Monday, February 8, 2016

I Only Have Two Eyes 2015

El Sur screen capture from Spirit of the Beehive Criterion DVD (disc 2 supplement)

Though June 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of this blog, I didn't feel a strong desire to mention it at the time. Sometimes I wonder about the utility of an amateurly-put-together, ad-free site with an outdated design in today's era of feeds and streams and an increasingly video-centric online culture. But around this time of year (slightly later than usual, sorry) I remember one of the main annual joys I get to experience as founder and proprietor of Hell On Frisco Bay: collecting and posting repertory round-ups from some of the most thoughtful and devoted local cinephiles in my "I Only Have Two Eyes" project, so-named because it's impossible for one person to witness every great film screening occurring in a Frisco Bay cinema in a given year.

Unbelievably, this is the ninth consecutive year that I've conducted this survey, and this year's responses are as wide-ranging and reflective of the cinematic highlights of Bay Area revival/repertory screens as ever, in my opinion. Huge thanks to each and every one of the contributors this year! Without further ado, the list of entries (which will grow multiple times daily for the next week or so):

2/1/2016: Max Goldberg, archivist and critic whose writings are collected at mgoldberg.net.
2/2/2016: Claire Bain, Canyon cinema filmmker, artist and writer. Her website.
2/2/2016: Brian Huser, high school teacher & film/media studies graduate.
2/3/2016: Lincoln Spector, proprietor of Bayflicks.
2/3/2016: Terri Saul, Berkeley-based artist.
2/4/2016: Ben Armington, who works for Box Cubed and participates in this podcast.
2/4/2016: David Robson, who blogs at the House of Sparrows.
2/5/2016: Adrianne Finelli, artist and co-curator of A.T.A.'s GAZE film series.
2/5/2016: Carl Martin, who maintains the Film on Film Foundation' Bay Area Film Calendar.
2/6/2016: Maureen Russell, cinephile and Noir City volunteer.
2/6/2016: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, educator, writer & Midnites For Maniacs curator/host.
2/7/2016: Frako Loden, educator and writer for outlets such as documentary.org.
2/7/2016: Adam Hartzell, writer for koreanfilm.org as well as other outlets.
2/8/2016: Philip Fukuda, volunteer at various local film festivals.
2/8/2016: Michael Hawley, who runs the blog film-415.

Michael Hawley: IOHTE

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 2015. An index of participants can be found here

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

Favorite Bay Area Repertory/Revival Screenings of 2015
Screen capture from Flicker Alley DVD
Cibo Matto: New Scene (San Francisco International Film Festival, Castro Theatre) 
My top repertory highlight of 2015 was this inspired pairing of fave rock band Cibo Matto with seven avant garde shorts, including Marcel Duchamp's 1928 Anemic Cinema, the 1970 adaptation of Oskar Schlemmer's trippy, geometry-obsessed Bauhaus-era Das Triadische Ballet, and most fabulously, Yoko Ono and John Lennon's Fly.

The Honeymoon Killers (Noir City, Castro Theatre) 
I was gobsmacked by this revisit to one-film-wonder Leonard Kastle's 1969 American true crime shocker, shown at Noir City in a pristine 35mm print. François Truffaut once called this his favorite American movie. I'd always gotten a kick out of it, but hadn't realized what a god-damned masterpiece it was until now.

Rebels of the Neon God (Landmark's Opera Plaza Cinemas
Perhaps the most unlikely commercial re-release of 2015 was slow-cinema, Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang's 1992 debut feature, which I missed seeing at the 1993 San Francisco International Film Festival. It was worth waiting 22 years for a second opportunity.

The Happiest Girl in the World (Romanian Film Festival, Coppola Theatre, SF State University) 
I had read many terrific things about Romanian New Wave director Radu Jude, but none of his features ever came to town (nor had any reasonably priced, small screen options presented themselves). I was therefore thrilled when this previously unknown-to-me festival, now in its fifth year, finally brought Jude's droll 2009 social satire to town last fall.


Screen capture from Miramax DVD of My Voyage To Italy
Two Women & The Gold of Naples (Castro Theatre) 
Cinema Italia San Francisco brought a one-day, five-film Vittorio De Sica retrospective to the Castro in late September. The program featured two spanking new 35mm restorations, including Sophia Loren's Oscar®-winning performance in 1960's Two Women followed by 1954's The Gold of Naples. The latter was comprised of six self-contained short stories set in Napoli, the best of which starred De Sica himself as a pathetic gambling aristocrat.
  

54: The Director's Cut (San Francisco International FilmFestival, Castro Theatre)
While hardly the "minor masterpiece" some critics wanted us to believe, this reconstruction of Mark Christopher's 1998 ode to NYC's famed discotheque, featuring 44 previously unseen minutes, was the most fun I had at the movies last year. In addition to director Christopher, stars Ryan Philippe and Brecklin Meyer were on-hand for the revival's U.S. premiere. They were ogled both on-screen and on-stage by a whooping, exuberant Castro audience. 

It's a Gift (Sunday Funnies: Laurel and Hardy and W.C. Fields, Pacific Film Archive)
W.C. Fields is a hen-pecked hubby trying to get some sleep on the back porch in this raucous, 1934 featurette from director Norman Z. McLeod. It's my favorite comedy of all time and I'd never seen it on a big screen (let alone in 35mm) until last summer at the PFA.

Screen capture from Warner Archive DVD
Noir City, Castro Theatre
In addition to The Honeymoon Killers, there were other perverse delights at last year's Noir City. I was particularly taken by the Saturday afternoon triple bill of nail-biting suspense dramas The Steel Trap (1952), Julie (1956) and Cry Terror! (1958), all from Hollywood husband-and-wife filmmaking team Andrew and Virginia Stone (he wrote and directed, she produced and edited). Who knew that Doris Day singlehandedly landed a jet plane 19 years before Karen Black? Other Noir City 2015 flicks I'm still thinking about one year later include Ossessione (Luchino Visconti's 1943 homoerotic adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice), Robert Siodmak's The Suspect (1944) and Douglas Sirk's Shockproof (1949).

San Francisco Silent Film Festival (Castro Theatre)
The world's second most prestigious silent film showcase celebrated its 20th edition back in May with a tremendous 21-program line-up. What I remember most fondly are three comedies. In the UK/German co-production Ghost Train (1927), hijinks ensue when passengers take refuge in a haunted railway station overnight. Harold Lloyd's final silent film Speedy (1928) featured Babe Ruth in a supporting role (as himself) and an unforgettable 20-minute sequence set in Coney Island's famed Luna amusement park. Then in Amazing Charley Bowers, preservationist/showman Serge Bromberg introduced us to the surrealistic genius of American comic Bowers and his insane combinations of live action and stop-motion animation. At that same festival I was also blown away by the intense eroticism of John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in Flesh and the Devil (1926) and the immense spectacle of Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925).

Backstreet (Melodrama Master: John M. Stahl, Pacific Film Archive)
While I didn't get to the PFA as often as I would've liked in 2015, I'm sure glad to have caught this low-key but intensely moving 1932 adaptation of Fanny Hurst's novel, starring Irene Dunne as a career woman who spends 25 years as a married man's mistress.

Philip Fukuda: IOHTE

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 2015. An index of participants can be found here.

IOHTE contributor Philip Fukuda is a volunteer at various local film festivals. 

 Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society
Monte-Cristo (Henri Fescourt, 1929, France). San Francisco International Film Festival, Kabuki Cinema. Lenny Borger, this year's SFIFF Mel Novikoff award winner, elected to screen the 3 plus hour silent Monte-Cristo. Based on the Alexandre Dumas, père novel, the director's meticulous attention to detail made this classic tale of revenge a delight for me. I'm convinced that the French were masters of the epic historical drama.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Swallow and the Titmouse (Andre Antoine, 1920/83, France) is a simple drama. Screened at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro Theatre. Filmed in a quasi-documentary style, The Swallow and the Titmouse (L'hirondelle et la mésange) shows the countryside pass by at leisurely pace as the barge travels between France and Belgium. Stephen Horne's piano and Diana Rowan's harp were the perfect accompaniment for the film.

100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark of Black Film History. San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro Theatre. This was one of the highlights of 2015's Silent Film Festival for me. This program presented footage discovered in the Museum of Modern Art's collection which consisted of scenes from Lime Kiln Field Day, shot in 1913 but never completed, USA featuring Bert Williams. It was a treat for me to see the pioneering black entertainer Bert Williams and showed why he was considered one of the top comedians of the day. I was also fascinated to see the performances shift over the course of multiple takes.

Screen capture from Miramax DVD of My Voyage to Italy
Ossessione (Luchino Visconti, 1943, Italy). Noir City 13, Castro Theatre. I enjoyed this adaptation of James M Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice for its unglamorous and realistic view of the rural Italian countryside and equally earthy people that inhabit it. Visconti's love of the male body and opera are in full display in the film.

Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950, USA). Castro Theatre. I've seen this film many times, but I'm still knocked out by Gloria Swanson's bravura performance and Billy Wilder's and Charles Brackett's whip-smart dialogue. It's wonderful (and startling too) to see closeups of the still-beautiful 50-year old Swanson.

The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955, USA). Castro Theatre. Charles Laughton's sole film directorial effort was a memorable one. It's German Expressionism meets Southern Gothic. I think the sets are wildly artificial yet so beautiful. Robert Mitchum's Rev. Harry Powell was a menacing a villain as I've ever seen. Though I'd seen it several times on DVD, this was the first time I'd seen it in a theater, and what better place than on the Castro's big screen.

The Wild, Wild Rose (Wang Tian-lin, 1960, Hong Kong). A Rare Noir is Good to Find! series, Roxie Theatre. Grace Chang, a pop mega-star in Hong Kong, chews the scenery and belts out Carmen in Chinese in this wildly entertaining film. One of my guilty pleasures of 2015.

Hope and Glory (John Boorman, 1987, UK). Mostly British Film Festival, Vogue Theatre. I thought it was a charming film showing both the childrens' and adults' reactions to the Blitz in World War II.

Screen capture from Wellspring DVD
Rebels of the Neon God (Tsai Ming-liang, 1992, Taiwan). Opera Plaza Cinema. Slacker teens, petty crime, video arcades in early 1990s Taipei. For me, it adds up to a lot more than the average teenage flick.

A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005, USA) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Though I only saw a few films at the David Cronenberg retrospective at YBCA screening room, A History of Violence was a standout. As the title implies, the film was full of thrills, but it was also full of knockout performances.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Adam Hartzell: IOHTE

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 2015. An index of participants can be found here.

IOHTE contributor Adam Hartzell writes for koreanfilm.org as well as other outlets.

Image courtesy Midcentury Productions
Black Hair (Lee Man-hee, 1964) A Rare Noir Is Good To Find
March 22nd Roxie Theatre
I have seen a few Lee Man-hee films in theaters. I saw The Evil Stairs (1964) in Udine, Italy at the Far East Film Festival and I saw The Starting Point (1965) at the Pusan International Film Festival, when Busan, South Korea was still spelled with a 'P'. I also have seen The Marines Who Never Returned (1963) on DVD. But I never thought I would get to see a Lee Man-hee in a San Francisco theater. And I would have missed seeing Black Hair (1964) at A Rare Noir Is Good To Find series in March at the Roxie Theatre if one of the clerks at Le Video hadn't given me the heads up. I will miss Le Video for reasons such as this. (Suggestion for SF Noir City presenters of future Korean noir films. 'jopok' is a more appropriate term for Korean gangsters than the Japanese term 'yakuza'.)

Kevin Jerome Everson: Frames Connecting Necessity & Coincidence
Wed May 20th YBCA/SF Cinematheque
And I would have missed Kevin Jerome Everson's shorts at the YBCA, curated by the folks at SF Cinematheque if it weren't for Hell On Frisco Bay proprietor Brian Darr letting me know some of Everson's shorts featured my hometown of Cleveland. Turns out that Everson grew up in Mansfield, Ohio and the short Tygers (2014) had kids from his former high school running plays from his time on the gridiron. The short Release (2013) also involved football drills, but this time performed by dancers. One of the shorts made in Cleveland, Sound That (2014), follows Cleveland Water Department employees listening for pipes underground. They listen with devices Everson sculpted to replicate the devices used in the real work. Plus, Everson placed these workers in significant locations of local horror, such as the house where the three kidnapped girls were held for years. Everson was not on my radar until Brian, YBCA, and SF Cinematheque put him on my radar. And that is why I support my local rep houses and my local Brian Darr.

Image courtesy SF Japanese Film Festival
Unoforgiven (Sang-il Lee, 2013) Sacramento Japan Film Festival
Sat 7/18/15 Crest Theatre
My wife and I make biannual trips up to Sacramento for either the French Film Festival or the Japan Film Festival. This year it was the latter. Since I have co-workers at my San Francisco office commute from Sacramento and Roseville, I consider Sacramento part of the Bay Area. It's a nice Amtrak trip away. We stay at the lovely Citizen Hotel so we can easily walk from the train station and are close by Insight and Temple Coffeehouses and the lovely Crest Theatre. This year's Sacramento Japan Film Festival was their most successful ever. (Did our choice to donate to the festival this year, getting to see our names on screen, have anything to do with it?) The highlight was Unforgiven (2013), an Ainu Western (Northern?) directed by a Zainichi (Japanese of Korean descent) that was inspired by Clint Eastwood's film of the same name. The older gentlemen who the film began an extensive narration of the whole plot but was stopped by the audience in time before he spoiled everything. His response was a sincere befuddlement saying something like 'Oh, I'm sorry. I just thought Japanese movies were hard to understand so I thought I'd explain things. Rather than be annoyed by this, I saw this as an unintentional Andy Kaufman-esque performance that added to the delightful weekend we had.

Let's Get the Rhythm: the Life and Times of Mary Mack (Irene Chagall & Steve Zeitlin, 2014) Dance Film Festival
Sun 10/11/15 Brava Theatre in the Mission
If a US film does not get to me until over a year late, I consider it ripe for discussion based on Brian's parameters, an older film at a Rep theater. Let's Get The Rhythm: The Life and Times of Mary Mack was released (on TV I think) in 2014 so it barely makes it in. I want to make it fit because it was one of my favorite films I caught last year. Girl culture is regularly ridiculed or minimized in wider culture so it was so nice to see an aspect of girl culture, hand-clapping games, respected and explored in this locally produced documentary. And Irene Chagall & Steve Zeitlin touch on so much in this short documentary, even including a discussion of how, well, dirty and off-color many of the lyrics are. They even brought in a mathematician to demonstrate how freaking complex the rhythms are of these games. You go, girls!

Image courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Festival
The Grim Game (Irvin Willat, 1919) A Day of Silents
Castro 12/5/15
This year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival's A Day of Silents feature I caught was The Grim Game (Irvin Willat, 1919), a vehicle for Harry Houdini to demonstrate is escape exploits. One thing the Silent Film Festival shows us is how long some tropes/genres have been going on. This is basically an action film like the Fast and Furious genre or the yet to truly blossom parkour genre (such as the Luc Bresson produced trilogy of parkour films featuring traceur David Belle). Except instead of car chases or people flipping through urban obstacles, we witnessed regularly paced lock-picking and restraint-removing by the greatest escape artist of them all, Houdini.

Frako Loden: IOHTE

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 2015. An index of participants can be found here.

IOHTE contributor Frako Loden is an educator and a writer, who publishes at documentary.org and elsewhere.


Image courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Festival
1. For me the highlight of 2015's repertory screenings was not even a finished film—just a collection of takes for a film that was never to be. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival in June presented Bert Williams: Lime Kiln Field Day, a compilation of rushes for a 1913 film, starring black comic actor Bert Williams and a large number of important black stage entertainers, that the white producers Biograph/Klaw and Erlanger abandoned and never completed. The long preamble at the Castro by MOMA's Ron Magliozzi was rushed and packed with amazing information about the history of black people on Broadway and this particular production. The would-be film's plot isn't unusual--a black social club gears up for a picnic and ball--but the treatment and circumstances of its making certainly were. First, it was a truly interracial production, with white directors and a black assistant director and majority black cast with a few small white parts. Second, the black characters are middle class and their individual personalities, including a rare romantic kiss between Williams and Odessa Warren Grey (who also designed the costumes), preclude the usual stereotyping. A lively ride on a merry-go-round and an elaborate cakewalk sequence were exciting  highlights. The 50 minutes of footage, including repeated takes and glimpses of between-take preparation, gave me a joyous rush of imagining what American filmmaking might have been like if more films like this had been produced. Magliozzi thinks that the release of Birth of a Nation in 1915 was  what put this film on the shelf: it wasn't racist enough. Birth of a Nation unhappily set the standard for racist stereotyping of Hollywood films to come.

2. A lesser revelation at the December Silent Film Festival, also at the Castro, was Marcel L'Herbier's 1924 L'Inhumaine and its crazy Art Deco montage finale, in which a rejected young scientist-suitor brings his inhumanly cruel paramour back to life after a fatal snakebite in a laboratory designed by Fernand Leger. The frenetic sequence, which was a scandal in its day, could have inspired artists like Devo, Klaus Nomi and David Bowie. The film was accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra, which long ago established its reputation as one of the finest silent-film musical ensembles active today.

Image courtesy of Janus Films
3. Two years after the death of the great documentarist Les Blank, we were finally able to see his long-suppressed 1974 documentary on Leon Russell, A Poem is a Naked Person. Thanks to Blank's son Harrod, the film screened at the Opera Plaza followed by a Q&A with Russell himself, rolling to the screen in a mobility scooter and never removing his shades or signature hat. It was a bittersweet occasion to see a vivid, eccentric evocation of Russell's career and discover that Russell is just as laconic and taciturn about the film as Blank would have been.

4. The strangest, most astonishing repertory film experience this year was at the Roxie for the re-release of Roar, a sui-generis 1981 horror film directed by Tippi Hedren's husband Noel Marshall and starring the couple and their children, the most famous of which was a teenage Melanie Griffith. Of course the real stars are a menagerie of big cats allowed to roam free through the family's house. The publicity for the film is a list of casualties involving fractures, ripped scalps, bites and gangrene—some of which are captured on-screen. A roiling swarm of tawny manes, claws and jaws leaves an unforgettable impression.  

Screen capture from Sony DVD
5. Possibly the most joyous rep-film experience I had was at the Roxie shortly before Christmas for Michael Schultz's 1975 black kung fu romance-comedy The Last Dragon, with host/fanboy/racism critic W. Kamau Bell and star Taimak in attendance. The rowdy audience knew the dialogue and Motown song lyrics by heart. Bell christened the audience as an official Black Lives Matter gathering and that a meeting would commence after the screening. Bell's affection for the film and Taimak, whose performance inspired the adolescent Bell to think that a black hero could be both kickass and serenely centered, was a happy way to end 2015.