Saturday, June 9


Watching, Reading, Talking, Writing, Anticipating

I've been selfish. Over the past few weeks, while I've been silent here at Hell on Frisco Bay, I've been watching, reading about, talking about, writing about, and (perhaps what I do best) eagerly anticipating movies. I just haven't been sharing here. I guess everyblogger needs a little break sometimes. Let me catch you up a bit (there's some good links in here too, I promise).

I've sampled a couple films from the Shohei Imamura series, first at the Castro, and currently at the Pacific Film Archive. So far my favorite has been Hogs and Warships (a.k.a. Pigs and Battleships, but that was the translation on the print.) Scathingly anti-American, its anger is somehow even more directly focused against Japanese kowtowing to the American military presence. It plays again next Saturday at the PFA along with a Man Vanishes. I also Czeched out (sorry) a double bill in this series. Vladislav Vancura's On the Sunny Side was visually arresting, with its mix of low and high angle shots often placing the adults in the film in a subordinate position to the children, but tough to assimilate on a first try with all its flashbacks and frantic cutting. Martin Fric's Heave Ho! was a delight on a single viewing, fitting well within the tradition of depression-era physical comedy critiques of capitalistic industry, like a Nous La Liberte and Modern Times. It helped set me on a recent mini-binge of home video Charlie Chaplin rewatching (tonight I'll be showing Modern Times to some friends who've never seen it before), just as it sent me out of the theatre with the chorus to the collectivist anthem "Hej Rup!" on my lips.

I've been reading, as part of this Chaplin mini-binge, Richard Schickel's the Essential Chaplin, which collects together a diverse array of writing and opinion on the great silent clown and his films, from Andre Bazin's influential analysis, to Alistair Cooke's personal reminiscences, to reviews by the likes of Graham Greene, Otis Ferguson, Penelope Gilliat and Andrew Sarris. Schickel even includes a piece by at least one Chaplin naysayer: George Jean Nathan, who, while evaluating City Lights, calls him "a limited actor", "a shabby musician", an "ingratiating clown" and finally "frequently a bore." I've also been reading This Film is Dangerous, a terrific anthology of archivists' essays and reflections on the properties of nitrate film stock. It's large enough to be for all practical purposes importable; needless to say this is my nightstand reading.

And of course I've been reading internet writing on film. I've been trying to keep up with most of the blogs on my ever-growing blogroll, but would like to particularly point out a few items of particular interest to Frisco moviegoers. Though I haven't yet made it to any screenings at this year's Another Hole in the Head Film Festival (I'll be at the Roxie for Bad Bugs Bunny Sunday), I've attended vicariously thanks to near-daily reports from Jason Wiener and, though he's reporting remotely from Atlanta, Georgia, Jay, aka the Angry Little Man. Also, Sara Schieron has interviewed the makers of Blood Car, and Michael Guillen has been writing on the festival for sf360 and his own site.

I've been talking about movies with friends and fellow cinephiles here in Frisco, but I've also been contributing to discussions as a blog commenter here and there. For some reason, even while I'm neglecting my own blog, I still can't resist joining discussions at other blogs such as Film of the Year, girish, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, and more. One sad note: Cinemarati is disbanding this week, and its website is set to disappear soon, removing one of my favorite options for intelligent film discussion. I've joined the new yahoo group and may find myself participating there.

I've been writing about film, finishing up my (volunteer) work for the Silent Film Festival research committee, the whole process of which has been as much fun as it has been a growth experience for me. With a great deal of support and editing assistance from the other members of the group, I've written for the program guide an essay on one of the films selected for this year's July 13-15 festival. Now that the festival's program has been announced, I can reveal that "my" film is William C. de Mille's Miss Lulu Bett, a 1921 film starring Lois Wilson, based on the novel and Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Zona Gale. I chose the film at the first committee meeting because I knew it had been inducted into the National Film Registry in 2001, and because I'd become intrigued by de Mille's direction of the one film I'd seen by him, Two Kinds of Women. I had no idea Miss Lulu Bett would be such a terrific film, or that William de Mille, Zona Gale and Lois Wilson would be so interesting to research. It will play at the Castro Theatre on Sunday, July 15th at 3:35 PM with a live musical score performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Arrive a little early and you'll see a slide show I put together on the de Mille family.

Other films in the program include Beggars of Life, a thrilling hobo drama featuring Louise Brooks as a cross-dressing trainhopper. Released more than a year before the Stock Market Crash of 1929, it's hard not to wonder how many people might have first seen the rail-riding lifestyle with the film's release, only to find themselves living it soon afterward. Camille paired two stars so big they only need a name apiece: Valentino and Nazimova, who was really the driving creative force behind the film despite a director credit to Ray C. Smallwood. Valley of the Giants may sound like a familiar title, as the Peter B. Kyne story has been filmed several times (most recently in 1952 as the Big Trees with Kirk Douglas), but the 1927 version brought by the festival is one of the least-seen versions. Cecil B. DeMille's The Godless Girl is coming to DVD later this year, but how can anyone miss a rare opportunity to see reform school Christians and atheists clash on the big Castro screen with Dennis James behind the organ?

The festival opens with James accompanying Ernst Lubitsch's the Student Prince of Old Heidelburg, one of the titles missed from the recent PFA retrospective of the director's work. As always, there are tributes to silent comedy (a Hal Roach program) and the silent cinema of other countries. In this case England, with a Cottage on Dartmoor, Italy, with Maciste, a modern-day (for 1915) offshoot from the historical spectacle Cabiria, that launched a series of muscleman pictures that lasted into the 1970s, and France. Representing the latter, Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films will present a program called Retour de Flamme, which will showcase a Chunnell-full of Gallic shorts from the likes of Georges Méliès, Segundo de Chomon, Ferdinand Zecca and others, all but one title completely unavailable on Region 1 DVD, and some titles so secret they haven't even been disclosed to members of the research committee.

Speaking of the members of the research committee, I just wanted to mention that each and every one of them was a pleasure to get to know in the confines of our biweekly gab-sessions, and through e-mail discussions. As a new member of the group I was humbled in the presence of a bunch of people who really know their silent films. I'd met Richard Hildreth before through his blog Supernatural, Perhaps -- Baloney, Perhaps Not, but it was great fun getting to know and talk film with him, with Margarita Landazuri of the Turner Classic Movies website and elsewhere, with Scott Brogan of the Judy Room, and with David Kiehn of the Niles Essanay Film Museum, which is putting together an extremely-tantalizing 35mm silent film festival of its own in Fremont on June 30-July 1, two weekends before the Silent Film Society's. Not to mention all the other members of the committee (only because I suspect some might be the shy sort when it comes to the blogosphere).

I've admittedly been biased by having talked about all the films on this schedule with a fun, diverse group of passionate film history enthusiasts, but I'm extremely excited to get to see them for the first time (and, in the case of Miss Lulu Bett and Beggars of Life, the latter of which will be presented in a brand-new 35mm print, the first time on the big screen with a live orchestra) next month.

I've also been excitedly anticipating all sorts of other events on the Frisco film horizon. Frameline 31 begins this Thursday, July 14th with the North American premiere of Andre Techine's the Witnesses, but I haven't a clue what else to pick out from its massive program. Any suggestions? Also coming to the Castro is a new Fabulous Fashion in Film festival with potential highlights including Blonde Venus August 1st and Grey Gardens (hopefully a projectable print this time, unlike last November's Castro booking of the Maysles Brothers film) July 30. Peaches Christ has announced her Midnight Mass line-up (guests galore include John Waters, Tura Satana and Elvira herself). And, though the venue hasn't put its schedule up beyond July 1st, when a delightful Jim Henson series wraps up there, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has a really mouth-watering set of programs coming soon, as revealed at the end of Sean Uyehara's fascinating interview with programmer Joel Shephard from last month.

What are you anticipating seeing on Frisco movie screens this summer?

Nice to have you back, Brian.
Thanks, Michael. I notice I was not quite caught up enough with my sidebar to have noticed your sf360 suggestions of Strand titles at Frameline yet. Susan Gerhard's interview with the programmers is also very helpful.

I also learned today that the Castro's calendar flyer is out before its website was updated. Highlights include:

A Barbara Stanwyck series that will also be at the PFA. I'll have to miss the Castro's June 26 screening of Ball of Fire to my regret, but it looks like I'll be able to see the other three in the series I've never seen before: Clash By Night July 17 and All I Desire and There's Always Tomorrow July 18. And most of the other films are certainly worth seeing more than once.

More silent films to go along with the SF Silent Film Festival. City Lights, which goes right along with my Chaplin mini-binge, and is definitely worth a re-evaulation now that I've finally seen the Unknown Chaplin. His People plays July 21 at the Jewish Film Festival, as part of a focus on Jewish boxers on film (also to include Edgar G. Ulmer's rarely screened My Son, the Hero and Robert Rossen's Body and Soul, which currently gets my vote for the best boxing film of all time). And the Lon Chaney version of the Phantom of the Opera will play August 12 as part of the theatre's 85th anniversary festivities.
Hey Brian,

Do you know when Park Jin-pyo's VOICE OF A MURDERER will be screening at the 4Star? I stopped by the other day, since I saw the Coming Soon poster, but the guy in the ticket window didn't know.
Hi Brian...Max Goldberg here, my first post huzzah! Jewish boxers and Stanwyck: what else could you want? It will be great to see all the Stanwyck movies strung together to really appreciate the way she was able to balance melodrama and comedy.

I'm looking forward to the new print of MALA NOCHE later this month, and the El Cerrito Pkwy has an interesting Italian-neorealism program set for 7.19. It's worth noting too that Kino21 is going to be re-screening the Dorsky films which played at YBCA earlier this year on 8.2 and 8.16 at SF Camerawork.

Also, I do recommend dropping by the Martin Munkacsi exhibition at the MOMA (Think While You Shoot!) while it's around this summer--about as close to motion-pictures as still photography gets.

Thanks again for the helpful posts...
Adam, I wish I knew more than you do. The ways of the Four Star are very mysterious, even to a man who lives a block away. I know they played a couple Korean films a week ago (Miracle on 1st Street and something else whose title was not as catchy), and that they're supposed to be playing Voice of a Murderer and the Restless sometime soon. How soon? Who knows? The Friday evening Asian double-bills that were supposed to begin a week ago have been postponed too.

Max, welcome and thanks for your input! I had no idea about the 16mm Dorsky projections at SF Camerawork. I will definitely try to make that, even though my last experience trying to watch a film there was pretty negative. I'm intrigued by Mala Noche but also trying not to get my hopes up too high, as Van Sant is notoriously hit-or-miss for me. I'll try to check out the MOMA show too.

I just noticed the Miracle In Milan show at the Cerrito myself last night. Finally I think they're going to get me out there. I'm expecting the long-rumored Rossellini retrospective to hit the PFA any month now, so it may be a neorealist explosion in the East Bay this summer.
I've been breaking from blogging, too. But there's many plans afoot and many films were seen. In fact, I just saw OUT 1 at the PFA this weekend. This comment is a break from writing about it... and The Sopranos. I promise the pairing will make sense. But more on that later. As ever, I'd like to make it to the city some more for Castro screenings but with summer funds dwindling, I kind of doubt that. For now I've got a ton of homework and work to be done at home, with DVDs and my new laptop. So, hopefully I'll get some essays out in the 'sphere sooner than later, on some intriguing matters.
Your informative posts are always worth the wait, Brian. Welcome back.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?