This Week At the Movies

The big news this week: The Oscars. Several Bay Area theaters will host their own Oscar telecasts, with comic commentary, costume contests, and other frivolity. See Oscars Away from Home for details.

Wednesday night the Balboa celebrates its 81st Birthday with a screening of Douglas Fairbanks’ The Black Pirate. Not his best work, but fun. People mainly remember it for one spectacular stunt–Fairbanks sliding down a sail with a knife (it was recreated in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie)–and the color. This was one of the first features, and the first really big one, shot entirely in two-color Technicolor. The Balboa promises a beautiful Technicolor 35mm Archival print, and piano accompaniment by Frederick Hodges. Also promised: live vaudeville and classic shorts to recreate a night at the movies in 1926, the year both the Balboa and The Black Pirate opened.

What would you do with a map of the universe’s flaws? For a band of unruly dwarves, the answer is easy: Make it the guide for a time-traveling crime spree. Unfortunately, Evil Incarnate believes that the map will give him unlimited power, and the Supreme Being wants it back. Saturday at 3:00 at the Cerrito, the Poop presents Time Bandits. Terry Gilliam takes the children’s fairy tale for a ride in the movie that turned Monty Python’s animator into a major filmmaker. No Poop on Sunday, when the theater is devoted to the Academy Awards (well, maybe there’s some poop, there).

The Stanford continues its series of Hitchcock double bills with Strangers on a Train and Rope. One of Hitchcock’s scariest films, Strangers on a Train is therefore one of his best. A rich, spoiled psychotic killer (the worst kind) convinces himself that a moderately-famous athlete has agreed to exchange 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. Rope comes from one of the finest screenplays Hitchcock ever commissioned (by Arthur Laurents, from Patrick Hamilton), but the master made two series mistakes in turning that script into a film. First, he miscast James Stewart, an actor he would use to much better purposes in three subsequent movies. Second, and worst, he filmed the picture as a single shot (or as close to a single shot as was possible in the days of 1,000″ film reels). For Hitchcock, making a movie without editing was like fighting with one hand tied behind his back.

If you hate the corny dialog of so many science fiction movies, go to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and catch a silent one. They’re screening Metropolis Saturday night. The first important science fiction feature film, Metropolis still strikes a considerable visual punch. The images–workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis know it through the countless films it has influenced. But the beautiful imagery only make the melodramatic plot and characters seem all the more trite. Molly Axtmann accompanies on piano.

The Castro‘s giving us a couple of last chances to see recent movies on the very big screen in an old-fashioned form: the double feature. On Friday they’re showing Michael Clayton and Zodiac. Saturday, its Eastern Promises and Rescue Dawn. Then it’s two days of Brokeback Mountain to honor Heath Ledger.

The Red Vic screens I’m Not There Friday and Saturday. If you’re wise, you won’t be there, either. Read my review for details.