Monday, February 20, 2017

I Only Have Two Eyes #10

Within Our Gates screen capture from Kino DVD
2016. Between celebrity deaths, local disaster and a dispiriting (to put it mildly) election, it was an awful year, for many of us perhaps the worst of our lifetimes. And it's hard not to shake the sensation that it marked the beginning of a period of years (four? eight? some other number?) that are almost certain to be even worse. I'm not sure any of us could have survived 2016 (to the extent that we did) without moments that were exceptions to the rule. Even the staunchest activist should know the importance of self-care and staying passionate about things that give us pleasure even as we expend more time and energy educating ourselves and practicing vigilance.

As you might guess if you've read my blog over the years, many of my favorite moments of 2016 were experiences I had looking up at or, from the balcony, down at a glimmering screen with images projected upon it. I've already seen publication of lists of my favorite new features & shorts seen in 2016 (if I'd seen Toni Erdmann before the New Year rang in, it'd be on there too), and of my favorite expanded cinema performances of the year, and now it's time (or high past time, as we're already into mid-February) to focus on screenings of films from previous cinematic eras. Before I unveil my own list I'll present the favorites of more than a dozen other Frisco Bay cinephiles who I'm very pleased agreed to let me publish their selections on this blog; I call the project "I Only Have Two Eyes" because I can't possibly see every one of these wonderful repertory or revival screenings on my own, as most of them are one-off showings taking place all over the Bay Area.

This is the tenth year in a row for this annual survey. An anniversary, I guess! If you want to see the prior years' entries they're linked to in the last nine words of the first sentence of this paragraph. But keep an eye on this "hub" page as it grows over the coming days. I'm honored to have such thoughtful and perceptive participants such as:

02/09/17: John Slattery, a filmmaker based in Berkeley, clearly admires Maurice Pialat.
02/10/17: Ben Armington of BoxCubed describes his 2016 using DVD screen captures.
02/10/17: David Robson, who writes at House of Sparrows, cites Antonioni & Hitchcock showings, for starters.
02/11/17: Linda Scobie, filmmaker, programmer & projectionist, created a visual list heavy on underground film.
02/11/17: Lincoln Spector, who kindly allowed me to repost the revival entries from his Bayflicks 2016 wrap-up here.
02/12/17: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks from MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS picked a baker's dozen of showings.
02/12/17: Adam Hartzell spreads his love to the Balboa, BAMPFA, the Opera Plaza, SFSFF & YBCA.
02/13/17: Maureen Russell has a very Castro-centric list this year (with room for SFIFF & SFMOMA).
02/13/17: Claire Bain, a local artist, has chosen screenings at the Castro, Roxie & Artists' Television Access.
02/14/17: Philip Fukuda's list includes films made in eight different decades from the 1910s to the 2000s.
02/14/17: Terri Saul is a Berkeley-based artist whose selections all come from the new BAMPFA.
02/15/17: Monica Nolan, a San Francisco author & editor, has crafted a festival-heavy entry.
02/15/17: Carl Martin of the Film On Film Foundation likes typing his annual list entirely in lowercase.
02/16/17: Adrianne Finelli, a filmmaker & GAZE co-curator, highlights screenings at various cinemas- and a cave!
02/16/17: Sterling Hedgpeth blogs at The Filmatelist, where he first published his list of shows at ten different venues.
02/17/17: Lucy Laird of SFSFF and Nerd Nite SF enjoyed screenings at BAMPFA, the Castro, the Rafael & more.
02/17/17: Michael Hawley of the film-415 blog is one of two contributors who I've had the honor of publishing ten lists over the years.
02/20/17: My own list.

10HTE: Brian Darr

If you've read the seventeen other contributions to by tenth annual I Only Have Two Eyes project attempting to chronicle a hefty portion of the San Francisco Bay Area's best repertory and revival venues and screenings then you know the scene is still robust even as it constantly shifts, opening up new venues as others shutter or pull back. Now it's time for me to (finally) unveil my own top choices from my 2016 filmgoing as experienced from my seat in the audience among friends and strangers.
As usual, I'm essentially limiting my choices to films I'd never seen before at all, as I particularly value the ability I have in the Bay Area to let my first viewings of great films come in the kinds of environments they were intended for in the first place. It was nearly a half-century ago that Jean-Luc Godard said to Gene Youngblood, "I would never see a good movie for the first time on television." I don't strictly hold to this doctrine but I find my home viewings increasingly compromised and theatrical viewings increasingly precious in this distraction-driven era. I could create a shadow list of viewings of films I'd previously seen on television or in an otherwise-unideal circumstance, which came more alive through a 2016 cinema viewing. (Here's a try: Dumbo at the Paramount, In a Lonely Place at Noir City, I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang at the Castro, In the Street at the Crossroads festival, When A Woman Ascends the Stairs at BAMPFA, How To Survive A Plague at YBCA, The Grand Budapest Hotel at the Roxie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me at BAMPFA, Early Spring at BAMPFA, and Halloween at the New Mission.) But without further ado, here are the ten I'm "officially" picking as my 2016 I Only Have Two Eyes selections. Thanks to all my other contributors, to all you readers, and of course to the venues and the filmmakers, dead or alive, whose work made 2016 another grand one for my continuing cinematic self-education and enjoyment.
Heaven's Gate screen capture from Criterion DVD
Heaven's Gate, February 28, 2016

Though I'll definitely be watching the Oscar telecast this year (with reservations) in the hopes that I get to see my old blog-buddy Barry Jenkins accept (or at the minimum, see some of his Moonlight collaborators accept) an award or two, even with the temptation of seeing a newly-more-relevant cinematic titan, and one of the films that inspired it, on the Castro screen, last year I skipped the show without the tiniest shred of compunction in order to catch an extremely epic double-feature in the aforementioned cinema. San Francisco's grandest screen was the ideal place to finally view Michael Cimino's notorious film maudit, which I'm not so surprised to report is now my favorite of his films made up to that point: his 1980 Heaven's Gate. (I haven't delved into Year of the Dragon through Sunchaser but was less-than-thrilled by his swan-song segment of To Each His Own Cinema). It's a sprawling, misshapen masterpiece full of wisdom and folly and a wagon-load of scenes I will absolutely never forget even if I never watch it again- which I certainly will, especially if a 35mm print of this 219-minute cut shows up somewhere again, as it surprisingly did for this Vilmos Zsigmond-tribute showing paired with the also exceptional America America which provided the Haskell Wexler half of the pairing in honor of two great, now-deceased cinematographers. That Cimino joined those two in the pantheon of departed masters only a few months later and that a President was elected who would certainly hate the pro-immigrant themes of these two films soon after that, makes the showing feel all the more special nearly a year later.

Foreign Correspondent, March 20, 2016

I made it back home from a weekend trip to Alfred Hitchcock's Sonoma County stomping grounds just in time to race to Palo Alto's Stanford Theatre for the final screening of his second Hollywood film, which is my second-to-last of his Hollywood films to view (I still haven't seen Topaz). Perhaps a decade or so ago I made a vow never again to watch a Hitchcock film for the first time on home video, and I've broken it only once since (for his silent Champagne, which I missed at the Castro in 2013 to catch a Stanford showing of The Ten Commandments). I'm glad I didn't and waited for this formative, pure entertainment whose 1940 thrills still feel so visceral on a big screen. I only wish I had been able to make it to the same venue in the fall when it showed the ever-rarer Waltzes From Vienna, which marks the end of the string of his British films (beginning with Juno and the Paycock) which, along with the much-later Jamaica Inn, I haven't been able to catch in a cinema yet and thus remain gaps in my Hitchcography. At least I saw several other excellent films from the Stanford's Vienna-themed series (including Spring Parade and Liebelei) and other great 2016 screenings (Hold Back the Dawn, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, A Midsummer Night's Dream) at my hands-down favorite south-of-San Francisco screening venue.

Black Sunday screen capture from Anchor Bay DVD
Black Sunday, April 7, 2016

A 2002 Yerba Buena Center For the Arts retrospective is where I first became acquainted with the visionary, technically audacious cinema of Italian master Mario Bava, whose films like Kill Baby Kill, Five Dolls For an August Moon and Twitch of the Death Nerve make him my personal favorite international horror director from the period between Jacques Tourneur's and David Cronenberg's peaks in that genre. But I couldn't see everything in that 15-year-old retro, so I'd never before seen his very first feature film as an uncredited writer and a credited director. It's appropriate that I return to the scene of the crime (YBCA) to finally view this eerie and intense 1960 film, which not only made a star out of Barbara Steele but also allowed Bava to emerge with a fully-formed style (honed by years as a cinematographer). YBCA's all-35mm Gothic Cinema series was an overall 2016 highlight, also allowing me a chance to finally see wonderfully spooky films like James Whale's The Old Dark House and Jack Clayton's The Innocents for the first time.

Quixote, May 22, 2016

Bruce Baillie is well-known as the founder of Canyon Cinema. He's also one of my very favorite living filmmakers and I'm so glad I had a chance to finally see two of his major works on 16mm for the first time in 2016. Though it was wonderful to see him down from Washington State introducing a screening of his first film On Sundays at New Nothing Cinema in September, an Artists' Television Access showing of his 1965 Quixote was even more precious. It was introduced by a more recent (though not current) Canyon executive director, Denah Johnston, who also showed a lovely film of her own called Sunflowers as well as the great Study of a River by then-gravely-ill master Peter Hutton, as examples of work inspired by Baillie's unique way of seeing. Quixote turns out to be truly monumental work of the proto-hippie counterculture, on the order of Baillie's post-hippie Quick Billy if not ever greater. Shot all over the American West and edited with the aplomb of the most skillful of the Soviet masters, it's Baillie's grand, righteous, sorrowfully patriotic/anti-patriotic statement all in one. Other 2016 repertory highlights in an experimental vein included 16mm showings of Thad Povey's Scratch Film Junkies' Saint Louise and Gunvor Nelson's Take Off at SOMArts (the latter also introduced by Johnston, the former by Craig Baldwin) and of Scott Stark's Angel Beach, Paul Clipson's Another Void and Rosario Sotelo's Flor Serpiente among other works at A.T.A.; both of these evenings were organized in conjunction with an undersung SOMArts exhibit called Timeless Motion that I had a very small hand in assisting in the installation of. I also loved seeing Ron Rice's The Flower Thief and Pat O'Neill introducing his Water & Power at BAMPFA, Caryn Cline showing Lucy's Terrace and her other films at the Exploratorium, Toney Merritt showing EF and many of his other films and Lynn Marie Kirby showing Stephanie Beroes's Recital at New Nothing, and Ishu Patel's Perspectrum and James Whitney's Lapis among others presented by Ben Ridgeway at Oddball (whose weekly screenings have sadly been put on hiatus). It was another good year in this regard.

Gate of Flesh screen capture from Criterion DVD
Gate of Flesh, May 28, 2016

I like the latest iteration of the Pacific Film Archive, now rebranded as BAMPFA, in its newly-built structure just a block or so from the Downtown Berkeley BART station. I don't love it yet, though, because it can't compete with fifteen years of memories made at the old corrugated-metal building further up the hill. It doesn't help that my approach to cinema-going doesn't seem to mesh quite as well with some of the patterns being established at the new venue; earlier showtimes, a reintroduction of the canon, more DCPs (the latter two may be related), etc. And I'm not quite used to the fact that though there are more seats, there also seem to be more sold-out shows; more than once I've arrived at the venue only to be turned away for lack of space, something that hadn't happened to me, no matter how spontaneous my arrival had been, in about a decade before 2016. But BAMPFA still allowed me to see some wonderful 35mm prints of films I'd never watched before, including several Maurice Pialat films, John Ford's The Long Voyage Home, Nick Ray's The Lusty Men, and a decent sampling of the Anna Magnani series that played in the fall. But my year's happiest personal discovery there was certainly that of Seijun Suzuki's 1964 Gate of Flesh, first released when he was a mere 41 (he's now 93 and counting!) It's a maximalist melodrama set in the world of makeshift brothels of post-war Tokyo at it's bombedest-out, filled with tremendous color and energy and some of the most inventive double-exposures made since the silent era.

Anguish, August 9, 2016

When I first heard in April 2012 that the Alamo Drafthouse was going to be renovating the long-shuttered New Mission Theatre I was living just a few blocks away, and was excited but skeptical that I'd still be living there by the time it arrived. Sure enough, I was evicted and moved across town within two years and the venue didn't open for nearly another two. But I've still found the allure of another repertory venue filling some of the long-standing genre gaps in the Frisco Bay screening ecosystem too strong to resist. Alamo's New Mission has something of a reputation for catering to the gentrifying crowd epitomized by the condos next door whose construction were part of the deal to revive the old "Miracle Mile" movie house, and if you look at the prices of their normal tickets and food-and-drink menu items, it's hard to shake that perception. But the theatre's regular late-weeknight, usually-35mm screenings of our grindhouse cinematic heritage for only $6 a seat makes it a godsend for budget-minded cinephiles. The most successful series seems to be Terror Tuesdays, and though it tends to focus pretty strictly on films from the 1970s, 80s and 90s, I can't deny that's a pretty good time period to focus on when it comes to horror movies. Catalan filmmaker Bigas Luna's jaw-dropping 1987 Anguish fits right into that frame, and I'm SO glad I saw it for the first time in a theatre full of other movie lovers who, like me, didn't seem to know what was hitting them. I don't want to spoil a moment of this unique film experience, but I will say that Alamo programmer Mike Keegan (formerly of the Roxie) gave a pitch-perfect introduction that gave us a sense of the intensity of experience we were in for without tipping Bigas's hand in any way. If I could only pick one viewing experience to highlight on this list instead of ten, Anguish would be very much in the running. I've also enjoyed the Alamo's Weird Wednesday programming (especially Walter Hill's Southern Comfort) and, before the admission price more than doubled from $6 to $14, the Music Monday events (especially Donald Cammell's & Nicolas Roeg's Performance).

Manhunter screen capture from MGM DVD
Manhunter, September 3, 2016

I must admit that of all the active filmmakers I see many of my cinephile friends and admireds discussing with passion, Michael Mann is the one that I have traditionally had the most resistance to joining the cult of. Perhaps I've just seen the wrong films (The Keep must be for the advanced Mann-ophile). His 1986 Manhunter, on the other hand, is most definitely the right film. It revels in an eighties-era dread very different from (and to me, more appealing than) the 1990s guignol of Silence of the Lambs, which it technically precurses even if its shared characters are played by different actors, and does a better job at interrogating the wobbly line between society's desecrators and its guardians than any serial-killer movie I can think of. This was screened as part of Jesse Hawthorne Ficks's MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS series, which by the end of 2016 appeared to have departed from the Castro as its primary home for over ten years (after a healthy early-2000s stretch at the 4-Star) and taking up residency at the Roxie (where Manhunter screened) while occasionally venturing into the Exploratorium or the New Mission. The houses are more reliably packed and the films chosen more frequently diverge from my own personal perception of "dismissed, underrated and forgotten films" (this weekend is a tribute to Hayao Miyazaki, whom I love but whom I have a hard time imagining with those labels), but as Ficks has direct contact with a new generation of moving-image-obsessives in his position as a film history teacher at a local school, I'm willing to defer to his definitions. Especially when it means 35mm prints of great films get shown in nearby cinemas.

Viridana, October 14, 2016

What cinema fan doesn't love Luis Buñuel? Finally getting a chance to see his 1961 excoriating re-entry into filming in his homeland after 29 years, in a beautiful 35mm print, would be a highlight of any year. It's a tremendous, unforgettable film, perhaps Buñuel's most Buñuelian, tackling all his usual themes of hypocrisy, sexual obsession, class conflict, etc. with maximum fervor. As much as I love his Mexican and French filmmaking periods, there is something about his few Spanish films that sets them apart. The screening was held at SFMOMA on the second weekend of its first Modern Cinema series devoted to the Criterion Collection and to Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (its current series is Werner Herzog and Ecstatic Truth and its next series, in June, celebrates 100 years of Jean-Pierre Melville by grouping his films with those of one of his most ardent director acolytes Johnny To). After sampling the venue with Viridiana I was able to re-watch great films by Victor Erice, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and Apichatpong, who was on hand wearing a Canyon Cinema T-Shirt for certain showings. This series marked the relaunching of SFMOMA's film programming after over three years of expansion and refurbishment; the Wattis Theatre got a mild make-over in comparison to much of the rest of the building, a missed opportunity to provide more legroom between rows compounded by a new problem of noise from stairwalking museumgoers infiltrating the theatre space during museum-hours screenings of quiet films. Luckily Viridiana screened after hours, a new capability of the space now that it has a separate public entrance from the expensive-to-insure galleries, and I found one of the better seats in the house to view it from.  Despite its minor problems, I'm glad to have a key piece of Frisco Bay repertory reinstated after such a long absence.

So This Is Paris screen capture from youtube
So This Is Paris, December 3, 2016

Since instating an annual one-day Winter Event (or sometimes Fall Event) at the Castro Theatre as a supplement to its Summer (now moved to late Spring) multi-day festival more than ten years ago, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival has gradually moved more and more to showing most of the latest restorations and rarely-seen archival gems in the summer while using the opposite end of the calendar to bring out well-known warhorses like The Thief of Bagdad or The General or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It's like a little favor to the many out-of-towners who attend the multi-day festival that they tend to shy away from showing too many films at the one-day event that they'll really regret missing. In 2016, however, their December Day of Silents may have been even more enticing to certain silent film fans than the June festival; it was to me. Although the latter let me see terrific unknown films like Behind the Door and a program of (minimum) 110-year-old hand-colored European films as well as re-viewing great work by Ozu, Wellman, Clair, Flaherty, etc, the Day of Silents seemed to be programmed right to my fondest viewing desires: a rare chance to see longtime favorites like Eisenstein's Strike and Von Sternberg's The Last Command on the big screen for the first time, a chance to see Raoul Walsh's wonderful (if sadly incomplete) Sadie Thompson for the first time ever, and more, nearly all of it (excepting an early-matinee Chaplin shorts set) in 35mm prints. The highest highlight, however, was seeing the last and probably the best of Ernst Lubitsch's Warner Brothers silents, So This Is Paris from 1926, with a tremendous piano accompaniment from Donald Sosin. Everyone talks about this film's bravura Charleston dance sequence, justifiably, but the rest of the film is also a supreme delight, spoofing the then-in-vogue romantic sheik figure, engineering a perfectly-interlocking love quadrangle based on the same material as the famous Strauss operetta Die Fledermaus, and suffusing the proceedings with a biting gallows humor. It immediately shoots to the top tier of American silent films most shamefully lacking an official DVD release, alongside Lubitsch's next great film The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (which I'm not sure how to explain the absence of on my very first I Only Have Two Eyes list from when I saw it at SFSFF in 2007).

I Gopher You, December 10, 2016

The Roxie Theater has really improved its repertory-screening game in my eyes over the past year or so, at least in my eyes. Perhaps it's a competitive response to the appearance of the Alamo Drafthouse a few blocks away. Perhaps it's a function of getting the right personnel in place on its staff and its non-profit board. Perhaps it's connected to the November 2015 passage of the Legacy Business Preservation Fund creation, which the Roxie was able to benefit from starting in August 2016. Perhaps all these factors and more contribute. But though the oldest (first opened in 1909) essentially-continuously-operating movie house in San Francisco, if not a much wider geographic area (it's contested), still has challenges to face, it's facing them not only by using creative tools like their current silent auction and upcoming off-site fundraiser, but also by reasserting itself as an essential piece of the Frisco Bay exhibition quilt through its screenings, more of which involved celluloid in 2016 than had been the case in quite a few years. I personally partook in great events like a September Sam Fuller series, a lovely Les Blank program in March, some of the previously-mentioned MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS showings like Manhunter, and more. None were more purely fun than the two all-35mm programs of Warner Brothers animation brought through the Roxie's monthly Popcorn For Breakfast Saturday morning cartoon showcase enthusiastically and knowledgeably hosted by Amanda Peterson. June's set of selections leaned heavily on the great Chuck Jones, and let me view 35mm prints of classics I'd only seen on TV before like Robin Hood Daffy and There They Go-Go-Go; that it was held twenty-four hours before a Castro Jones tribute made for a deeply-immersive weekend for fans of Termite Terrace's most celebrated director. But the Roxie's December dozen, while not ignoring Jones, gave greater attention to his 1950s studio-mates, particularly Robert McKimson. And the program began with a cartoon by my personal favorite of Jones's under-appreciated co-workers, Friz Freleng, which I'm 99% sure I never saw as a kid and 100% sure I hadn't seen as an adult, much less in a great 35mm print. Freleng's 1954 I Gopher You is the fifth cartoon featuring the hilariously over-polite Goofy Gophers voiced by Mel Blanc and Stan Freburg, and the first in which their nemesis is not an antagonistic pooch but the industrial agricultural system itself. "Mac" and "Tosh" find their farmland food supply raided by the mechanisms of post-World War II production, tracing a truck full of freshly-picked vegetables back to the Ajax processing plant. The mazes of conveyor belts and relentless canning contraptions makes for the ideal playground for Freleng's signature "anticipation gags" in which hearty humor derives from the expectation of the fulfillment of a pattern of violence and/or humiliation against a character. Much like the gophers themselves, this well-oiled machine of a film is seemingly small (at only 7 minutes), but packs a formidable wallop. It's available as a bonus on the Warner DVD of His Majesty O'Keefe, which you can rent at Lost Weekend Video.

Friday, February 17, 2017

10HTE: Michael Hawley

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2016. An index of participants can be found here.

Ten-time IOHTE contributor Michael Hawley runs the blog film-415.


2016 Favorite Bay Area Revival/Repertory Screenings

Blow Job screen shot from Music Box DVD of The Story of Film: An Odyssey
Blow Job (1963 USA dir. Andy Warhol)
Andy Warhol's Silver Screen: Rarities & Restorations, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

I expected to be bored, but instead found myself strangely captivated by this infamous Warhol silent in which the camera coolly observes the face – and only the face – of a young man (DeVeren Bookwalter) angelically lit from above, as he receives a titular off-screen BJ. Shot in high contrast B&W, the exquisite new 16mm print made it easy to savor the way light plays over the planes of his expressive and continually moving face. Eventually one notices how the eyes only become visible when the head tilts back and how his pouty upper lip remains perpetually hidden in shadow. After 25 minutes a pair of arms finally rises in sweet surrender, followed by five minutes of cigarette smoking. The End. On the same double-bill was My Hustler, a 1965 two-reeler gab-fest that benefitted greatly from its astoundingly clear audio. In the first section, a gay man and his fag hag neighbor dish the Dial-a-Hustler (Paul America) lounging on the beach below. Mr. America returns in reel two as he and another hustler (Joseph Campbell) shower, shave and preen whilst discussing the finer points of their trade. I was also lucky enough to catch Warhol's The Life of Juanita Castro (1965) and The Velvet Underground Tarot Cards (1966) as part of this YBCA series.

Hospital (1970 USA dir. Frederick Wiseman)
Frederick Wiseman Restorations: Three Confrontational Classics, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Although I found plenty to admire in Titicut Follies (1967) and High School (1969), both part of this 35mm restorations trio, it was Wiseman's riveting portrait of NYC's Metropolitan Hospital that really shocked my senses. I was particularly taken by the hospital staff's compassion and advocacy for their mostly low-income and indigent clientele – and I'm fully convinced it wasn't just an act for the camera. Inone memorably intense sequence, a staff psychiatrist valiantly pleads by phone with the city's Department of Welfare to obtain help for an underage African-American transgender prostitute.

Until the End of the World screen shot from Magnolia DVD of Steve Jobs: the Man in the Machine
Until The End of the World (1991 Germany dir. Wim Wenders)
Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road, Pacific Film Archive

While I really dug this dystopian road movie 25 years ago in its 158-minute iteration, there's even more tolove now in this gorgeous 4K restoration of Wenders' five-hour director's cut, shown at the PFA with a 30-minute intermission. The film's prescience is staggering, with automobile GPS, facial ID software and inter-personal video communication all part of its near-futuristic milieu.

Loulou (1980 France dir. Maurice Pialat)
Love Exists: The Films of Maurice Pialat, Pacific Film Archive

After seeing a reunited Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu in 2015's In the Valley of Love, it was grand going back 35 years to watch them in the prime of youthful magnificence. In Pialat's slice-of-life examination of class conflict, Huppert plays a young woman who leaves her priggish husband (Guy Marchand) for Depardieu's loutish ex-con. Favorite line: "I'd prefer a loafer who fucks to a rich guy who bugs me!"

Under Age (1941 USA dir. Edward Dmytryk)
I Wake Up Screaming (1941 USA dir. Bruce Humberstone)
The Girl and the Monster (1941 USA dir. Stuart Heisler
I Wake Up Dreaming, Castro Theatre

This line-up of trashy 1941 Film Noir – courtesy of esteemed, soon-to-be ex-San Francisco programmer Elliot Lavine – was THE triple-bill of 2016. In Under Age, two down-on-their-luck sisters fall into a scheme by which hitchhiking women coax businessmen to a chain of rest stops where they're swindled by waiting gangsters. Then in I Wake Up Screaming, a publicity agent is accused of murdering the waitress he's transformed into an A-list celebrity, with a fantastically menacing Laird Cregar as the police inspector out to frame him. I was surprised by a scene in which Betty Grable and Victor Mature hide out in a 24-hour "Adults Only" movie theater. I guess that was already a thing back in 1941? Then in the ultimate cake-taker The Girl and the Monster, a man about to be wrongly executed asks a scientist to transplant his brain into a gorilla so he can seek revenge against the mobsters who prostituted his sister. Yes, you read that correctly.

Multiple Maniacs (1979 USA dir. John Waters)

I hadn't seen Waters' first synch-sound film in over 30 years so this Janus Films 4-K restoration was a true like-a-virgin experience. So many things I had forgotten – Divine's hilariously fevered interior monolog in the church scene, the climactic chase through the streets of Baltimore, the re-enactment of Jesus' multiplying of loaves and fishes (canned tuna and trashy white bread). It was a special thrill seeing it in Alamo Drafthouse's main auditorium with Waters on hand to do the intro honors.

A Woman of the World screen shot from Janus DVD of The Love Goddesses
A Woman of the World (1925 USA dir. Malcolm St. Clair)
21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro Theatre

Of the 14 programs I caught at this year's SF Silent Film Festival, I had the most fun watching Pola Negri as a tattoo-sporting Italian countess scandalizing a small American hamlet. The image of Negri horsewhipping the local district attorney who wants to run her out of town is now lovingly seared upon my brain. Two additional SFSFF highpoints were Shooting Stars, which marked the debut of brilliant British director Anthony Asquith (A Cottage on Dartmoor), and René Clair's farcical The Italian Straw Hat.

The Beatles at Shea Stadium (1966 USA)
Castro Theatre

This miraculous 4K restoration of the Fab Four's legendary 35-minute Shea Stadium concert was a bonus feature at screenings of Ron Howard's new documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years. (The doc was concurrently streaming on HULU, minus the Shea concert). Thanks to its being shot with 14 cameras, the viewer experiences everything from the band's dazed sprint out onto the field, right up through their being whisked away by security post-concert. Most importantly, the songs can now be heard clearly over the stadium's 55,000 screaming fans. My favorite moment saw John and George convulsing with laughter while singing back-up on "I'm Down," the concert's final number.

So This is Paris (1926 USA dir. Ernst Lubitsch)
San Francisco Silent Film Festival's A Day of Silents, Castro Theatre

My fave silent film discovery of the year was this clever and breezy marital infidelity romp featuring four first-rate actors I'd never heard of and an orgiastic Charleston dance sequence that's gotta be seen to be believed. This one-day marathon of silent cinema goodness also featured Sadie Thompson with Gloria Swanson (who kept reminding me of Kristen Stewart!), the Alloy Orchestra accompanying Eisenstein's Strike, and the first-ever Oscar winner for Best Actor (Emil Jannings in 1928's The Last Command.)

Scarlet Street screen shot from Kino DVD
Scarlet Street (1945 USA dir. Fritz Lang)
Noir City 14, Castro Theatre

Edward G. Robinson gives a delicately sympathetic performance as a put-upon hubby and Sunday painter who gets mixed up with a prostitute (Joan Bennett) and her pimp boyfriend (Dan Duryea). It's easy to see why Fritz Lang considered this his favorite of the films he made in Hollywood. The movie wrapped up an impressive Saturday afternoon triple-bill that included 1944's The Lodger starring (once again) the great Laird Cregar as a surrogate Jack the Ripper, and 1944's Bluebeard featuring John Carradine as a women-murdering Parisian puppeteer. Noir City 14 also afforded me worthwhile revisits of Michael Powell's The Red Shoes and Peeping Tom, as well as Antonioni's Blow-Up.

10HTE: Lucy Laird

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2016. An index of participants can be found here.

Three-time IOHTE contributor Lucy Laird is the operations director for the SF Silent Film Festival, co-boss at Nerd Nite San Francisco, and writer of the occasional program note for local festivals.


In chronological order:

Image from Film Grimoire; chose it because WE HAD BEEN WAITING so long for the PFA to re-open!
2/3/2016 The Seventh Seal (1957) at the still-off-gassing-paint-and-carpet-glue-new Barbro Osher Theater at BAMPFA

There was no way I could miss the first “regular” public screening at the PFA. Having heard tales of the before-my-time, not-built-for-cinema Gund Theater’s glory days and having worked in and fallen in love (nothing like a pre-code series to fan the flames) at the “temporary” field-house structure on Bancroft Avenue, I knew this latest iteration had a lot to live up to. Yes, this Bergman was a bit somber for a celebration, but Barbro Osher charmed the audience with her introductory remarks, setting the scene for this: the screen makes generous use of its space (suddenly taking up much more of the wall’s square footage, hurrah!), the audience gasps (or was that just me?) as the masking makes way, the Swedish master takes over, and I see this film for the first time for my third time and the PFA’s fifth time on its third screen!

Screen capture from youtube.
2/6/2016 Douglas Sirk’s The Tarnished Angels (1957) at the PFA’s Cinema, Mon Amour series

Cinemascope, black-and-white perfection. I remember renting it on VHS from Santa Monica’s great (and thankfully not quite late) video store, Vidiots, back in the early aughts, and cursing my stupidity at not waiting until it came to a theater near me in 35 to see it for the first time. But I’d just read Sirk on Sirk, so perhaps you can understand. It’s a film about loneliness and love and stunt flying, the compulsive circling of Robert Stack’s character around the pylons a bit like us cinemaniacs, circling back around to our favorite theaters, convinced the next screening—or the next—will be our most thrilling.

3/4/2016 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) at the New Mission

Technically a revival screening, no matter that it was only a few months out of the theater before it circled back again. This was my first time at an Alamo Drafthouse, but I quickly became a convert to the slightly-too-slick anti-device and -talking pre-show admonitions. Thankfully, George Miller’s dystopian crank-fest was loud enough to dampen any of my newbie annoyance at the (excellent, though pricey!) service of food and drink. Let the record show that earplugs were inserted about 10 minutes into this particular film and I then ate it up, along with a milkshake. Delicious and lived up to the hype—both the movie and the theater!
Image from MoMA
5/14/2016 Twilight (no, not THAT one) aka Crepúsculo (1945), part of the PFA’s Mexican Film Noir series

Gorgeous, overwrought, a denouement on a bridge that knocked the wind outta me, and a darn fine soft-titling job from a brave soul in the booth. Wish I’d gone to more of these Mexican noirs…

5/22/2016 The Red Balloon (1956) as part of BAMPFA’s free Family Day

I’d been reading my 4-year-old daughter the children’s book version (made up of stills from the film), but it had been years since I’d seen this, so we went with some friends. Still potent, still moving, still or moving, but there’s nothing like experiencing Ménilmontant avec Pascal, on the run through the petite alleyways, only wide enough for a boy and his balloon, watching with kids not yet old enough for subtitles.

Image from cageyfilms blog
And then I came back later on 5/22 for Antonio Pietrangeli’s I Knew Her Well (1965), one of the PFA’s (ir)regular 4K digital restoration screenings

I couldn’t help thinking I’d’a watched the heck out of this whilst in my obsessed-with-Jean-Seberg phase 20 years ago, because Stefania Sandrelli is just as compelling and has better hair—and her character works as a fabulously dressed cinema usher! What sad fun she and this film are.

6/3/2016 Behind the Door (1919) at the Castro Theatre, part of the 21st SF Silent Film Festival

I don’t have time to preview all the films we show at the Silent Film Festival, and I’m sure glad I didn’t spoil Behind the Door by distractedly watching a digital copy of it ahead of time. Perverse, beautiful, uncanny, and made all the more so with Stephen Horne live, at a late-night screening of a brand-new, tinted 35mm print, this was the rare SFSFF film I made time to watch all the way through DURING the festival, to-do lists be darned! And now here’s my unabashed plug: watch the trailer, then pre-order the DVD/Blu-ray from Flicker Alley

Image from Theater of Guts blog
9/24/2016 White Dog (1982), part of the series Samuel Fuller: A Fuller Life at the Smith Rafael Film Center

Another of those “How can I have not seen this yet?!” films, White Dog, with its complicated history and cult following, is a movie that I’d wanted to view for the first time on the big screen. But it was oh-so-worth the wait. Such a weird and sinister atmosphere, combining some really shoddy lighting set-ups and acting (I’m looking at you, Kristy), but somehow all the better for those faults. And on Art House Theater Day, and with Fuller’s wife and daughter on hand for a post-screening Q&A, and—I later found out—in a 35mm director’s cut snagged in a twist of fate by a private collector friend. How lucky we are to live here and have access to these experiences! So why was the theater so empty? Your only excuse would be that you decided to see it at the Roxie instead.

10/23/2016 Annie (1982) singalong at the Castro Theatre

Why didn’t anyone tell me that there are GIGANTIC areas of screen covered up by the singalong lyrics? Yes, this was my first singalong experience, so maybe that’s old news. And the bags of stuff everyone gets? The bang-snaps and the glow sticks and the candy and the bubbles? Well, I was a sucker for it all, especially that goodie bag, which kept my kid happy during the (many) charmingly boring parts of this John Huston film that I remember LOVING as a kid. I think I still love it and happily belted out the stupid tunes. This is my kind of expanded cinema.

Image courtesy contributor
11/2/2016 Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ)’s talk at Nerd Nite @ the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission Theater, part of the Bay Area Science Festival

This is a bit of a cheat because a) this isn’t strictly a movie, and b) I was involved in programming this show that combined a little bit of science, a little bit of cinema, cocktail robots, and a celebration of the New Mission Theater’s 100th anniversary—but I did not book Mr. Grannell, whose bawdy, and brilliant slideshow/lecture on the history of the Bay Area’s cult film scene really livened up the proceedings. Thank Christ for Peaches!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

10HTE: Sterling Hedgpeth

The San Francisco Bay Area is still home to a rich cinephilic culture nurtured in large part by a diverse array of cinemas, programmers and moviegoers. I'm honored to present a selection of favorite screenings experienced by local cinephiles in 2016. An index of participants can be found here.

First-time IOHTE contributor Sterling Hedgpeth runs a stamps & cinema blog called The Filmatelist, from which he's allowed me to re-post (with different images) from this entry.


Dumbo screen capture from Disney DVD
We’ll start with Dumbo (Sharpsteen, 1941) at the Paramount in Oakland, on absolutely stunning 35mm. Although the emcee called it original (which it couldn’t have been, because that would have meant nitrate stock), it certainly was a crisply struck print that had not seen much circulation. Combine the divine “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence with the most gorgeous Art Deco palace in the Bay Area, and it was a great way to start the year.

Also in January were some memorable titles at Noir City at the Castro, and for me, the highlight was a first viewing of Mickey One (Penn, 1965), a glorious jazz-tinged fever dream of a film, with an assist from legend Stan Getz. Disjointed, bizarre, singularly unique and punctuated by a live dance routine from burlesque goddess Evie Lovelle.

Soon after, the PFA had an excellent Maurice Pialat series, but I suspect that the power of his Under the Sun of Satan (1987) was magnified by it being bookended (quite by coincidence) with two other contemporary films I saw the same week that also explore religious faith, fanaticism and hypocrisy: Pablo Larrain’s The Club and Avishai Sivan’s Tikkun. In Pialat’s fantasy-fueled acid bath Passion Play, he posits the possibility that religion may be the most oppressive to the truly devout. Overall, a provocative accidental trilogy.

The Beguiled screen shot from Universal DVD
Some fun Gothic films ran their course at the Yerba Buena Arts Center that summer, and the highlight was my first time seeing The Beguiled (1971) on the big screen. Still Don Siegel’s best, Clint Eastwood plays a Yankee fox trying to subvert and seduce a Dixie henhouse. The thick hothouse atmosphere and sexual tension played beautifully through Siegel's lighting and the insidious plotting and character power plays. Still a remarkable film (soon to be remade by Sofia Coppola).

Though a relatively recent movie, I have to include the Triplets of Belleville (Chomet, 2003) screening at the Taube Atrium in the SF Opera House because Benoît Charest was there with a jazz combo to perform his exquisite score live, including saws, bikes, and trashcans as percussion instruments. A terrific experience.

2016 was the first year the Alamo Drafthouse in the Mission was open, and the best part of their programming is the late night Mon-Wed screenings. My first dip into that pool was a packed show of Two-Lane Blacktop (Hellman, 1971), which I’ve seen several times in the theater, but never tire of the gearhead culture, the meditative structure and lack of urgency (for a racing film!) and Warren Oates’s phenomenal turn as GTO. My year was relatively short on roadtrips but this went some way to sating my wanderlust.

The Shining screen capture from Warner DVD
In my backyard at the Parkway, there was an irresistible double bill of the cuckoo-bananas conspiracy theory documentary Room 237 (Ascher, 2012) followed by a screening of the focus of its subject, The Shining (Kubrick, 1980) itself. Rarely does a year go by when I don’t see some Kubrick on screen (I also revisited Paths of Glory and Spartacus at the Smith Rafael Film Center for Kirk Douglas’s 100th birthday), but a bonus this year was an excellent exhibit on Kubrick at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF with some amazing artifacts from his career, including the typewriter and hedge maze model from this film.

Also at the Smith Rafael was a Sam Fuller weekend (with his widow and daughter in attendance), where the biggest revelation for me was his Tokyo noir House of Bamboo (1955), a beautifully stylized genre piece whose gangster trappings and compositions appeared to anticipate the marvelous Seijun Suzuki, whose career was starting around the exact same time. As you’d expect, Robert Ryan is in top form and the climax on a rooftop amusement park is a standout.

Destiny screen capture from Kino DVD
And finally, two silent films, both firsts for me. At the Silent Film Festival at the Castro, Destiny (1921), the earliest film I’ve seen by Fritz Lang and a glorious anthology of stories where Love must face down Death. It was wonderful seeing Lang’s visual imagination in bloom, anticipating the superb special FX and supernatural wonders of his next few years in Germany. Months later, over at the Niles Essanay Film Museum, the buoyant energy of underrated actress Bebe Daniels was on full display in the fizzy comedy Feel My Pulse (La Cava, 1928), about a hypochondriac heiress looking for rest at a health sanitarium which is actually acting as a front for bootleggers (led by a very young William Powell). A hilarious comedy and secret gem.

So that’s 10 features, but since I saw over 60 archival shorts in the theater last year, I’ll give an honorable mention to two with Buster Keaton, still silent in the autumn of his career. I saw The Railrodder (Potterton, 1965) at an Oddball Film Archive screening, featuring Buster traveling across Canada on an open-air mini-railcar, a playful reminder of his other great train film The General, but in sumptuous color. And around the same time, the Smith Rafael Film Center played Film (Schneider, 1965), one of Samuel Beckett’s few forays into film and a wonderful existential metaphor with Buster showing that age had not changed the expressiveness of his body in motion. A sublime pairing. Here’s looking forward to another year of familiar films and new discoveries.