always takes time, so I've been eager for a second viewing, preferably on the big screen.

It's funny, my wife and I were complaining just yesterday about the increasingly campy schedule at the Castro since they switched programmers. The only movie I've seen there in the last few (four? five?) months is Zabriskie Point, but a week of L'Intrus certainly gives me what for.

Thanks for poring over the schedules and sharing your findings. S21 was excellent, but I completely missed Rithy Panh's latest in the program. I have a feeling I'll be revisiting this post as the dates approach.

Did you catch the Peter Tscherkassky stuff at the PFA?
I went down to see a Cinequest film last year, but unfortunately the last 15 minutes or so burned up. We weren't provided a comp pass, nor did we receive any explanation regarding what happened. This, coupled with one of the worst festival websites (which is ironic since this is the home of Silicon Valley and the dotcom bubble) that won't let you search by simple categories such as Country and the fact that I have friends in town the weekend it starts and am prioritizing the Michel Brault retrospective at the PFA the 2nd weekend, brings me not to be jumping on the CalTrain this year.
Sorry to hear about your bad experience at Cinequest, Adam. I hope those kinds of incidents are few and far between, but it does seem rather a bad sign that you were given neither a reimbursement of any kind or even an explanation. I assume the lack of a "Search by Country" function on the website relates to the fact that the overwhelming majority of films they show are from the USA anyway. My calling it a "filmmaker friendly" festival stems mostly from its status as the only Bay Area festival listed among the top 10 in Chris Gore's handbook for filmmakers trying to navigate the festival landscape. And though they used to have a lot of enticing top-of-the-line guests (Argento, for exmaple) I get the feeling that was a luxury allowed by the dot-com boom. But I really would like to check out the California Theatre, I've never seen Seven Chances with an audience before, and I've even been saving One Week for an opportunity like this to come up. So if I can swing the transpo, I'm definitely going to finally get a little taste of Cinequest this year.

Mr. Davis, it's funny you should ask about Peter Tscherkassky at the PFA, which is where I spent my Valentine's evening. The first incarnation of this entry was composed just after getting home from Berkeley, and I made mention of Outer Space and Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine, both of which floored me, instead of Her Lonely Lane which I'm still not quite sure what to think of apart from Hideko Takemine's great performance. But I experienced something that's becoming all too common on my home computer: a very discouraging lock-up. The poring over schedules comes naturally; this "sharing" part has its hitches though.

Yeah, I was was shocked to hear about the L'Intrus booking and then to have it confirmed on the website. I'm impressed with the bold move and personally excited because I missed it at SFIFF last year, heard it flopped in its brief New York run, and assumed it would become another of those so-called "distributed" films that would bypass the Bay Area until a DVD release. I was at that Zabriskie Point screening too, but I haven't exactly been avoiding the Castro, seeing Footlight Parade, Roman Scandals and King Kong since.
Brian: You are killing me. Why doesn't the Los Angeles film scene sound even half as good as what you highlight in your posts every month? Maybe we just need someone down here as intelligent and discerning to round everything up and combine that roundup with the kinds of astute observations you routinely offer about the films and the theaters that schedule them. But that would assume that writers like you are a dime a dozen, and that's clearly not the case. As for your offerings, those Shaw Bros. films at the International Film Festival are choice, indeed. King Boxer would be especially wonderful, as it was the first kung fu film I ever saw-- as Five Fingers of Death, of course. I'm unaware of any plans to screen the Hou Hsiao-Hsien film here anytime soon. (Any word on Three Times?) Those Rithy Panh docs sound powerful as well (are you aware of anywhere those can be found on DVD?), and I'm very impressed, as well as my usual jealous, that you've been able to take advantage of those Naruse screenings. But I think the most enticing prospect of the entire round-up has got to be that James Shigeta tribute and personal appearance, highlighted by a screening of The Crimson Kimono. Oh, to see that on the big screen! I once ran into James Shigeta here in Little Tokyo and was too paralyzed with fear to approach him. As is often the case in these situations, I think back on it and wonder... why was I so nervous?! (The same thing happened with Bill Paterson in London, and Shelley Duvall in Century City, and on and on and on...) Anyway, thanks again for providing such a tantalizing peek at San Francisco's incredibly vital film screening and revival scene. Your site is a great, vicarious, and not at all guilty pleasure for me!
Brian, one of these days we're going to have to meet up. It shouldn't be too hard since we keep attending the same screenings!

At the Tscherkassky program, I was amused but also a little disturbed by the questions from the audience (mostly students, wouldn't you say?) who wondered why he didn't use a computer, or "doesn't that take a long time?" Indeed, I'm sure it does. I saw Instructions for a Light & Sound Machine once before but never heard how he created such things. The inability of some folks in the audience to see his work as art objects, made in a particular medium, rather than commercial products that would naturally favor streamlined production methods was disheartening. Seems like painters could make their pictures a lot faster with a camera -- I wonder why they stick to outmoded, slow, messy methods?

Oh, and feel free to call me Rob. I just sign "davis" here (everywhere) for consistency.
Rob, we should indeed attempt to meet up one of these days. And I agree with your take on the Tscherkassky audience; I think Tuesday night screenings are tied to a class at Berkeley's film department, or two. It seemed he was genuinely disappopinted nobody tried to argue with him about whether a film like Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine could have been made using digital technology.

Dennis, your praise is making me blush. I need to get some hate mail soon to help me come down to Earth. As for your questions: a) Three Times is slated for Bubble-esque simultaneous theatrical and DVD distribution by IFC but I don't know when. b) I think S21 has an R1 DVD available, but I don't know about Land of Wandering Souls which is the "even better" one of the two, imho. And c) I have no idea why you're nervous in the face of a celebrity like Shigeta, except that I'm often too nervous to approach old classmates I see on the street, much less famous people, so I can certainly relate.
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