Monday, April 30


Breaking Silence

I've really been enjoying the 50th S.F. International Film Festival over the past few days. The filmgoing is fun of course, but at least as much of the fun has been found in meeting up and talking movies with discourse-hungry cinephiles, whether longtime friends I don't see as often as I should, or with folks I've only just met. This evening at the Kabuki the festival publicity department hosted a gathering of bloggers and other web-centric writers, many of whom I'd only ever been introduced before to through their work online. I swapped stories with Cathleen Rountree, exchanged a few words with Kevin Lee, and more, all only a day after finally meeting Lincoln Specter of Bayflicks, a major inspiration for this site. I particularly enjoyed a brief conversation with Tony An because he too had seen Sounds of Sand and, though our reactions to the film were very different, I found I finally had an outlet in which I could respectfully dislodge all my opinions on the film, and get a thoughtful rebuttal to boot. I don't feel I can really get into too many of the specifics, as the film is at "hold review" status, meaning I'm supposed to wait until it gets a commercial release before I say more than seventy-five words on it. But to put it briefly, I agree with others who have called the film "soulless", "predictable" and "self-congratulatory", though I must admit that because of a) its eye-popping landscape photography and b) the cross-cultural issues it brings forth through its very existence as a film shot in Africa by a European, an international film festival is perhaps the ideal environment for it to be seen and discussed in.

Another hold review film is Private Fears In Public Places, which I'd call a mediocre play, exquisitely directed. In other words, a real test to the limits of my auteurist predelections (not that I'm nearly as well-versed in the cinema of Alain Resnais as I'd like to be). My favorite new film seen at the festival so far has got to be the aptly-named Opera Jawa. (And no, it has nothing to do with cloaked scavengers other than the fact that back in the seventies a certain festival honoree took to appropriating names from the world's cultures for his creature creations, including the word Indonesians use for their most populous island Java.) But this New Crowned Hope film is something I feel I need to sit with for a while before being able to say anything substantial about. It certainly was beautiful on the big Castro Theatre screen.

No, the films I feel I can most usefully talk about at this bleary-eyed stage of festival madness, are the ones I attended in my capacity as a silent film devotee. Well, near-devotee, I suppose. A full-fledged devotee would never have let himself miss Saturday afternoon's Castro screening of the Iron Mask with Kevin Brownlow in attendance, even if he was scheduled to work and the film was screening with a sound-on-print score instead of a live musical accompaniment. I mean, I'm not the hugest fan of Carl Davis but he is the man the utterly tasteful Brownlow chose for the job of providing the music to the film he restored, and I'm sure the score has merit. Anyway, I wish I could have made it to that screening, which I hear was, of Brownlow's three festival appearances this weekend in honor of his hugely justified receipt of the Mel Novikoff Award for "enhancing the filmgoing public’s knowledge and appreciation of world cinema," the most delightfully anecdote-rich.

You probably already know what a legend in his own time Brownlow is. If he had only made his two so-called "amateur" masterpieces, It Happened Here! and Winstanley, his places in British and World Cinema History would be assured. But he has so generously recorded and popularized under-explored sections of cinema history through his unceasing efforts as a writer, interviewer, preservationist, and documentary filmmaker, that his impact is even more felt on the way we and future generations will be able to regard these histories. For my part, I can credit my borrowing of his "Cinema Europe: the Other Hollywood" miniseries from the local library, as much as anything else I can think of, for my interest in movies blossoming into a full-fledged cinephilia. I haven't read all of his books or seen all his documentaries yet, but so far I've been transfixed by each I've encountered. And the idea of seeing his 2000 restoration of Abel Gance's Napoleon in a cinema, even if due to rights issues it has to be in another country, is one of my greatest cinephile dreams.

Seeing Brownlow speak in person, taking a rapt audience through a program of immaculately-projected, grandly-accompanied (by pianist Judith Rosenberg) short films and excerpts, at the Pacific Film Archive yesterday evening might have been another, had I the imagination to dream it. Some of the films and scenes he showed were great. Others were not terribly special beyond their status as relative rarities. But all were provided with fascinating context by Brownlow. Before showing the 1913 short Suspense, directed by Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley, he alerted us to take note of an early use of a three-way split-screen effect to acknowledge a telephone conversation and its subject (the splitting diagonals elegantly taking their angle from a lampshade in the center of the frame), but also ruled out the possibility of it being the earliest such use, as he'd seen an earlier Danish film employ a similar effect. He showed a film made in Frisco Bay's backyard, Broncho Billy's Adventure, filmed by the Essanay in a rather empty-looking San Rafael before the studio settled in at Niles in the East Bay. He showed a film promoting kit homes, made by the Ford Motor Company, that he suspected was a likely influence on Buster Keaton's One Week, and then he showed both complete reels of Keaton's comedy tour-de-force. Believe it or not, I had never before seen One Week, though it plays fairly often at Frisco Bay theatres, including a showing at last year's SFIFF. Somehow I'd never made it to another local screening, and I had resisted successfully the lure of DVD and youtube presentations of the film. Now I know why: to save myself for the privilege of experiencing it for the first time with a terrific live score, a laughing audience, and in the glow of Brownlow's marvelous enthusiasm and insight.

It wasn't all laughter and delight, though. When introducing a clip from Raymond Bernard's the Chess Player, Brownlow reminded the room full of silent film enthusiasts, with a healthy contingent of scholars and archivists, of a darker side to the history of film preservation. He told of how "we owe the existence of this film to the Gestapo," as the Nazis, who I did not realize had created the first film archive, confiscated the Chess Player among other films when they arrested Bernard during the occupation. They released the director on the urging of his famous father Tristan Bernard, but kept the films safe from destruction during the war (except for reel one of the Chess Player, which disappeared). The clip made the film look like a tremendous epic, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to watch Bernard's film without thinking of how bitter a victory it is when great objects of art are saved while so much else is lost.

After the screening, there was a very brief question-and-answer session in which Brownlow demonstrated his quick wit and ability to oh-so-gracefully deal with a question asked in more of a spirit of showing off in than requesting knowledge, but before the house was cleared I was thankful to get a chance to approach the man and ask a question in person. I felt I had to ask something about the documentary he'd directed, Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic, since he'd had to bow out of the q-and-a after that 9:15 PM Saturday screening due to jet lag. I probably should have asked about the doc's absolutely breathtaking Elmer Bernstein underscore (according to imdb, it's the legendary composer's last credit), or about how his impression of DeMille had changed since making the "Autocrats" episode of his "Hollywood" miniseries in 1980. Or else just thanked him for the evening. But I couldn't resist posing an entirely too-big question about DeMille's sincerity, and he oh-so-gracefully gave an answer about how the director's cynicism was far more evident in the sound era than the silent. Though I doubt Mr. Brownlow intended it as such, I'm trying to take it as a lesson against wordiness.

Which should be my cue to wrap this post up. But before I do, I just want to point out a few more silent film-related offerings that are of great interest to me. While the SFIFF is still in full force, there are two more such programs: Notes to a Toon Underground, a May 5th program of old and new silent animations backed by live music from local indie rockers, and Guy Maddin's neo-silent Brand Upon the Brain with live music and Joan Chen as guest narrator on May 7th, both at the Castro.

This summer, the Niles Essanay Film Museum will show 35mm prints of Broncho Billy's Adventure and 56 more Essanay films of all sorts in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the film company's founding. It starts June 2nd when the 1915 Charlie Chaplin Essanay short His New Job plays in front of the first feature he directed, the Kid. Each subsequent Saturday evening will find Essanay films gracing the Edison Theatre screen, culminating in the tenth annual edition of the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, June 29-July 1, which will include Essanay films featuring Max Linder, Gloria Swanson, Frances X. Bushman, Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson of course, and many many more. Niles is nestled in a remote enough corner of Frisco Bay for me to have only been there once, but I'd love to go again, and this series may just be the perfect excuse.

Then from July 13-15, it's Frisco's own Silent Film Festival, which has announced a sneak preview of four of the titles it's bringing to this year's edition: Beggars of Life by William Wellman, starring Louise Brooks as a cross-dressing railroad-hopper, the Cottage on Dartmoor, the final silent film directed by British director Anthony Asquith, the Student Prince of Old Heidelberg, one of the Ernst Lubitsch silent films that had been absent from the retrospective held at the PFA earlier this year, and the Godless Girl, clips of which were featured prominently in Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic. It looks to me like a great lineup as usual, but I have to admit my bias: I was recently honored to become a volunteer member of this year's film research committee, which means I'm charged with writing program notes for one of the films playing this July. Don't bother trying to guess which, since I won't tell, and it may not even be one of these four that have been announced so far. What I will say is this: the one I'm writing on is the only one I've seen as of yet, and as I'm learning more about the other researchers' films I'm growing more and more impatient to see them all on the big Castro screen.

Monday, April 23


Shakespeare Goes Looney

With the 50th SF International Film Festival opening this Thursday, and a few other projects occupying my mind as well, I was hoping I could find a film in the SFIFF program guide with a strong enough link to William Shakespeare that a discussion of it could serve as double-duty in today's William Shakespeare Blog-a-Thon hosted by Peter Nellhaus. But as Amir Muhammad's Berlinale entry Village People Radio Show, which is based partially on a Winter's Tale, or Geoffrey Wright's Australian update of the "Scottish play" that played at Toronto last fall are not on the SFIFF docket, I've been unsuccessful so far. I also scoured the newly-online schedules for SFIFF venues the Castro, the Pacific Film Archive, and SFMOMA, which reveal the films they'll be playing after May 10th, when the festival ends. But though tributes to Shohei Imamura, Bernard Herrmann, Jacques Rivette, Fred Astaire, Clint Eastwood, Walter Hill, Leni Riefenstahl, Czech cinema, and more all intrigue, none of the chosen films jumped out at me as particularly Bard-related (please let me know if I missed something).

So instead, I'll write a few words on the 1959 Halloween release a Witch's Tangled Hare. It's the third of three Looney Tunes to pit Bugs Bunny against Witch Hazel, a larger, greener version of a witch that harassed Donald Duck in the 1952 short Trick or Treat. Chuck Jones, always on the lookout for ideas for interesting Bugs villains, shamelessly pilfered the Disney cartoon's character, even going so far as using the wonderful June Foray's voice starting with the second of his Witch Hazel cartoons, the 1956 Broom-Stick Bunny. He'd wanted to use her for his 1954 Bewitched Bunny, but she was concerned about Disney retaliating against her for bringing what was essentially the same character to a rival studio, so he instead hired Bea Benaderet until Foray changed her mind in time for Broom-Stick Bunny.

Each of the first three Witch Hazel cartoons produced at the Warner studio (there was a fourth, A-Haunting We Will Go cobbled together by Robert McKimson in 1966, re-using animation from Broom-Stick Bunny) begins by riffing off a well-known witch story. Bewitched Bunny spoofs Hansel and Gretel, while Broom-Stick Bunny uses Snow White as a starting point. So it makes sense that a Witch's Tangled Hare might re-envision Hazel as one of the Macbeth sisters, especially since Shakespeare was mentioned in Trick or Treat. A Witch's Tangled Hare even begins with a caricatured version of the Bard himself prowling around Bob Singer-designed scenery seemingly inspired in part by Fred Ritter's sets for the Orson Welles Macbeth, still in 1959 the screen version of that play best known in the United States (Kurosawa's arguably loose adaptation Throne of Blood had competed in the first SFIFF in 1957, but was not widely known on these shores yet.) But though this Bard takes notes on Hazel's incantations of "fire burn, and cauldron bubble," the Macbeth theme is essentially dropped once Bugs arrives on the scene. The cartoon then makes reference to whatever Shakespeare play might seem handiest at the moment, re-enacting the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet with Bugs and Hazel in the key roles, and ending with perhaps the worst Hamlet pun ever devised.

Honestly, I don't think a Witch's Tangled Hare is one of the better Looney Tunes efforts, even for its era. A few gags work (a cackle-off between Bugs and Hazel, for example) but the majority seem strained, and the Shakespeare theme is never developed as far as Jones and co. were able to go with another dead white male, Richard Wagner, a couple years earlier in What's Opera, Doc? It's tempting to lay the blame at the fact that though the cartoon was produced by the Chuck Jones unit at Warner, with Michael Maltese credited as writer and Ken Harris, Ben Washam, Keith Darling and Richard Thompson as animators, Jones was himself not directly involved. He was busy taking on the animation for the Bell Science educational film Gateway to the Mind, and Abe Levitow, the animator he'd just promoted to co-director, earned his first solo directing credit with the film. Levitow would soon go on to UPA to direct the feature-length Gay Purr-ee, which I have not yet seen.

Friday, April 13


Late Oughta-Mentions

You may have noticed that recently this blog has not been quite as comprehensive about keeping up with all the repertory film events and festivals on Frisco Bay as it has in the past. For example, I still haven't mentioned the currently-in-progress Sonoma Valley Film Festival, or the fact that the Cerrito Classics schedule is updated now through August, or that a screening of San Francisco at the Balboa will happen this coming Wednesday, the 101st anniversary of the Great Quake. Well, I guess I just did, but I might not have if I wasn't trying to make a point. The fact is, I'm finding myself increasingly busy these days and want to focus my energies on the events I'm personally particularly excited about, at least for a while. This seems like a good time to remind you of my sidebar; the "Frisco Bloggers and Websites" section in particular is loaded with other Frisco cinephiles trying to digest the local film scene and sf360, the Evening Class and the new and improved Bayflicks seem particularly reliable at notifying about upcoming film events. Keep up with those as well as with my site, and you ought to be in pretty good hands.

Living in Frisco proper, it's the events in other parts (especially the non-BART-accessible parts) of the Bay that I'm least likely to take note of. Unless they're really, really cool, that is. Like this, at the Cubberly Auditorium in Palo Alto, appears to be: a Friday evening series of Japanese films from 1960, in 35mm prints, starting tonight with Mikio Naruse's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. Most of the greatly-revered names of Japanese cinema will be represented in this series: Nagisa Oshima by Cruel Story of Youth April 27th, Akira Kurosawa by the Bad Sleep Well May 4th, a week and a half after the upcoming Shakespeare Blog-a-Thon, Kon Ichikawa with Her Brother May 11th, Kaneto Shindo with the Island May 18th, Yasujiro Ozu with Late Autumn (one of the few titles I've seen in this series, it's perhaps my favorite of Ozu's films) May 25th, and Shohei Imamura with Hogs and Battleships June 1st. Most of these haven't played on a nearby big screen in quite some time, and if the series were being held a little closer to my work or home, I'd probably attend every night. I hope to go to a few anyway. I'd head down for When a Woman Ascends the Stairs tonight, as it was one of the Naruse films from last year's PFA retrospective that I (and many others, as the screening was sold out) missed.

Except that tonight I'll be at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts watching Syndromes and a Century, a privilege I very much regret to learn that Thai audiences have been prevented by a censorious government from doing. The film plays here Saturday and Sunday as well, but I have other plans those days. As of yesterday there were still plenty of tickets available through the box office, though. That's a hint, for any of you who are still on the fence on seeing this film.

Sunday, April 8


For those who have seen Tropical Malady

Friday night's event at the Pacific Film Archive, in which Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul guided the audience through a screening of his 2004 Cannes prize-winner Tropical Malady, marked perhaps the first time I was thankful, with no reservations whatsoever, that a theatrical screening was being projected from a DVD rather than a 35mm print. Such a print had been shown the previous night for the benefit of those of us who wanted to soak up the richness of the film's images in their full glory, but this night was to be devoted less to pure aesthetic pleasure than to textual analysis. With Apichatpong (or "Joe", as he is often called) in front of a microphone with his hand on a remote control allowing him to pause, slow forward, or adjust the audio level at will, it was a unique chance for something like a live director's audio commentary only all the more illuminating for its flexibility. Not only did Joe provide his own personal reflections and interpretations on this famously enigmatic film at precisely opportune moments, but PFA curator Steve Seid also asked audience members to call out "stop" when we thought of a question to ask for ourselves. After putting forth a poorly-worded query fairly early in the process I found myself too shy to pursue more, but others had some very insightful questions triggering fascinating answers.

Joe made several disclosures that I'd never remembered reading in reviews or interviews (perhaps I've just read the wrong ones), or hearing in the audio commentary discussion with Chuck Stephens on the Strand DVD. Some are interesting little tidbits regarding production, while others feel right now something like world-shattering revelations that cast the film in an entirely new light. Maybe there's a bit of both in all of them. I'll share a few of them (in paraphrase), but I implore you not to read further unless you've seen Tropical Malady before. I get the sense that Joe would rather that these tidbits/revelations not interfere with anyone's first experience with this very personal film for him. a.k.a. SPOILER WARNING!!!

1. One reason why the film is credited to three directors of photography is that working with Jean-Louis Vialard (Investigations Into the Invisible World, Dans Paris) was frustrating and he was soon taken off the film. Apparently his aggressive style of persuasion did not mesh well with the Thai style of making a film (or Joe's style, anyway). Vialard was adamant that certain shots be captured just a certain way, which required very long periods of time to set up the lighting.

My reaction: Maybe Vialard ought to have read a book like this before taking on the job? I must say, however, that the one shot Joe singled out as taking Vialard particularly long to set up (a half day), the one just before the end of the film's first half, in which Tong sits up from his bed, his body bifurcated by light and shadow, is particularly beautiful and perhaps on some level the key shot in the film.

2. According to Joe, one idea he had when making Tropical Malady is that all of the male characters in the film would be gay. Not only did he express this through certain casting choices and direction of actors, but also in design details such as posters adorning the walls of his locations.

My reaction: It's impossible not to notice the unblinking acceptance of homosexuality by the characters in Tropical Malady, including Tong's family who seem completely at ease with his interest in the soldier Keng, the sisters who offer to smoke the two lovers out, and essentially everyone else in the film. And there is definitely a lot of other flirtatious behavior with other men in the film, in scenes like the one in the pool hall for example. The entire first half of the film, at least up to the point of the roadside beating, feels like it exists in some kind of utopia. (Some have found the first half of the film to be so conflict-free as to be completely unsatisfying.) But it seems Joe's unifying idea behind this utopian state is one that never occurred to me at all. Fascinating food for further thought.

3. Tropical Malady has been praised for its sound design, in which the ambient sounds of the jungle and other environments are turned way up in the mix to a highly visceral level in a theatre with a good sound system. But according to the director, in Thailand there were many complaints that in certain scenes the dialogue was not audible enough to understand. Joe admitted that he didn't really mind that Thais couldn't clearly hear certain dialogue, an example being the conversation in which Keng tells Tong, "When I gave you the Clash tape I forgot to give you my heart."

My reaction: Though it might be tempting to use this disclosure as evidence that he makes his films for subtitle-reading festival audiences without thinking of audiences from own country, I think there's reason to conclude the contrary. In his DVD commentary with Chuck Stephens, Joe makes it clear that he's a little uncomfortable about the corniness of some of this lovestruck dialogue; it seems to me that he'd almost rather the audience not be let into his characters' private moment. Perhaps the Thai version, in which the dialogue can't really be made out, better represents his authorial intention in certain scenes than a fully subtitled version does.

I'm also interested in the way Joe deals with the foregrounding and withholding of sounds because I feel like his ideas on this front are interacting with the relatively short history of sound cinema in Thailand; as far as I know, no other country's film industry experienced a longer silent film era. As I understand it, it wasn't until the 1970s that Thai films stopped being distributed without soundtracks, with local troupes of voice actors providing the film dialogue in each village, a practice often seen as a holdover from the benshi-style narration practiced throughout East Asia until sound cinema displaced it, country by country, starting in the 1930s. What this has to do with Joe's films and videos is fodder for an entirely other realm of inquiry that I hope to explore someday.

4. The shot in which Keng rests against a tree was based on an old photograph of a resting hunter that Joe particularly liked. He asked the actor to hold the same pose as that of the subject of the photograph.

My reaction: More ammunition for a reading of Joe's work as postmodernist. He's clearly interested in a dialogue with imagemakers of the past, and not just those in the motion picture field. It's a great composition, anyway.

5. When you hear the sound of dogs crying in the distance, they were inspired by Joe's appreciation of hearing the same in Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry.

My reaction: I think this is the first confirmation I've heard that Joe has definitely been influenced by Kiarostami, though it's a contention that many critics have put forth. Even in this interview, in which he's asked to react to comparisons between his work and Hou Hsiao-Hsien's, Tsai Ming-Liang's, and Kiarostami's, Joe cops to a personal connection to Hou and Tsai, but essentially punts on the question of Kiarostami.

6. The shot of the tiger staring intently at Keng at the end of the film could never have been achieved naturally; tigers just don't do that sort of thing for the camera. Actually, the image was achieved through digital compositing by the German visual effects house that also worked on the ghostly zebu and the luminous tree effects. In fact the tiger's movements have been randomized and looped.

My reaction: Watch carefully the next time you see the film, and you'll definitely notice the loop. It's a pretty cool effect.

This event has definitely been a major highlight of my cinematic year so far, and I'm now all the more hungry to finally see Syndromes and a Century at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts next weekend. It gets six showings (five evening, one matinee) Friday through Sunday. Hopefully I can make it to at least two of them.

Thursday, April 5


50th SFIFF Program Announcement: Initial Thoughts

Frisco's 50th International Film Festival has announced its full program slate, and I'm overwhelmed by the task of trying to absorb it all in anticipation. I certainly haven't come close yet. I entreat any readers to take a glance at the schedule online and fill the comments section below with recommendations of films you've seen or are anticipating.

In the meantime let me direct your attention to Michael Hawley, a 31-year festgoing veteran who has posted his initial reaction to the program announcement at the Evening Class. I've attended only a fraction of the festivals Michael has, but I share his excitement in titles I've been hoping for months might be screened, most especially Opera Jawa by Garin Nugroho, Daratt by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Colossal Youth by Pedro Costa, and Brand Upon the Brain by Guy Maddin. These are among the films that I'll be trying to reconfigure my work schedule to catch if I have to, and it looks like I will, at least in the case of Opera Jawa. This Javanese gamelan-driven retelling of a piece from the Ramayana epic is one of the most fascinating-sounding of the seven films commissioned by Peter Sellars for his New Crowned Hope celebration of a quarter-millennium of Mozart last fall. Darrat is another. Hopefully the full set will make its way to Frisco cinema screens sometime this year. The selection of Sellars to deliver this year's State of the Cinema address seems like an inspired one from this vantage point.

Other films I've been eagerly anticipating for a while now include His Eye is on the Sparrow by Bruce Conner, Ad Lib Night by Lee Yoon-ki, Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic by Kevin Brownlow, Hana by Hirokazu Kore-eda and the newly-struck Janus print of the Phantom Carriage by Victor Sjöström (insert "Jonathan Richman is awesome" note here). And those are just the ones I don't expect to encounter another shot at later on down the line; I know that for instance Paprika by Satochi Kon, Private Fears in Public Places by Alain Resnais and Bamako by Abderrahmane Sissako all have theatrical distributors, and the latter even has a release date, at least in Marin County: June 1st at the Rafael Film Center. (According to that theatre's new calendar, SFIFF closing night film La Vie En Rose also opens there on June 15th.)

But, as I noted around this time last year, at this anticipatory moment a festival cannot be judged by the familiarity of the titles to those of us who pay attention to buzz from festivals in other cities. For every title I can check off my "hope someone brings it" list, there are at least two I've heard little to nothing about. If I'd known that Nanni Moretti, Patrick Tam, and Otar Iosseliani, to name three, had new films on the festival circuit, at some point I must have forgotten. But now I'm excited for a chance to see the Caiman, After This Our Exile, and Gardens in Autumn, respectively. And those are still films by known-quantity directors, while it's at least as important for a good festival to introduce work by unfamiliar names. On that front I'm very intrigued by a Thai documentary previously unknown to me, Stories From the North by Uruphong Raksasad. Another documentary is Fabricating Tom Zé by Decio Matos, Jr., on a Brazilian musician I resolved to learn more about after finding his tense compositions the most effective part of the Sundance prizewinner Manda Bala. Of course that's only the beginning. I've barely begun to look deeply into the program guide.

I have already seen a few more films in the program than I ever have before at this stage, though, and I hope to have time to elaborate on what I think of some of them. For now I'll just briefly list them (with links, as always). In tribute to Frederico Fellini, whose La Strada played on a 1956 program of Italian films at the Alexandria, that would morph into the SFIFF the following year, I wish I could say it was 8 1/2, but truthfully I've seen 8 1/3 of the films programmed in this year's festival so far. Three, Wonders Are Many by Jon Else, Protagonist by Jessica Yu and Destiny Manifesto by Martha Colburn were among my favorites from Sundance this January. Three are classics of various sorts that I've only seen on video up to now and am definitely considering taking the rare opportunity to rewatch on the big screen. Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, which won the first Golden Gate award at the first truly international festival in 1957 and was reprised at the 35th and 40th editions of the festival, will also be screened at the 50th on April 29th. Terry Gilliam's the Fisher King is the Robin Williams film selected for his Castro Theatre tribute May 4th, and is one of very few Gilliam features I've never seen in a cinema. And Wladyslaw Starewicz's the Cameraman's Revenge by Wladysaw Starewicz is an adorably morbid piece of 1912 insect animation playing as part of a very intriguing program of live-music-and-film called Notes to a Toon Underground. Two more are also animated: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which screened at the 1965 edition of the festival's tribute to Walt Disney, and ten years later was the first film I ever saw (at the Stonestown Theatre, according to mom), and The Danish Poet, which I saw digitally projected on a program of Oscar-nominated animated shorts at the Lumiere a few weeks ago (I thought it was the marginal best of a rather lackluster bunch). Finally, last year's festival screened a ghostly iceberg collage called How to Pray, which is the center of Bill Morrison's Highwater Trilogy making its Frisco premiere this time around. So that's where 1/3 comes from.

There's so much more to mention but I'd really better wrap it up for now. Suffice to say I'll be writing more about the 50th SFIFF in the coming weeks.

One thing I will mention before I go: some of the films I'd thought might be programmed by SFIFF are actually turning up soon at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It goes beyond Syndromes and a Century April 13-15 and I Don't Want to Sleep Alone April 20-22, which careful readers of this space have known about for a while. Also expect Row Hard No Excuses April 18th, the Pervert's Guide to the Cinema May 3-5, Red Without Blue May 16th, and Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait, which I caught at Sundance but am glad to see snagging a Frisco engagement May 17-19. The venue will also play host to a Grindhouse double-bill (exact titles kept secret until showtime) May 10th, a May 24th showing of Terry Zwigoff's Crumb to accompany the exhibit currently on view there, and its regular calendar of copresentations with SF Cinematheque (which brings the legendary Larry Jordan in person for a May 13th program of his films) and other local institutions.

Did I say one thing before I go? Here's a couple more, time-sensitive items I've been meaning to post. First, of all, in August there'll be a new film festival in town called the Dead Channels Festival of Fantastic Film, and to drum up early interest they're bringing a series of genre-wallowing triple features to the Victoria Theatre over the next few Sundays.

And finally, contrary to what I reported here earlier, Journey From the Fall will not be playing at the Four Star when it expands April 20th, but the ebullient teen film from Japan Linda Linda Linda will still open there this Friday. I haven't seen Grindhouse or Police Beat yet myself, but as much as I want to I can't imagine enjoying them more than Nobuhiro Yamashita's rockin' crowd pleaser.

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