Saturday, December 16


Winter of Our Film Content

Yesterday's Sátántangó alert wasn't meant to imply that there's nothing else of interest in the just-announced PFA calendar for January and February. On the contrary, though tomorrow's screening of Yojimbo finishes up their 2006 programs, there's a lot more happening once the theatre reopens next semester. The "a Theatre Near You" program also brings films by Melville and the Brothers Quay, and David Thompson appears each Thursday to introduce four late-classical Hollywood films and two post-classical responses (Pierrot Le Fou and Bonnie and Clyde). Steve Seid curates a program of Collectively Created Compilations which sounds just fascinating. The annual African and Human Rights Watch film festivals, a set of all-ages Saturday matinees and the usual Tuesday avant-garde showcase, this time around with a four-night focus on Yoko Ono's film work (to go along with her exhibit down the block) ensures the venue's unmatchable programming diversity. But the largest individual series on the calendar is the 22-film Ernst Lubitsch retrospective, including a healthy selection of his German- and Hollywood-made silent films with live piano accompaniment, 75th-anniversary screenings of Trouble in Paradise, One Hour With You and even his 3-minute contribution to the If I Had a Million omnibus, and wrapping up with his last completed film, the underseen and underrated Cluny Brown.

Of course all this competes with the activity on this side of the Bay Bridge, particularly at the Castro Theatre. The Berlin and Beyond film festival runs there January 11-17; interesting-sounding selections include the Free Will, the Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez and Einstürzende Neubauten, which will be accompanied by an appearance by bandleader Blixa Bargeld. Then, Alexander Jodorowsky's El Topo comes for a two day stint January 19-20, followed by the Holy Mountain Jan. 21-22. The fifth annual Noir City festival settles in at the venue again starting with a January 26th gala with Marsha Hunt in person and in Raw Deal and Kid Glove Killer, and the seedy film line-up continues through February 4th, packed with noirs of various degrees of rarity. I'm especially excited that on February 1st the festival's first Fritz Lang booking, Scarlet Street, one of the greatest remakes (in this case, of Renoir's La Chienne) ever made in Hollywood, and which until recently has been seen almost invariably in prints of dubious quality or worse. I strongly suspect Eddie Muller's print sleuthing will turn up something better to show off this film. Then from February 15-22 comes the Janus series I noted in an earlier post. The titles have been announced and can be found here.

Though 2007 is already promising some delightful film treats, 2006 still has a couple more weeks in it, and if you're looking to go out and see a film that doesn't come pre-packaged with sickening amounts of Oscar buzz, the options are getting rather scarce. But they're out there. The Red Vic has its annual stint of Baraka the week between Christmas and New Year's. The Castro and Stanford both will continue to run classic films into the holidays, and they're joined by the newly re-opened Cerrito Theatre, two blocks from the El Cerrito BART station, which started a series called Cerrito Classics a few weeks ago. Each Saturday and Sunday the theatre brings a well-loved Hollywood title for a pair of screenings. Today and tomorrow it's the Thin Man, Dec. 23-24 it's the Bishop's Wife, Dec. 30-31 the Frisco-set After the Thin Man and in January they plan a different Hitchcock film each weekend. The Cerrito is being run by the same group of folks who've been so successful running Oakland's Parkway Speakeasy Theatre for so long, and though I haven't had a chance yet to see what the Cerrito is like up close, I hope and expect it to be run with a similar intelligence and care. Incidentally, the Parkway will be showing Ray Harryhausen's Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers on January 11th. And on the subject of places to mix eating and moviewatching, Foreign Cinema is showing Like Water For Chocolate at dusk through the end of the year, and 2001: a Space Odyssey through most of January.

Reaching back to an era that might be called "pre-classic" is the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, showing D.W. Griffith's 1914 adaptation of Poe, the Avenging Conscience, which Jonathan Rosenbaum includes in his 1000-film personal canon, on December 23rd, and Rex Ingram's Scaramouche on the 30th.

And there are even some new foreign films in theatres over the next few weeks. Sure, there's always a few this time of year competing for the Foreign-Language Film Oscar (the Rafael Film Center will show a set of those January 12-21, and Argentina's submission the Aura comes to the Roxie Jan. 5-11). But that's not all. There's the well-reviewed policier Le Petit Lieutenant. Year-round Bollywood theatres like Naz 8 in Fremont and the India Movie Center in San Jose certainly don't rejigger their programming in December to make way for American awards show hype. And just the other day I watched Train Man, which is playing for one more week at the Four Star and the Rafael. It's a geek-makes-good romantic comedy whose title character is an isolated, anime-obsessed otaku. He becomes an unlikely subway hero and, with the aid of his "cyber-friends", must confront his social inexperience and try to navigate a relationship with the "rich girl" he'd come to the defense of. The main story thread is light on conflict, sugary sweet, disturbingly materialistic and thuddingly un-subtle. However, for an internet habitué like myself it was still irresistible, and one scene, which threw everything that came before it into question, was one of the best cinematic surprises of the year for me. Shot in bright Atari colors with an effectively chaotic use of split screen alternated with a few quietly poignant moments with Train Man's online cheering section, I think its worth seeing in the theatre if it's worth seeing at all. I'm as thrilled as anyone that, as has been reported elsewhere, the Lees' struggle to keep the Four Star running has been rewarded with success. I'll be even more thrilled if Asian movies can continue to play there and find audiences. For example, Linda Linda Linda is among the best movies I've seen all year (at a film festival), and its trailer ran before its more off-puttingly mainstream compatriot Train Man. I hope it makes it back to Frisco for a regular run, perhaps at the Four Star, so I can direct friends, family, co-workers and strangers on the street who look like they need a good cheering up to it.

It looks like a very strong lineup of films coming to the Bay Area. I'm a New Yorker who spent most of the 90's living in San Francisco. Satantango is a must-see. Even though I had recently watched it on a bootleg DVD, I stayed riveted for 4 1/2 of the 7 hours at a MoMA screening this past year, when I reluctantly had to leave.

I'm also envious of the Lubitsch retrospective coming to PFA. I'd love to see the rarities The Man I Killed and The Love Parade again, as well as some of the silents.

But I'm most jealous of the Noir City series at the Castro. I would definitely see 99 River Street and Framed if I were there, and Raw Deal is one of the most beautifully shot noirs, by the great John Alton and directed by Anthony Mann. In fact, I'm considering a quick visit to SF to catch Wicked Woman, which I've heard about but never seen, and two of my favorites, Lang's Scarlet Street and the John Alton/Joseph H. Lewis masterpiece The Big Combo.
Thanks for the comment, jim, especially for the noir recommendations. I must be honest and say I've never heard of most of the titles this year. Not a bad thing, as I trust Eddie Muller's programming instincts.

the Man I Killed is one of the Lubtisch titles the PFA is not bringing, unfortunately. I was actually visiting New York a few years ago when the Film Forum was showing Lubitsch films, and I caught the Love Parade and Monte Carlo. I may just decide to try that double-bill again here.
Brian, I would add Pushover and I Walk Alone to the film noirs I can recommend. Most of the others are fairly obscure and I haven't seen them, either, but there may be some discoveries there.

All of Lubitsch's Chevalier musicals are worth seeing. Lady Windermere's Fan and The Marriage Circle are probably the best of his American silents.

I looked through the rest of the PFA schedule and noticed that William E. Jones's v.o. is playing on Feb. 20, with Jones in person. I mentioned it on Cinemarati as one of my favorite experimental films of the past year.

Finally, from the Janus Films series Max Ophuls's The Earrings of Madame de... is one of the all-time great films and is unavailable on DVD.
More recs! Thanks Jim. I agree with you that Lubitsch + Chevalier = reliably high quality. It's the silents I'm personally particularly excited about, as I've only seen Lady Windermere's Fan among the selections.

Since March I've been working an evening shift on Tuesdays that has prevented my attendance at the PFA's avant-garde shows. It's making me feel rather deprived. Maybe I can work something out for the v.o. screening though.

As for Madame de... it's my favorite Ophuls film so far, but it's not among the Castro selections; it played the Janus series when it came to the PFA last month.
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