Tuesday, February 21


Party Like it's 1926 at the Balboa

The Balboa Theatre has updated its Upcoming Program List page with a schedule through the end of April. This week and next it's playing Malick's extraordinary The New World with the World's Fastest Indian (which I haven't seen yet; why do I get the impression that it can't possibly be as good as its Cult- and Clash-fueled trailer, the most exciting two minute ad in recent memory?) on one of its two screens. The other house hosts French noir Classe Tous Risques through Sunday. Monday, February 27 is the theatre's annual birthday celebration, at which they encourage the audience to dress in their best Roaring Twenties get-ups and enjoy live entertainment, refreshments, short films and a feature from the theatre's first year open. I haven't been to the occasion since 2002 when they showed Buster Keaton's the General with a live piano accompaniment by Richard Koldewyn, but hope to finally make it back. This time around they're showing a Valentino film called the Eagle with a live score by Nik Phelps and Larry Dunlap.

I only wish I'd seen more of the silent film accompaniments former Club Foot Orchestra member Phelps made with his Sprocket Ensemble over the years. I never went to his monthly "Ideas in Animation" shows at the Minna Street Gallery or his appearances at the Red Vic. I did see him play scores for a Trip to the Moon and Felix the Cat's Astronomeows once at the Exploratorium, and saw him alternate between chilly synthesizers and his jaunty clarinet, appropriate for the Balboa's screening of the penguin-filled South last summer. Anyway, now's the time for some last-minute Sprocketeering, as Nik and Nancy-Denny Phelps are on the verge of moving to Europe. In addition to the Eagle, the Balboa will provide chances on March 2nd when it hosts one last "Ideas in Animation" show with Nik & Sprocket Ensemble at 9PM. Prior to that will be Nik and Nancy's presentation of a program of sound-saavy animations entitled "Toones and Tunes", including 1934's La Joie de vivre, Bathtime in Clerkenwell (which seems to me to be just the music video the Fleischer Brothers would make if they lived today), and Nik providing a live score to Nina Paley's Fetch!

The Balboa is also one of several Frisco Bay theatres hosting events for the 78th Oscars on March 5th this year (others include the Rafael, the Roxie, the Parkway, the Castro, and the Lark.) Not only that, they're also complimenting the Lumiere's upcoming programs of nominees for the Animated and Live-Action Short awards by presenting Doc Days, a two-day explosion of all nine films (5 Features, 4 Shorts) nominated for Best Documentary Oscars in time to help you win the pool this year. The Documentary Short nominees will then be reprised on a program playing just after the ceremony, March 6-9.

That's just the beginning, though! I'm very happy to see that my neighborhood theatre is increasingly booking films I couldn't quite summon to motivation to trek out to when they played the Castro during the past year or so. Already the Balboa has enabled me to finally be gobsmacked by the uncensored version of Baby Face I'd missed at, by my count, 3 other Bay Area venues. (Baby Face is briefly returning with its double-bill-mate, William Wellman's morally fascinating Night Nurse, March 3-5.) This Spring they're showing most of the David Lynch series that played across town in December: a week of Blue Velvet starting March 24, an ultra-enigmatic double bill of Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway April 1-2, and on April 3-4 Wild at Heart (which also plays the Parkway this Thursday) plus Eraserhead which the Castro didn't deign to play (presumably because Lynch doesn't let prints of that film ciculate any longer now that he's so happy with his digital restoration, the version the Balboa will be showing). Another in-case-you-missed-it-at-the-Castro showing is Bertolucci's masterpiece the Conformist March 17-23. I saw it there but hope to see it for a second time.

There's even more. Most notably an open engagement of Caveh Zahedi's brave and funny confessional I Am a Sex Addict starting April 5, and soon after a sequel to last year's great series of films set, and often filmed, in Frisco. With an Earthquake centennial showing of the 1936 disaster epic San Francisco, and stuff like Howard Hawks' Barbary Coast, Ida Lupino's the Bigamist and Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc? this series looks very nearly as droolworthy as last year's was. And you thought this was going to be a dry Spring.

Just recieved a few hints from the NEXT Balboa calendar too: a documentary on Chinese Opera and the Cultural Revolution called the 8 Model Works is expected in May, and a tribute to Boris Karloff including Erice's the Spirit of the Beehive will play in June. No idea what the other Karloff titles might be, but here's ten I'd particularly love to see play:

Five Star Final
the Old Dark House
The Lost Patrol
The Black Cat
the Body Snatcher
Isle of the Dead

I love the Val Lewton / Karloff material, but, have only seen them on video. Anticipate seeing them on a big screen!!
I hope so; Isle of the Dead and the Body Snatcher are actually the two remaining Lewton unit films I've still never seen. And Bedlam is just amazing. But I have to say that as much as I'd like to see any of the ten on my "hopeful" list they're all trumped by the one certainty: the Erice film, which I've been waiting to see in a cinema for years.
Hi Brian,

I've known Nik and Nancy Phelps since the early 90's, when I moved to SF... they were one of the first people I met on one of the Cacophony Society events.

I moved shortly before Nik started the Sprocket Ensemble, so I've never gotten to see them in live performance. If you have the opportunity to go, you should!
I did go, to both screenings actually (kindof a marathon of animation, but that's great!) So glad I did. The scores were wonderful (though they don't make me wish I could see some of the films with their original scores any less fervently - especially the Man Without a Shadow which I've been wanting to see for a while now).

At the end of the show they intimated that they might just return to the Bay Area for a gig once in a while, so it wasn't the "last chance" after all. But that's great- it means we all get another chance.
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