Friday, April 11


Now Museum

In my previous post on the Castro Theatre and its new direction I asked, "Is it possible that, with the fragmenting of niche cinema audiences, the existence of such a large repertory venue in town may actually be stunting the ability of smaller venues to develop interesting programming and interested audiences?" I don't know the full answer to that question, and I'd be curious to know what others connected to the local film scene think about it, but yesterday evening I got a partial answer, throwing into relief just how important cinema screens connected to established museums are to my life as a Frisco cinephile. Though a confluence of factors may make it difficult for a profit to be made on repertory even in the wealthy, culture-conscious cities here on Frisco Bay, we're very lucky to have a number of established non-profit organizations with the ability to help foster aesthetic and cross-cultural understanding using a variety of means, including the film projector.

My Thursday went as follows: I spent a productive afternoon inside the Berkeley Art Museum, doing research at the Pacific Film Archive Library for an essay I'm writing on Teinosuke Kinugasa's Jujiro for the 2008 SF Silent Film Festival program (more titles announced here). I had planned to stay in Berkeley to watch Nagisa Oshima's the Man Who Left His Will On Film at the PFA Theatre just down the street, screening as part of a diverse film series preparing for the 40th anniversary of May 1968. But when my dinner plans fell through I remembered that the Oshima film would soon be screening at another May 1968 tribute at SFMoMA, and that this would be the only night for me to catch an even rarer Japanese film at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the kickoff to a four-night stand of Nikkatsu Action pictures from the 1960s, none of which are available on DVD in this country. So after stopping at the box office to buy tickets to tonight's Frank Tashlin and Orson Welles screenings at the PFA Theatre (because you never know what might sell out there on a Friday night) I hopped back on BART to downtown Frisco.

A Colt is My Passport was terrific, among what was pretty close to a sell-out crowd itself. This being my first experience with a Nikkatsu Action film (which according to Mark Schilling's introductary remarks was not just a studio style but a genre all its own -- perhaps analogous to "Universal Horror" or "Shaw Brothers Wuxia") not directed by the notoriously iconoclastic Seijun Suzuki, I can't be sure if I was reacting to the specificities of the film itself, or to those of the genre conventions it exemplifies. But a sense that this was going to be a film not quite like any I'd seen before was evident from the very first few shots, a trio of establishing shots advancing so rapidly that it was impossible for them to establish location at all- only mood and pace. It felt like a parody of the spatial transitions of Yasujiro Ozu, though Michael Grost points out that Mikio Naruse, and perhaps other shomin-geki directors, used similar shots.

Anyway, it was off to the races as hitman Joe Shishido efficiently completes his latest assignment, picking off his victim during a tea ceremony (another assault on tradition?) and angering his employer's gang nearly as much as its rival in the aftermath. Now on the lam, our chipmunk-jowled protagonist spends most of the rest of the film wharfside, eluding would-be captors with a sidekick played by Jerry Fujio, all with delightful phoney-baloney Morricone musical themes (composed by Harumi Ibe) as underscore. Late in the film there's a scene which felt to me like an homage to the astonishing ending to Tomu Uchida's 1965 Fugitive From the Past, but with a superheroic twist that led to one of the finest final shootout scenes I've ever seen choreographed -- on an empty field so there's no structures to orient the camera against! Great stuff, and I'm seriously contemplating eating tonight's PFA tickets in favor of a return trip to YBCA- otherwise the only other entry in the Nikkatsu Action series I'll be able to make is Sunday night's Velvet Hustler, and even that's iffy.

Thanks to Kimberly of CINEBEATS for first alerting me to this series, and to sf360 contributor Jennifer Young for reminding me of it again at the last minute. But especially, thanks to Joel Shepard, film curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, for bringing Nikkatsu Action to Frisco Bay audiences. The YBCA screening room is entering an extremely fertile period over the next few months, actually. An April 16th co-presentation with kino21, AIASF and Goethe-Institut of Schindler's Houses is the only opportunity to see one of the films playing the PFA's Heinz Emigholz series on this side of the Bay. May 8-10 brings a new print of Sergei Paradjanov's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. Phillipe Garrel's I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore plays a double-bill with Andy Warhol's the Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound May 15-16, and Garrel's the Virgin's Bed plays the 18th. A "Witchcraft Weekend" May 23-25 includes four films running the gamut from Disney to Dreyer to the William S. Burroughs-narrated Haxan.

I'm especially excited about a pair of June programs at YBCA: two sets of Apichatpong Weerasethakul short films June 5-8, and from the 26th through 29th Jia Zhang-Ke's Dong and Useless, finally bringing Frisco audiences up to speed on this acclaimed Chinese auteur after the 51st SFIFF screenings of his Three Gorges Dam film Still Life and that film's planned Roxie run. It's worth noting that the SFIFF's other Three Gorges Dam feature, the documentary Up the Yangtze was, as of yesterday, the first and only festival film to see all of its screenings sell out- Frisco's got China on the brain right now, so who knows, might Jia's film be another particularly hot SFIFF ticket? Now's the time to read Michael Hawley's tremendous preview, determine which festival films you absolutely can't miss, and starting buying tickets, if you haven't already. Those rush lines for non-ticketholders can sometimes get pretty long.

UPDATE 4/13/08: I spoke to YBCA programmer Joel Shepard after the Velvet Hustler screening, and he informed me that he's changing the dates of the screenings I mentioned in the last paragraph, so that Dong and Useless will play June 5-8, and the Apichatpong weekend will be June 26-29. And now, back to the original post:

The Pacific Film Archive is, as usual, in the midst of an incredible calendar, one that I haven't done justice to on this site, preferring to let Ryland Walker Knight, Michael Guillén, and Rob Davis's weekly "Where I'll Be This Week" feature do the heavy lifting this time around. Featuring the fullest slate of great programs and probably the highest projection standards on Frisco Bay, The PFA is certainly the local film institution I'd most want to see spared in the event of a flying saucer attack, even if it is located way over in Berkeley (anyone know of any reasonably-priced apartments there?) An unusual function the venue performs for me is that it helps me select from among unfamiliar SFIFF titles each year. Even if I'm less likely to cross the Bay Bridge in late April and early May than at any other time of the cinematic year, I weigh a PFA date highly when selecting which films to make sure to see at the nearer major SFIFF venues the Castro, Kabuki and Clay. I know from experience that I'm more likely to appreciate the films that the SFIFF programmers guess will play best for PFA audiences.

There aren't many clues as to what the PFA will be bringing to its screen after the SFIFF screenings end May 8th, though I expect the full May-June program to be revealed in a week or two. One clue comes from the mentioning of the venue as a co-presenter of SFMoMA's screening of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's entire Berlin Alexanderplatz throughout the month of June. Presumably that means the PFA will be showing the 940-minute epic soon as well, which is very good news indeed. Not only does it indicate more opportunities to fit every last episode into a screening schedule, but the PFA stamp of approval gives me confidence in the presentation at SFMoMA as well. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled with the direction this Frisco museum has been going with its attempts to seriously program film. Last month my eyes melted in their sockets watching a gorgeous 35mm print of El Topo there, part of an imaginative Non-Western Westerns series. But I've heard that some other screenings in that series were sourced from DVD, so while I'm excited about seeing my first Glauber Rocha film, Antonio das Mortes, next week there, I'm remaining cautious about the experience. I know that 35mm prints of Yojimbo (April 26th) and, in next month's Around '68 series, Lindsay Anderson's If... and Phillipe Garrel's the Regular Lovers have been on the circuit recently. But then, I would have thought the same about For a Few Dollars More as well, and that one was shown on DVD. At least it was advertised as such in the program, a practice I heartily applaud. For more help discerning film from video presentations, I'm glad to have just found an informative calendar put together by the Film on Film Foundation. I hope they're able to keep this useful service up.

I'm brought back to the Man Who Left His Will On Film. When it plays SFMoMA on May 24th, will it be a digital or film screening? If not the latter, did I make a mistake in passing up a chance to see it on 35mm at the PFA last night? Probably not, as my chances of ever seeing a print of a Colt is My Passport again are probably next to nil. All I know is, it looks like I'll be too busy hopping from one museum screening room to another to even notice that the Castro is playing a film I'm not very likely to see. And that's a good thing.

Oh my god, Brian, what a DENSE post!! Just perfect for your dense readers.
My mind is blown with the possibilities over the next month.

And I'm selfishly hoping the PFA programs the traveling Jean Eustache retro in May. I'm shifting to Chicago around May 22, and the Eustache program will be just underway there, and I would love love to see half of it here and half there.

It's too perfect for things to happen that way, so instead I'll pick from the amazing lineup that you're highlighting here, and then plan to catch The Mother and the Whore, once and for all, in the windy city. (With a little sniffle for the city by the bay.)

I'm glad to hear the Nikkatsu film was good. I highlighted the series last week on my site but I didn't make it to the film and wasn't sure how hard to try with the remainder. Now I'm bumping them up in priority.
Michael, I may not always know when I'm being made fun of, but I know when my readers are! Shame on you!

Rob, I'm going to miss you and your family when you all depart from this town for more temperature-extreme pastures. But it seems like I've been seeing you around at screenings a lot more lately, as if you're trying extra-hard to take advantage of our favorite film venues' programs before finding yourself in more unfamiliar territory (even if they are doing a Eustache series). I'll look forward to seeing you at a number of these events, at least the ones before May 22.

As much as I enjoyed a Colt is My Passport, I decided in the end to go to the PFA last night after all. And I'm so glad I did- the Girl Can't Help It is such fun. And the Immortal Story, though due to its budget reminding me of one of those literary adaptation filmstrips one watched in middle school, was extremely well-blocked. That Orson sure knew where to put the camera...

I'm all the more determined that I see Velvet Hustler tomorrow night.
A Colt Is My Passport sounds awesome. I've seen Velvet Hustler and was only so-so on it--but that whistling will stick in your head for a while! Let us know how you like it.
Thanks for the kind words, Brian. My flexible schedule is allowing me to catch lots of screenings these days, but it's also allowing me to up and move, obviously for different reasons. I do feel like I'm cramming, a bit, and as much as I hope to hit the ground running in Chicago, I'm sure it'll take some time to find all the nooks and crannies of the local film offerings.

The Immortal Story was great. (Didn't see you there...) I'd never watched it before and while it always takes me a while to get into the groove of Welles' casually-synched dialogue, the movie does eventually cast some kind of spell. It's so quiet and compact. Welles is so statue-like, staring into the camera. And I feel like I've been watching a Jeanne Moreau retrospective lately, after The Trial, Eva, and this; I think I like her performance in The Immortal Story best of the three, although on the whole The Trial remains a fave.
BTW, I'm pretending I didn't hear you say anything about Dong and Useless. What's that, you say? Can't quite make it out.
Hey Brian,

As I type this you should have just seen the bunny-hopping go-go scene in VELVET HUSTLER I noted in the Udine Report for GreenCine you linked to. Hope you got a kick out of if just like I did.

I liked Velvet Hustler, but more in bits and pieces than as a sustained whole. Like that bunny-hop scene you mentioned, Adam, or, perhaps my favorite shot in the film, where XX sits at the table reading about her beau's wanted status, and the camera just holds on her and lets it sink in.

In the post-screening chatter among people who'd seen most or all of the series, the general consensus was that Red Handkerchief was the best of the bunch. It seemed a bit of a shame that Plains Wanderer was not part of the selection brought to YBCA, but that is one of the titles that Janus has the rights to (along with Velvet Hustler and one other I forget), so perhaps there will be a DVD release someday.

I finally introduced myself to Joel Shepard after admiring his programming for years. He mentioned that he's had to swap the dates for the Jia and the Apichatpong films. The Jias remain outside Rob's earshot, I'm afraid, but closer to the Still Life screenings at the festival (which are indeed hot tickets, I'm told) and the Roxie run. Off to rectify that in the post body now...
Oops! Sometimes I'll use "XX" or somesuch as a placeholder for a name I have to look up, but don't want to break my writing rhythm. This time I forgot to look up the name before posting. Replace "XX" with "Ruriko Asaoka" please.
Funny how we each have our writing tactics so as not to break the rhythm. I use ????? where you use XX.
Adam, I'm glad someone can relate!

I just received an e-mail from Joel Shepard with the official dates for the Jia and Apichatpong films. Mark your calendars: Dong and Useless play together the evening of June 5th and the afternoon of June 8th. "Program 1" of Apichatpong shorts plays the evening of June 26th, and "Program 2" plays the afternoon of June 29th.
If you see only one Tashlin, make it Bachelor Flat. It's one of Tashlin's best, and it's not on DVD, plus it needs to be seen on the wide screen to enjoy the glory that is Jessica Dachshund.

Glad to know you will see Antonio Das Mortes, which was my introduction to Brazilian film.
Thanks, Peter! Unfortunately, I'm missing Backelor Flat tonight, and I also just learned that the Antonio Das Mortes print was unscreenable, and that SFMOMA will be showing Lemonade Joe tomorrow instead.
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