Thursday, March 23



The Arabic word for "fate" is the title of at least sixteen different movies. I haven't seen any of them. Not William Dieterle's Kismet starring Ronald Colman and Marlene Dietrich and nominated for four 1944 Oscars. Nor Vincent Minnelli's cinemascope Kismet starring Howard Keel, Ann Blyth and an Alexander Borodin-infused musical score. Frisco Bay audiences should get a shot to check out both of them this June at the Stanford Theatre where, by fate or by design or by sheer coincidence, they're planned to play as part of twin tributes being held there this spring: one for director Vincente Minnelli, one for British-born actor Ronald Colman. The two men never worked together, as Colman was signed up with Samuel Goldwyn while Minnelli was practically synonymous with MGM.

The Minnelli tribute begins March 31 with a week-long pairing of my two favorites of his films, Meet Me in St. Louis and the Band Wagon. Meet Me in St. Louis is a wartime ode to American nostalgia, and the first film in which Minnelli directed his soon-to-be wife Judy Garland. The Band Wagon, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, is a Broadway-set backstage musical that tops even Singin' in the Rain for me and many others who see it. Minnelli twofers will play the Stanford every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday starting April 16-18 with two more musicals Cabin in the Sky and Yolanda and the Thief. But Minnelli didn't just stick to Arthur Freed-produced musicals, and the Stanford will also be showing a number of his comedies (like the Long, Long Trailer June 11-13 and the original Father of the Bride May 7-9) dramas (including Lust For Life May 21-23 and Some Came Running May 28-30) and of course his two celebrated films about filmmaking, the Bad and the Beautiful and Two Weeks in Another Town.

Colman is a figure I'm far less familiar with; I must confess I've only seen a single one of his films: he plays a dashing would-be adulterer in the Ernst Lubitsch silent film of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan (it plays the Stanford May 27-28 with Jim Riggs at the organ). As good as that film is, I suspect it's not even the best among the 14 silent films and 26 talkies scheduled for Wednesdays through Sundays in the series. Colman's Oscar-winning performance is in George Cukor's a Double Life, and he earned nominations for performances in Bulldog Drummond (Apr. 19-21), Condemned (Apr. 26-28) and Random Harvest (April 12-14). He made films with auteurs like Frank Capra (Lost Horizon, Apr. 12-14) John Ford (Arrowsmith, May 10-12), William Wellman (the Light That Failed, May 17-20) and King Vidor (Cynara, Apr. 26-29). The biggest draw for me is perhaps his starring role in a Preston Sturges-scripted film from 1938, If I Were King, which plays May 3-6. That, and the organ-accompanied series of Colman's silent films (most of which I've never heard of before) that change weekly after a Saturday evening show with a Sunday matinee reprise.

And speaking of silent films, I'm already psyched about the four (out of the nine that will play July 14-16) film programs the Silent Film Festival has announced in a recent mailing: Frank Borzage's Seventh Heaven starring Janet Gaynor, King Vidor's Show People starring Marion Davies, William Beaudine's Sparrows starring Mary Pickford, and Tod Browning's the Unholy Three starring Lon Chaney as Professor Echo, head of a gang of thieves including (and here I quote from the mailer):
Hercules the Strongman, Tweedledee the Midget, a reluctant moll, a vicious gorilla and talking parrots. You've never seen anything like it!
I believe it, even though I've seen the talkie remake directed by Jack Conway. There's just something totally unique about Browning's silent film direction.

Other upcoming screenings worth mentioning while I'm at it: the Clay's midnight series begins this weekend with the Goonies and ends May 19-20 with Kung Fu Hustle. Next Tuesday, Mar. 28 the Roxie hosts a Noise Pop Film Festival screening of a film I saw a pre-final-cut version of at last year's Noise Pop Film Festival: the Fearless Freaks Featuring the Flaming Lips. As a fan of the band I must say I was very disturbed (though not exactly surprised) by the graphic images of hard drug use in the film, so be prepared if you think you might want to see it. The Roxie has also signed up to show Battle in Heaven starting March 31, and has the schedule up for its James Toback retrospective. And the Sonoma Valley Film Festival is running April 5-9 and includes screenings of Danis Tanovic's L'Enfer on the 8th and 9th.

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS was one of my prep films for attending my first year at Washington University in St. Louis. (I also remember yelling out during a screening of PARENTHOOD when we see the dentist stepfather's diploma that reads Washington University in St. Louis - "I'm Going There in 2 weeks!!!")

And, Dude, I'm all over that Browning film as well. The Silent Film Festival is by far my favorite of all the SF Film Fests.

With your able assistance, Brian, my calendar is becoming as thick as a phonebook!! So much to see!
It keeps coming! I just picked up the new April-June calendar for the Rafael in Mill Valley. Highlights include an April 8 screening of 7th Voyage of Sinbad with Ray Harryhausen in person, a motorcycles-and-film series Wednesdays and Sundays in June, and week-long engagements of Duck Season (which I missed during its one week in Frisco), the Fallen Idol, Water, and the Spirit of the Beehive.

I also neglected to mention a pair of bookings that are enticing me to stay in my own neighborhood. I hope to see Nightwatch, preferably with a good turnout of the Richmond's many Russian speakers, now that it's at the Four Star, and I'm definitely going to make time to catch Blue Velvet at the Balboa, as I've only seen it once before on VHS.
I adore Harryhausen. I saw him last time he was at the Rafael Film Center and got the book signed. I would love to see "Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" on the big screen and get all my dvd covers signed. To this day his films instill a great comfort to the imagination.
Actually Seventh Voyage of Sinbad is the Harryhausen I've seen most recently, at the final film screening of the gorgeous Auctions By The Bay theatre in Alameda before it closed two summers ago. It's one I'd never seen as a kid and was very glad to finally catch. Bernard Herrmann's score to that movie has echoes in practically every film score composed in Hollywood today.
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