Saturday, January 31, 2015

IOHTE: Adrianne Finelli

"IOHTE" stands for "I Only Have Two Eyes"; it's my annual survey of selected San Francisco Bay Area cinephiles' favorite in-the-cinema screenings of classic films and archival oddities from the past year. An index of participants can be found here.

Contributor Adrianne Finelli is an artist, curator, educator & film lover. She co-curates the GAZE film series at Artist Television Access; its next screening is February 13.

After a couple years of extended visits to the Bay Area, this past June I relocated here for love. Fortunately for me, my love of film is flourishing here as well. In the summer sun, my partner and I drove 2600 miles across the country straight to the Pacific Film Archive. Having only been here for six months of this year, I feel like I’ve missed a lot of treasures, but I’m grateful that I was able to see what I did. I’m looking forward to seeing much more in 2015. As requested by Brian Darr, whose film blog has become one of my bookmarks, here’s my list of my 10 favorite repertory film screenings of last year. Thanks to Brian and Hell on Frisco Bay for the invitation.

Favorites are fun, but they’re always so hard to whittle down:
Screen capture from Eclipse DVD

1) Sisters of Gion 
Kenji Mizoguchi (Japan, 1936) 
Pacific Film Archive  
This was my first opportunity to see a Mizoguchi film on the big screen; this screening also marked my first week in the area as an official resident. Apart from that, the film, Sisters of Gion, may be my favorite of his works and is a quintessential feminist film. Rebellious and decades ahead of its time, a critique of traditions and the clash of eras—the film looks deep into the lives and issues that the women of the Geisha tradition faced. Mizoguchi’s empathy is with the lives sold and not the salesman that are buying. Oh, that ending.  

2) A Woman of Rumor 
Kenji Mizoguchi (Japan, 1954) 
Pacific Film Archive  
Another poignant Mizoguchi feature about the personal lives of sex workers in Tokyo, that pays special attention to issues of what it means for these businesswomen to age. A fascinating portrait of two generations of women, somewhat Mildred Pierce, tragic drama of a mother and daughter in love with the same man. However, Mizoguchi does not let the man get off so easy, as the daughter’s love and empathy for her mother as a fellow woman grows and strengthens their bond. Such a beautiful film on so many levels, stunning and more mature camera, art direction and editing.

Screen capture from Ruscico DVD
3) Magdana’s Donkey 
Tengiz Abuladze, Rezo Chkeidze (USSR, 1955) 
Pacific Film Archive  
Simple and beautiful—a story about a working class widow and her day to day struggles to provide for her children. The family’s luck changes when they nurse an abandoned and abused donkey back to health, allowing Magdana to transport and sell more yogurt, but then she is brought to trial for stealing the donkey. There is definite documentary influence in this neorealistic drama, yet the rich black & white cinematography has its own style. I would love to see this film screened along side Bresson’s 1966 Au hazard Balthazar—donkeys might be the most honest animals in cinema.  

4) Sikkim 
Satyajit Ray (India, 1971) 
Pacific Film Archive  
I am so glad that I caught this, I had no idea how much I would learn and love about this film. A documentary about the sovereignty of Sikkim, a kingdom in the Himalayas situated between China and Indian, commissioned by the King of Sikkim and later banned until 2010. All copies were thought to be destroyed until one was uncovered at the British Film Institute. Very lyrical camera and sound—it’s more like a personal essay than a typical anthropological documentary of a foreign culture. Satyajit Ray’s refreshing and candid portrait has real heart and respect for the people and their traditions.

Screen capture from Columbia DVD
5) Lost Horizon  
Frank Capra (USA, 1937) 
Smith Rafael Film Center  
One of the few Capra films I had never seen, and maybe the strangest. Lost Horizon is a utopian film about an archetypal crew of five western passengers whose flight is hijacked and crashes somewhere in the Himalayan Mountains. The group is then escorted through the terrifying yet beautiful terrain to a magical palace—a warm and plentiful oasis from the harshness of the surroundings—known as Shangri-La. A dreamlike paradise where time is for passions and beauty, and no one ages. The story is bizarre and has a lot of political and social commentary embedded in it, and the set design and photography are worthy of seeing for their own merits.

6) A Night at the Cinema in 1914 
SF Silent Film Festival, Silent Autumn 2014 
Castro Theater  
A delightful collection of eclectic silent short films that were all produced in 1914 with live musical accompaniment by the brilliant Donald Sosin. A few of my favorite shorts to make note of are: Palace Pandemonium, a newsreel of Emmeline Pankhurst and 50 other suffragettes being arrested at Buckingham Palace; Lieutenant Pimple and the Stolen Submarine, endearing cardboard sets and lots of quirkiness; and The Perils of Pauline directed by Louis J. Gasnier and starring the adventurous Pearl White as a woman who wants to explore life before she gets married.  

However, the short that really stood out, Daisy Doodad’s Dial directed by Florence Turner, who also starred in the film as the main protagonist. A super silly, sassy and creative little tale about a couple that enters a face-pulling contest. The story employs a great use of the close-up and superimposition. The score that Donald Sosin composed for this film was half the joy of watching it, I wouldn’t want to see it any other way. One of my favorite things I’ve seen all year, and it was made in 1914!

7) Molba 
Tengiz Abuladze (USSR, 1967) 
Pacific Film Archive  
Like a poem in black & white, a visual metaphor with absolutely stunning cinematography and editing. Definitely one of the most unique films I have seen this year, and a film that most be seen in a dark theater, on a big screen, and on 35mm.

Screen capture from Indiepix DVD of It Came From Kuchar
8) A Criminal Account of Pleasure: The George Kuchar Reader with Andrew Lampert  
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 
Presented by SF Cinematheque 
Corruption of the Damned (USA, 1965) 
The Exiled Files of Eddie Gray (USA, 1997)  
What can I say? If you are not a Kuchar fan, then this isn’t for you. If you are, you should definitely pickup a copy of the The George Kuchar Reader edited by Andrew Lampert before it’s out of print. It’s an amazingly rich collection of journal entries, drawings, scripts, photos and other findings compiled into an impressive 336-page volume. I was so glad that I made it out to the event; Steve Polta of SF Cinematheque gave a moving account of George and introduced Andrew Lampert to read a few excerpts before the screening. Corruption of the Damned was screened on a 16mm print from Anthology Film Archives. It features a very baby-faced George in all his campy glory, and was a much more scripted and serious production than most of his later works. The pairing of this early film with The Exiled Files of Eddie Gray, a even more campy revisit or remake of sorts with some the original cast from the 1965 film, made the night for me. Shedding light, or rather pouring it, onto issues of aging and sexuality, through crude reenactments of love scenes from 32 years ago. There are no words to describe the fabulous Floraine Connors, I laughed so hard I cried.  

9) Flight of the Sparrows 
Teimur Babluani (USSR, 1980) 
Pacific Film Archive  
The first several minutes I was sure I disliked this film; it felt like a not-so-great student film—clunky, bad acting, horrible lighting. After letting my expectations drop, I was taken by surprise at what turned into a really dynamic camera matched by a fresh, beat driven pace. The story is really simple, but weird and oddly poetic and bittersweet. There are two men traveling on a crowded third-class passenger train among a large cast of characters whose diverse profiles become fixtures in the background of the confined camera. The two men are opposites, one a rough-looking rebel of few words whose only friend is the tiny sparrow he carries next to his heart, and the other a pretentious, bragging traveling salesman that leads people to believe he is a world renown opera singer. The final scene shifts to a barren landscape and a surprising battle ensues.      
Screen capture from vimeo trailer for Desire Pie
10) Radical Sex Educational Films from San Francisco’s Multi-Media Resource Center 
Curated by Herb Shellenberger 
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts  

A curious and alluring collection of extraordinarily artistic and avant-garde Sex Ed films, like a time capsule into a different, more radical era. I imagine we would all be better, more inventive lovers if we had the occasion to see these films in our health classes. Although every film different and compelling in its own right, three films really resonated and charmed me. The program opened with Jerry Abrams’ Eyetoon (1968) very easily the most experimental sex education film I’ve ever seen, a collage that combines a variety of techniques with a mesmerizing score. This film takes intimacy into another dimension. Constance Beeson’s hypnotic and lyrical Unfolding (1969) was a visual verse about the emotional side of lovemaking, a song for the two souls becoming one. Unfolding is a more sensitive portrait from a woman’s perspective, about the closeness of sex. Desire Pie (1976) by Lisa Crafts was a fun, tripped-out cartoon of the wacky and weird journey of sexual desires.  

It was also notable to see Alice Ann Parker’s Near the Big Chakra (1972) for the second time, having been lucky enough to meet her during her retrospective program at the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival. It is such a radical educational film through pure observation.    

A special shout-out to the many generous venues and to the people behind the projectors and programming that make this city and the surrounding area an amazing place for those of us that love cinema. Thank you to those that tirelessly search through the archives, those that make new work from old, those that share and connect the community.  
Craig Baldwin & Other Cinema 
Pacific Film Archive 
Artists’ Television Access 
SF Cinematheque 
The Exploratorium 
Shapeshifters Cinema 
Black Hole Cinematheque 
Oddball Cinema 
Canyon Cinema 
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 
SF Silent Film Festival 
Internet Archive 
Rick & Megan Prelinger 
California Film Institute 
Castro Theater 
Roxie Theater 
Kala Art Institute 
& the many others that made my first six months here unrepeatable.

IOHTE: Jonathan Kiefer

"IOHTE" stands for "I Only Have Two Eyes"; it's my annual survey of selected San Francisco Bay Area cinephiles' favorite in-the-cinema screenings of classic films and archival oddities from the past year. An index of participants can be found here.

Contributor Jonathan Kiefer is a critic for the SF Weekly and Village Voice; follow him on twitter at @Kieferama
Screen shot from Criterion DVD
Very briefly, I’d like to mention two moviegoing experiences here. The first was a mid-morning matinee, at the Vogue, of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour. My SF Weekly review didn't mention that somehow I'd never seen it until now -- which was ok because this time and place proved mysteriously just right after all. Of course this cherished memory also reminds me of my greatest regret of the year, perhaps of many years: missing out on a rare glimpse of Resnais’ Je t’aime, Je t’aime when it showed up all too fleetingly at the Castro.

Friday, January 30, 2015

IOHTE: David Robson

"IOHTE" stands for "I Only Have Two Eyes"; it's my annual survey of selected San Francisco Bay Area cinephiles' favorite in-the-cinema screenings of classic films and archival oddities from the past year. An index of participants can be found here.

Contributor David Robson is "the editorial director of, a site that offers a smarter search for movies to watch online. Yet his moviegoing takes place almost entirely offline; he documents his viewing with increasing semi-regularity at the House of Sparrows, and he cohabitates with those adorable simian cinephiles at Monkeys Go To Movies."

My year in San Francisco rep began and ended with screams. In between it was an insanely lively and robust year for rep programming, with fine fine series of movies showing pretty much straight through the year. Even without the stuff I missed there're a lot of things to choose from, so in the interests of covering a breadth of films within the space limits imposed by Mr. Darr I'll limit myself to one movie per series/festival.

Screen capture from Code Red DVD
--The first movie I saw last year was Teenage Mother, a last-minute replacement for a film in an early January teensploitation series at the Roxie. The 16mm print was loaned to the Roxie by L.A.'s Cinefamily, who promised that it was an "audience destroyer." Sure enough, when the educational-film-level-acted story of a crusading sex ed teacher at an uptight, whitebread high school gave way to some clinical footage of a surgical birthing procedure, holy crap, NO ONE in the house was unaffected. I don't remember ever being quite so shattered by a year's first screening, and like the slashed eyeball in Un Chien Andalou it set a nice fever pitch for everything else to come in 2015.

--I don't often discuss Noir City in these roundups, as most other sets of Two Eyes have it covered and I'm somewhat at odds with the yuk-yuk showmanship with which the series is presented. But 2014's Noir City offered an international focus on that most American genre, with a heavy emphasis on rare movies discovered by the Film Noir Foundation during its trips to Argentina. Some of these movies screened at Noir City in their first appearances ever in the US. Yet for all of the truly wonderful international gems unearthed for the series, my most indelible memory of Noir City 13 is Macao (internationally-set, but American made). There was incredible and palpable good will during this final Noir City screening, to the point that it felt like Jane Russell was actually in the house, performing "One for the Road" live for the Noir City faithful. Some of us in the Castro audience aren't as quick to applaud movies as others, but sometimes there's no other way to process what one's feeling.

Image provided by contributor
--A second time through the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men revealed nothing new: I still felt the movie was technically accomplished and smoothly suspenseful, but that Cormac McCarthy's nihilism was a disappointing, over-praised cop-out. The real revelation of the night turned out to be the B-picture: A Serious Man's search for meaning in what's clearly an uncaring (and viciously playful) universe felt more honest and real than No Country, and its depiction of a specifically 1960s suburban weirdness and sensuality rang true, and made this feel like one of the Coens' most personal pictures. And George Wyner's narration of the story of the Goy's Teeth (accompanied by Jimi Hendrix) felt like a setpiece I'd been waiting most of my life to see, though damned if I know why.

--Jonathan Demme's quirkily-charming--til-it-gets-real-honkin'-dark Something Wild made its first appearance in ages at the Castro. It's a strong piece of 80s nostalgia, and its soundtrack includes some of my favorite deep cuts of that decade (Jerry Harrison's "Man With A Gun" especially). But its story of a New York financier grappling with sudden freedom from responsibility, and yearning for a less-stringent, more carefree life resonated strongly here now, its nouveau riche characters poised to seize Manhattan from working class bohemians. And the SPECULATORS OUT! graffiti scrawled across the movie's downtown Manhattan spoke to a very real crisis happening just outside the Castro's doors.

Image provided by contributor
--I'd waited for YEARS to share The Blues Brothers with my good friend Aaron. A nice pre-show meal just up-street from the Castro, a good print of the movie, and the experience of a personal favorite that holds up three decades later (with new things revealed through the laughter and conversation of a good, smart friend seeing it for the first time) all made for a great night out. The movie itself remains a fond homage to the city of Chicago, the greatest iteration of the Belushi/Aykroyd chemistry, and possessed of fine musical performances by some of rhythm & blues' finest performances (as well as a climactic chase that still must be seen to be believed).

--Waiting for The Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto to announce a new calendar can be a frustrating experience. I doubt I'm the only Bay Area cinephile to check the Stanford's website multiple times daily for any sign of forthcoming programming, only to be frustrated as Gone With The Wind is held over for another week. Then another week. But when they finally announced their late summer calendar in 2014, the floodgates just opened: no dark days, rarely screened movies jamming the calendar, with silents every Wednesday. The big attraction for this moviegoer was a damn-near-complete set of the Universal Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series (programmed Thursdays and Fridays alongside Charlie Chan movies, a risky programming choice to which the Stanford worked diligently to provide context). It was difficult to make it to all of them, but I made damn sure to get to The House of Fear, a mystery as atmospheric as any of Universal's classic horror movies, boosted by unusually bold photography and art direction, and the fact that the normally-dim Watson figures the mystery out before we do. Good times!

Screen capture from Loving The Classics DVD
--Yerba Buena Center for the Arts film programmer/local-and-national-goddamn-treasure Joel Shepard threw the doors open wide to the YBCA screening room in 2014, inviting ten Bay Area cinephiles (including this one) to select and introduce a movie for screening during the varied and spectacular Invasion of the Cinemaniacs! series. Sad though it is to limit myself to one selection from this series, as every movie in the series (and be certain: I saw Every. Movie. In the series) offered up its own unique revelations, if pressed I'd probably pick Max Ophuls' The Exile as my favorite. An excellent pairing of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (attempting to make the kind of swashbuckler that made his father famous) and Max Ophuls (capturing the emotion and Shakespearean complexity of the story with style and grace), with Maria Montez and Nigel Bruce (the latter offering a Falstaffian gravitas absent from his Watson to Rathbone's Holmes) in fine support. Presenter David Wong schooled us on the mechanics of Ophuls' style, and their emotional payoffs, in one of the most mind-expanding film intros I've ever had the good fortune to witness.

--The offbeat Canadian fantasy Strange Behavior had been one of those movie grails, often heard talked about yet never experienced. Finally caught up with it at the bottom end of a pre-Halloween double bill at the Castro. If in the end I wasn't swept away by a newly discovered classic, I was certainly captivated by its consistently odd choices, with its low budget necessitating not just an economical approach but what sometimes felt like an eccentric and deliberate rejection of cinematic realism. All this and a costumed dance party sequence at least as beguiling as the "Loco-Motion" scene in INLAND EMPIRE.
Image provided by contributor
--Strongly suspect that the 16mm print of Godzilla on Monster Island seen at Artists Television Access in November was the same print used for the KTVU broadcast that I taped and watched many, many, many times as a kid in the mid-1980s. Juvenile but charming kaiju insanity, with imagination outweighing a low budget and atrocious dubbing. A nicely rounded bunch of human heroes counterbalancing the Godzilla/Angilas team-up, too.

--The final rep screening in SF turned out to be a lovely little Christmas gift from the Castro Theatre. The Mario Bava centennial had been celebrated at a number of venues around the world, and I was a bit miffed that the year had gone by with none of the venues in San Francisco honoring the occasion. But the Castro, just under the wire (and maybe just coincidentally), screened Bava's final feature Shock! (known also as Beyond the Door 2), a minor Bava but one I'd never seen before. The screams from the audience during the movie's truly deranged final reel were enough to fill even the most Scroogelike cinephile with the joyous bounties of the holiday spirit.

IOHTE: Michael Guillén

"IOHTE" stands for "I Only Have Two Eyes"; it's my annual survey of selected San Francisco Bay Area cinephiles' favorite in-the-cinema screenings of classic films and archival oddities from the past year. An index of participants can be found here.

Michael Guillén is the schoolmaster of the essential blog The Evening Class, and contributes to many other online and print publications.

Perhaps not surprisingly, whenever I return to San Francisco from Boise I am keen for repertory programming over contemporary theatrical releases.  Between Boise's art house cinema The Flicks and the ubiquitous multiplexes, I can catch plenty of the latter; but, there is absolutely no repertory programming in the Gem State's capitol. None. So when I return to the Bay Area, I eschew most press screenings to focus on the Pacific Film Archive, the Roxie Theatre, the Castro Theatre and miscellaneous community-based film festivals to sate my thirst.  Kudos to Brian Darr and Hell on Frisco Bay for celebrating repertory programming in San Francisco and environs.  Never take it for granted.  Take it from one who knows.

Despite mournful complaints to the contrary, the advent of digital projection has afforded opportunity for increased repertory programming, particularly at venues like the Roxie and even an archive like PFA, but nothing starts the year out like the annual Noir City Film Festival and its dedicated emphasis on 35mm film.  In its 12th edition, Noir City offered two rare Latin-American gems.

In the Palm of Your Hand (En la palma de tu mano, 1951)—I first caught Roberto "the Ogre" Gavaldón's lush melodrama at the 2013 Morelia Film Festival during their sidebar tribute to Mexican actor Arturo de Córdova and was delighted that this restored print made an appearance in San Francisco.  I brought several friends to this rare screening, which—as noted by Mexican scholar Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro—showcased not only the work of de Córdova and "the pure style" of Gavaldón, but marked an apex in Latin American film noir and "the immense capabilities" of cinematographer Alex Phillips.

The Black Vampire (El Vampiro Negro, 1953)—Connective tissue fascinates me, not only between mediums, but between films.  Argentine director Román Viñoly Barreto's The Black Vampire, based on Fritz Lang's M, premiered in Argentina in October 1953—the month and year I was born—but didn't arrive on North American shores until January 2014, 61 years later.  Talk about waiting a lifetime to see a film!  No shot-by-shot remake, Barreto stages his own interpretation of this sordid tale of child molestation and murder with moody, lustrous cinematography by Aníbal González Paz.

Screen capture from Sony DVD
T-Men (1947)—Although I've seen Anthony Mann's T-Men several times—introduced to the film by noir historian Alan K. Rode as a representative of the fine work of actor Charles McGraw—I never tire of catching it.  PFA's February 2014 series "Against the Law: The Crime Films of Anthony Mann" afforded the opportunity to watch an archival 35mm print introduced by Mann biographer Max Alvarez, who offered impressive insight into the film and its director.

A Hatful of Rain (1957)—Fred Zinnemann's Hatful was just one of several entries in Donald Malcolm's curated Roxie retrospective profiling the career of Don Murray.  Significant in emphasizing the perhaps over-earnest style of drama peculiar to the time, this study of addiction and its effect upon a young married couple addressed urban concerns with head-on honesty.  Murray acted his ass off here and it was a pleasure to watch.

Boggy Depot (1973)—Yerba Buena Center for the Arts offered a program of five shorts by San Francisco legend Curt McDowell, hosted by his sister Melinda and local film critic Johnny Ray Huston in conjunction with YBCA's seventh edition of Bay Area Now and in collaboration with Margaret Tedesco's [ 2nd floor projects ].  The entire evening was an archival delight; but, Boggy Depot was a laugh-outloud send-up of the musical genre.  Watching George Kuchar not-really-sing was almost more than I could handle.

A Kiss For A Killer (Une manche et la belle, 1957)—Donald Malcolm returned to the Roxie with a curated selection of French noir rarieties ("The French Had A Name For It") that packed the house in unprecedented numbers, proving that there is life after 35mm, and that there's a definite market for titles unavailable elsewhere.  There were several winners in this program—Bardot in La vérité (1960), Édouard Molinaro's docu-drama Witness in the City (Un témoin dans la ville, 1959), the two Robert Hossein vehicles Highway Pickup (Chair de poule, 1963) and Blonde In A White Car (Toi Le Venin, 1958), the coiled ferocity of Daniele Delorme in Deadlier Than the Male (Voici Les Temps Des Assassins, 1956) and the truest Christmas noir ever Le Monte-Charge (1962)—but the king of them all proved to be handsome Henri Vidal in the Gallic amalgam of Sunset Boulevard and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Daughters of Darkness (Les lèvres rouges, 1971)—Euro-horror came to the Castro Theatre with a double-bill of Don't Look Now (1973) and Harry Kümel's bisexual vampire cult favorite with Delphine Seyrig as the sensuous if perverse Countess Bathory.  LGBT film studies have never been the same after this glorification of the "other" as nighttime's hungriest denizen.

Screen capture from Warner DVD
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)—Val Lewton, my favorite producer-auteur, took a title given to him by a poverty row studio and turned it into a classic tale of childhood psychology with the lovely Ann Carter as a melancholy child with an imaginary friend.  I never dreamed I'd get to actually see a 35mm print of this film, and to see Ann's plaintive face in close-up on the Castro's giant screen made for perfect entertainment and a moment of thrilling cinephilia.  Not really noir, of course, but a welcome entry to announce the upcoming program and poster for the 13th edition of Noir City.

The Astrologer (1975)—Nothing in the stars could have possibly predicted that 1975 would see two films entitled The Astrologer released on an unwary cinema public; nor that Craig Denney's film—not to be confused with the James Glickenhaus film—would reappear like a Tarot card from underneath a sleeve to pleasurably befuddle audiences at a one-off screening at Another Hole in the Head.  Mike Keegan deserves a big shout-out for delivering this print to Holehead and treating SF's diehard genre fans to such a whacked-out tale of prognostication: the rise and fall of astrologer-to-the-stars Alexander (Denney), which—as Nicolas Winding Refn stated in his introduction to the film at this year's Fantastic Fest—is a movie "that pushes 'auteurism' to a whole other level."  The film has been described as "wanton megalomania" and an "auto-biopic" and a plot synopsis would only prove more confusing than the film itself, which hacks its way through the editing room with a machete.  Great fun to watch this faded-to-pink piece of delirium with fellow 35mm enthusiasts Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, Jason Wiener, David Wong and Maria Fidel.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

IOHTE: Lincoln Spector

"IOHTE" stands for "I Only Have Two Eyes"; it's my annual survey of selected San Francisco Bay Area cinephiles' favorite in-the-cinema screenings of classic films and archival oddities from the past year. An index of participants can be found here.

Contributor Lincoln Spector is the proprietor of the Bayflicks website, where the original version of this abridged list was first posted.

Screen capture from Criterion DVD
9: Paths of Glory & The Killing 
Pacific Film Archive
Eyes Wide: The Films of StanleyKubrick
To my mind, Paths of Glory stands out as Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. This World War I tale of ruthless generals and the common foot soldiers shows the budding auteur at his best. The film he made just before it, The Killing, is a wonderful little noir; a classic heist thriller with a complex plan that goes horribly (and entertainingly) wrong.  The DCPs, supplied by Park Circus, looked great. Whoever supervised the digital mastering respected the film look and the grain structure. They kept the original mono soundtracks, without trying to convert them to 5.1

8: Too Late For Tears & The Hitch-Hiker
Noir City
Lizabeth Scott plays that paragon of mid-century American virtue, the housewife, in Too Late for Tears, but she plays her as a femme fatal-. Willing to do anything to hold onto an illegal fortune, she proves herself smarter and meaner than everyone else as she sinks into depravity and murder. The Hitch-Hiker is a quick, efficient thriller that’s simple, suspenseful, and based on a true story. Two men on a fishing vacation pick up a hitchhiker, who turns out to be a psychotic killer wanted by the police.  Both films were shown in recently restored 35mm prints. Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation explained the problems in restoring Too Late for Tears, which admittedly suffered from uneven image quality. Shy of an expensive digital restoration, it’s not likely to look any better. 

Screen capture from Universal DVD
7: Duck Soup
Pacific Film Archive  
Funny Ha-Ha: American Comedy, 1930–1959
The Marx Brothers at their purest and most perfect. What makes it so pure and perfect? First, it’s comedy stripped to the bone; there’s scarcely a minute without at least one good laugh. Second, the Brothers were always at their best when up against the stuffy, respectable protectors of the status quo, and the richest strain of that gold can be found in the halls of government. As the absolute ruler of Freedonia, Groucho Marx encourages graft, refuses to take anything seriously, and starts a war on a whim.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Duck Soup, but the day before this screening, it had been at least 30 years since I’d seen it theatrically. Watching this great comedy in a theater, with an enthusiastic audience, made it come back to life again. Over the years, I’d forgotten that even the name Rufus T. Firefly gets a laugh. 

6: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly 
Mill Valley FilmFestival
4K DCP  
Here’s an epic, sardonic, semi-comic western quest motivated purely by greed. Three violent and deadly criminals set out to recover $200,000 in stolen gold. None of them knows exactly where the loot is hidden, but individually each has a piece of the puzzle. They constantly change allegiances, sometimes collaborating with and then double-crossing each other. Meanwhile, the Civil War rages all around them.  MGM recently gave this classic a new, 4K restoration, which included the original mono soundtrack. it was a great presentation, showing the deep colors and heavy grain expected in a Techniscope production of the 1960s. Unless there’s an archival dye-transfer print from the original release somewhere, this is as good as the picture can get. A great audience as well, and my first visit to the Lark. 

Screen capture from Music Box DVD of The Story of Film
5: The Best Years of Our Lives 
There’s no better movie for Veteran’s Day. A huge commercial hit and the Best Picture Oscar winner for 1946, it’s now all but forgotten. That’s too bad, because Best Years is not only an excellent film, it also deals with an issue that’s unfortunately still with us–integrating war veterans back into civilian life.  This was my first chance seeing Best Years theatrically, and it was worth it. Before the film started, the Castro entertained us with a slideshow of coming attractions and music appropriate to the immediate postwar period. Then came the organ concert, followed by The Best Years of Our Lives. The digital transfer was mostly excellent, although a few scenes had clearly come from low-quality sources. 

4: Another Fine Mess: Silent Laurel and Hardy Shorts
San Francisco Silent Film Festival‘s Silent Autumn
35mm, with live music   
Laurel and Hardy’s onscreen personas were probably the dumbest reoccurring characters in the history of cinema. Stan appears incapable of having a thought or remembering an instruction. But Stan at least knows he’s dumb; Oli considers himself smart. Their comedy is extremely violent, but the slow, methodical, and absurd nature of that violence makes it enduring. The festival screened three of their two-reel silents–Should Married Men Go Home?, Two Tars, and Big Business. All three were extremely vengeful and destructive–and extremely funny.  Donald Sosin accompanied these shorts on a grand piano. All three films opened with the MGM lion, and Sosin managed to recreate the roar musically. His lively music also  helped keep the laughs coming. The Festival screened archival prints from the Library of Congress and the UCLA Film Archive. Aside from some bad titles in Should Married Men Go Home?, they looked excellent. 

Screen capture from 20th Centtury Fox DVD
3: Die Hard
What makes a great action movie? A strong plot, a likeable and sympathetic hero, a fun but scary villain, great fights, and the willingness to spend nearly half an hour on character development before the first violent act. NYC policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) arrives in LA hoping to reconcile with his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia). She’s a rising executive; he’s a working-class cop. Then a dozen well-armed bad guys take over the building, kill a few people, then hold everyone hostage.  Die Hard was originally released in 70mm, but up until a couple of weeks ago, I had only seen it on Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray. But between the big screen, the powerful sound system, the excellent DCP transfer, and the enthusiastic audience, it was a whole new experience. I used to give Die Hard an A. Now I give it an A+. 

2: The Big Lebowski
Pacific Film Archive  
Rude Awakening: American Comedy, 1990–2010
As with Die Hard, I had never seen the Coen Brothers’ cult hit theatrically before 2014. But unlike Die Hard, I had never really appreciated it before. This comedy really needed the theatrical experience to come alive. Imagine a Raymond Chandler story where Philip Marlowe has been replaced with a happily unemployed, perpetually stoned, thoroughly inept slacker who calls himself "the Dude" (Jeff Bridges). Behind the laughs, you can find a thin, barely grasped sense of Zen–as if you could throw yourself to the universe and everything will come out okay…unless it doesn’t.  The well-packed audience made the film special, allowing me to discover that a film I thought was pretty good was actually pretty great. But the presentation had a very big flaw: an over-processed DCP. It looked like video, with film grain removed and everything smoothed over. Considering the quality of this transfer, I would rather have seen this movie in 35mm. 

Screen capture from Warner DVD.
1: The Gold Rush
San Francisco Silent Film Festival‘s The Little Tramp at 100
DCP, with live music
In this epic comic adventure, Chaplin’s tramp travels through the frozen Yukon of the Alaskan gold rush, gets marooned in a cabin with two much larger men, nearly starves to death, nearly gets eaten, and falls in love with a dancehall girl who scarcely knows he’s alive. This seemingly serious story contains some of Chaplin’s funniest set pieces, including the Thanksgiving dinner of boiled shoe, the dance of the rolls, and my favorite–the fight over a rifle that always points at Chaplin. It’s not my favorite Chaplin feature–that would be City Lights, but it’s a close second.  This was unquestionably the best screening of The Gold Rush I’ve ever experienced. The digital image quality was uneven, but most of it looked very good, and none of it looked dreadful. Timothy Brock conducted the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra in his adaptation of Chaplin’s score, adding some wonderful musically-created effects. And the large, enthusiastic audience made it even better.

IOHTE: Terri Saul

"IOHTE" stands for "I Only Have Two Eyes"; it's my annual survey of selected San Francisco Bay Area cinephiles' favorite in-the-cinema screenings of classic films and archival oddities from the past year. An index of participants can be found here.

Contributor Terri Saul is a visual artist and writer; she sometimes comments on new films on Letterboxd.

Screen capture from Kino Lorber DVD
1.   A Touch of Sin (China, 2013), Jia Zhangke, Saturday, March 22nd, 2014, 8:15pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA, screened as part of the A Theater Near Youseries.

A Touch of Sin is a well-choreographed chain of reenacted current events exposing, through martial dramatization, the everyday violence of life and livelihood in pockets of contemporary China.

2.    The Adversary (India, 1970), Satyajit Ray, Sunday, March 30th, 2014, 5:15pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA, was one of the films in the The Brilliance of Satyajit Rayset.

More political than the other Rays Ive seen, the Adversary reveals the small-scale warfare of everyday joblessness and revolutionary politics in the chaos of late 60s Calcutta. Literal heat inflames heated brawls and renders nightmarish hallucinations, via pitta in the chitta.

Screen capture from First Run Features DVD
3.    Photographic Memory (US, 2011), Ross McElwee, Tuesday, April 1st, 2014, 7pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA, was part of the Ross McElwee and the Cambridge Turnseries.

This documentary touches, too, on the 60s and exists in the no mans land between memorabilia, conversations, uniquely narrated musings, research, interviews, and observation. Photographic Memory travels between modern-day Cambridge and Brittany, France, then and now. A game of catch-me-if-you-can intergenerational grasping and sporting youthful play develops bit-by-bit between a father and his son. Not finding his son, he looks for himself; the son, avoiding his father in order to find himself, searches for entries and exits to and from the peering lens of his fathers world. The son and father both employ ever-more daring techniques to capture the kind of attention they both want, maybe not so much from each other, but perhaps from those outside familial bounds. McElwee has an unforgettable narrative voice-over style I find simultaneously charming and invasive.

4.    The Grapes of Wrath (US 1940), John Ford, Wednesday, June 18th, 2014, 7pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA. This show was a celebration of the restored 75th anniversary print with and introduction by Susan Shillinglaw in conversation with Gary Brechin and Harvey Smith.

New Deal preservation, related projects, and Stenibeck Studies enhanced the audiences experience. I, for one, had never seen The Grapes of Wrath on a big screen. For a poverty-conscious Californian with Okie roots, things got pretty vérité. Look under the freeway overpass near the Albany Bulb, here in the Bay Area, for the next chapter.

Screen capture from Polart DVD
5.    Night Train (Poland 1959), Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Sunday, July 6th, 2014, 5pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA, was part of Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema,a digitally restored print.

Opening in the Polish city of Łódź, this cool train mystery unspools like a 35mm film print, each secondary compartment squeezed in its own intangible rectangle rushing past until the film reel jumps its platter and hurls itself into a field with the force of a heavy truckload of film stock come unbalanced in the projection booth.

6.    A Geisha (Japan 1953), Kenji Mizoguchi, Friday, July 25th, 2014, 7pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA. This, and the other Mizoguchis on my list, were presented as part of Kenji Mizoguchi: A Cinema of Totality."

Are there some seeds of feminism in Mizoguchis version of a postwar floating world? Young womens rights and their obstructions begin to emerge in this film about the bonds of apprenticeship, money lending, servitude, trickery, and the haunted beauty of Kyoto in the 50s. Some would call it melodrama, but the films theatricality and overtly political subject matter is quietly observed by Mizoguchi in his standoffish style.

7.    Office Space (US, 1999), Mike Judge, Friday, July 25th, 2014, 8:45pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA. Part of the series Rude Awakening: American Comedy, 19902010

Where it all started and where many of us ended up.

Screen capture from Masters of Cinema DVD
8.    Crucified Lovers: A Story from Chikamatsu (Japan, 1954), Wednesday, July 30th, 2014, 7pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA.

A whirlwind, sometimes slapstick, mistaken-identity tale, like a lovers version of the whos on first routine, but this time its whos crucified first? Mizoguchis adaptation is based on a 17th-century story that has come a long way from its puppet-play roots. It now has a 50s era film noir vibe but it maintains the feeling of a morally complicated folktale on parade in the stage of the streets. The spoiler of a title doesnt ruin the storys arc.

9.    The Taira Clan Saga (Japan 1955), Kenji Mizoguchi, Thursday, August 14th, 2014, 7pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA.

A dance of underfunded samurai and selfish monastics, a Mizoguchi in colorwhat could be more perfect? This film is like story candy. It leaves me not quite satiated, and with a noisy, guilt-inducing wrapper in my pocket that, for some reason, I keep as a memento of a night when I ate dessert first.

Screen capture from Warner DVD
10.  East of Eden, Elia Kazan (US, 1955), Friday, September 5th, 2014, 8:50pm, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA. A part of James Dean, Restored Classics from Warner Bros.

Here comes James Dean, not the way he looked on the family TV, but digitally restored, in CinemaScope, and larger than life. East of Eden was a gritty follow-up to the earlier lesson in Steinbeck Studies after the Grapes of Wrath screening and discussion of Weedpatch Camp in Bakersfield, last June. East of Eden theres more dirt and less dust, this time in Salinas.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

IOHTE: Ben Armington

"IOHTE" stands for "I Only Have Two Eyes"; it's my annual survey of selected San Francisco Bay Area cinephiles' favorite in-the-cinema screenings of classic films and archival oddities from the past year. An index of participants can be found here.

Contributor Ben Armington self-describes as "Box Cubed Box Office guy for many Bay Area Film Festivals; watcher of movies"

Image provided by contributor
1.    The Shanghai Gesture (Castro, Noir City)
A humid colonial melodrama with a very noir heart, oozing erotic obsession and creeping hysteria from it’s every plothole.  My favorite from a fun line up of international films at Eddie Mueller’s great Noir City film festival.  Legend has it that sultan of cinematic sultriness Josef Von Sternberg directed most of this hallucination while lying on his back on a cot (he was sick, the story goes).

2.    Je t’aime, Je t’aime (Castro)
 Alain Resnais’ death-haunted sci-fi head trip up, down, around memory lane is strongly reminiscent of his sometime collaborator Chris Marker’s masterpiece La Jetee, but has a heartbreaking sense of despondency all it’s own embedded in it’s flawless montage.  Featuring the weirdest time machine ever to grace the big screen.

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3.    Goodbye South, Goodbye (PFA, HHH retro)
All seven films I saw at the travelling retrospective of director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s work that landed at the PFA towards the end of the year were worthy, even revelatory, experiences, but Goodbye South, Goodbye was the one I plugged into the most so it’s getting the shout here.  Something about the hard-luck inertia the characters are mulishly wading through combined with images of fleeting, exhilarating motion rang very true, very affecting.  Here’s hoping that Hou finishes his new film soon!

4.    The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (Roxie, I Wake Up Dreaming)
A nifty, fleet-footed gangster saga with a pretty grim view of what we’ll call the success ethic.  Directed by Budd Boetticher with the same lean and mean precision that can be found in his celebrated Ranown cycle of westerns and co-starring Warren Oates as the sickly brother.
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5.    Don’t Look Now/Daughters of Darkness (Castro)
Diabolical, super-stylish double feature of films often classified as horror but which strike me more as gothics, in the sense that they are about past traumas haunting the present and repressed sexual tensions bubbling up screaming to the surface more than the wheezy hack and slash dynamics often associated with the horror genre... anyways, I love them both and was thrilled to see them on the big screen at the Castro.
6.    Ora, Plata, Mata (YBCA, Filipino Film Festival)
A rip-roaring historical epic in the Gone With the Wind mode following two upper-middle class families’ travails through the strife of the Second World War in the Philippines.  I went to this one mainly because friends were going only to be helplessly sucked into it’s entertaining embrace.
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7.    Popeye (Castro, M4M)
I wouldn’t want to make a case for the subversiveness of this oft unfunny major studio release from noodly autuer Robert Altman, but I do find it’s ornery bizarreness captivating, and enjoy Altman’s anarchic refusal to focus on  plot points in favor of letting the rhubarbing cast squawk at each other.  It was very poignant to watch Robin Williams mumble his way through the lead role with characteristic good nature and grace.  This was his film debut.  With songs by Harry Nilsson.

8.    Side Street/Une Femme Marie (PFA)
A seemingly random double feature of less-heralded films by filmmakers I compulsively return to (Anthony Mann and Jean-Luc Godard) that seemed to speak to each other in subliminal and nigh subterranean ways.
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9.    The Long Riders (Castro)
I’m a big fan of westerns and director Walter Hill, so this one pretty much had me from the opening credits.  A re-telling of the familiar James/Younger gang myth colored in with the stunt casting of real-life brothers as brothers in the narrative (the brothers Keach,  Carradine, Quaid and Guest all saddle up), the film really comes alive in it’s interstitial dialogue with other westerns (most plainly The Wild Bunch) and in Hill’s dynamic staging of the breathtaking and bloody action scenes. 

10.  The Violent Men/40 Guns (Stanford)
More westerns!  The fun of this double bill was how, even though both films are in the same genre and thus speak the same language, they were completely different in execution.  Rudolph Mate’s The Violent Men is like a smooth ride in a stately carriage, comfortable and serene, whereas Sam Fuller’s 40 Guns is like jumping on a careening roller coaster and realizing that the brake man is passed out drunk.  You arrive at the same place, basically, with both films, but the difference in delivery is illuminating.  Also, it was a high point in my cinematic year watching Barbara Stanwyck spit out Fuller’s rapid fire dialogue.