Letâ€™s talk about TiVo and other personal digital recorders. Theyâ€™re wonderful gadgets, but like all wonderful gadgets, they come with undesirable side effects. (I know this site is about films in theaters, but if you love movies enough to come hereâ€”or subscribeâ€”you probably think about how you watch them at home, as well.)
Hereâ€™s the great thing about TiVos (against the wishes of the embattled TiVo company, Iâ€™m using the term generically to mean all such devices): They completely divorce the experience of watching TV from any concerns about when a show is actually broadcast. You just go through your favorite channelsâ€™ onscreen schedules, and when you spot something you might want to see, you press the Record button. If you follow that routine weekly for Turner Classic Movies, the Fox Movie Channel, and the Independent Film Channel, youâ€™ll record a lot of terrific movies.
Of course, this doesnâ€™t guarantee that youâ€™re going to see them allâ€”little things like having a life tend to cut into TV-watching time. But itâ€™s okay that most of the movies you record disappear unseen when the TiVo needs to make room on its hard drive. The great thing is that when you want to watch a movie at home, you have a nice selection to choose from.
But with all those pre-selected movies, youâ€™re less likely to find some wonderful, little-known gem simply because it happens to be on. For instance, I discovered The Big Country, a wonderful and intelligent 1958 western that deserves a bigger reputation than it has, because TCM happened to start it just as I felt like watching something. If I had owned a TiVo back then, I wouldnâ€™t have caught it.
Many an overlooked old movie achieved classic recognition because of televisionâ€”Itâ€™s a Wonderful Life, for instance. In a world where we all have easy access to so much that we know we want to see, how will we rediscover the works that should never have been forgotten?
But letâ€™s move from The Big Country to the big screen. A couple of interesting film festivals opened this week, and I apologize for not mentioning them in last weekâ€™s Lincolnâ€™s Log. With one of them, the Sonoma Valley Film Festival, I also have to apologize for not posting the full schedule online; with screenings at four venues and special events elsewhere, it would make the page enormous and unwieldy. But I do supply a link to the schedule.
Produced by an organization called Cinema Epicuria, the Sonoma Valley Film Festival (March 30-April 3) is as devoted to food and wine as to movies, and even has a â€œCulinary Director.â€ The movies arenâ€™t necessarily about food, however, but such topics as love, adoption, Judi Bari, and El Salvadorâ€™s civil war. Other events include a tribute to Berkeley-based producer Saul Zantz, and acting and screenwriting workshops.
The Fearless Tales Genre Fest (March 29-April 3) is less concerned with foodâ€”unless youâ€™re dining on human flesh. Dedicated to horror and science fiction, it ignores Oscar winners like Zantz to honor low-budget goremeister Gordon Lewis. But the movies look like funâ€”if you can stomach them.
Speaking of all things scary, the Stanford has released its April scheduleâ€”a Hitchcock festival. Interestingly enough, four of the five double-bills give us an early British movie with a later Hollywood one.
So whatâ€™s worth seeing in theaters over the next week?
Recommendation: Downfall, Rafael, ongoing. Yes, it humanizes Hitler, but as human beings go, he doesnâ€™t come off as someone youâ€™d want to hang with, let alone run your country. A frightening and fascinating study of the collapse of a society that never should have existed in the first place, and a meditation on the danger of unquestioning faith.
Recommendation: American Werewolf in London, Castro, Friday night. Do I really need to say much about this funny and scary horror film? If you like your scares laced with humor, interesting characters, and the plausible impossible, youâ€™ve probably already seen it. But this time, director John Landis will be there in person. Part of the Fearless Tales Genre Fest.
Noteworthy: Earthdance, Oakland Museum, Friday night. Described as a â€œShort-Attention Span Environmental Film Festival,â€ this short subject collection tends towards the whimsical (appropriate for April Fools Day), with an animated short about Shiva and a housefly and a comedy about a superhero battling litterbugs. There are also a couple of films that just show nature set to classical music. Among the serious entries is a 20-minute documentary about trophy hunting.
Recommendation: Ghostbusters, Act I & 2, Friday and Saturday, midnight. Well, when was the last time you saw this special effects extravaganza on the big screen? (Okay, the Act I & 2 isnâ€™t the Grand Lake, but itâ€™s still be bigger than your TV.)
Recommendation: Sideways, Parkway, ongoing engagement starts Friday. A wonderful dramatic comedy about the human talent for self-destructive behavior and the thin line between enthusiasm and addiction.
Noteworthy: Crying In Color: How Hollywood Coped When Technicolor Died, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday afternoon. Film historian Russell Merritt will discuss how Hollywood managed the esthetic transition from color as the exception to color as the ruleâ€”specifically in melodramas. Then heâ€™ll screen Scaramouche, a swashbuckler made shortly before that transition. Scaramouche is no Adventures of Robin Hood, but it climaxes with one of the greatest swordfights of all time.
Noteworthy: My Dinner With AndrÃ©, Pacific Film Archive, Monday afternoon. This strange film, just two men talking in a fancy restaurant, was the surprise art-house hit of 1981. think of it as Before Sunrise without scenery or sex appeal.
Recommendation: Annie Hall, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday. Almost every Hollywood film deals on some level with romantic love, but very few capture the complex, dizzying ups and downs of that common experience with any accuracy. And no other captures it as well, or as hilariously, as Annie Hall.
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