Thursday, November 30


Tip Jar

I've gotten a few interesting tips on upcoming Frisco screenings over e-mail in the past few days. Thanks very much to those who sent them in (you know who you are).

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has its January-February calendar up. 2007 revs up starting January 12-13 with a grouping of four Kenneth Anger films including Fireworks and Kustom Kar Kommandos, alongside Jean Genet's sole foray into film directing, Un Chant d'Amour, all in 35mm prints. On January 18-20 the New York City-based traveling film festival known as CineKink makes a return trip to the venue. And February brings three teen films from early-eighties Japan: Sailor Suit and Machine Gun on the 8th, Typhoon Club on the 15th, and Exchange Students on the 17th. Finally, on February 22nd Jem Cohen's film on The Ex and political protest Building a Broken Mousetrap screens.

On the subject of politically-charged films, the Victoria Theatre will be hosting the CounterCorp Anti-Corporate Film Festival December 1-3. Films screened include the Future of Food and the Corporation but it's not all documentaries: the Hindi drama Bhopal Express and the horror comedy Severance also will be shown. Another tip reveals that the third touring version of Mike Judge's and Don Hertzfeldt's The Animation Show collection of cinematic animated shorts will stop at the Castro Theatre January 25th.

Currently I'm immersing myself in that theatre's four-film Hiroshi Teshigahara retrospective, where cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa's astounding 4:3 compositions have predictably looked better than I've ever seen them before. The series, which closes tonight in that conjunction of architecture, music and visual poetry that is Antonio Gaudí, is the heart of what I'm thinking of as an unofficial "Toru Takemitsu week" on Frisco Bay. This composer, one of my very favorites of the 20th-Century (film or otherwise), had close and career-long collaborations with both Teshigahara and, starting with 1962's Harakiri, with another great director Masaki Kobayashi. Kobayashi's ghost-story collection Kwaidan played at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley last Sunday. With Samurai Rebellion playing there tomorrow and Harakiri on Sunday December 3rd, that makes seven prints of Takemitsu-scored films screened in an eight-day period here. All seven are supplied by Janus Films, and the fact that the Castro decided to spice its winter calendar of Hollywood classics and neo-classics with Janus titles like the Teshigaharas, the Flowers of St. Francis (coming Dec. 13) and Black Orpheus (Jan. 2-4) has gotten me optimistic for a while now that the Castro might pick up the ball dropped by the Balboa and become the venue for the big touring Janus Films series for Frisco proper.

Well, I'm happy to report that I've just started hearing whispers that in fact the Castro will bring a week of double-bills from that series in February. The selections in the series are expected to have some overlap with the Janus films playing across the bridge in Berkeley right now (if, like me, you missed the PFA's screening of Death of a Cyclist and Knife in the Water earlier this month, rumor has it that we'll get second chances), but should also include other titles in the tour (Spirit of the Beehive has been mentioned, and I'm crossing my fingers for the Phantom Carriage, Viridiana and the Lady Vanishes among others). This news doesn't make me want to cancel any of my plans to visit the PFA (where, incidentally, another whisperer has located a Roberto Rossellini tribute series sometime next year) in December, but it's heartening to think there will be another shot at some of these films in a few months.

Friday, November 17


It Pours

I'm way behind in keeping this blog up-to-date on the latest Frisco film screening news. Here's a meager attempt to come close to catching up:

I've added another theatre to the first section of my sidebar, where I link to Frisco Bay theatres worth keeping tabs on. Oakland's glorious Art Deco movie palace, the Paramount Theatre, shows the first of five beloved movie "classics" tonight, the first films scheduled to be projected there since before I started this blog. Tonight's selection is the Sting, and it will be followed by Duck Soup December 15, the Wizard of Oz December 29 (it also plays the Castro December 9), Casablanca January 5 (also at the Castro December 27), and last but not least Double Indemnity January 12. Friday nights in downtown Oakland just got a lot better for movie lovers.

Tonight is also the opening of the five-day, nine-title 8 Films to Die For horror film festival at the Four Star in Frisco and hundreds of other theatres nationwide. At first I wasn't terribly excited about the festival because the one title I'd seen, the Hamiltons, hadn't impressed me much. But then I started reading positive reviews of films in the series like the Abandoned and Reincarnation, and I started to wonder if I'd just solved the mystery of the discrepancy between the number of films in the festival and its name: perhaps the one I saw was the only one of the nine not "to die for"? Here's hoping. I'm just glad to see a film festival at my neighborhood theatre. I was sorely disappointed that theatre owner Frank Lee had decided to skip running his nearly-annual Asian Film Festival this year.

Tomorrow at the nicely-laid out theatre at SFMOMA, the masterpiece of midwestern malaise that is Stroszek will play at 3PM as part of a substantial Werner Herzog retrospective held select Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons there through this January. I feel extremely remiss not having mentioned this series before, as I'd been quite vocal about my hopes for a Herzog retro to accompany his receipt of an award from the Film Society earlier this year. But I didn't find out about the series until a mere day before it opened last Thursday with Aguirre: Wrath of God (which I wasn't able to attend), and I didn't find time to post before last Saturday's screening of Signs of Life (which I was). Other particularly noteworthy screenings in the series will include a January 25 double bill of his Nosferatu the Vampyre and the F.W. Murnau film it remakes, Nosferatu: a Symphony of Horror, which will be accompanied by music from the excellent local band Tarantel. The series wraps with a trio of rarely-screened "documentaries" on January 27: the Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner, Lessons of Darkness and Bells From the Deep. In addition to the Herzog mania, SFMOMA will also host a lecture on Alexander Sokurov December 7th, followed by a screening of his deservedly-acclaimed The Sun.

Missing Aguirre: Wrath of God projected in a newly restored 35mm print almost had me upset enough to throw a squirrel monkey, until I realized I'd get a second chance January 28-30 courtesy of the Red Vic, which just released its latest calendar. Herzog is also represented on this calendar with a February 4-6 engagement of the Wild Blue Yonder. Other auteurs with films planned to grace the Haight Street screen include Jan Svankmajer (Lunacy Dec. 21-23) and his stop-motion puppetry disciples the Quay Brothers (the Piano Tuner of Earthquakes Dec. 8-14), D.A. Pennebaker (Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars Feb. 7-8), Woody Allen (Annie Hall Feb. 13-14) and Terry Gilliam (Tideland Feb. 18-19 and Brazil Feb. 20-22). And of course the late master Akira Kurosawa, whose signature film Seven Samurai plays January 21-22 (it also plays at the Pacific Film Archive on December 9). Less recognizable but worthy director names on the Red Vic calendar include Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson Dec. 17-18), Kirby Dick (This Film is Not Yet Rated Dec. 19-20) and Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy Jan. 17-18). And lots more I'm leaving out- pick up a calendar yourself to learn just what.

The screening room at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has been very active lately, and will continue to be so for at least a few more weeks. December events to note include two screenings of Japanese puppet filmmaker Kihachiro Kawamoto's Book of the Dead on the 14th and 15th, and a program of his shorts on the 17th. And, on the 6th, Jonathan Marlow of Greencine will present a second helping of his Cabinet of Curiosities. I attended the first this past March, and it included rare shorts by the likes of Alan Resnais and Jiri Trnka I don't know how I'd have been able to track down on my own. Lots of fun. This time around shorts by Karel Zeman and Guy Maddin are promised among others.

Finally, as a reward for your patience in regard to my last-minute (or well-past-last-minute, as in the case of Signs of Life) retrieval of several of these upcoming events, here's a link to one last tidbit of information that any self-respecting appreciator of film noir will definitely want to click on.

Monday, November 6


When the Heavens Strike the Thieves

In 1999 and 2000 I spent exactly 500 days in Southeast Asia, the majority of them living and working as an English Teacher in the extremely pleasant city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was definitely "into movies" before then, but the experience was crucial to my personal cinephilia in that I saw for myself just how ubiquitous my country's national cinema was in the international film marketplace. A steady diet of only the latest and biggest Hollywood products that usually filled most of the city's cinema screens, had me hungering for another option in a way I'd never felt while growing up in a town filled with cinematic alternatives. Luckily, once I learned that certain Thai films were screened with English subtitles, I got a taste of the cinema that lay outside of a Hollywood-dictated marketplace. No film better represents that than the very first Thai film I saw in a movie theatre in a Chiang Mai mall: screenwriter and television commercial director Wisit Sasanatieng's first feature, Tears of the Black Tiger.

At the time the film wasn't called that, or anything else quite so floridly appealing to someone who didn't know much Thai. The English-language newspaper articles mentioning the film simply called it by its Romanized Thai title: Fah Talai Jone. I tried to get one of the Thai teachers at my school to translate that for me, but she seemed frustrated with trying to convey the nuance in English. The imdb entry for the film now tries to provide translation help, but at the time it only listed the Last Rain as an alternate English title. My favorite title is probably the one cited by Lisa Roosen-Runge in her Senses of Cinema report on the 19th Vancouver International Film Festival, at which the film won a prize. I've borrowed it for the title of this post, but will happily conform to Tears of the Black Tiger from here on in, even though it reminds me of how the cowboy/musical/romance hybrid was purchased for Miramax in 2001 by a pair of Weinstein brothers jealous of Sony's success with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And then never released. And still never released. And still...

But I guess the heavens must have struck the thieves preventing the film from showing in this country for years. It looks like the film finally will have a limited theatrical engagement, at least here in Frisco. An advertisement in last week's Bay Guardian (the newsprint version) gave a sneak look at a few titles to appear on this Winter's Landmark Filmcalendar. These films play for a week, and sometimes more (though Terry Gilliam's Tideland just blew through for seven days and I missed it.) The final entry in the current calendar is the truly haunting documentary Iraq in Fragments, opening this Friday at the Opera Plaza. The next calendar opens up at the Lumiere November 17th with another doc, called Fuck, and it will also include such potentially intriguing selections as Man Push Cart and Backstage. I'm not sure at which theatre or at what date Tears of the Black Tiger will actually appear, but it should be sometime in the next three months or so. I cannot wait to see the film's gaudy color scheme projected from a 35mm print again, and to share the experience with a Frisco audience.

At the same time I don't want to oversell Tears of the Black Tiger. It was exactly what I needed as a Thai cinema newbie looking for a tangible alternative to the likes of Coyote Ugly and What Lies Beneath at the time. But I don't think it's going to please everyone, at least not those whose idea of a good time at the arthouse must involve highly nuanced characters or clever plots. Though I didn't quite fathom it on my first viewing six years ago, writer-director Wisit stitched together the film's narrative from the dusty clichés of Thai melodramas of decades past. Watching a DVD of the 1970 youth-oriented musical Tone recently, for example, I couldn't help but continually make mental connections between it and Wisit's film. But one doesn't need to have personal experience with Thai cinema classics to get what Tears of the Black Tiger is about; for one, many of the archetypes referred to are recycled from internationally-known films in the first place, so a passing familiarity with the likes of Rebel Without a Cause and the Wild Bunch should provide sufficient cultural context. Secondly, Wisit is paying tribute to an idealized conception of a bygone cinematic history that never existed quite as imagined, at least as much as he's tributing the cinema that actually did. This is where the hot-pink-and-turquoise dominant color scheme come in. As far as I know, no Thai films used a palate this garish until Wisit arrived on the scene, but the hand-painted "ephemera" of production stills and posters that accompanied and often outlasted the films they were created to promote, did often have such a look. Wisit's interpretation of this aesthetic makes Tears of the Black Tiger one of the most remarkable visual feasts I've ever laid eyes on.

Frisco audiences had a chance to see Wisit's second feature Citizen Dog at a film festival earlier this year. His third, the Unseeable, was just released in his home country. Bangkok Post critic Kong Rithdee in a recent article on Wisit employed perhaps the most enticingly, accurately, succinct description of the appeal of Tears of the Black Tiger I've yet seen, calling it a "specimen of post-everything cinema at its most conscious level: you're constantly reminded that you're watching a film, a lie, an artifact, a dream." I'm excited for Frisco audiences to at long last experience this waking dream along with me.

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