Prepare yourself for a lot of movie-going. Graham Leggat, the new Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society, announced the 2006 San Francisco International Film Festival this week. It runs April 20 through May 4.
The numbers, as always, are big: 97 features and 130 shorts from 41 countries, including 38 west coast, 12 USA, 11 North American, and one world premiere. Hereâ€™s another statistic: This is the 49th San Francisco Film Festival, which means that next year will be even bigger (or at least glossier).
This yearâ€™s festival is all over the placeâ€”literally. As usual, the Kabuki will host the bulk of it, with big events at the Castro, and additional screenings at the Aquarius and Pacific Film Archive for people who donâ€™t want to go to San Francisco. But events will also happen at seven additional locations around The Cityâ€”including a fire station.
Major events include a State of Cinema address by actor Tilda Swinton (see photo), two silent film presentations with accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra, and the usual collection of life achievement award presentations. This year, they go to screenwriter Jean-Claude CarriÃ¨re, actor Ed Harris, and directors Werner Herzog and Guy Maddinâ€”all talented people with impressive bodies of work.
Think musicals are dead? Opening night honors go to Perhaps Love, a romantic musical drama from Hong Kong with Bollywood choreography. The Festivalâ€™s â€œCenterpieceâ€ presentation is John Turturroâ€™s new film (as a director, not an actor), Romance & Cigarettes; you guessed itâ€”working-class Americans with a tendency to break into song. The whole shindig closes with Robert Altmanâ€™s A Prairie Home Companion, where half the all-star cast appear to be playing singers. The program describes at least one other film, Princess Raccoon (see photo), as a musical.
But musicals donâ€™t impress everyone. At the Festival press conference, one reporter (I didnâ€™t catch her name) caught Leggat off-guard. She wanted him to explain the surprisingly small number of films directed by women in this yearâ€™s line-up. Next year, I bet, there will be more.
As the festival approaches, Iâ€™ll tell you more about specific shows, and perhaps even make some recommendations. As always with the big festivals, I recommend that you give priority to films that wonâ€™t otherwise be coming to a theater near you..
In other news, at least one more theater is marking the earthquake centennial. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum will show the 1927 melodrama Old San Francisco, which climaxes with the big one, on Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15 (they usually only show films on Saturday nights). This is no masterpiece, but itâ€™s entertaining if you can forgive the racism (this time against the Chinese)â€”a common problem with American silents. Among the shorts presented with it are â€œA Trip Down Market Streetâ€ from 1906.
The Friday night presentation will also include a book signing event with David Berkhart, author of Earthquake Days: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fire. Judy Rosenberg is accompanying the movies on piano Friday night, and Frederick Hodges on Saturday.
But all that is a week away. Hereâ€™s some movies to catch in the meantime:
Recommended: Joyeux Noel, Balboa, ongoing. On Christmas Eve, 1914, soldiers in what was to become known as World War I held an impromptu cease fire, crossing no-man’s land and fraternizing with the enemy. Such acknowledgement of their common humanity horrified their commanding officers, who made sure that this kind of basic decency would never be repeated. Christian Carion washes his highly fictionalized account with sentimentality (he even manages to get a woman into the trenches), but since this is an inherently sentimental story, thatâ€™s not a bad thing.
Recommended, with Reservations: A Clockwork Orange, California (Berkeley), Friday and Saturday, midnight. Stanley Kubrickâ€™s strange, â€œultra-violentâ€ dystopian nightmare about crime and conditioning seemed self-consciously arty in 1971, and it hasnâ€™t improved with time. But several of its scenesâ€”the â€œSinginâ€™ in the Rainâ€™ rape, the brainwashing sequence, Alexâ€™s vulnerability when heâ€™s attacked by his former matesâ€”are brilliant, as is Malcolm McDowellâ€™s performance as a hooligan turned helpless victim. In addition to the movie, this midnight show includes a live performance by The Holy Kiss.
Recommended: The Band Wagon, Stanford, Friday through Thursday.Â Singinâ€™ in the Rainâ€™s producer and writers teamed up with director Vincente Minnelli to make the one great post-Ginger Fred Astaire vehicle. Their trick? They blended a small dose of reality into the otherwise frivolous mix. For instance, Astaireâ€™s character, an aging movie star nervously returning to the Broadway stage he abandoned years before, is clearly based on Astaire himself. The songs and dances (including â€œThatâ€™s Entertainmentâ€ and â€œI Love Louisaâ€) are exceptional. On a double-bill with Meet Me in St. Louis.
Recommended: Capote, 4Star, opening Friday. Â I canâ€™t think of a historical figure more challenging for an actor than Truman Capote–you canâ€™t do that voice without sounding like a broad comic impersonation.Â Yet Philip Seymour Hoffman makes it work in an Oscar- winning performance. The story sticks to the years that Capote researched and wrote his last and most-praised book, In Cold Blood. Hoffman creates a witty and self-centered Capote, utterly unable to handle his mixed feelings about a cold-blooded killer, or the sudden literary success of his research assistant, To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener).
Recommended: Brokeback Mountain, Parkway, opening Friday. Ang Leeâ€™s gay love story may one day seem as dated as Kramer vs. Kramer and Guess Whoâ€™s Coming to Dinner, but today it looks like a masterpiece. Heath Ledger turns the stereotype of the strong, silent cowboy on its head, playing a man so beaten down and closed off from the world that every word is a struggle. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams are also brilliant as his lover and wife. And, of course, screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, working from a short story by E. Annie Proulx, also deserve considerable credit.
Recommended: Good Night and Good Luck, Roxie, opening Friday. George Clooney made a terrific historical drama by sticking rigorously close to well-documented historical facts. Itâ€™s not supposed to happen that way. Good Night and Good Luck is about the battle between legendary television journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and Senator Joseph McCarthy (Senator Joseph McCarthy), and thatâ€™s all itâ€™s about. We donâ€™t meet Murrowâ€™s family; we never see his home. At a time when elected officials are calling McCarthy a â€œhero for America,â€ this movie matters.
Recommended: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. When we think of the French New Wave, we imagine gritty, black-and-white stories filled with angst and alienation. Yet Jacques Demy, shooting a completely believable story in real locations, created a lush, colorful and sublimely romantic musical. A movie like few others. Part of the Archiveâ€™s Enchanting World of Jacques Demy series.