Life vs. Film

I accidentally knocked my wife’s coat off a hook the other evening. So I bent down, picked it up, and hung it back up.

What’s the point of this story? There was no point. In fact, the very point I’m trying to make is that the incident was completely pointless.

Here’s my point: If that had happened in a movie, there would have been a point. Maybe the momentary clumsiness would be the first sign of the degenerative disease destined to kill me. Or the act of picking up the coat would reveal a clue to my wife’s infidelity. If I was Buster Keaton, hanging the coat up again would cause others to fall, resulting in an extended comedy sequence. Alfred Hitchcock would let the audience know that there was a bomb in the coat, leaving them on the edge of their seats while I unknowingly fiddled with it. Goddard would have me turn to the camera and deliver a monolog on how the coat relates to Communist dialectics.

That’s one of the biggest differences between life and film. No Communist dialectics. Also, everything that happens in a movie happens for a reason. It was put there on purpose. In life, things just happen. Either that or God micromanages more fanatically than the worst boss you ever had.

So next time you drop a coat, as you bend down to pick it up, be grateful that you’re not in a movie.

But wish you were in a movie theater. You may even want to check out one of these:

Recommended: The Illusionist, Balboa, ongoing. Every film lover knows not to trust their eyes; everything is a lie, a deceit, a trick. And the biggest illusion in this particular movie is its independent (or at least indiewood) cred. Don’t be deceived by the lack of a major studio logo or the presence of Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti. The Illusionist is light entertainment, not serious art. It’s as inconsequential as the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, but ten times as much fun and made for a fraction of the cost.

Recommended: Zozo, Roxie, Friday, 7:00; Camera 12, San Jose, Sunday, 4:30; Roxie, Tuesday, 9:15. An eleven-year-old boy (Imad Creidi) suddenly loses his family in Lebanon’s extremely uncivil civil war. So he must make it on his own to Sweden, where his grandparents are waiting. Zozo’s first half details the title character’s flight from his war-torn home; the second his adjustment to a new life in a different culture. Writer-director Josef Fares uses a style reminiscent of Latin American magical realism to show us these journeys through the eyes of a child who is neither overly street smart nor unrealistically innocent. The opening night presentation of the 10th Annual Arab Film Festival.

Recommended: The Third Man, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:55. Classic film noir with an international flavor. An American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in impoverished, divided post-war Vienna to see an old friend. But he soon discovers that the friend is both a wanted criminal and recently deceased. Or is he? Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery in a world so dark and disillusioned that American noir seems tame by comparison. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, they introduce the real star of the film when Orson Welles appears to steal everything but the sprocket holes.

Recommended, with Reservations: Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, 4Star, opens Friday. When a British film starring an aging and respected thespian has neither laughs nor explosions, it is, by definition, a serious work of art. Except when, as in this tale of bonding between an old lady and a young man, it is neither deeply serious nor especially artful. On the plus side, the performances are excellent and the pretending-to-be-someone-you’re-not story doesn’t move to the obvious conclusion. On the minus, the main characters are too good to be true and everyone else is a caricature.

Recommended: Who Killed the Electric Car, Lark, opens Friday. In the mid-90’s, General Motors released an electric car so wonderful that Chris Paine made this documentary about it. But GM leased these cars rather than selling them, and very few people got their hands on one. Then GM pulled the plug (so to speak) on the entire line, ceasing production and reclaiming all existing cars. Paine turns all of this into an informative, very partisan, yet breezy documentary. Interview subjects include a GM saleswoman turned activist, NIMH battery inventor Stanley Ovshinsky, and movie stars who were among the few people allowed to lease these cars (this may be the only progressive documentary with a positive image of Mel Gibson).

Recommended: Stolen Life, Balboa, Saturday, 11:00; Grand Lake, Thursday, 7:00. An emotionally stunted teenage girl leaves her loveless home for college, then makes a really bad romantic decision that will ruin her life. That’s not a particularly new story, but Xun Zhou, who is in almost every scene as well as narrating the picture, plays the lead with such depth and conviction that she overcomes the melodramatic contrivances in Liao Yimei’s screenplay. Stolen Life also offers a view of modern China that few Americans get to see. Part of the Global Lens festival.

Noteworthy: Charley Bowers: Dream Machines, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 3:00. Few people today know of animator-turned-comedian Charley Bowers; I studied silent comedy for 35 years before I heard of him. His short films (he never made features) mix live action, stop motion animation, and an utterly bizarre sense of the impossible. Judging from the two I’ve seen (neither of which are part of this program), they’re also very funny. As part of its Mechanical Age series, the PFA will screen these shorts with Jon Mirsalis accompanying on the piano.

Recommended with Reservations: The Pirate, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:30. Not Vincent Minnelli’s best musical, or Gene Kelly’s, but still a splendid entertainment. With songs by Cole Porter and dance numbers choreographed by Kelly and Robert Alton. The mistaken-identity story debunks one romantic myth (pirates) while building up another (actors). Part of the PFA’s Arrr, Matey: Pirates and Piracy series.

Recommended: The Aristocrats, UA Berkeley, 8:00. “A man walks into a talent agent’s office and says ‘Have I got an act for you.'” Thus begins an old joke that professional comics never tell audiences but love to tell each other. But what goes between that opening and the punch line differs with every telling, and often includes incest, bestiality, scatological acrobatics, and stuff that’s really disgusting. But as famous comics retell the joke, you laugh more than you cringe. And as they discuss the art of telling it, you learn something about the mechanics of humor. Part of the UA’s Flashback Flicks series.