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 Originally made for Italian television, Best of Youth follows the fortunes of one family, a close circle of their friends, and the Italian people as a whole, from 1966 to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.