All In This Tea, Cerrito, Sunday. Documentarian extraordinaire Les Blank lives in El Cerrito, so it’s no surprise that the local theater gets his new film’s East Bay premiere. Blank will appear in person at both shows. All In This Tea is also opening Friday at the Rafael and the Roxie.
Double Bill: Follow the Fleet & Shall We Dance (1937), Castro, Wednesday. Something of an experiment in the Astaire/Rogers series, Follow the Fleet gives us a working-class Fred–a gum-chewing sailor enjoying shore leave in San Francisco. The story is weak, even by the standards of the series, but the songs include “We Saw the Sea,” “I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket,” and the transcendent “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” For my money, Shall We Dance reaches almost the height of their two best, Top Hat and Swingtime. The only collaboration between Astaire, Rogers, and the two Gershwins gives us “They All Laughed,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” dancing on shipboard, dancing on stage, dancing in roller skates, and the most romantic song ever written: “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” When Fred and Ginger aren’t singing or dancing, Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore provide plenty of comedy, with light satire aimed at celebrity scandals and the culture gap between ballet and popular music.
Double Bill: Adam’s Rib & Pat and Mike, Castro, Tuesday. Two gender-exploring comedies starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. I haven’t seen Adam’s Rib in some years, but I remember an amusing and reasonably thoughtful satire of gender roles and identities, and a very funny supporting performance by Judy Holiday. I’ve never seen Pat and Mike.
The Thin Man, Castro, Thursday. Murder mystery, screwball comedy, wallow in classic MGM glamour, and 93-minute commercial for alcohol as the secret to a happy marriage. Also the start of a very long franchise. William Powell and Myrna Loy make great chemistry as Nick and Nora Charles, the rich, drunk-and-in-love couple with a little murder to clear up. The mystery and the comedy never quite jell, but it’s so fun to watch Powell and Loy together that you really don’t care. On a double-bill with Manhattan Melodrama.
Winged Migration, Red Vic, Tuesday. You won’t actually learn much from this almost narration-free documentary, but if you have any taste for the majestic beauty of nature, you’ll be in heaven from beginning to end.
Singin’ in the Rain, California Theatre (San Jose), Tuesday through Thursday. In 1952, the late twenties were a fond memory of an innocent time, and nostalgia was a large part of Singin’ in the Rain’s appeal. The nostalgia is gone now, and we can clearly see this movie for what it is: the greatest musical ever filmed, and perhaps the best work of pure escapist entertainment to ever come out of Hollywood. Take out the songs, and you still have one of the best comedies of the 1950’s, and the funniest movie Hollywood ever made about itself. But take out the songs, and you take out the best part.
City Lights, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00; Wednesday, 7:00. In Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect comedy, the little tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire, but neither of them know the real Charlie. The result is funny and touching, with one of the great tear-jerking endings. Sound came to movies as Chaplin was shooting City Lights, resulting in an essentially silent film with a recorded musical score composed by Chaplin himself. Another part of the Archive’s Charles Chaplin series.
The Seventh Seal, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. I fell deeply in love with Bergman’s religious allegory when I first saw it at the age of 18. The idea of a knight returning from the Crusades, playing chess with death while the plague kills people all around him appealed to me very much. So did Gunnar Fischer’s dark yet majestical cinematography. But when I saw it again recently, at a considerably older age, much of the symbolism seemed obvious and heavy-handed. It’s still a very good film, but not what a much younger me thought it was. Part of the Archive’s Ingmar Bergman series.
Modern Times, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 8:45. Leave it to Charlie Chaplin to call an extremely anachronistic movie Modern Times. Why anachronistic? Because it’s a mostly silent picture (with a recorded score) made years after everyone else had stopped making silent pictures. Why Modern Times? Because it’s about assembly lines, mechanization, and the depression. Chaplin’s tramp moves from job to job and jail to jail as he tries to better his condition and that of an underage fugitive (Paulette Goddard, his future wife and the best leading lady of his career). The plot sounds depressing, but the tramp’s innate dignity and optimism, upholstered by Chaplin’s perfectly choreographed comedy, keeps Modern Times light despite the heavy theme. Part of the Archive’s Charles Chaplin series.
The Gold Rush (sound version), Pacific Film Archive, Tuesday, 7:00. Nothing George Lucas ever did to a finished Star Wars movie compares to Chaplin’s 1942 reworking of The Gold Rush (1925). Wanting to re-release his masterpiece but fearful that audiences would no longer accept a silent movie, Chaplin removed all of The intertitles, trimmed several scenes, and added new, and seemingly endless, narration. Thus, one of the greatest comedies ever made is “enhanced” by a non-stop monolog written and spoken by the world’s greatest mime. The original, 1925 Gold Rush still exists–it’s even an “extra” on the two-disc special edition DVD. But Chaplin went to his grave insisting that the 1942 Gold Rush was the definitive version. His family has respected his wishes rather than history, general consensus, and the wishes of his fans. Another part of the Archive’s Charles Chaplin series. For more on the subject, read The Altered Charlie Chaplin Problem.