Sunday, September 24


"The most anticipated movie experience in Northern California..."

That's how the the new Century 9 theatre is promoting its grand opening at the Westfield mall this week. I'm sorry, but uh-uh. Perhaps I live in some kind of bubble of isolation from the "real world", but I know of no moviegoer who is desperately wishing that a brand new downtown multiplex would be opened by the notoriously cookie-cutter Century Theatres company. There may be nostalgia for Market Street moviegoing days of yore, but I severely doubt a 'plex on the fifth floor of a mall is going to fill the void left by the shuttering of the Strand, St. Francis, etc. I suspect it's the folks behind the promotion that are living in a bubble; of course Century 9 is their "most anticipated" movie experience, as they're the ones whose job it is to anticipate it.

This is not to say I think the theatre (on the former Emporium site) won't be a success. I have every expectation that it will be suitably comfortable and the marketing muscle behind its film selections strong enough to attract customers, hopefully mostly away from their televisions or from the soul-suckingly bland Metreon megaplex a block over. I just doubt that, of the people who feel underserved and dissatisfied by Frisco filmgoing options, any of them are going to see this new venture as the solution to their complaints. It looks like the Century 9 is going to employ a booking strategy more similar to that of the 20-screen ultraplex opened this summer in downtown Redwood City than to the 20-screener in Daly City, in that alongside big studio fare like The Guardian it will show the aesthetically safest of so-called "indie" films (Keeping Mum and the U.S. Versus John Lennon are among the titles opening there this Friday; I've seen neither) in association with the CinéArts brand. Ah, yes, CinéArts: the company that identifies itself with classic movie posters from the likes of Metropolis and La Dolce Vita but rarely shows films even half as interesting or challenging, much less the genuine article. Not that I always require a challenging cinematic diet, but if I want to see something entertaining but only truly "offbeat" to the unadventurous, like Factotum or Little Miss Sunshine, I'll go to a single-screen theatre with some history like the Clay, or a truly independent neighborhood theatre like the Balboa. Is there anything that will play the Century 9 that wouldn't have played at another, less purely corporate, theatre if this one didn't exist?

As it turns out, maybe so, if only for one day. This Thursday, September 28, each of the nine screens will display a 35mm print of a different Frisco-shot, well I hesitate to use the word "classic" because some of these films aren't quite there yet. The list, in chronological order: the Maltese Falcon (1941), It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), Bullitt (1968), What's Up, Doc? (1972), 48 Hours (1982), the Presidio (1988), Basic Instinct (1992), the Rock (1996) and the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003). Five dollars will get you in to see one of, or as many of these films as you can fit into a day of viewing, starting from 11AM and ending at 10PM. In other words, they're encouraging theatre-hopping! Some of these selections are semi-regular staples of Frisco's established repertory houses, but others are quite rarely shown on 35mm (for example, it took a year for the Balboa to source a print of What's Up Doc for their excellent Frisco-centric film series this past April). I hope to be there, watching the one film on the list I've still never seen (anyone care to guess which in the comments section?) and probably at least peeking in on some of the others. I'll report back if the theatre's vibe is much different from what I'm expecting.

So that could be a fun day, but here are, in no particular order, ten cinematic opportunities on the horizon that from where I sit are far more deserving of being called "the most anticipated movie experience in Northern California":

1. The Mill Valley Film Festival, October 5-15.

2. The Janus Films tribute series November at the Balboa- if it's the same titles as those playing the upcoming New York Film Festival sidebar it will be the repertory film event of the year. And I wouldn't put it past Gary Meyer to arrange for even more titles.

3. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum's fall schedule, which includes the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and other Halloween-ish selections in October and a Silent Hitchcock event in November.

4. David Cronenberg's the Fly and other special events at the Parkway Speakeasy Theatre, and presumably the Cerrito Speakeasy Theatre too once it opens. Somehow I don't think the Century 9 is going to be serving beer. Or pasta, salads, sandwiches, etc.

5. The new SF Cinematheque calendar, including appearances by Gunvor Nelson November 12 and Nathaniel Dorsky December 10.

6. The Stanford Theatre's focus on 20th Century Fox this fall. I don't know what's expected beyond October 8th (when a Joseph Manciewicz double-bill plays), but it's sure to entice. With events in Thailand demonstrating how important the constitutional monarch still is to political stability in that country, it's certainly an interesting time to take a look at a Hollywood musical still banned there, the King and I (playing this Friday, Saturday and Sunday).

7. The Exploratorium's fall film schedule at the McBean Theatre: an October 21 shorts program including Multiple Sidosis by Sid Lavarents, documentaries on Harry Partch and Lightnin' Hopkins in November, and even more events in December, particularly a program on the 10th with films by Oskar Fischinger, D.A. Pennebaker, etc.

8. Citizen Kane and other 1940s classics playing this week at the Lark.

9. The programs showing this fall at the very antithesis of the corporate multiplex: Artists' Television Access. In addition to Craig Baldwin's Other Cinema Saturday series (nights with Patrick Macias and with Rick Prelinger look to be highlights), there's also non-traditional musical accompaniment to silent films like, on October 5, the Man Who Laughs (recently referenced in De Palma's the Black Dahlia), and the Passion of Joan of Arc October 6.

10. Countless other options already mentioned in other recent posts on this site: here and here particularly.

Wednesday, September 13


29th Mill Valley Film Festival program announcement.

The Mill Valley Film Festival has announced its program for this year's edition of the festival, October 5-15. Let me try to organize the selections a little:

Films I want to see so eagerly that I don't want to wait for their planned commercial releases:

The Host (Bong Joon-ho)
Summer Palace (Lou Ye)
Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer)

Films (sight unseen) I don't expect to get distributed; the MVFF might turn out to be the only chance to view them, period:

Cine Manifest (Judy Irola)
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox (Sara Lamm)
Dreaming of Space (Alexey Uchitel)
Figner: the End of a Silent Century (Nathalie Alonso Casale)
Frozen City (Aku Louhimies)
Full Grown Men (David Munro)
A Guest of Life (Tibor Szmemzo)
Have You Heard From Johannesburg (Connie Field)
Holly (Guy Moshe)
Hotel Harabati (Brice Cauvin)
I Am (Dorota Kedzierzawska)
I'll Call You (Lam Tze Chung)
I'm Seducible (Xiao-Yen Wang)
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (Zacharias Kunuk & Norman Cohn)
Klunkerz (Billy Savage) A mountain biking documentary, preceded by a short film by Frank Yeean Chan about a quest to ride to the top of Frisco's steepest hills called Russian Hill Roulette.
Longing (Valeska Grisebach)
Love For Share (Nia Dinata)
Madeinusa (Claudia Llosa)
Men at Work (Mani Haghighi)
Milarepa (Neten Chokling)
the Moon on the Snow (Pilar Anguita-MacKay)
Mysterious Creatures (David Evans)
Nail Polish (Jane Ainbinder)
The Nightly Song of the Travellers (Chapour Haghighat)
One Winter Story (Sally Lundburg & Elizabeth Pepin)
Opening (Rob Nilsson)
Orange Thief (Boogie Dean, Artie Wilinski, and Vinnie Angel)
Pan (Rob Nilsson)
The Porcelain Doll (Péter Gárdos)
Read You Like a Book (Robert Zagone)
Reporter Zero (Carrie Lozano)
Starfish Hotel (John Williams)
Stolen Holidays Olivier Peyon
Walking to Werner (Linas Phillips)

Films that are definitely expected to be released later this year, but it might be nice to see them before all the critics have weighed in on their Oscar prospects (plus many of them will have filmmaker guests in attendance):

The Astronaut Farmer (Michael & Mark Polish)
Babel (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
Breaking and Entering (Anthony Minghella)
Catch A Fire (Philip Noyce)
A Good Year (Ridley Scott)
Infamous (Douglas McGrath)
The Last King of Scotland (Kevin MacDonald)
Little Children (Todd Field)
The Queen (Stephen Frears)
Venus (Roger Mitchell)

Films with some kind of distribution expected, but you never know if they'll actually be in Frisco theatres long enough for a busy person to catch them:

3 Needles (Thom Fitzgerald)
After the Wedding (Susanne Bier)
Avenue Montaigne (Daniele Thompson)
Black Gold (Mark Francis & Nick Francis)
Candy (Neil Armfield)
the Cave of the Yellow Dog (Byambasuren Davaa)
Chronicle of an Escape (Israel Adrian Caetano)
Days of Glory (Rachel Bouchareb)
Deliver Us From Evil (Amy Berg)
Drifting Elegant (Amy Glazer)
Family Law (Daniel Burman)
Forgiveness (Udi Oloni) Though it has the same title, this is not the South African film I included in my January list of most-hoped-for film viewing opportunities for 2006, but I'm perhaps even more intrigued by this one as it's being strongly championed by Slavoj Zizek.
God Grew Tired of Us (Christopher Quinn & Tommy Walker)
Severance (Christopher Smith)

These lists leave out plenty of other features, shorts (like Jay Rosenblatt's Afraid So and Phantom Limb, both on the VidéOnze program), documentaries, and a Children's Festival that adults may want to take a look at too, especially considering that one of the selections is the final collaboration of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1972's the Boy Who Turned Yellow.

Sunday, September 10


Word to the Wise

The other day I was wondering to myself about the current status of The Garden, Frederick Wiseman's long-in-the-making documentary on Madison Square Garden that was pulled from film festivals (and a PFA screening) in early 2005 due to legal threats from the owners of the Manhattan arena. Christopher Huber theorized in an issue of Cinemascope that the problem might have been a leeriness to let a Wiseman-style examination of a potential 2012 Olympic venue. Well, it's now been well over a year since New York lost its first-ever Olympic bid to London, and the city didn't try for the shortlist for 2016. So there must be something else going on.

Perhaps more of the story of the Garden and its unavailability will be disclosed on the Kanbar Hall stage September 20th, where Wiseman will give an interview using clips from his filmography in an event put on by the Documentary Film Institute. I'm certain it will be a highly illuminating event regardless. Based on having seen in full only four of his thirty-five films, I still consider Wiseman one of the most fascinating filmmakers alive. Some might say that pining over the inaccessibility of the Garden is foolish, considering how difficult it is to see any of his other films; he only makes them available to institutions and I've never seen one at a video store. But I did get to watch his career-launching Titicut Follies at the City College of San Francisco library Media Center when I took a course there (I only wish I'd also looked at La Comédie Française as well while my student card was still valid). And videocassettes of his discomforting 1987 look at the young guardians of the nation's nuclear arsenal Missile can be found in several public libraries in the Frisco Bay area. The SFPL has two copies, plus one of the Store, Wiseman's 1982 film about the Neiman Marcus corporate headquarters in Dallas that every capitalist or anti-capitalist ought to watch.

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