There’s so much Kurosawa going on at the Pacific Film Archive this week that I’m separating those films at the bottom of the newsletter.
A Metropolis, Castro, Friday through Sunday. The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch, and with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story, as well. 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. Recently-discovered footage elevates the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to a tale of real people in an artificial world. Read my longer report. The presentation will be off a Blu-ray disc, but so, I’ve recently discovered, was the Silent Film Festival screening last month, and I had no complaints about that (and this time, a Castro representative has told me, the projection will be improved). One thing I can complain about: The accompaniment will not be live, but also off of the disc.
B- Gumby Dharma, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00. Gumby–the green, animated, clay boy who has graced children’s television since 1956—is an acquired taste. While I’m not a Gumby fan, I do like the little clay boy’s creator, Art Clokey. Or at least I like the Art Clokey that filmmakers Robina Marchesi, Klara Grunning-Harris and Tim Hittle present in their Emmy-winning PBS documentary. Despite some major personal tragedies, he’s engaging, spiritual, and upbeat, yet brutally honest about his many mistakes. This documentary is narrated by Gumby, himself, which is gimmicky, of course, but it oddly works. Gumby Dharma runs less than an hour, but the presentation will also include Q&A with the producers. Click here for my full review.
A+ Seven Samurai, Pacific Film Archive, Tuesday, 7:00. If you think all action movies are mindless escapism, you need to set aside 3½ hours for Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece. The basic story–a poor village hires warriors to defend them against bandits–has been retold many times since, but Kurosawa told it first and told it best. This is an action film with almost no action in the first two hours. But when the fighting finally arrives, you’re ready for it, knowing every detail of the people involved, the terrain to be fought over, and the class differences between the peasants and their hired swords. One of the greatest movies ever made. See my Kurosawa Diary entry.
A- Dersu Uzala, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00. Kurosawa’s only non-Japanese work and his only shot in a large format (Sovscope 70), Dersu Uzala sets a story of male bonding against the vast beauty of Siberia. Based on an early 20th century true story, it details the growing friendship between an army officer/cartographer and the titular native hunter he hires as his guide. But living close to nature has its limit. Dersu’s amazing survival skills can’t protect him from the inevitable threat we all face: mortality. Nor can his modern friend. Senior Curator Susan Oxtoby told me that they’ll be screening “the best available print in North America at this time,” made in 2002. I just hope it’s not the print I saw in New York three years ago (click here for details).
D+ The Quiet Duel, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00. After an effective opening set in a war-time mobile hospital, Kurosawa’s second film with star Toshiro Mifune takes a turn to the dull and mundane. Mifune plays a young doctor infected with syphilis from a operating room accident. He hides his condition while otherwise acting like a saint, breaking off his engagement without giving a reason, and devotes himself to helping others. Kurosawa brings in some interesting supporting characters, including the irresponsible veteran who infected him, but the main character is just to virtuous to be interesting. And what’s worse than a flawless and boring saint? A flawless and boring saint played by Toshiro Mifune.
D Kagemusha, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 7:00. Even geniuses make mistakes. Kurosawa’s 1980 epic–made largely with Hollywood money–is one big, long, and empty bore. Visually beautiful, it lacks the warmth, empathy, and humanity we expect from Kurosawa. Nor does it find anything to replace that warmth–such as humor, irony, or insight—except spectacle. The story of a petty thief posing as a warlord (Tatsuya Nakadai in two roles) could have had all those things, but in his penultimate epic, Kurosawa offers little more than an excuse to show thousands of soldiers massing and preparing for battle. On the other hand, the PFA will screen a new print, which will probably be gorgeous.