Thursday, June 22


July and August at the PFA

How many film masterpieces is it possible to absorb in a two-month period? This is the experiment Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive will be performing on its patrons over the next couple months. Between presentations of seven of Kenji Mizoguchi's most highly-regarded films, complementary Janet Gaynor and Frank Borzage retrospectives, and a full slate of other tantalizing goodies from India, Italy, American teen culture and elsewhere, I suspect I'm going to become a familiar face to evening BART riders.

The Mizoguchi films are probably the seven he is best known for in the West. The three for which he won awards at the Venice Film Festival, three years in a row in the early 1950s: the Life of Oharu (Aug. 27), Ugetsu (Aug. 18) and Sansho the Bailiff (Aug. 25), along with three often-discussed 1930's films, Sisters of the Gion (Aug. 11), Osaka Elegy (Aug. 25) and the Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Aug. 30) and his final film Street of Shame (Aug. 25). Each of these has been called a masterpiece by prominent critics, but I feel underqualified to rate or compare them since I've seen them only on VHS tapes of varying quality years ago (and Osaka Elegy not at all). For whatever reason Mizoguchi is often discussed only as a contrast to other Japanese directors, most often Akira Kurosawa, who shared his affinity for the jidai-geki period film. Dudley Andrew, in the BFI monograph for Sansho the Bailiff he wrote with Carole Cavanaugh, quoted Jacques Rivette:
Let the latest champions of Kurosawa withdraw from the match; one can only compare what is comparable and equal in ambition. Mizoguchi alone imposes the sense of a specific language and world, answerable only to him.
I'm excited at the prospect of trying to better learn this language and the rules of this world during the second half of August.

Which of the two films playing together July 1st (and then separately, July 2 and 8) is more closely connected to Mizoguchi? It's a tricky question. Woman in the Dunes is, like so many of Mizoguchi's best, one of the real masterpieces of Japanese cinema. But it's the director of the other film, Days of Heaven's Terrence Malick, who adapted Sansho the Bailiff for an intended, aborted Broadway run in 1994. I really can't get over this pairing. Woman in the Dunes, which I consider one of my favorite films, is screening in a 147-minute "Director's Cut" version I've never seen, and Days of Heaven is one of those titles I've missed several chances to see in various theatres over the years since I've been aware of it, but refuse to watch on video, at least not for my first time. My willpower is about to pay off. The titles are brought together under the shelter of the PFA's A Theatre Near You header, which also is the excuse to show us Barcelona via Teshigahara's Antonio Gaudi (which also plays Frisco's Red Vic August 6-10) and Antonioni's the Passenger on Saturday, July 15.

I won't be attending that, as I'll be at the Castro that evening enjoying Pandora's Box at the Silent Film Festival. But Friday's opening night presentation of Seventh Heaven at that festival can also be considered a preview of two PFA retrospectives: one for the film's director Frank Borzage, and one for its star Janet Gaynor, who celebrates a centennial this year. As excited as I am for the Japanese films I mentioned above, I have to say I find these series to be the real coup of the new program, simply for the volume of essential and/or rare titles being screened. Foremost among the essentials are the three films Gaynor won the first-ever Best Actress Oscar for in 1928: F.W. Murnau's unassailable masterpiece Sunrise: a Song of Two Humans, the aforementioned Seventh Heaven (which open the series together July 21), and the also-Borzage-directed, Charles Farrell co-starred Street Angel (which plays with the silent version of Lucky Star July 22; this one I've never seen and will have to miss again; serves me right for making plans prior to a new PFA calendar release). Other masterpieces of Golden Age Hollywood include Borzage's No Greater Glory (Aug. 12), Man's Castle (Aug. 11) and a Farewell to Arms (July 29). And those are just the ones I've seen before- I'm particularly keen to finally view Moonrise (Aug. 23) and his "German Trilogy" of Little Man, What Now (Aug. 12), Three Comrades, and the Mortal Storm (both Aug. 19) for the first time. And the Gaynor retro is just as full with unfamiliar films to me; aside from her Murnau and Borzage films, the only ones I've seen are a pair of William Wellman non-masterpieces that are a hoot nonetheless: Small Town Girl (Aug. 4) and the original a Star is Born (Aug. 5). I'm particularly intrigued by the chance to see some of her early 1930s Fox films like Adorable and State Fair (July 28); Gaynor's pictures usually get left out of "Pre-Code" film series because her star persona generally confined her to playing rural innocents far removed from the modern Jazz Age women that feel so quintessentially "Pre-Code" to us today. But that didn't prevent Fox's Sunrise from containing an awful lot of modernity in it for 1927. 1933's Adorable (directed by William Dieterle and co-written by Billy Wilder) appears to have a plot comparable to a Paramount operetta from the likes of Lubitch; will it nearly burst with sexual innuendo like the Smiling Lieutenant does?

All the silent films in the Gaynor series will be accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano (she'll also be playing for a selection of Winsor McCay animations August 26). She's one of my favorite regular accompanists at the PFA; for example, her interpretation of Mikio Naruse's Not Blood Relations earlier this year really elevated the film, I felt. On the other hand, the Castro was literally made to show silent films with a live organ accompaniment. You might guess where this is headed: with Seventh Heaven slated to play two Frisco Bay venues a week apart from each other, which screening does the cash- and time-pressed cinephile attend? To be honest, I haven't decided yet. Ideally I'll go to both, but realistically I doubt it will happen. What's your vote? The Silent Film Festival screening July 14, or the PFA's screening July 21? Both are among my very favorite local film institutions, so I hope both events are well-attended. I suspect they both will be.

In the meantime, I've been peeking at the Castro's Coming Soon page to see what else might be happening there when the latest printed calendar runs out and the Frameline festival ends this Sunday with Queens. Looks like Joseph Losey's Boom! goes off on Tuesday, June 27 and the Jewish Film Festival, which has its full program now listed on its own site, will run there July 20-27 before heading to the Roda Theatre in Berkeley, the Century 16 in Mountain View, and the beautiful Rafael up in Marin. And I happened to catch by reading the indispensable Michael Guillen's interview with MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS programmer Jesse Hawthorne Ficks that the next triple feature will be a Digital Sex threesome of Weird Science, Heartbeeps and Joysticks on August 25th.

OOPS! 6/23/06: Lincoln Spector of Bayflicks was a much more careful reader of the PFA program than I was. The above paragraph beginning "All the silent films in the Gaynor series will be accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano" should actually say "Some of the silent films in the Gaynor series will be accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano." She'll be performing live scores to Lucky Star, the short Pep of the Lazy "J" on July 23, and an August 13 double-feature of the Johnstown Flood with John Ford's the Shamrock Handicap, but not the three films Gaynor earned her Oscar for: they were made during Hollywood's transition from silent to sound film, and will be shown with the original soundtracks Fox attached to the prints when they were first released. This, along with an anonymous comment I recieved reminding me that Gaynor once was an employee of the Castro Theatre, makes the hand-wringing over which venue to see Seventh Heaven all but moot: it's gotta be the Silent Film Festival screening with Clark Wilson at the Mighty Wurlitzer! It would be interesting to also attend the PFA screening as a comparison, if I can fit it into my schedule. But there's nothing like seeing silent films with live musical accompaniment!

Also, the Castro has now released the rest of its summer schedule on its website: July highlights not already noted include a double bill of Nick Ray's Johnny Guitar and Fritz Lang's Rancho Notorious July 18-19 and a John Kricfalusi Retrospective July 28-29, and August 11-23 brings two truckloads of 70mm films: new prints of Cleopatra, Tron and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, plus 2001: a Space Odyssey, Hamlet, Playtime, and more!

Hi there, just visiting.
And running.:D
goddamn i wish i was back in the bay already.
Thanks for stopping by.

Ryland, I think a lot of these films have recently or will soon play in New York City too. Six of the seven Mizoguchi films are definitely going to be at the Film Forum shortly after they play in Berkeley, for example. And the Gaynor films come to MOMA in early July, before they reach us out here. And didn't BAM have a Teshigahara retrospective earlier in the year?
Aaaaargh!!! Look at what I'm missing while here in Manila! But, thankfully, there's an old school Filipino Film Fest happening yesterday and today. Caught two yesterday - Lino Brocka's BONA and Lamberto Allevana's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS FILIPINO. Today I'm catching SANDALANG BAHAY and Laurice Guillen's SALOME. I have no idea about the significance of these films, but I'm checking out this rare opportunity to make up for all I'm missing back at home.

The PFA has been real Japanese-focused the past few years, hasn't it? Has it always been that way? I've only been a member for the past 3 years.
I have to say, as good as all this stuff is, it's all probably likely to come around again eventually. But films by the likes of Lino Brocka are very rarely screened in the States. Count yourself lucky, my friend!

I know the Archive has always touted its Japanese film collection- the largest outside Japan, according to their publicity. But there's not necessarily a strong correlation between the archive holdings and the films screened in the theatre. For example, the Naruse series earlier this year did not show two titles that the archive owns 35mm prints of: Whistling in Kotan and Kuchizuke. Instead they kept to the same titles that toured Totonto, LA, New York, etc.

But every year it seems they hold at least one major series of Japanese films. And in the last couple years they've really stepped up the Japanese offerings. If you count Linda, Linda, Linda and Cafe Lumiere at the SFAAIFF, and the Kurosawa/Oba evening as part of the Doctor Atomic Series last fall, each of the last six new calendars include major Japanese content. The current calendar's being the puppet films of Kihachiro Kawamoto playing this Wednesday and Thursday.
Playtime in 70nn is a must. The U.S. release was cut and never shown as the film Tati made.
That is true. I was just lamenting to myself how when the 70mm Playtime came to the Castro two summers ago and played for a week, I only went a single time. Seeing this on the calendar makes me a bit less regretful.
I'll have you know, Brian, that I was at PFA the evening the programs arrived (I caught their free screening of "Road to Guantanamo") and I sat on my hands for days. Heh. But honestly, it isn't just that I turn to you to find out about what's coming up in the Bay Area, you provide context which helps me prioritize.

Glad the interview with Jesse gave you a mini-scoop!
Michael, I'm sure that there'd be room enough for both of us to dissect any new calendar we wanted, and that you would provide your own particular context that would help me prioritize as well.

My only caveat: I wouldn't want it to take away from your invaluable time spent on interviews, reporting on film events, and all the other great stuff you do on your site.
Aw, cut it out, yer embarrassing me. Heh. We better leave things just as they are, you with your focus and me with mine.
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