70mm

A big, bright, high-definition image projected onto a giant screen–”that’s what makes movies better than television! And no film format filled that screen better–”at least for narrative fiction films–”than 70mm, which dominated the biggest film presentations for nearly 40 years. Next week, the big picture returns in all of its glory as the Castro starts an 11-day 70mm festival.

The secret of 70mm is actually pretty simple: It’s twice as wide as standard, 35mm film, and each frame is 25-percent taller than a standard 35mm frame. The result is a brighter, clearer, more stable image, and terrific six-track, magnetic stereo sound. When 70mm prints are made from a larger-than-standard negative, the results can be spectacular.

Standard 70mm presentation started in 1955 with the release of Oklahoma, filmed in 65mm Todd-AO–”the extra 5mm on the release prints was for sound. For the next 15 years, the biggest Hollywood films were presented in special 70mm, reserved-seat runs, sometimes for as long as two years, before going to regular theaters. The first such films were shot in Todd-AO and other big negative formats, but by the late 1960’s, many were blown up from 35mm.

By the early 70’s, this sort of roadshow presentation was dying out, and 70mm with it. Then, in 1977, Star Wars brought 70mm back big time. The seats were no longer reserved, and the negatives were standard 35mm, but the 1980’s saw more 70mm prints in circulation than ever before.

The process died in the mid-1990’s. Digital sound offered a much cheaper way to get great audio. The picture, unfortunately, never recovered.

The Castro isn’t the perfect 70mm house. The screen, while large, isn’t actually huge, and it’s flat. If I had my choice, the 70mm festival would be at the Cinema 1 in Corte Madera. But the Castro is the only theater in the Bay Area that shows 70mm at all these days, and for that we should be grateful.

To read more on 70mm or other gone-and-missed formats, visit Martin Hart’s excellent American WideScreen Museum.

About my own web site: If you hover your mouse pointer over the clapboard icon () for each 70mm movie on my schedule, I’ll tell you how it was originally filmed.

Speaking of the icons I place in Bayflick.net’s calendar, here are this week’s recommended and noteworthy titles:

Recommended: Strangers on a Train, Castro, Friday night. One of Hitchcock’s scariest films, and therefore one of his best. A rich, spoiled psychotic killer (isn’t that the worst kind?) convinces himself that a moderately-famous athlete he met casually has agreed to trade murders. The athlete soon finds himself hounded by suspicious cops who think he’s killed his wife and a psycho who thinks the athlete owes him a murder. On a double-bill with Rope (see below).

Noteworthy: Rope, Castro, Friday night. Hitchcock’s most interesting failure. The great director ruined an excellent script about homosexual thrill murderers by trying to make a one-shot movie. That wasn’t technically possible back then (it is now; and was done in Russian Ark), so he made a movie where every reel (about 10 minutes) is a single shot. It’s an interesting experiment, but by denying himself the power of editing, Hitchcock made Rope with one hand tied behind his back. On a double-bill with Strangers on a Train (see above).

Noteworthy: Welcome Danger, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday afternoon. This 1929 comedy is best known as Harold Lloyd’s first talkie (well, part talkie, anyway), but a silent version was recently discovered in Lloyd’s vaults. Part of the Archive’s Welcome Danger: Harold Lloyd Silent Comedies series, but unlike the other films in that series, this one will have actual live accompaniment–”by Jon Mirsalis on piano.

Recommended: Gold Diggers of 1933, Pacific Film Archive, later Sunday afternoon. People who’ve never seen this pre-code musical think it helped people forget about the depression. After all, it opens with a chorus line of beautiful, scantily-dressed babes singing “We’re in the money.– But the depression permeates this backstage comedy. Everyone is desperate, the heroines steal milk, and that opening number is interrupted by cops closing a show that can’t cover its debts. Part of the archive’s Trouble In Paradise: Pre-Code Hollywood series.

Recommended: Psycho, Castro, Sunday. Sorry Birds fans, but this little black and white quickie was Hitchcock’s last masterpiece. If you haven’t seen Psycho–¦well, I knew too much about it before I ever saw it; I don’t want that to happen to you. On a double-bill with his first American film, Rebecca, a sudsy David O. Selznick melodrama with hardly a hint of the master.

Noteworthy: Vertigo, Castro, Monday. What? I’m not recommending Vertigo? Everyone else thinks it’s a masterpiece, but I find it extremely overrated–”slow, uninvolving, and self-consciously arty. And I’m a Hitchcock fan! On the other hand, this is a cool way for the Castro to transition from one series (Hitchcock) to another (70mm). Vertigo was filmed in VistaVision, which offered a large and detailed, but not particularly wide, image. The 70mm prints, which were made for the 1996 restoration, are pillarboxed (the opposite of letterboxed; with black bars on the side) to preserve the original aspect ratio.

Recommended: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Castro, Tuesday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 2001 hasn’t aged all that well. But it’s still worth seeing if you can see it in 70mm, which is how the Castro will be showing it. Part of the Castro’s 70mm Film Series, 2001 was shot in 65mm Super Panavision for Cinerama presentation.

Recommended: Lawrence of Arabia, Castro, Wednesday. To call Lawrence the best big historical epic of the 70mm roadshow era would be damning it with faint praise, so let me be more precise: It’s one of the greatest films ever made. Stunning to look at and entertaining as pure spectacle, it’s also intelligent, exploring the career of a fascinatingly complex and enigmatic war hero. T. E. Lawrence–”at least according to this film–”both loved and hated violence, and tried liberating Arabia by turning it over to the British Empire. This masterpiece isn’t worth seeing on DVD and barely worthwhile in 35mm. Shot in Super Panavision 70, Lawrence should be experienced in 70mm. Part of the Castro’s 70mm Film Series.

Recommended: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Castro, Thursday. Before Lawrence, David Lean made this intelligent wartime thriller set in a Japanese POW camp. Alec Guinness gives his greatest non-comic performance as a by-the-book officer who can resist torture, but not appeals to his ego. Shot in Cinemascope, it was never intended for 70mm presentation, although 70mm prints were struck for a mid-90’s restoration. One of those prints will be screened as part of the Castro’s 70mm Film Series.

The Good, the Bad, and the Sequels

Sequel. The very word conjures up images of Hollywood at its most crass and commercial. Indeed, the term art house sequel sounds like an oxymoron. Yet in less than two years, we’ve had The Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand’s follow-up to his 1989 Decline of the American Empire) and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset. And now we’re about to get Ingmar Bergman’s Saraband, about the characters from his classic Scenes from a Marriage.

The only one of these sequels I’ve seen is Before Sunset. I had some misgivings about this movie when I first heard about it, and seeing the final product didn’t help. I love Before Sunrise, easily the most romantic film of the 1990s. Over the years I’ve wondered if Jesse and Celine ever got back together, but that didn’t mean I wanted to be told. I liked wondering. Besides, the way Before Sunset unfolded in real time felt contrived, the ending was abrupt, and we’d already seen the two of them wandering a romantic European city, talking about everything under the sun while they (and we) wondered if they would get around to actual sex.

What other art house sequels are in our future? Will we see More Usual Suspects? Memento 2 (or perhaps Memento 0)? Ei8ht? My Dinner with Andre II: Just Desserts?

Seriously, I’d love to see a sequel to Return of the Secaucus 7. Where are those young idealists now? How have advancing age and ever more reactionary presidents affected them? John Sayles, are you listening?

Sequels or not, there are a lot of films I can recommend this week, and a fair number of others that look promising.

Recommended: March of the Penguins, Rafael, ongoing engagement. Yes, emperor penguins are very cute and extremely funny, Luc Jacquet offers plenty of footage to make you laugh and sigh, but he goes beyond that, showing the tremendous hardships these birds endure to raise their young. No living creatures are as adorable as penguin chicks, and Morgan Freeman is the best celebrity narrator since Orson Welles.

Noteworthy: The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Castro, Friday night. I have only vague memories of seeing this picture as a kid, but this event isn’t about the movie. It’s about Debbie Reynolds, live on stage, interviewed by Carol Lynley. A benefit for Project Open Hand.

Recommended: Yellow Submarine, Film Night in the Park, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Friday night. We used to take drugs and watch this movie; now we take our kids. Either way, it’s fun. Warning: This is a DVD presentation.

Recommended: Millions, Red Vic, Friday and Saturday. Okay, I confess: My kids weren’t too impressed with this kids’ film–but I loved it. When a bag of stolen cash seemingly drops from the sky into the life of a sweetly spiritual and religious young boy, everyone’s life turns upside down. This was directed by Danny Boyle; think Trainspotting for children.

Recommended: Batman Begins, Parkway, ongoing engagement starts Friday. Early on, Batman Begins veers towards an offensive, fascistic attitude towards crime and vengeance, but writer/director Christopher Nolan (of Memento fame) has some tricks up his sleeve, resulting in what’s easily the best Batman movie ever. Christian Bale stars as an extremely disturbed yet basically decent Bruce Wayne, supported by Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes and an astonishingly futuristic, appallingly corrupt Gotham.

Noteworthy: Wall, Castro, Saturday afternoon. This documentary about the controversial wall going up between Israel and the occupied territories won a World Cinema Documentary Jury Prize this year at Sundance. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Noteworthy: The Talent Given Us, Castro, Saturday evening. Andrew Wagner made a comedy about an eccentric family starring his own family, presumably playing themselves. I haven’t seen it, but Roger Ebert liked it. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Recommended: Forbidden Planet, Lark, different times Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. Sure, the dialog is stilted, the acting is wooden, and the world view is hopelessly out-of-date, but this 1956 science fiction gem is always entertaining. And the basic premise can actually provoke thought. Besides, who doesn’t adore Robbie the Robot? Part of the Lark’s Sci Fi Week series.

Noteworthy: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lark, different times Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday. I went back and forth about recommending this one. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s space epic, and while it hasn’t aged well, it’s still worth seeing. But Kubrick shot 2001 for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen. It’s coming soon, in 70mm, to the Castro (albeit, on a large but not huge, flat screen), so you may as well wait and catch it there. Part of the Lark’s Sci Fi Week series.

Recommended: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Bridge Theater, Saturday, midnight. You need a high tolerance for silliness to enjoy Tim Burton’s first feature, but if you surrender to its absurdity, this love story between a man (well, sort of a man) and a bicycle will reward you with plenty of laughs. The final sequence, showing the movie reimagined as a slick Hollywood adventure, is terrific. Part of the Midnight Mass with Peaches Christ series.

Noteworthy: Odessa…Odessa!, Castro, Sunday morning. To film lovers, the town Odessa means The Battleship Potemkin. But this Black Sea port town once had a thriving Jewish community. Michale Boganim’s documentary goes looking for its remnants. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Recommended: Clash of the Wolves, Rafael, Sunday afternoon. When I discovered this 1925 B picture on DVD a few months ago, I fell instantly in love with Rin Tin Tin, absolutely the best non-human movie star to ever shed fur. In my January 2 Lincoln Log entry, I said that “I’d love to see Clash of the Wolves in a real theater, with live music, and an audience of enthusiastic children.” Sunday, I get my chance. With live piano accompaniment by Jon Mirsalis. Part of the Rafael’s Unleashed: Classic and Cult Canine Flicks series.

Noteworthy: The Front, Castro, Sunday afternoon. I haven’t seen Martin Ritt’s blacklist drama (staring Woody Allen in his first dramatic role) in 30 years, but I liked it when it was new. Ritt was one of many blacklist victims who worked on the film; others include writer Walter Bernstein and co-star Zero Mostel. A panel discussion on the blacklist will follow. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival‘s series of films by blacklisted writers.

Recommended: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Lark, different times Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Perhaps the best science fiction film of the 50′s, and one of the few that criticized, rather than fed, our paranoia. It’s a little heavy-handed in the message department, but the Jesus symbolism is reasonably subtle. Part of the Lark’s Sci Fi Week series.

Recommended: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version), Lark, different times Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Some see this noir sci-fi thriller as cold war anti-Communist paranoia; others interpret it as an attack on the cold war. I think it’s a satire on conformity and peer pressure. But almost everyone agrees that it’s the best alien invasion movie from a decade that specialized in them, and one hell of a fun, scary ride. Part of the Lark’s Sci Fi Week series.

Recommended: The Freshman, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday afternoon. This very human and extremely funny tale of a young man who desperately craves popularity is Harold Lloyd’s best-known film after Safety Last. It’s by far the better of the two, and one of the great masterpieces of silent comedy. Unfortunately, this presentation will use recorded, not live, accompaniment. Part of the Archive’s Welcome Danger: Harold Lloyd Silent Comedies series.

Recommended: Employees’ Entrance, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday afternoon. Like a good department store, this little-known pre-code gem serves up a little of everything–comedy, drama, ruthless capitalism, sexual harassment, and a lead character who’s both hero and villain. Two years later, a movie this honest about staying employed in the depression could not have been made. Part of the Archive’s Trouble In Paradise: Pre-Code Hollywood series.

Noteworthy: The Search, Castro, Tuesday afternoon, free. GI Montgomery Clift befriends a boy in a UN refugee camp while Jarmila Novotna searches for her son in Fred Zinneman’s 1948 exploration of post-war Europe. This may be the first Hollywood feature to address the issue of the Holocaust. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival‘s series of films by blacklisted writers.

Noteworthy: Massacre, Castro, Tuesday evening. Over three days in 1982, Lebanese Christian militias slaughtered over 1000 unarmed Palestinian refugees under the not-so-watchful eyes of the Israeli army. Rather than concentrating on the victims, the directors of Massacre examine the perpetrators, asking who would commit such atrocities. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Noteworthy: 48 Hour Film Project, Roxie, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Now this sounds like fun. Local filmmakers have two days to complete a short film on a subject they don’t know in advance. Come see the results.

Noteworthy: Isn’t This a Time!, Castro, Thursday evening. Stars and former stars of the American folk music scene gather at Carnegie Hall for a memorial concert to honor a beloved manager. No, this isn’t A Mighty Wind, but a real documentary. Part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, although this movie is expected to receive a regular theatrical release after the festival.

Poor Box Office

Box office sales are down. Studios are making less from theaters that from DVD sales. There’s panic in the streets of LA.

There are plenty of theories as to why people have lost the theater habit. Mick LaSalle wrote an excellent article about them in Wednesday’s Chronicle. But does this trend extend to the art/repertoire/calendar houses tracked on bayflicks.net? After a quick, informal poll of theater programmers and managers, I have to report that it does. But there’s hope.

Steve Indig, Bay Area Marketing Manager for Landmark Theaters, argues that “we don’t really mirror trends at commercial theatres,” but he admits that “we’re down a bit.” Quality might actually be the issue here, or at least broad appeal. Indig told me that Landmark hasn’t seen any good tentpole films this year–independent movies whose popularity crosses to mainstream audiences, like Sideways. That could change. “Currently March of the Penguins has that potential.”

The Parkway has its own tentpole movies, some of which, like Kung Fu Hustle and Rize, didn’t do well in first run. According to Programmer and Publicist Will Cortes Viharo, special events like Thrillville and African Diaspora “pick up the second run slack. So while I wouldn’t say we’re immune to industry trends – the point is we’re not – we do have more options.” It also doesn’t hurt that people are willing to spend more on food at the Parkway than at most theaters.

But the most optimistic response came from the artiest art house of them all, the Pacific Film Archive. “We are actually doing quite well…better than we had projected for the year,” says Theater Manager Becky Mertens. She sees uniformity as the problem with more conventional art houses, which “seem to all be showing the same couple of movies.” Why can’t they show more variety? “The [interesting] films are definitely being made,” but the problem is distribution. “The solution might be to…go beyond distributors to the filmmakers themselves to get the film they want to screen.”

I have another idea: Cultivate an audience who love to see movies theatrically; people like…well…um…me. After all, I saw three movies theatrically just last weekend. So the solution for endangered multiplexes is…more silent movie festivals.

Okay, maybe not. But you personally can help the situation by turning off the TV and going out to see The Fantastic Four and Bewitched. Or better yet, you can see something good, like the films I discuss below. And if the list below is dominated by silents, sorry, but it’s just that time of year.

Quick note: I’ll be following my “red dot” policy for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. A red dot () next to a title means it will get a regular theatrical release after the festival, so catching them at the festival needn’t be your top priority.

Noteworthy: Spies, Pacific Film Archive, Friday night. I haven’t seen Fritz Lang’s nearly three-hour epic about a master criminal who sidelines as a bank president (hey, the jobs aren’t that different) and a clown (okay, those are), but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. Part of the Archive’s For Your Eyes Only: Operatives, Surveillants, and Saboteurs In Cinema series. With Jon Mirsalis on Piano.

Noteworthy: Wings, Castro, Friday through Sunday. It’s not that great a movie, but it has some spectacular aerial combat footage and a walk-on by a very young Gary Cooper. It also won the first Academy Award for Best Picture. The Castro will be presenting a new archival print accompanied by Warren Lubitsch on the Wurlitzer pipe organ.

Noteworthy: The Night Cry, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday night. Rin Tin Tin was a movie star like no other–talented, charismatic, and capable of saving the most mediocre story by his mere presence. He also had four legs and a tail. I haven’t seen The Night Cry, but I dearly love the one Rin Tin Tin movie I have seen (Clash of Wolves, which is coming to the Rafael next week), so I’m optimistic. With piano accompaniment by Harry Goelet.

Noteworthy: I’m No Angel, Pacific Film Archive, later Sunday afternoon. I haven’t seen Mae West’s second staring vehicle in about 25 years, so I hesitate to give it an absolute recommendation. But I remember it being very funny, and maybe her best. Part of the Archive’s Trouble In Paradise: Pre-Code Hollywood series.

Recommended: Go for Zucker!, Castro, Thursday night. Possibly the first Jewish film from Germany in 70 years that’s not about the Holocaust, and almost certainly the funniest. The Zucker of the title is a secular Jew and pool hall hustler who must host his hated, orthodox relatives for a week or lose his inheritance. I’m not sure non-Jews will get all of the jokes, but for me, this one is funnier than that other recent German comedy about reunification and reconciliation, Goodbye, Lenin. This is the opening night program for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Of all the ethnic/religious/sexual identity film festivals in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is my favorite. What do you expect, I’m Jewish? For a few weeks every summer, I’m not the only person in the congregation who wants to talk about movies.

It’s an anniversary, this time, the 25th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival–”the oldest such festival in the country. It runs from July 21 through August 8 in San Francisco, Berkeley, Mountain View, and San Rafael.

Speaking of Berkeley, Wheeler Auditorium (the Festival’s East Bay home since we lost the U.C.) is closed for seismic repairs. So this year the East Bay shows will screen at the Berkeley Repertory’s Roda Theater. Aside from the convenient location–”much closer to BART and reasonable parking than is Wheeler–”it’s bad news. The Roda is smaller, so there’s more danger of sell-outs. And it’s not really a movie theater; the seats are laid out for the live stage.

The festival opens with a very funny German movie (yes, I’ve seen it) called Go For Zucker–”An Unorthodox Comedy. Other films include The Talent Given Us, an American independent comedy that’s already been reviewed by Ebert and Roper (they split on it), a Russian love story called Arye, and several dramas from Israel.

Documentaries include Odessa…Odessa, about a once-vibrant Jewish community in the port town made famous by Sergei Eisenstein, and Massacre, which examines the 1982 slaughter of Palestinians in Lebanon. There’s also a study of a hippie commune and a real documentary whose description sounds an awful lot like A Mighty Wind.

Want revivals? The festival will screen four films written by blacklisted Jewish leftists. Three of these films, The Locket, Hotel Berlin, and The Search (which is perhaps the First Hollywood film about the Holocaust), were made in the late 1940s, just before the crackdown. The other, The Front, looks at the blacklist from the historical perspective of 20 years later. A panel discussion will follow the Castro screening of The Front.

The non-competitive San Francisco Jewish Film Festival will give its first award this year. But relax, it’s a life achievement award and they’ve already announced who’s getting it. Local independent filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt, plus once-blacklisted screenwriters Walter Bernstein and Norma Barzman, will receive the first Freedom of Expression awards. And yes, between them the two writers worked on three of the four scheduled blacklist films.

I’ll discuss some of the movies in more detail in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here are a few more goyishe films you might want to catch:

Recommended: For Heaven’s SakeCastro, Friday night. We’re getting plenty of Harold Lloyd this summer, and while I don’t rate this one as high as The Freshman or Kid Brother, it’s still one very funny movie. Introduced by Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, and accompanied on the Wurlitzer pipe organ by Chris Elliott. Part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Recommended: Pieces of April, Film Night in the Park, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Friday night. This independent comedy about April is more appropriate for November than July, but it’s fun any time of year. The April of the title is a young woman (Katie Holmes) trying to prepare a Turkey dinner for the family that long ago gave up on her. And everything goes wrong, both for her and the relatives heading her way. Warning: This is a DVD presentation.

Recommended: The Big Parade, Castro, Saturday night. MGM was still a new studio when it let King Vidor create the American cinema’s first great war epic (and its first great anti-war epic). A huge box-office hit in 1925, it’s still a powerful story 80 years later. Newly restored by George Eastman House, it will be introduced by John Gilbert’s daughter Leatrice Gilbert Fountain and accompanied by Chris Elliott on the Wurlitzer pipe organ. Part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Recommended: Monkey Business, Film Night in the Park, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Saturday night. The Marx Brothers’ first original movie is one of their most bizarre, anarchic, and surreal–”in other words, one of their funniest and best (its two predecessors were based on the Brothers’ Broadway hits). Warning: This is a DVD presentation.

Recommended: Freaks, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday night. A morality tale set in a circus sideshow, Freaks presents actual, severely deformed human beings, and dares you to look at them and accept them as full human beings. It also gives you a good scare. Certainly one of the strangest films ever to come out of that most conservative of studios, MGM. Part of the Archive’s Trouble In Paradise: Pre-Code Hollywood series.

Noteworthy: The Sideshow, Castro, Sunday morning. A circus film staring midget actor Little Billy Rhodes (the Munchkin Barrister in The Wizard of Oz), not as a sideshow freak, but the circus owner? This seems interesting. You could create your own do-it-yourself double-bill by catching Freaks Saturday night in Berkeley, then crossing the Bay to see The Sideshow in the morning. Introduced by Little Billy’s friend Gary Graver, and accompanied on the piano by Jon Mirsalis. Part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Noteworthy: Prem Sanyas, Castro, Sunday afternoon. I’ve never seen a silent film from India, and that’s exactly why I want to see this one. The fact that it’s a Buddha biopic makes me all the more curious. Accompanied by Ben Kunin and Debopriyo Sarkar on traditional Indian instruments. Part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Noteworthy: Darwin’s Nightmare, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday afternoon. I haven’t seen this documentary on the disruptions and destructions caused by the wrong fish in Lake Victoria, but it looks worth seeing.

Recommended: Best in Show, Rafael, Sunday night, free outdoor screening. Christopher Guest’s dog-show mockumentary has more than its share of hilarious moments. The rest of it is pretty funny, too. Part of the Rafael’s Unleashed: Classic And Cult Canine Flicks series.

Recommended: Chinatown, Parkway, Tuesday night. Forget it, Jake, it’s the Parkway. Robert Towne and Roman Polanski’s great noir from the –˜70s paints 1930’s Los Angeles as a town filled with double-crosses and every kind of perversity, but where honesty and water are in short supply. A benefit for the Greywater Guerillas.

Recommended: Saboteur, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday. Early American Hitchcock, Saboteur retells one of his favorite stories: the innocent man chased both by police who think he’s committed a horrible crime and the spies who actually committed it. He did the same story better in The 39 Steps and North by Northwest, but Hitchcock could tell this story in his sleep, and he was very much awake when he told it this time.

A Death in the Family

First of all, I’d like to thank all of you who sent their condolences on the death in my family. I appreciated your kindness.

I had just started writing last week’s newsletter—about the Balboa’s Human/Nature Festival and the just-announced San Francisco Jewish Film Festival—when my brother called with the news that our mother’s husband was near death. He was gone within an hour. (There’s a curious coincidence, here. The deceased, John H. Newman, was a sound effects editor. The Jewish Film Festival’s just-announced lineup includes a revival of a film he worked on, The Front.)

I’ve spent most of the last week in LA, comforting my mother. I never wrote that newsletter, I never made it to the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, and I never prepared a calendar for the week of July 3rd.

Nor do I have time to create that calendar, now. I’ve added a few recommendations and noteworthy events below, but Bayflicks.net will contain no calendar for that week. Things will be back to normal for the week of July 10.

Recommended: The Grapes of Wrath, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Friday night. When we think of classic, studio-era Hollywood, serious social criticism doesn’t come to mind. But this Darryl Zanuck/Nunnally Johnson/John Ford production of John Steinbeck’s flip side of the California dream doesn’t pull any punches (well, not many of them, anyway). Warning: This is a DVD, not film, presentation.

Recommended: Himalaya, Balboa, Friday and Saturday. Beautifully shot in Nepal with an all-native, mostly amateur cast, Himalaya does what a movie should do: It puts you somewhere that you’ve never been, and makes you care about people very different from yourself. Double-billed with the documentary Saltmen of Tibet. Part of the Human/Nature Festival.

Recommended: The Best of Youth, Rafael, Friday through Thursday. Easily the best two-part, six-hour movie since Godfather I and II. Originally made for Italian television, Best of Youth follows the fortunes of one family, a close circle of their friends, and the Italian people as a whole, from 1966 to 2003. As the story slowly unfolds, you grow to know and love these people as if they were old friends. This is life, as Alfred Hitchcock allegedly put it, “with the boring bits taken out.”

Noteworthy: The Searchers, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Saturday night. I can’t recommend John Ford’s epic western of racism and revenge, but I have to acknowledge that a great many cinephiles consider it a masterpiece. I’ll grant that it contains one of John Wayne’s greatest performances, but I just don’t care about his character or anyone else in this story. But then, I’ve never found Ford’s color films as good as his black and whites. Warning: This is a DVD, not film, presentation.

Recommended: Trouble in Paradise, and Design for Living, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday night. Simply two of the most sublime, witty, sexy, and (not unimportant) funny early screwball comedies. Ernst Lubitsch at his best, unfettered by the censorship that would soon descend onto Hollywood. Part of the Archive’s Trouble In Paradise: Pre-Code Hollywood series.

Recommended: The Kid Brother, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday afternoon. This Harold Lloyd comedy was the first silent film I ever saw theatrically, and the first with live musical accompaniment. More than 30 years later, it’s still one of the best; hilarious, exhilarating, and even mildly satirical. Unfortunately, it will be accompanied this time by recorded, not live, music. With the very funny short “Never Weaken.” Part of the Archive’s Welcome Danger: Harold Lloyd Silent Comedies series.

Recommended: The Secret of Roan Inish, Balboa, Sunday. John Sayles hit his peak with this art film for children—an Irish fantasy about people’s relationship with the land, the rewards for hard work, and the power of oral traditions. It’s also got a lot of very cute seals. With Secret of Roan Inish, Sayles’ films became as much about places as people. On a double-bill with The Black Stallion, which is also pretty good. Part of the Human/Nature Festival.

Recommended: Winged Migration, Red Vic, Sunday and Tuesday. You won’t actually learn much from this almost narration-free documentary, but you have any taste for the majestic beauty of nature, you’ll be in heaven from beginning to end.

Noteworthy: Ministry of Fear, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday. I haven’t seen this one, but I’ve yet to see a Fritz Lang film made during World War II that wasn’t at least partially brilliant.

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