Sunday, June 24


Spare the Fare

Make no mistake, I'm no fan of ground-level ozone, a major component of smog that can collect over highly populated areas like Frisco Bay, especially on windless summer days.

I donated (admittedly not for entirely altruistic reasons) the only car I've ever owned nearly five years ago, and I haven't looked back since. So I feel fairly comfortable guessing that my transportation choices are not a major contributor to air pollution. I could probably stand to ride my bicycle more often, but at least I can say that when I'm in a motor vehicle, it's almost always a public bus. My $45 monthly MUNI pass puts me on local buses, trains and cable cars almost every day. It doesn't, however, take me to my favorite movie theatres outside the Frisco city limits.

No, for that I must pay a little extra. Excursions to the BART station closest to the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley cost $6.50 round-trip, while getting to Palo Alto and the Stanford Theatre and back costs $11.50. So I'm happy to get a little financial relief where I can find it, including the Spare the Air days when, due to a higher-than-desirable reading on an Air Quality Index, public transit is free all across the Frisco Bay area. With a July-August schedule as tantalizing as the PFA's latest is (the new Stanford web calendar is not up yet), I know I won't be able to attend everything I want to. So why not hope that the summer's four "Spare the Air" free transit opportunities might land on days when there's something particularly compelling playing in reach of CalTrain or BART.

Here then, are the four weekdays from now through the end of August which I'd most like to see a "Spare the Air" day declared:

Friday, June 29th. The Shohei Imamura series at the PFA comes to a close this weekend, and tonight the selections are his 1975 documentary Karayuki-san: the Making of a Prostitute and his 1997 Cannes prize-winner the Eel. But for a little more bang for my transit non-buck, I'd also consider heading down to the Union City BART station, hopping on AC transit, and seeing one of the programs in that weekend's 10th Annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival program in Niles: that afternoon there's a free in-person reminiscence with Diana Serra Cary (Baby Peggy). That evening is a screening of the Raven, Poe as directed by Charles Brabin of the Mask of Fu Manchu and the Valley of the Giants (which will be part of another upcoming Silent Film Festival on this side of the Bay). The trouble is, tickets to the Broncho Billy festival are selling out fast and "Spare the Air" days can sneak up on you with little warning. In other words, I probably need to make my decision now, without taking Air Quality Forecasts into account.

Thursday, July 19th. There's a mouth-wateringly thorough Abbas Kiarostami film series playing at the PFA through July and August, and though I'm woefully under-versed in this highly-regarded, influential filmmaker (I've seen only three of his features so far) I want especially to make an opportunity to expose myself to his never-before-imported early films. Tonight matches the Experience with the Wedding Suit as well as several shorter works. However, another option would be to bypass Berkeley and head to the El Cerrito BART station, where the Cerrito Speakeasy Theatre will be showing Miracle in Milan, the film Vittorio De Sica directed between Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. The Kiarostami films are scheduled to play on other days as well, but this is the only currently-scheduled chance to see this 1951 landmark of Italian neorealism.

Friday, July 20th. Another outstanding "Great Director" retrospective coming to the PFA is a 14-film series of Max Ophuls films curated by Susan Oxtoby. The series brings together films from five different countries the German-born director worked in throughout the thirties, forties and fifties. It includes relatively well-known films such as Le plaisir (playing July 22) and the Reckless Moment (July 27) and Lola Mont├Ęs (August 3), as well as more obscure titles like From Mayerling to Sarajevo (presented in 16mm on July 29) and the Tender Enemy (in 35mm, like the rest of the series, August 17th). But of all of the gaps in his filmography I'd like to fill, La ronde seems to be the most gaping. And of all his films I've seen only on videocassette that I'd like to take a better look at on a cinema screen, Letter From an Unknown Woman is the one I'd most urgently want to revisit. Since they're playing on the same night to open the series, this night is my highest priority attendance.

Friday, August 24th. As excited I am to sample the Kiarostami and Ophuls offerings, perhaps the upcoming PFA series with the greatest mind-blowing potential is From the Tsars to the Stars: a Journey Through Russian Fantastik Cinema in August. It's a collection of mostly-Soviet-era science fiction and fantasy films ranging from silent films like the Cameraman's Revenge (Aug. 10) and Aelita, Queen of Mars (Aug. 12) to the worlds imagined by post-Khrushchev Thaw filmmakers of both the popular (Ptushko) and art cinema (Tarkovsky) bent. But it's tonight's selections I'm quite possibly the most curious about, particularly the 2005 fake documentary First on the Moon which imagines an alternate history of Soviet spacecraft in which a cosmonaut named Ivan Kharlamov reached the moon more than thirty years before Neil Armstrong made his "small step for man."

Four runners-up, with complications:

Friday, July 6th. The only pair of films in the upcoming Barbara Stanwyck centennial series scheduled to play the PFA but not the Castro is Night Nurse with Stella Dallas. I've never seen the latter film, which was directed by King Vidor and sounds amazing. Unfortunately I will be busy with a prior engagement (not even involving movies) that evening and will have to miss out, Spare the Air or no.

Friday, July 13th. That a Theatre Near You non-series always brings mouth-watering titles to the PFA. This time around I've seen all but one of them (12:08 East of Bucharest July 14) before one way or another. There's not a one I wouldn't recommend, and only one (White Light/Black Rain) I'm not eager to see again. But the one I most would like to revisit is Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "elliptical" (sorry, Armond) investigation of modernity in a traditional society, Syndromes and a Century. But both of its scheduled screenings are during the weekend of the Silent Film Festival. D'oh! I guess I won't be revisiting this stupendous film again for a little while longer.

Tuesday, July 31st. This time it's not the PFA's Stanwyck films that are calling me strongly; if I catch the Lady Eve in this series it will probably be this Wednesday at the Castro, and Ladies They Talk About is the one film in the series I don't particularly like or want to see again. No, I'd like to get a free ride to Berkeley that day because Roda is hosting a screening of Film Fanatic, a documentary on an "ultra-Orthodox" Jewish filmmaker in Israel and one of the few films in the upcoming Jewish Film Festival not scheduled to screen at a Frisco venue -- only in Berkeley and Palo Alto (at the Aquarius July 29). It also happens to be one of the most intriguing-sounding films in that festival for me, a seeming counterpart to one of my favorite films from this year's Sundance, VHS-Kahloucha. Unfortunately, I have to work Tuesdays (and Sundays) so "Spare the Air" or not, this is going to be a no-go for me.

Tuesday, August 14th. Did I mention I normally work into the evening on Tuesdays? Late enough that I won't be able to make the 7PM screening of Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker at the PFA unless I rearrange my schedule. Which I guess I'm just going to have to try to do, as Stalker just might be at the very top of the list of films I want to see on the big screen. Where it's been for several years, well before 2003, which was the last time I missed a one-day booking of this film because I was at work.

Note that I pointedly did not pick any Wednesdays; that's because in July and August those days at the PFA will be reserved for a series called Eco-Amok! an Inconvenient Film Fest, with Frogs, Phase IV and Habitat among the terrifying, yet environmentally conscious, titles. This post edges dangerously close to root-to-pollute as it is, and I don't want to tempt nature's sense of irony too brazenly.

In fact, I'm honestly quite likely to jump on BART and attend a good number of these screenings even without the lure of fare-free travel. Honestly, we'd all breathe easiest if the next few months on Frisco Bay were so smog-free that no "Spare the Air" days needed to be declared.

But if they're going to declare any, just don't let them be on Mondays. That's the day when the PFA's closed.

As ever, Brian, a great roundup of what's down the pipeline. I love your fantasy of linking save the air days with possible cinematic ventures. On that basis alone, you got me to sign up for the air alerts.

And despite your telling me to move on it, I didn't get my Billy Bronco ticket in time. Drat. Ah well, you live and learn.
As an (occasionally) annoying pedestrian/public-transit (never occasional, but constant) advocate, may I declare this one The Greatest Post Ever!!!
Dear me! The time and money that goes into traveling to the movies!

The real benefit of the reduced membership tickets I enjoy from PFA is enjoyed by BART and Smart Alec's.

There are errands I associate with various movie houses. When I find I'm out of coffee or need hardware items, I immediately think of when I'll next be at the Castro since two of my favorite places for these items are nearby.

The Cinearts Empire may not be the best place to see a film, but it's sometimes the last place a film plays before it "goes away" and it is near the best shoe repair place in town. It means you have to go back there the next week, but . . .

I should probably just get cable!
I must recommend Kiarostami's First-Graders! Among the new discoveries, it is perhaps the best thing I've seen this year. Wonderful, wonderful.

And only three features, Brian? This is sorely deficient. We'll have to talk it over when you get to GA. Ha!
Yes, absolutely, gnsqd! I can't wait to bore and/or puzzle everyone else with cryptic references to Iranian cinema.

thanks all for your kind words. I think "Greatest Post Ever" may be pushing it but I'm glad the angle was appreciated.

Michael, sorry to hear you missed the last Broncho Billy stagecoach. I hope you can make it down to Niles some other time. It's quite a charming little museum and cinema.

Miriam, I don't think I've ever been to Smart Alec's. Should investigate. I used to go to the Empire all the time as a youngster, but it's been several years since I last poked my head in to watch the English-dubbed Spirited Away. I remember thinking the main house was actually a pretty decent cinema. I don't know about the former balcony, though I do remember seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit from that balcony, back before the place was 'plexed.
Forget Smart Alec's. We should eat ginormous salads at Intermezzo. Also, I'm no vegan but the vegan special sandwich is mighty tasty, just like this calendar, and this post.
Thanks for the tip!

Intermezzo's an extra block and when one is coming in from across the bay and trying to make a show time, one tends not to feel too adventurous.

Are they fast?
I do remember seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit from that balcony, back before the place was 'plexed.

A neat trick, given that the Empire was subdivided in 1974, ten years before Roger Rabbit was released.
Goes to show I can't always trust memories from age 15. (Or last week, for that matter.) I appreciate the correction, Jim. Thanks for stopping by!

You too, Ryland. I'll try Intermezzo's too sometime and compare.
Dude, I go to the Empire whenever I can. Always looking for an excuse to go to Bullshead where one will find the best burgers in town. Saw NIGHTWATCH there a couple weeks ago.
I think they have comparable wait times. It all depends on the line. But even when it's out the door at Intermezzo it moves pretty quick. And you get a lot more bang for your buck. I usually split a Vegie Delight Salad with somebody since they're so big. But a whole sandwich is not a problem, and it goes down real well.

Also, Fred's Market will soon open a new store on Telegraph right there at Bancroft and they have great falafel sandwiches as well as grilled chicken sandwiches for meat-eaters. However, I'm not sure how soon they'll open.
Gone since the demise of rep programming @ the Balboa: an excuse to pop into Moscow and Tblisi for a cabbage piroshki and other things Russian in the area.

Worth an interruption of my 38 Geary ride almost any time.

Thanks for the PFA eats info, rwk.
Looks like I'll be attending July 13 (or 15), 17 for sure, 20 a strong possibility plus August 3 & 26 definitely and maybe August 4, too.
Excuse me, I have to go throw some crockery right now. An Ophuls retrospective and I WON'T BE THERE!!!


Okay, I am back. If I were in your city I would be filling in my Ophuls-viewing gaps with Mayerling etc., but July 20 sounds like an "at all costs" thing to me, definitely.
Campaspe, if you can't travel from New York to Berkeley, perhaps you can encourage one of your favorite local cinematheques to bring it from Berkeley to New York? Who knows, perhaps such an arrangement is already in the works?

I definitely want to catch some of the more obscure titles in the series as well, and hope the July 20 pair is the kickoff to a whole season of Ophuls for me. If time and pocketbook allow.

Thanks everyone for the new suggestions on where to eat on these excursions.
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