San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Castro, Friday through Sunday. The big cinephile event of the week! Highlights this year include a free program on George Eastman House’s school for film preservationists, a personal appearance by Guy Madden, introducing a late-night Saturday screening of Tod Browning’s macabre The Unknown, and the movie that launched my lifelong
silent film passion: Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother (discussed below). Plus a lot of other great films, all accompanied by piano, organ, or ensembles.
And East Bay Woody Allen fans will have to make a tough choice Thursday night. While the Pacific Film Archive screens Manhattan and Annie Hall, the Cerrito will show the much rarer Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). Details below.
The Kid Brother, Castro, Friday , 7:00. I first discovered the joys of silent film when I saw Harold Lloyd’s masterpiece on the big screen with live musical accompaniment. More than 35 years later, it’s still one of the best; hilarious, exhilarating, and even mildly satirical, all set against a beautifully photographed rural setting. As the opening night film of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Kid Brother will be accompanied by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra,
Paths of Glory & The Killing, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 7:00. It’s not enough to show that war is hell. A great war movie should also show that poor men go through that hell for the benefit of richer men. Perhaps that’s why World War I, so obviously pointless, has inspired more great films than any other war. Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory–where three enlisted men are tried for cowardice to hide incompetence at high levels–is one of the best. I haven’t seen Stanley Kubrick’s race-track heist thriller The Killing in many years, but I remember a taut little noir filled with one great set piece after another. The B picture that made Kubrick an A director. Not technically a double-bill, since each film requires a separate admission. Both screenings are part of the PFA’s United Artists: 90 Years series. The Killing screens at 8:45.
Key Largo, Cerrito, Saturday, 6:00, Sunday, 5:00. In the 1930’s, movie stars like Edward G. Robinson got to kill character actor punks like Humphrey Bogart, but Bogey was the top star when John Huston made Key Largo in 1948. Set in a lonely Florida hotel during a hurricane, war veteran Bogart faces off against gangster Robinson. Most of the movie is talk, but when Richard Brooks and Huston himself adopt a Maxwell Anderson stage play, and Huston directs a solid and charismatic cast, who needs more than talk? It’s been years since I’ve seen Key Largo, so I hesitate to give it a grade. I suspect if I did it would be an A. A Cerrito Classic.
Thrillville’s Jumpin’ Jewbilee, Cerrito, Thursday, 9:15. Woody Allen’s early Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), plus the “schmeckena surf sounds of Meshugga Beach Party live on stage!” Sounds unusual, but fun.
The Patsy, Castro, Sunday, 8:45. In 1928, King Vidor created not only The Crowd–the best serious silent drama of them all IMHO–but also two very good comedies starring Marion Davies. In The Patsy, Davies plays the socially awkward outcast daughter of a social-climbing family, determined to win over her sister’s boyfriend. Her Lillian Gish imitation is simply amazing. Wurlitzer organ accompaniment by Clark Wilson
Water Lilies, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, opens Friday. Us old folks need to be reminded from time to time just how bad this whole sex thing can be for a teenager, and Céline Sciamma’s adolescent drama brings all those horrors back in gruesome emotional detail. Marie and Anne (Pauline Acquart and Louise Blachère) are best friends, with Marie cheering on Anne’s synchronized swimming team. But then Marie goes out of her way, and even humiliates herself, to befriend the beautiful but bitchy team captain Floriane (Adele Haenel). Anne has a major crush on Floriane’s boyfriend, complicating matters. None of the characters behave in the way you’d expect them to–especially if your expectations come from other movies. Read my full review.
The Soul of Youth, Castro, Saturday, 11:45am. There are no bad children, just children with the wrong upbringing. Or so we learn from William Desmond Taylor’s 1920 social drama about a boy born in the wrong place (Lewis Sargent), raised in a loveless orphanage, and bound for a life of crime. Desmond mostly avoids the melodrama so often associated with serious silent film (although it crops up occasionally), creating a realistic protrait of the urban, class-structured world that shapes our lives. With a cameo by real-life juvenile advocate Judge Ben Lindsey as himself. Live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Castro, Sunday, 10:30am. Eleven years before Walt Disney made Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, Lotte Reiniger used cut-out silhouettes to make what is probably the oldest surviving animated feature. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen The Adventures of Prince Achmed, but I remember a magical experience. Live piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin.
Manhattan & Annie Hall, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 6:30. Almost every Hollywood film deals on some level with romantic love, but very few accurately capture the complex, dizzying ups and downs of that common experience. And no other captures it as well, or as hilariously, as Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Manhattan doesn’t measure up to its predecessor, but it’s still one of Allen’s best. A group of New Yorkers fall in and out of love, cheat on their significant others, and try to justify their actions, all in glorious widescreen black and white accompanied by Gershwin. In light of Allen’s personal history since Manhattan was made, his character’s relationship with a 17-year-old girl feels both unsettling and more revealing than he originally intended. Although Allen made Annie Hall first, the PFA will screen it second, at 8:30. This is not technically a double-bill, since each film requires a separate admission. Both screenings are part of the PFA’s United Artists: 90 Years series.
The Wackness, Embarcadero, Kabuki, opens Friday. As a drugged-out New York psychiatrist, Ben Kingsley looks astonishingly like Harvey Keitel, and hardly ever sounds British. Although Kingsley gets top billing, Josh Peck plays the lead roll, a pot dealer fresh out of high school, and one of the doctor’s patients (he’s paying his shrink bills in marijuana). But while The Wackness entertains, it never quite jells. As a character, Josh lacks the depth and interest needed to fill a movie, while as an actor Peck lacks the charisma to carry one. Kingsley has the charisma, but his talent can’t raise Dr. Squires much above the one-joke character of the script. Read my full review.
Viva, Red Vic, Friday through Tuesday. Anna Biller wrote, directed, and co-produced this parody of late sixties/early seventies exploitation flicks, and stars in the title role. She also wrote some of the songs, animated a drug-induced dream sequence, and designed the sets and costumes. But judging from Viva, Biller can’t act, write, or direct to save her life, although she does have a unique and interesting flair for design. Viva might have worked as a five-minute sketch, but as a two-hour feature, it’s numbing. Despite all the sex talk and nudity, there’s not a single erotic moment (to be fair, I don’t think Biller intended one), and very few genuine laughs. Read my full review.