Tuesday, February 27


Spring to Attention

It may still be rainy February here in Frisco, but it won't last (the month, at least; I can't guarantee the weather). At this time of year, as the days get longer and the equinox approaches, the movies have to get better and better in order to compete with the popularity of outdoor activities. The first big street fair of the spring is the Cherry Blossom Festival, and it runs April 14, 15, 21 and 22. In past years local cinephiles have often thought of the event as something of an annoyance, as it tied up traffic and even sent the sound of taiko drums reverberating throughout the Kabuki Theatre during its simultaneous hosting of the biggest annual film event in town, the SF International Film Festival. This year we can appreciate the Cherry Blossom Festival for what it is, because for the SFIFF's golden anniversary, the Film Society has decided to push its screening dates back so as not to conflict with the Japantown street fair. The 50th SFIFF will open with Emanuele Crialese's the Golden Door at the Castro Theatre, on April 26th, and then will continue through May 10th at venues across Frisco Bay: the Castro, the Kabuki, the Museum of Modern Art and the Cowell Theatre here in Frisco, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, the Aquarius in Palo Alto, and more.

According to the festival's history project, the first SFIFF, held back in December of 1957, featured screenings of now-classic films such as Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, Andrzej Wajda's Kanal, and Satjajit Ray's Pather Panchali, which won the festival's first awards, for Best Picture and Best Director. The opening night film was the less-remembered the Captain from Köpenick, directed by Helmut Käutner. And the festival included the very first screening of a Michelangelo Antonioni film in the United States. The film was Il Grido, his last credited film before embarking on his great "trilogy of alienation": L'Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse.

Though the 50th edition of the festival won't begin for almost two months, we Frisco cine-history lovers can prepare ourselves by watching some of these films, and others screened at various editions of the SFIFF since that first year. On March 13th the Goethe-Institute is starting a series of DVD screenings of Käutner films each Tuesday, culminating with a showing of the Captain from Köpenick introduced by SFFS Creative Director Miguel Pendas April 17th. A near-complete Antonioni retrospective will begin at the PFA this Friday with the Red Desert, and ten of the films will have encores on the Castro's screen March 19-22, April 6-7, 11-12 and 18-19. Il Grido plays the PFA March 10th and the Castro on April 7th. It's worth noting that several other Antonioni films have played the SFIFF, most notably in 1968 when the great master was honored with what we now might call an early-mid-career tribute by the festival.

But the big upcoming pre-SFIFF-focus, also at the PFA, is an 18-film retrospective of films programmed at past editions of the festival, from this weekend's screenings of Shadows (4th SFIFF) and Aparajito (2nd SFIFF) to screenings of the Match Factory Girl (34th SFIFF) and the Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (31st SFIFF) the weekend before the 50th edition starts. Shirley Clarke's the Cool World (10th SFIFF) shows March 9th with Bruce Baillie's beautiful short Castro Street (10th SFIFF) Three essential films by the under-discussed collagist Arthur Peleshian screen on a program together on April 8th, before Otar Iosseliani's Pastorale the same day. Usually March and April are the months I cross the bridge to the PFA the least often, but I'm not sure that will hold this year.

On the other hand, there's plenty to tempt me on this side of Frisco Bay as well. The Castro, in addition to the above-mentioned programs, will be showing Renoir's the Rules of the Game March 9-14, (it plays the Rafael March 16-22) Godard's Two Or Three Things I Know About Her March 30-April 5, and Burnett's Killer of Sheep May 18-24. They're all absolute must-attend engagements. The Red Vic has its new (slightly shorter than usual, to make room for ads) calendar available around town too, and in addition to the usual late-run showings of recent releases (Romántico March 26-27, Volver April 4-5, Tears of the Black Tiger April 14-15) the co-op is also bringing back Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting April 17th, its now-annual engagement of the Big Lebowski 4/19-4/21, and the new prints of El Topo (April 22-23) and the Holy Mountain (April 29-30) that I missed out on when they played the Castro last month.

More time-pressing events include the Noise Pop Film Festival at various venues inbcluding the Roxie Feb. 28- March 4, and Tazza: the High Rollers, the second-biggest box office hit in South Korea last year (after the Host) and playing at the Four Star through Thursday, March 1st. That happens to be the day the Documentary Film Institute begins a four-day series of wartime documentaries through history called Witness To War. Some will be excited to see the new Ken Burns film at the Castro and the Premiere Theatre (this is the first I've noticed the Presidio venue open to the public), but I'm more excited by a chance to see films by the great British documentarian and former surrealist Humphrey Jennings shown on the screen at the De Young Museum this Saturday- for free! The most poetic of all "propaganda" films, Listen To Britain and a Diary For Timothy play at noon, introduced by David Thomson, and the feature-length "Fires Were Started-" screens at 2PM. Other films, including Iraq in Fragments, which I was rooting for (but not expecting) to win an Oscar the other night play the venue, also for free, over the weekend. And of course the Balboa's birthday bash featuring Buster Keaton films and vaudeville-style performances happens tonight at 7PM.

Other Cinema is back up and running for the season. Every Saturday night the series infects the Mission District with the most eclecticly curated experimental films imaginable, through the open wound known as Artists' Television Access. The gash will be stitched shut for the summer after the final screening in the series on May 26th, a selection of new work including Martha Colburn's seriously cine-reflexive, political splatter movie Destiny Manifesto.

The Clay is showing Where the Boys Are with Connie Francis in person beforehand this Friday, March 2nd. Speaking of Landmark, its Filmcalendar is currently up and running and includes the Page Turner opening April 6th, Mafioso April 13th and Offside April 20th. These films as well as other one-week (sometimes longer, but you never know) stands are scheduled for either the Opera Plaza or Lumiere in Frisco, and the Shattuck in Berkeley.

And since I've so smoothly segued back to the East Bay, I'd like to mention that the Parkway Theatre's African Diaspora Cinema series is about to get rolling again, beginning with Daughters of the Dust this Sunday, March 4th, and continuing with Rolf De Heer's The Tracker May 6th and more. The long-standing Parkway series known as Thrillville will split its time with its sister theatre to the North, the Cerrito. But Oaklanders will be glad to know they won't have to trek that far to see Night of the Lepus March 8th or Thunderball July 12th.

David Lynch fan alert: the Tiburon Film Festival will be screening Lumiere and Company as part of a tribute to French Film Pioneers March 25th. You may be aware that Premonition Following an Evil Deed, Lynch's contribution to the omnibus/documentary was almost universally acclaimed as the best segment of the film when it first made the rounds more than a decade ago. I quite liked the film overall, though, and remember minute-long films made by Youssef Chahine, Zhang Yimou, Claude Lelouche, Spike Lee and numerous others as among the highlights. More shorts, such as collection of Pixar offerings, and Olivio Barberi's Site Specific: Las Vegas are also programmed for the festival, which runs March 22-30th. There's also a tribute to Tunisian cinema and some documentaries on great filmmakers: Peter Bogdanovich's revised Directed By John Ford, which is supposed to be quite something, as well as Searching For Orson and Satyajit Ray Negatives which I hadn't heard of before, like most of the films at this Marin County festival I haven't attended before.

Finally, a touring film festival called Lunafest, featuring "short films by, for and about women" is coming the Auctions By the Bay Theatre on the island of Alameda. This is one of the most gorgeously restored theatres on Frisco Bay, and even if the shorts are of unknown quality, it's a very rare chance to see films in such an inviting environment.

Monday, February 19


2006: a year of movies in Frisco

Last week, the latest issue of Senses of Cinema came out along with my humble contribution to its annual year-end World Poll, but I was too busy obsessing over the SFIAAFF and my Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors Blog-a-Thon to mention it. I know mid-February is pretty late in the blog-list game, but I figure I still beat the Oscars and only barely missed Chinese New Year, so it's alright.

Two things to mention: one, I made the list on December 31st, 2006, and since then have seen a few films that most likely would have shifted things around somewhat had I seen them before then, most notably Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, which really stunned me. It's still playing at several local multiplexes, as well as at the Balboa, and it really deserves to be seen in a theatre.

The other thing to mention is that I kept my entry to new (new to Frisco, anyway) releases from last year. But I've been meaning to post my wrap-up of the local repertory scene for a while now. It was quite a year for moviegoing for me; it may turn out to be my peak (already, though I've seen a fair number of films in 2007, my pace is well behind last year's). It was hard enough sorting everything into only three lists last time around. This time I couldn't bear to divide to less than eight. Here goes...

Might as well start with a short subject. A delightful trend I hope to see more of: 35mm classic cartoons before the feature. Five, in order of delight:

1. Tex Avery's a Wild Hare before Love Finds Andy Hardy at the Stanford.
2. Friz Freleng's Bugs Bunny Rides Again before the Sting at the Paramount.
3. Robert McKimson's Gorilla My Dreams before King Kong at the Castro.
4. Cordell Barker's the Cat Came Back before For Your Consideration at the Balboa.
5. Friz Freleng's Lights Fantastic before the Wizard of Oz at the Paramount. I thought it was strange to select a rather racy, text-heavy cartoon for an audience with so many young children in it, but I was happy to see it on the Paramount screen all the same.

Frisco's thriving music and cinema scenes converge when live music is performed alongside a film print. Here are five films that were turned by their accompanying performers into once-in-a-lifetime experiences:

1. Clark Wilson's accompaniment of Pandora's Box for the Silent Film Festival (which was filled with other wonderful musical performances as well) ranks among the greatest scores I've heard played at the Castro's Wurlitzer organ. His score was highly melodic, witty, and appropriately grotesque, with a haunting carol as a very creepy touch at the end of the film.
2. I was nervous about the idea of deerhoof replacing the sound design of Harry Smith's Heaven and Earth Magic with a completely original, modern score, but it really worked. The replacement of the usual Meet the Beatles! soundtrack with their indie rock hits for Smith's Early Abstractions afterward was gravy. At the Castro, thanks to the SFIFF.
3. Dennis James played the Stanford's Mighty Wurlitzer for a summertime screening of Erich Von Stroheim's the Merry Widow on a "Spare the Air" free transit day, and it felt like the quintessential silent movie by the quintessential silent movie director played by a very essential organist.
4. Hearing the Phillip Glass Ensemble perform the score to Powwaqatsi live at Davies Symphony Hall has probably spoiled me from ever seeing the film any other way. I only wish I could have attended each night of the trilogy.
5. Judith Rosenberg's score for Not Blood Relations elevated what was probably the weakest of the films I saw in the Pacific Film Archive's Mikio Naruse retrospective into a very enjoyable experience.

If they're not run properly guest appearances at film screenings can grow a bit tiresome. But having a good speaker with a strong connection to the material being screened can often deeply illuminate the cinema experience. Here are five that fit that bill:

1. John Canemaker gave an incredibly well-prepared, insightful, information-packed presentation of several Winsor McCay animations, including a charming recreation of the vaudevillian spirit of Gertie the Dinosaur at the Pacific Film Archive (PFA). If the speaker is good enough, you never get tired of hearing him talk.
2. Guy Maddin, interviewed at the Kabuki as he was honored with the SFIFF's Persistence of Vision award, was full of anecdotes and perspectives perhaps even more bizarre and entertaining than many of his films, though I know that would be hard to believe if you hadn't been there.
3. Farley Granger dazzled the audience with his charisma and wit while being interviewed by the Noir City 4 film festival's Eddie Muller between screenings of his Strangers on a Train and They Live By Night at the Palace of Fine Arts.
4. Sara Karloff shared stories from growing up in a Hollywood star's home, and even showed rare home movie footage of her father as a treat for attendees of a few of the double bills in the Balboa Theatre's gargantuan tribute to Boris Karloff, including one I saw: the Mask of Fu Manchu with the Lost Patrol.
5. Mary Woronov, interviewed by Peaches Christ before a screening of Death Race 2000 at the Bridge, was the just about the exact opposite of the calamity it could have been considering the interview began after midnight and was conducted in front of a horde of cult cinema diehards eager for their dose of on-screen mayhem.

A special shout-out to venues still screening 16mm films to appreciative celluloid-loving audiences. Here are five I loved in 2006:

1. Chris Marker's short city symphony in F (for Frisco), Junkopia, which played at the PFA in October.
2. The Orkly Kid at midnight as part of the Crispin Glover Film Festival at the Castro. The print was somewhat worn, but it still retained its color, depth and ability to blow the mind.
3. Nagisa Oshima's Death By Hanging, introduced by Irina Leimbacher at a SF Cinematheque screening at the California College of the Arts.
4. Liberty, a hilarious Laurel and Hardy short that played as part of the Silent Film Festival, also at the Castro.
5. Hideko the Bus Conductress, a title in the Mikio Naruse retrospective that came to the PFA but not to most other venues around the country. A film far less lightweight or innocuous than it appears on first glance, I was glad that a possible prejudice against 16mm didn't prevent the venue from making the series just a little closer to complete than it would have been otherwise.

Five films I'd seen on the "big screen" before, and was thrilled to experience in the cinema again last year, usually with a new initiate (or a few) in tow:

1. Still among my very favorite films, Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes, which I actually caught twice in its "director's cut" version, first at the PFA and then on the Castro's giant screen.
2. Another of my all time favorites, Playtime by Jacques Tati, which played as part of the Castro's 70mm series. I could watch this one every year, at least.
3. Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life in all its widescreen glory at the PFA.
4. Bernardo Bertolucci's the Conformist at the Balboa.
5. An incredible 70mm print of Stephen Lisberger's Tron, the Castro's 70mm/MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS crossover. Last I'd seen it in a theatre I was nine years old and the venue was the long-demolished Plaza Twin. This time I appreciated that the audience clapped almost as loudly at the credit for Wendy Carlos as for Jeff Bridges.

Five I'd seen only on video before; the jump to 35mm was a real revelation!

1. Street of Shame at the PFA. In a way this choice also represents the 3 other Kenji Mizoguchi films I'd also seen only on VHS before 2006. But of the quartet, this one leaped the farthest on my appreciation-meter.
2. Guy Maddin's the Heart of the World at the Kabuki's splendid House 1, as part of his SFIFF interview and tribute.
3. Brought to the Castro as part of a Hiroshi Teshigahara mini-retro, the Face of Another became an instant favorite when viewed on that screen.
4. David Lynch's Blue Velvet had actually been fading from my memory but watching it at the PFA ought to make it pretty indelible from here on in.
5. The outstanding Frisco-set Thieves' Highway by Jules Dassin. Brought to the Palace of Fine Arts by the masterminds of Noir City 4. More than a year later, and I still feel for those apples!

Five I'd never seen at all, but had been anticipating for at least a few years, waiting for a chance to see in a cinema. Their giant reputations proved to be well-deserved:

1. Celine and Julie Go Boating, which opened the Jacques Rivette retrospective at the PFA, and has been echoing in my head for months (in an entirely good way).
2. The Mortal Storm, also at the PFA, and the cream of a very bountiful crop of Frank Borzage films shown this summer. It's a heartbreakingly good film.
3. Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). I'm still speechless.
4. Manhattan (yeah, believe it; I'd never seen Manhattan before) at the Red Vic; now my favorite Woody Allen film.
5. I'd never seen any version of Baby Face, directed by Alfred E. Green, before. But the "uncensored" version the Balboa showed as part of a Barbara Stanwyck double-bill now ranks among my favorite pre-code attacks on the hypocrisies of depression-era America. It's worth noting that a Stanwyck tribute is on deck for March at the Public Library's Large-Screen Video series.

But as much as I love climbing a cinematic mountain, I also love relatively secluded glens. There's a special pleasure derived from running across an amazing film somewhat unexpectedly. In 2005 I'd never have guessed I'd be adding these titles to my "personal masterpiece" list, but they're there now. These were particularly hard for me to rank against each other, so don't take the numbers at all seriously.

1. Passage Through: a Ritual, which played on a bill of Stan Brakhage's sound films at the YBCA. I wrote a bit on my experience watching the film in a comment here (scroll to the bottom).
2. The Travelling Actors, the most delightful surprise of the Mikio Naruse tribute I tried to delve into at the PFA. I can't think of a Japanese comedy I've enjoyed more than this view of professionalism and performance, set against a fascinating small-town, wartime backdrop.
3. Robot Monster, directed by Phil Tucker. All I knew was that I wanted to see something at the Castro's dual-projection 3-D series. Little did I know that this black-and-white On Beyond Zebra-grade movie would join Hitchcock's Dial 'M' For Murder as the only films I've seen in 3-D where the appealing qualities of the film do not depend on the 3-D gimmick effect. Sure, I'd love to see it again that way if I had a chance, but the transcendently bad costumes, bizarre dialogue, and incomprehensible narrative somehow combine to create an extraordinarily entertaining film that seems to obliterate the imaginary line between science fiction and the avant-garde. I'd see it again in any number of dimensions.
4. State Fair, shown as part of a Janet Gaynor centennial tribute at the PFA. I have to admit I'd never been drawn to the work of Henry King because of the stodgy reputations of many of his 1940s and 50s films, but after talking with Peter Nellhaus, in town for the Silent Film Festival, and hearing his admiration for the director, I resolved to see the first of his films that came across my path. I felt like I'd struck gold on my first shovelful of earth with this one, an incredibly lovely tribute to the reinvention of self that can occur in a dreamlike world like a fair- or a cinema.
5. The Boxer From Shantung by Chang Cheh, seen at the PFA as part of last year's SFIAAFF. I held back from attending all of the Heroic Grace screenings brought by last year's edition of the festival because I was holding out on a rumor that another theatre in Frisco proper would be presenting a larger collection of them. Though that never materialized, I was supremely happy to catch this 1972 film, apparently an inspiration for spoof in Stephen Chiau's Kung Fu Hustle. In some ways the Boxer From Shantung felt like a kung fu equivalent to the Godfather, with all the gravitas of Coppola's film. Plus an incredible final scene in which the hero spends half the battle fighting with an axe lodged in his abdomen. Talk about taking it very personal.

Thursday, February 15


So, what else is playing?

Ah, the cruelty of riches. I'm so excited about the Hong Sang-soo retrospective being brought by the 25th SF International Asian American Film Festival that I've felt compelled to organize a Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors Blog-a-Thon. But this seven-film retrospective, which is the first Hong series of that size in the United States, has an opportunity cost. It means I'm not going to be able to fit in many of the other SFIAAFF films I want to see. Any feelings of disappointment over the absence of potentially programmed candidates all but disappear once I sit down with the festival calendar and my day planner. The SFIAAFF only lasts eight days (March 15-22) in Frisco proper, with a few extra days in Berkeley and (frankly inconvenient for car-less me) San Jose, so it's tough to pack in everything that sounds good.

For me, the most astonishing casualty of my scheduling is the 2006 film I've been most longingly anticipating since its premiere in Venice last fall. Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century will play just once at the festival, the very same night that Hong Sang-soo appears in person at the Pacific Film Archive with Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors. That's March 21st, the day of the aforementioned Blog-a-Thon here at Hell on Frisco Bay. I must admit a part of me is tempted to pick the new Apichatpong film over the Hong in-person alongside a film I've seen before, even if I am hosting a Blog-a-Thon on it. After all, Hong is also expected to make an appearance at a screening of Woman on the Beach at the AMC 1000 the previous night. Thankfully, I think I have enough patience to be able to stand waiting until Syndromes and a Century has its theatrical engagement at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts April 13-15. And just before that on April 5th and 6th Apichatpong will be appearing at the PFA for a SFIAAFF-co-presented screening and "shot-by-shot exploration" of his previous Tropical Malady. My personal favorite of his wonderful films so far, Blissfully Yours, will also screen there April 7th.

Another film high on my to-see wish-list also has its only festival screening on March 21st: Exiled by Johnny To. It's expected to be distributed later in the year by Magnolia Pictures. (Tartan will distribute another To film from last year, Triad Election and, in an event unrelated to the SFIAAFF, is letting us sneak a peek this coming Friday -tomorrow- at the Four Star.) SFIAAFF selections Summer Palace and the King and the Clown also have small distribution deals so I may have to de-prioritize them as well. There are simply too many other films I want to squeeze in!

Like In Between Days, So Yong Kim's debut feature which placed #4 on the indieWIRE critics poll of undistributed films (topped by Woman on the Beach, incidentally). Its critical pedigree plus the way it perfectly puts the IAAF in SFIAAFF, with its Toronto setting and its Korean American director, point to it possibly becoming the biggest "buzz" film of the festival. Or It's Only Talk by Japanese auteur Ryuichi Hiroki. Or some of the "Out of the Vaults" and other revivals (especially the recently discovered silent the Curse of Quon Gwon). Of the documentaries being shown, Koryo Saram - the Unreliable People and Kabul Transit look the most fascinating to me, but many of the others sound good too.

My recent trip to Utah didn't help me narrow down much. Though I saw several features there I thought might get picked to play the SFIAAFF, none of them did. Instead, four Sundance features I didn't see there are set to play, including Justin Lin's opening night film Finishing the Game, Nick Broomfield's Ghosts, the rotoscoped Year of the Fish and closing night gala film Dark Matter. I'd tagged the latter as the least-interesting film at Sundance based solely on its write-up in that festival's program guide, but SFIAAFF Director Chi-hui Yang's write-up makes it sound far better. I have to admit I didn't hear much Park City buzz, positive or negative, on these films. But I did hear a steady roar of excitement about Slamdance entry American Zombie, directed by Grace Lee of the Grace Lee Project. A fake documentary on "high functioning zombies"? Shot by the guy who shot Mutual Appreciation? I'm so there.

And now for a few notes on upcoming screenings not (as far as I know) directly connected to the 25th SFIAAFF:

Tonight is the last night to see Tears of the Black Tiger in its gorgeous, faux-Technicolor glory on the Lumiere or Shattuck screens. I did last Friday and found the film even better than I'd even remembered it to be. But if you can't make it, be sure to mark your calendar (with a florescent pink pen, naturally) to catch it at the Red Vic on April 15th.

In preparation for the Frisco release of Bong Joon-ho's the Host, that director will be in town screening both of his two previous films, Memories of Murder and Barking Dogs Never Bite at the Clay Theatre March 5th.

That theatre will also host screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show in Frisco March 31st and May 12th, after a very long absence on this side of the Bay. At midnight, of course. Did you really have to ask? It's part of a midnight movie series that also includes Cannibal Holocaust March 23-24, Dead Man April 27, and Naked Lunch May 18-19. The Shattuck in Berkeley has its spring midnight series schedule out too now. The Guild in Menlo Park will also be starting up the Rocky Horror Picture Show each first and third Saturday, but that appears to be Landmark's only South Bay midnight series this season. Of course the East Bay Rocky fans are covered by the long-running weekly screenings at the Parkway in Oakland.

Wednesday, February 14


Announcing a Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors Blog-a-Thon, March 21, 2007

Korean director Hong Sang-soo is currently one of the most acclaimed figures on the world cinema scene. In some circles, that is. Though his work makes an almost annual appearance at certain international film festivals, none of it has ever come close to winning an Oscar or breaking a box office record.

No, Hong's name is still best-known, at least in the West, to academics, critics and festival junkies. In his program notes for a retrospective held at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio a year ago, Chris Stults wrote that "in all likelihood, no one working today thinks as consistently and complexly about form in narrative film as Hong does." His 2000 film Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors is no exception, bifurcated as it is into two intriguingly complimentary halves. I'm announcing a Blog-a-Thon, in which anyone reading this is invited to write something about Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors and post it on a blog on March 21st, 2007. If you don't have your own blog, e-mail me your contribution and I'll post it here at Hell On Frisco Bay. It's fine to include comparisons to other films of course, but I'd like all participating posts to center on Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors.

I've loved participating in the wonderful Blog-a-Thons held over the past year or so, in which bloggers have joined together on a single day (sometimes more) to discuss a topic like avant-garde cinema or vampire films. I even hosted one last August, which was great fun. One of my favorite aspects of the phenomenon has been the opportunity a scheduled event can provide for film bloggers, who have and usually take the freedom to follow their own whims on what to write about on their blogs, to discuss the same subject on the same day while it's very fresh in mind. So often I'll read a delightful new blog post and I'll want to chime in with my own thoughts on the film being discussed. But my memory can be an untrustworthy beast. If I haven't seen the film in a while, I might defer to the original author's freshly-conceived thoughts. If reading such a post sparks me to watch the film immediately myself, I'm likely to view it at least partially through the lens of the author's opinions. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I want to try something different.

That's why I'm hosting a Blog-a-Thon that turns its attention on a single film, one available from GreenCine and Netflix, and that can be discussed simultaneously while fresh in the mind of all participants. I've chosen Hong's Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors for an admittedly "cute" (too cute?) reason: the parallel between this film's complimentary halves and the kinds of fascinatingly fruitful disagreements two bloggers can experience was irresistible for me to pass up once it occurred to me.

There's another reason I've picked this particular film, and selected March 21st (despite its proximity to another upcoming Blog-a-Thon, namely the 1927 Blog-a-Thon at Goatdog's place, which I also plan to participate in). It's my way of celebrating. March 21st is the day Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors will be playing at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley as part of the 25th SF International Asian American Film Festival, with the director in attendance. The SFIAAFF has seemingly exceeded its usual high level of programming savvy for its quarter-century anniversary year, and for me the festival's anticipatory highlight is the complete seven-film Hong Sang-soo retrospective.

It's hard to believe Frisco Bay hasn't seen a public showing of a Hong film in nearly four years, when Turning Gate was part of a Korean film series at the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts. Since then, Hong has completed three films which will finally see their Frisco Bay debuts at the festival (March 14-24): Woman is the Future of Man, a Tale of Cinema and Woman on the Beach. All seven films (rounded out by his first two, the Day a Pig Fell Into the Well and the Power of Kangwon Province) will screen at the festival's newest venue, the AMC 1000 Van Ness. The AMC Van Ness screening of Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors will be on March 16th, leaving plenty of time for an attendee to put together something by the March 21st Blog-a-Thon.

But for participants far away from Frisco Bay, the film is as I said available on DVD and you're all invited. Whether you've seen it before or will be experiencing it for the first time, I hope you'll join me in a close examination of Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors here five weeks from today.

EDIT: this is the link to the official Blog-a-Thon directory post.

Monday, February 5


Down From the Mountain

Wow, it's been quite a while since my last post here! Where to begin? Perhaps with an apology; I spent a good portion of the last few weeks away from Frisco Bay. I've been visiting friends in Salt Lake City and writing posts for Greencine Daily on the Sundance Film Festival. I'd meant to write a post explaining my absence but it somehow slipped through the cracks of my to-do list.

Anyway, I had a very good time at the festival, if more because it was a vacation from work and my Frisco routine, and because I got to spend time with friends and run into a few familiar faces, than because the films themselves were that spectacular. Don't get me wrong, I saw some really good ones and will send a heads-up here if any of them get scheduled to play in town. These ones were the best, in my opinion, and already of those, Everything Will Be OK played here as part of the Animation Show 3 while I was in Utah; it'll be swinging back through Northern California this Friday at Sacramento's Crest Theatre. But considering I had to miss Frisco opportunities to view rarely-screened films by Lubitsch, Jodorowsky, Altman, Herzog, Anthony Mann and more while I was there, I'm not sure if I'd call the Sundance programming a bigger attraction than the year-long film festival at my fingertips living in Frisco.

Luckily I made it back in time to catch the new print of Aguirre: Wrath of God at the Red Vic, and a few Noir City 5 gems. And now I feel I'm getting back in the swing of things here at home, but am totally, completely backlogged with information on upcoming screenings I have yet to mention on this site.

I'll start with one I learned while up at Park City: the SFIFF and IndieWIRE teamed up to host a party where one teaser title of a film to play at the upcoming 50th edition of our town's International Film Festival was announced. Appropriately enough, it's a documentary on Frisco filmmaking called Fog City Mavericks and it will play the Castro Theatre April 29th. The press release contained what seemed like a major grammatical error: the mentioning of Chris Columbus in a list of "awe-inspiring iconoclastic filmmakers". But I couldn't really fixate on that once I noticed that along with the usual (Lucas, Eastwood, Lasseter, Coppola) suspects, Bruce Conner's name was also mentioned. It certainly deserves to be, and I'm crossing my fingers that it means the doc spends a generous amount of time on Frisco's avant-garde filmmaking scene.

Other Castro Theatre events on the docket include a new touring print of the Jean Renoir masterpiece the Rules of the Game, March 9-14, a series of films scored by the genius composer Ennio Morricone April 20-25, and a Michaelangelo Antonioni retrospective in March and April. The Castro will also play host to the upcoming SF International Asian-American Film Festival screening of an Anna May Wong silent film called Pavement Butterfly on March 18th. This screening will be a co-presentation of the SFIAAFF and the Silent Film Festival, as will a March 24 Oakland Museum screening of the newly-inducted National Film Registry selection, the Curse of Quon Gwon from 1916. I'm excited about the new venues the SFIAAFF is trying out this year while the Kabuki undergoes renovation: the AMC 1000 (with its stadium seating easy on the eyes for subtitled filmgoing) and the Opera Plaza (the closest theatre to my workplace).

But before all that there's the IndieFest to contend with at the Roxie and other venues (February 8-20). The full program was announced just before I left for Utah, and it's packed with items that look too good to miss. A small sampling: the first screening of Ten Canoes in Frisco proper Feb. 12 (reprised Feb. 17, and in Berkeley Feb. 15), the Shaw Brothers camp classic Infra-Man Feb. 10, and of course the opening night film Inland Empire, playing on the Castro's huge screen Feb. 8 before being sent for a week-long run at the Embarcadero starting the next day.

Other notable week-longs openings this coming Friday: Tears of the Black Tiger at the Lumiere, Becket at the Opera Plaza (it also plays a date at the Castro: Feb. 7) and, last I heard (from the mouth of Frank Lee when I passed by the ticket window a few weeks ago, though it's not confirmed on the film's official website), the wonderful Linda Linda Linda at the Four Star.

The Stanford Theatre is launching into its latest program schedule, and it's filled with little-screened gems from Hollywood's Golden Age. Each Wednesday-Friday pairs a noir with a Val Lewton horror film, until, after nine weeks, the latter runs out, at which point noir double-features take over. Saturdays and Sundays offer a musical with a drama. Yes, The Thing on March 7-9 and Topper on April 14-15 throw wrenches at these genre generalizations, but realize I have to move fast to pack everything I need to say in before bedtime! The Stanford Theatre Foundation is also co-presenting two Friday night silent film screenings to be held at the California Theatre in San Jose as part of the Cinequest Film Festival (Feb. 28-Mar. 11): the General with Chris Elliot at the organ March 2nd and Pandora's Box accompanied by Dennis James March 9th. Anyone with other suggestions from that festival is welcome to pipe up!

The Balboa has some cool events on the imminent horizon as well, including free Oscar-nominated documentaries all day Feb. 20 and 21, and its annual birthday celebration screenings of Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. and the Playhouse Feb. 27. It's also one of many theatres (also including the Lark, the Rafael, the Parkway and the Cerrito) planning Oscar night festivities Feb. 25th. The Cerrito is remaining on the Oscar bus in March by screening previous Best Picture winners like It Happened One Night (Mar. 3-4) and the Apartment (Mar. 24-25) as part of its Cerrito Classics series. For the real calendar-watching obsessives, it's worth noting that the newly reopened theatre has special events planned all the way up to an October 18 double-bill of Brides of Dracula and House of Frankenstein! Who says it's too early to start planning for Halloween?

Another Oscar-focused series is being held at SFMOMA, where documentary filmmaker Rob Epstein has curated a set of Academy Award-winning documentary shorts and features each Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon this month. Each program includes shorts like Jessica Yu's Breathing Lessons (Feb. 8) and John Ford's the Battle of Midway (Feb. 11) as well as a feature-length film.

Meanwhile, the SF Cinematheque has its new program calendar up, packed with avant-garde goodies from Conner, Andy Warhol, and too many others to quickly name. Warhol fans get a few chances to see his films in the next several weeks, as Artists' Television Access is also presenting Haircut (No. 1) on March 7th.

But finally, after all of this I'm probably most excited about some upcoming items on the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts schedule. On April 11th the venue is expected to screen Hyenas, Djibril Diop Mambéty's brilliant adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play the Visit. I'm thrilled for a chance at seeing it on the big screen. But even that may be overshadowed by the fact that two films from the New Crowned Hope project commemorating Mozart's 250th birthday last year, and picked up for distribution by Strand Releasing, are going to be previewed there in April. April 13-15 brings Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, and April 20-22 brings Tsai Ming-Liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone. I'm dying to see them both, and now I know I'll have a chance!

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