is Back!

The domain name is back, and not just as a pointer to In fact, is a pointer to

Doing this required me to move my domain name from my old host to, and that had one unforeseen consequence: All the images posted before the move to wordpress are now broken. I still have the actual images, but I can’t restore them on the site without reposting them, and I’m not about to do that.

Losing the images made me go ahead and do something I’d been considering for some time: Changing the way I display my grading system. As you may have already noticed from last Friday’s newsletter, I’ve replaced the graphic a with the formatted text A. It looks cleaner, is easier for me, and will allow me to give plus and minus grades.

What’s Screening: May 29 – June 4

I Wake Up Dreaming, the Roxie’s noir festival, has done so well it’s been held over an extra week. And CounterCorp continues at the Victoria Theater.

Selling That Stuff ‘Toon Style: Forty Years of Animated Advertisements and The Naughty to Nasty Sex Cartoon Extravaganza, , Oddball Film, Friday, 8:00 (advertisements) and 10:00 (sex). I think the names make adequate descriptions. RSVP to or 415.558.8117.

A Amadeus, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 7:00. This is a rare treat: A chance to see the Peter Shaffer/ Milos Forman Mozart drama in the original cut; in otheramadeus words, the actual film that won the Best Picture Oscar, rather than the longer but not necessarily better director’s cut. A story of talent, jealousy, success, and the creative spark done in opulent style and accompanied by some of the best music ever written. Sound designer Mark Berger, who won an Oscar for his work on Amadeus, will be in attendance. My only regret is that it isn’t a 70mm print. Amadeus starts off the series Quality Control: Selected Works from Zaentz Films.

Ryan’s Daughter, Rafael, Wednesday, 6:30. I’ve never seen David Lean’s Irish epic, and the reviews when it came out weren’t that good. But some people are calling for a reappraisal, and apparently WALL-E director Andrew Stanton is one of them. This is Stanton’s choice for the Rafael’s The Films of My Life, and he’ll be there to present it. Besides, this was Lean’s follow-up to Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, so how bad could it be. It was only one of the last 70mm roadshows of that era. My Rafael contact promises “a beautiful 35mm print,” although I suspect it will be a mono one.

A To Kill a Mockingbird, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. The film version of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel manages to be both a nostalgic reverie of depression-era small town Southern life and a condemnation of that life’s dark and ugly underbelly. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch is the ultimate decent and moral father, a character so virtuous he’d be unbelievable if the story wasn’t told through the eyes of his young daughter. (Had there been a sequel with a  teenage Scout, Atticus would have been an idiotic tyrant.)

A Lemon Tree, Elmwood, opens Friday. When thlemontreee new  Israeli Defense Minister moves next door to a Palestinian lemon grove, and his security people decide the  grove must be destroyed, the widow who owns the grove (Hiam Abbass) takes the case to court. Filmmakers Eran Riklis and Suha Araf wisely avoid clichés in their Israel vs. Palestine drama, concentrating instead on how the struggle effects the lives of everyone involved. Read my full review.

D Vertigo, Red Vic, Tuesday and Wednesday. What? I’m not recommending Vertigo? Everyone else thinks it’s a masterpiece, but it tops my short list of the Most Overrated Films of All Time. Vertigo isn’t like any other Hitchcock movie; it’s slow, uninvolving, and self-consciously arty.

The Cerrito is Gone, but Thrillville Lives On

The Cerrito is gone (hopefully temporarily), and so is Speakeasy Theaters (definitely permanently), But Thrilleville lives on…at least for a bit.

Will Viharo, who booked the two Speakeasy theaters and ran Thrillville there, as found a home for the next scheduled event. On June 18, at 7:30, thrill seekers will convene at the Camera 3 theater in San Jose. The feature: That great, sensitive, artistic masterpiece from 1964, Horror of Party Beach. Entertainment also includes 45 minutes of rare Bob Wilkins footage and San Jose surf band Aardvark.

In addition, some unnamed folk who Viharo is working with are negotiating to take over and reopen the Parkway, and maybe the Cerrito, as well.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Kurosawa Diary, Part 8: The Idiot

By the beginning of the 1950’s, Akira Kurosawa was capable of making a masterpiece on the order of Rashomon, but he still couldn’t make two decent movies in a row. His follow-up to Rashomon, The Idiot, stinks to high heaven. And at 166 minutes, it’s a very long stink.

(Kurosawa’s original cut ran 265 minutes, and the studio insisted he cut it. We’ll never know if the suits destroyed a masterpiece or saved our sanity.)

I had seen The Idiot once before yesterday afternoon—at Wheeler Auditorium abut 30 years ago. I hated it then. But watching all of Kurosawa’s available films, in chronological order, required me to watch it again.

Based on a Dostoyevsky novel (which I haven’t read), tells the story of Kameda, a man with a mental disability who moves in with relatives and disrupts the local community. Despite the title, Kameda doesn’t seem so much idiotic and naive, socially awkward, and extremely good at judging other people.

Most of the story concerns his romantic prospects, and those prospects’ other romantic prospects, until it becomes not so much a love triangle as a love pentagon. That sounds like a lot more fun than it actually is. No one generates any passion (except anger, and that’s fleeting) and you have a hard time caring about anyone. That it moves at a glacier pace doesn’t help.

Kurosawa was probably the least romantic of all major filmmakers. This was his only film built primarily around romantic love, and few of his others even have romantic subplots (No Regrets of Our Youth and Seven Samurai being the only ones that come to mind). Maybe The Idiot shows why he avoided them.

Watching for the film in context of his career at that time, I noticed a few interesting points:

  • By 1951, the American military censors must have been lightening up. Listening to the Drunken Angel extras, I discovered that Japanese films during the occupation were not allowed to mention the occupation. But here, Kameda’s disability stems from almost being executed in an American prison for war crimes he did not commit.
  • Kurosawa appeared to be going through an Orson Welles period here. Lots of wide-angle, deep focus shots of the sort one doesn’t associate with Kurosawa.
  • He also seemed to be going through a period of de-emphasizing Toshiro Mifune. After three Mifune starring vehicles (The Quiet Duel, Stray Dog, and Scandal), and allowing Mifune to steal the ensemble Rashomon, he gave the actor a supporting role, here. His next film, Ikiru, would be the only Kurosawa film of this period where Mifune doesn’t appear at all. Soon he’d be back to making Mifune star vehicles.

The good news is that this would be the last turkey Kurosawa would make for nearly 30 years. And the 13 films he made in that period range from very good to amongst the greatest works of 20th century art. So I’m going to enjoy this project for awhile.

The Castro’s New Digital Projector

Note: I made a slight alteration to this post on June 30, at the request of a Castro employee.

The Castro has a new digital projector. I’m not talking about the kind you might use for conference presentations, then bring home to watch DVDs. I’m talking about the kind of big, 2K projector that’s becoming common in multiplexes.

You may have noticed, if you’ve perused their schedule, that they’re advertising their forthcoming five-day run of Up as being in “Disney Digital 3D.” This is the gadget (or more like “the behemoth”) that makes this possible.

Film purists will object—it’s not film, it doesn’t look like film. My take: If digital projection makes it cheaper in the future to keep classic titles in circulation, I’m willing to compromise.

The Castro is easily the most technically versatile theater in the area. It has two variable speed 35/70mm projectors, a Wurlitzer pipe organ, and Dolby, DTS, and magnetic sound. Digital just adds more versatility.

I asked programmer Event Producer/Coordinator Bill Longen if revival films are likely to be presented digitally. “For the time being they’ll be in 35mm, but eventually they will be digital, too.”

The 2K Christie DLP projector they have now is actually a loaner. The one they ordered—a newer model with a brighter light—is on backorder. But it will also be a Christie DLP projector. The movies come on hard drives that plug into a nearby computer.

And no, you can’t play DVDs or Blu-ray discs off this machine (which sort of surprised and disappointed me; I still want to see how Blu-ray looks on a really big screen). They’re keeping their older video projector for the assorted video formats they sometimes get for festival fare.

Here’s some of what I saw:


All three projectors. New digital projector in foreground.
Two 35/70mm film projectors in background.


Christie Digital Projector


Projector control panel
(sorry about the soft focus)


Part of the stack of computer stuff beside projector.
Now look closely at that blue screen near the bottom.

That’s close enough.
It displays what the theater is licensed to play.


3D attachment mounted in front of lens.
This spins during 3D projection,
polarizing light in one orientation for frames intended for the right eye,
and in the opposite orientation for the left.


Older 3D
Controller for running two 35mm projectors in sync
for 50’s-style 3D

What’s Screening: May 22 – 28

CounterCorp, “Anti-Corporate Film Festival,” opens Friday at San Francisco the Victoria Theater for a three-day run. This one wears its political heart on its sleeve–it’s left sleeve. In other festival news, I Wake Up Dreaming: the Haunted World of the B Film Noir continues through the week at the Roxie.

John Wayne Western Double Bill: Rio Bravo and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. As much as any other artist, John Ford defined and deepened the myth of the American West. But in his lastlibertyvalance masterpiece, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Ford tears that myth down, reminding us that a myth is, when you come down to it, a lie. Avoiding beautiful scenery and even color (a black and white western was a risky investment in 1962) Ford strips this story down to the essentials, and splits the classic Western hero into two: the man of principle (James Stewart) and the gunfighter (John Wayne). Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo is a much lighter and entertaining western, with Wayne and a few friends (Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Walter Brennan) holding a frontier jail against the well-financed crooks who want to free the murderer inside. Funny, suspenseful, and largely character-driven, with some great action, Rio Bravo is the ultimate escapist western. Wayne’s scenes with Angie Dickinson border on Hawks’ other specialty–screwball comedy.

Classic Laurel and Hardy Shorts, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Thursday, 7:30. Well, who wouldn’t enjoy this? Laurel and Hardy are among the funniest comics ever to work in front of a camera, and they did their best work in shorts. I can verify that at least two of the shorts promised, “Liberty” and “Busy Bodies,” are among their best work.

Strange Sinema 13, Oddball Film + Video, Saturday, 8:30. RSVP recommended to 415-558-8117 or I’ll just quote from the announcement: bizarrebill “Oddities from the Oddball Archives featuring new finds, buried junk and avant garde gems featuring films such as The Movie Palaces(1987), depicting the history of the great movie theaters, the brilliant animator Bill Plympton’s The Face, a 1958 profile of culture and geography Himalaya-Life on the Roof of the World, John Whitney ‘s Arabesque, the 1975 seminal computer film utilizing Arabic architectural forms, “Pop Art Picto-Sculptoramas” in the Academy-Award winning film Red Grooms: Sunflower in a Hothouse, dumbo teenage stoners in Pill Poppers and swingin’ 70s commercials like Sexy Socks!”

Medicine for Melancholy, Red Vic, Wednesday and Thursday. One could describe this low-budget indi as the African-American version (and the Bay Area version) of Before Sunrise. We discover the two characters as they discover each other, maneuver around their mutual attraction, and talk about their very different attitudes about life and race. Wyatt Cenac (of the Daily Show) and Tracey Heggins make attractive and likable leads, and for the first hour they’re completely worth spending time with. But two-thirds of the way through the movie takes a wrong turn to nowhere. Beautifully shot with a color palette so desaturated it often looks like black and white. I saw Medicine for Melancholy at the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival. Read my more in-depth report.

Milk, Castro, opens Friday for yet another one-week engagement.Yep, I’m always a sucker for a historical epic, especially one set in a time and place that I can remember. Sprawling without ever being boring, and inspiring without getting preachy. I’ve always known that Sean Penn was a great actor; it’s nice to know that he can do “happy” as well as less pleasant emotions. James Franco is also very good as the main man in his life. On a double-bill with the documentary version: The Times of Harvey Milk..

Frameline LGBT Festival

So let’s talk about Frameline, the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender–I wish they’d come up with a single word rather than a four-consonant acronym) film festival. It runs June 18 through the 28 at the Castro, the Roxie, the the Victoria, and, in Berkeley, the Elmwood.

The opening film, An Englishman In New York, stars John Hurt as Quentin Crisp, a historical figure he also played in the ground-breaking 1975 BBC film The Naked Civil Servant, which is screening at the Castro the next night. It closes, also at the Castro, with Hannah Free, a drama about an aging lesbian kept away from her comatose partner.

Other promising films (based on their descriptions–I haven’t seen any) are Patrik, Age 1.5, about a gay couple who adopt a teenage homophobe, a satire of LA through the eyes of Frenchman called Hollywood, je t’aime, the 1975 underground cult hit Thundercrack!, and City of Borders, a documentary about Israeli and Palestinian gays that also played at the San Francisco International Film Festival. There’s also a children’s matinee of the 1975 TV special, Free To Be… You And Me.