Sunday, August 19


Cross That Bridge

On two of the past three Thursdays, I've attended kino21 events at SF Camerawork. Unlike an unsuccessful attempt earlier this at watching Jem Cohen's Chain there as part of a projected-video installation, in which the soundtracks to three simultaneously-running videos kept tripping over each other, these were very cine-respectful evenings. The films were silent works by Frisco filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky, who commented that the set-up, with a smallish screen positioned on the wall of a cozy room filled with folding chairs, reminded him of the way he screens his films in his living room. They were beautiful films. Alaya was a study of grain: both film- and sand- (I personally couldn't help but think of certain parts Woman in the Dunes, and hear Toru Takemitsu's sonic expressions in my head.) Dorsky described Triste as an early attempt to build a film about neither its subject nor its maker, but only about itself (or something to that effect; I wasn't taking notes.) Threnody and Song and Solitude were further explorations down this clearly fruitful path. They're filled with images that seemingly dissipated just at the moment that they were about to become recognizable signals of a concrete object or place. All to the constant whirr of the 16mm projector behind us. I was rapt. I'm looking forward to October 18th, when kino21 returns to the space to show Perfect Film by Ken Jacobs and RocketKitKongoKit by Craig Baldwin. In the meantime, they show Guhy Debord's In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni at Artists' Television Access on September 27th.

Those of you who missed these screenings will get another chance to see Threnody and Song and Solitude, as well as hear Dorsky speak on them at the Pacific Film Archive on September 4th. As an added lure, on the same program will be a film by one of the filmmakers discussed in his wonderful little book Devotional Cinema, Yasujiro Ozu. The selection is Late Spring, probably my own current personal favorite of Ozu's films. It's a very auspicious beginning to the PFA's fall semester Alternative Visions series. The series is packed with tempting programs every Tuesday, other potential highlights being a September 25th program of autobiographical films by Maya Deren, Carolee Schneemann and Su Friedrich, an October 9th pairing of Michael Snow's Wavelength and Ernie Gehr's Serene Velocity, a selection of Bruce Conner films including his newest, a perhaps "post-music-video" called His Eye Is On the Sparrow, and another selection devoted to the Christchurch, New Zealand-born pioneer Len Lye.

Of course there's a lot more to the PFA's September-October calendar. The venue will be hosting tributes to the British New Wave, Sergio Leone, and Tomo Uchida, a Japanese director that, ever since reading Quintin's terrific article on Uchida and modern-day cinephilia, the "bulimic" in me has been particularly curious to sample. There will be more special guest filmmakers, as "Hindi New Wave" director Shyam Benegal brings three of his films including Ankur and former Cahiers critic Olivier Assayas brings five of his films including demonlover, which will be screened alongside David Cronenberg's Videodrome for comparison's sake. Other Assayas films will be paired with classics by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Beware of a Holy Whore) and Ingmar Bergman (Monika--so far the only Bergman film I'm aware of being scheduled for a Frisco Bay screening since the Swedish master's death last month.)

There's much more, including a matinee screening of Buster Keaton's Seven Chances, three international animation programs, and the continuation of a Theatre Near You, this time with Aki Kaurismaki's Lights in the Dusk, Bahman Ghobadi's Half Moon and Jennifer Baichwal's Manufactured Landscapes, which is still hanging on at the Lumiere but probably won't be by October 14th.

But the series I'm most excited about is one called Girls Will Be Boys. It's curated by Laura Horak, who I served with on the SF Silent Film Festival research committee earlier this year (she researched and wrote the program guide essay for Beggars of Life), and it includes a very healthy selection of silent features and shorts, as well as several relatively early talkies, as it delves into the history of female actors dressing in male drag in European and American films. Among the women featured are Asta Nielsen as Hamlet September 21 (shortly before the film plays at the New York Film Festival), Renata Müller as Viktor und Viktoria, also September 21, Katherine Hepburn as Sylvia Scarlett September 23, Marion Davies in Little Old New York and Greta Garbo as Queen Christina, both September 28, Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy on September 29, and Marlene Dietrich in Morocco September 30. The piano accompanist duties for the program's silent films will be traded off between Judith Rosenberg and Bruce Loeb, and each film will be introduced by someone who's done a whole lot more thinking about film and gender than I have. For example, Jenni Olson will speak about Sylvia Scarlett, Patricia White will provide context for Queen Christina, and Horak will introduce Little Lord Fauntleroy, Morocco, and the Danish "white slavery" film Shanghai'et!

Another film programmer who I had the pleasure to regularly talk silent film with as part of the SFSFF research committee was David Kiehn, who researched and wrote a fine essay on the Valley of the Giants on top of his duties at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, which hosts terrific film programs in the prettiest corner of Fremont I've ever found myself. Highlights of its current film calendar are another upcoming NYFF retrospective selection, Josef Von Sternberg's Underworld September 15th, a hand-colored 35mm print of Cyrano De Bergerac on September 29th, and a special September 7th fundraiser dinner and screening of Lon Chaney in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and a screening sans dinner September 8th.

And while I'm mentioning upcoming films in Berkeley and Fremont, how can I leave out Oakland and the Parkway Speakeasy Theatre? My favorite place to see a movie while drinking a beer always has a bevy of diversely-programmed special screenings squeezed into its everyday schedule of second-run film options. Right now I'm eyeing a September 13th offering of Pam Grier in Black Mama, White Mama, and the Found Footage Film Festival on October 7th. And up by the El Cerrito BART station, the Parkway's sibling Speakeasy Theatre the Cerrito has Cerrito Classics chosen for Saturdays and Sundays through the end of the year. There's film noir throughout September, Universal monsters in October, and more.

So there you have it. A bunch of excellent reasons for Frisco film lovers to cross the Bay Bridge in the next few months. Or for East Bay film lovers not to.

Tuesday, August 14


Fall Out

This past weekend was the 85th Anniversary of the Castro Theatre, and though I meant to mention it here at Hell on Frisco Bay beforehand, at least I wrote a little something about the theatre, as part of a tribute put together by Michael Guillen at the Evening Class, also including terrific reminiscences from Jenni Olson, Jonathan Knapp, Frako Loden, Tavo Amador and Michael Hawley. On Saturday I was there to attend the closest modern approximation I've seen of an old-style "kiddie matinee": a Laurel & Hardy comedy featurette (1937's Way Out West) preceded by a selection of unannounced classic cartoons by Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and more. The biggest highlight of the morning for me was definitely seeing Tex Avery's 60-year-old MGM short King-Size Canary in 35mm for the first time, its images of unnaturally-hulking funny animal bodies projected as large as could be imagined. Best of all, as a throwback to the ticket prices of 1922 when the the theatre opened, the event only cost a quarter! Sorry if my failure to highlight this event (or the other events the venue hosted during its celebratory weekend) caused any of my loyal readers to miss out; let it be a reminder to keep clicking the links on my sidebar to the left when I seem overdue for a new post.

Another tribute to the theatre was written up by Evan James for the latest A.V. Bay Area section of the Onion newspaper (not available online). It's the only recent article I've found that devotes a few paragraphs of ink to the changes the Castro has undergone during the last three years or so, since the venue's longtime programmer was removed from her position at the theatre. As James puts it:
Some of the theater's troubles - including the loss of film festivals and the reluctance of distributors to do business with them - undoubtedly came from the controversial events of 2004, when veteran programmer Anita Monga was fired, provoking outrage from parts of the film community.
That characterization of the events seems bit understated from my point of view, which I suppose is fair enough in a piece of journalism that relies heavily on an interview with the Castro's new president and CEO Don Nasser. But as I recall events, it seemed that practically everyone who knew Monga, even if "only" through her work as a programmer, was beyond outraged at her firing and at the way it went down.

Three years later, it appears to a relative outsider like myself that events of late 2004, while not forgotten by Frisco cinephiles, are at least not quite as heavy a cloud hanging over our last remaining movie palace. The Castro's approach to programming has improved markedly from the low point it hit in early-mid 2005. The Noir City film festival had a successful return to the venue of its birth earlier this year. Monga herself has been spotted in the building, at least while it's been four-walled by a film festival showcasing a one-of-a-kind event. And James' article observes that "distributors who once refused to give [the Castro] film are now having a change of heart." Indeed, the venerable Kino International, which cancelled a 2005 revival booking of Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild and hasn't shown its films there since, will be letting the Castro play a new print of the film perhaps most closely associated with the company's image as a distributor, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, August 24-30.

That's by far the oldest title on the theatre's upcoming slate of films. Most of the revivals on this latest calendar are of the cinematic hits and re-evaluation-worthy misses of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Though tonight's screenings were canceled due to a print traffic snafu, a sign on the theatre box office apologizes and promises a can't miss double bill of Werner Herzog's early-seventies reputation-earners Aguirre: the Wrath of God and the Mystery of Kaspar Hauser (a.k.a. Every Man For Himself and God Against All) tomorrow. Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Doulos from 1962 plays for a week starting this Friday. A William Friedkin series runs September 4-6, and is followed by a week-long engagement of that director's most notorious film Cruising, from 1980. September 15 brings a chance to see the 1971 car chase classic Vanishing Point alongside the Quentin Tarantino film that has given it so much recent exposure, Death Proof (sans Planet Terror, for all you zombie-averse moviegoers out there). A 70mm festival includes usual suspects such as 1962's Lawrence of Arabia (Sep. 22-23) as well as an oddity like Tobe Hooper's 1985 Lifeforce (Sep. 21), the latter brought to you by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks of MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS (which will also take over the Castro on August 31 and September 14th). The calendar concludes with a September 28 through October 4 tribute to the average film score fanatic's favorite film score composer, Jerry Goldsmith.

Two things to note: the calendar warns that the print of Papillon scheduled to play with the Ballad of Cable Hogue on October 3rd is "not up to our usual high standards but because of its place in the Goldsmith pantheon it is included." Hopefully, for such a composer-centric series, the print's problems will be in the image rather than sound quality department. Also, the September 7-13 run of Cruising will be projected digitally. I very much appreciate this kind of honesty in advance. It's much more ethical, in my view, than the "film festivals" which neglect to play much actual film at all, instead opting to show most shorts and features on DVD, without any warning in the program guide.

It's here than I mention that SFMOMA, which for the past ten months or so has really started trying to flex its muscles as an important filmgoing venue here in Frisco, alerted attendees who picked up a program of its still-ongoing Jean Renoir series (and read the small print) that Boudu Saved From Drowning and the Lower Depths were to be shown on DVD instead of film, since prints with English subtitles were not available. It was a bit surprising to learn, as I'd seen English-subbed 35mm prints in New York City only a few years ago. But it was rather dismaying to learn that such information was not to be found on the museum's website. If more DVD presentations are planned in the future, I hope there is sufficient advance warning online for any of us who might decide to trek over to 151 Third Street to see the venue's enticing Fall programs such as the films by Joseph Cornell in conjunction with the upcoming exhibit there, and a rare focus on East German cinema.

Not that I am philosophically against digital, or even DVD screenings. They're certainly a lot better than no screenings, especially when they're free. The SF Performing Arts Library and Museum is hosting free documentaries on performers, in conjunction with its continuing exhibit on the hungry i nightclub each Thursday this August, some with in-person guest appearances. This Thursday August 16th they show the fascinating Oscar-nominated documentary from 1998, Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth. Call the venue in advance to reserve seats.

Another free digital screening is the local Film Society's annual SF-in-SF event, Film in the Fog. This time the selection is Creature From the Black Lagoon. You could pay to see the film in 35mm at the Stanford Theatre August 22-24, or at the Bridge (in 3-D, with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark as guest host) at Midnight Mass August 24th, if there are still tickets left to buy, that is. Or you can wait to see the SFFS's outdoor projection of it in the Presidio for free on September 29th.

But it warms my heart to see new organizations committed to showcasing motion pictures on film formats meeting with success at various venues around town. I'm specifically thinking of kino21, which, as you hopefully read about in Max Goldberg's excellent sf360 interview with Konrad Steiner and Irina Leimbacher, has been putting together terrific programs at Artists' Television Access (which will open its Other Cinema programs September 15th with a screening of films featured on the Xperimental Eros DVD.) But kino21 has also been trying out SF Camerawork as a venue. A week and a half ago a roomful of us swooned over a 16mm print of the beautiful, longing Song and Solitude by Nathaniel Dorsky, who answered audience questions after the screening. I hope to make it back there this Thursday for two more Dorsky films, Threnody (his tribute to the life and death of Stan Brakhage) and Triste. Maybe this time I'll get up the guts to ask him how his poetic work might possibly relate to the exploitation film he wrote the screenplay for: Revenge of the Cheerleaders, which I also recently saw for the first time thanks to MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS. Or maybe I won't ask.

Another upstart filmophile organization is the Film on Film Foundation, who screened Isadore Isou's Venom and Eternity at the Roxie this past May, just in time for me to get to appreciate this singular, trailscorching artist for a few months before he died. The Film on Film folks are bringing the Japanese New Wave film Eros Plus Massacre to the Pacific Film Archive on September 16th.

Awkward segue alert: it's currently Japan week at the Red Vic Movie House, which hosts a last-chance cinema screening of the Satochi Kon anime Paprika tonight and tomorrow, and opens a five-day engagement of the politically-singed, bizarrely entertaining "Pink film" the Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai on Thursday. More upcoming items on the Red Vic calendar include Killer of Sheep August 26-27, Brand Upon the Brain! August 28-29, and six days of Werner Herzog in September. Linas Phillips' secular pilgrimage to this most inspirational filmmaker Walking to Werner is shown on the 9th, 10th, and 11th, with Fitzcarraldo on the 16th & 17th and Les Blank's truly incredible making-of documentary on the latter, Burden of Dreams on the 18th.

On the film festival front, there's the Dead Channels Festival of Fantastic Film running right now through Thursday, the Madcat Women's International Film Festival (September 11-28) which has announced its schedule of films, and Docfest (September 28-October 10) which has not as of yet.

I must say it's a good thing that there's all this activity on the festival, repertory and underground cinema front. Because honestly the latest SF Landmark Filmcalendar looks like that chain's least-exciting slate of week-long film engagements in quite some time. I've pegged one film, Vanaja (October 5-11) as a must-see, but on an initial look all the others range from "looks completely uninteresting" to "wait-and-see (what the critics have to say)". And then there's the film I already have seen, at this year's Sundance: For the Bible Tells Me So. Extremely well-intentioned, it may appeal to Frisco filmgoers who like to scout out possible documentaries for their Red State relatives to put into their rental queues in the hopes of opening their minds up a bit. But honestly, I bet most will end up wishing they'd skipped the step of actually watching the film before recommending it, as it's likely to be 100% old news to almost anyone in this town who views it. Just another reason why, after the last few goodie-packed Filmcalendars from Landmark, this one feels like a letdown, though I'd love to be convinced otherwise.

Saturday, August 4


My Two Andersons

Royal, the Royal Tennenbaums:
I'm not talking about dance lessons. I'm talking about putting a brick through the other guy's windshield. I'm talking about taking it out and chopping it up.
Barry, Punch-Drunk Love:
I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.
In this corner, weighing in at 111 pounds and wearing aqua blue trunks, the only man to have tamed Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, the Wilson brothers and Kumar and Dipak Pallama, ladies and gentlemen lets hear it for the man they call the "Next Scorsese," Wesley Wales Anderson!!!

And in this corner, weighing in at more than 82 pounds and wearing frog-green trunks is the one man who could conquer William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, and of course Philip Baker Hall, please give a roaring welcome to the "Commando from San Fernando", Paul Thomas Anderson!!!

They're both writer-directors under the age of forty, saw their first feature films hit the big screen in 1996, and have developed their distinct styles in three more features since. They each have a new film coming to screens this fall. And they coincidentally share surnames. Some would say Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson are already champion filmmakers, while others would say they're both still up-and-coming challengers. Still others strongly prefer one over the other. And some haven't made up their mind yet. For four nights starting tonight, Frisco will host matches between the two filmmakers' films on the big screen. Ringside seats will be at the Castro Theatre. It's a chance to see these films on the big screen again and discover how the last few years have treated them. I know I've seen a few of these films over and over, but most just once, and perhaps even then only on home video. But that's not going to stop me from trying to make predictions on the outcome of each bout:

August 4: Boogie Nights vs. Rushmore. I think this is likely to be the most decisive match-up. A KO by Rushmore in an early round. For me, Boogie Nights fell into the trap of the overly-sprawling period piece trying to cram too much history into a single film's running time. The salacious content of the history couldn't save it from its unfocused structure. While Rushmore is currently my favorite film directed by ANYone named Anderson (yes, including Lindsay Anderson, whose If... was surely an influence on this "school film"). Still, I haven't seen Boogie Nights in nearly ten years so who knows...

August 5: Magnolia vs. the Royal Tennenbaums. This is a tough one. I'm wondering if Magnolia might win on points in a late round, maybe even the twelfth. On first viewing, I found the three-hour film to be intelligent and cathartic, but I was living in a foreign country and pretty much starved for any movies that might be a change of pace from blockbuster action and lowbrow comedy. Since then I've read almost nothing but dismissals of the film when it comes up, written by critics I usually trust, to the point where I've really begun to wonder about my own initial opinion. On the other hand, While I liked the Royal Tennenbaums and even rewatched it once or twice, I've also found it a bit of a cold, uninvolving film, in a way that Rushmore certainly isn't. So we'll see how that plays out.

August 7: Hard Eight vs. Bottle Rocket. Though in neither case were these films my introduction to their respective makers, in both cases I've seen them only once and have only a rather foggy memory of a few scenes, and a general feeling that I liked them. They say it's a bad idea to bet on the draw though, so I'm going to give a slight edge to Bottle Rocket to win on points.

August 8: Punch-Drunk Love vs. the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. For this one I'm going to say Punch-Drunk Love. Quite possibly in a knockout or a T.K.O. Though Phillip Seymour Hoffman's performance is way too over-the-top and under-motivated for me, it's a small part that barely mars this bold, sweet film. The sound design alone would have convinced me to follow PTA wherever he's going next, as long as he's bringing Jon Brion along with him. On the other hand, the Life Aquatic made me wonder if Wes Anderson might be treading brackish water, recycling elements from previous films and just plopping them onto the larger canvas of the open ocean. It deserves the second look I never gave it when it came out, but my expectations are not high.

Still, any of these match-ups could end up in an upset. I might not be able to attend each bout, but if you do, why not share how they turn out in the comments below?

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