What’s Screening: November 26 – December 2

Amazing as this sounds, there are no festivals running this week. But there are some good movies.

Voices of Light/The Passion of Joan of Arc, Oakland Paramount, Thursday, 7:30. Although not as popular as the works of Keaton or Murnau, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 period drama The Passion of Joan of Arc carries a high reputation as one of the great works of silent film. (I saw it once, about 10 years ago, on DVD, and was considerably impressed.) Richard Einhorn’s composition Voices of Light is both a score for Dreyer’s film and a respected piece of music in its own right. The film and the music will come together Thursday night with a 22-piece orchestra, several choruses, and a 35mm print.

A- Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, VIZ Cinema, Saturday. If this isn’t a great film, it’s close. I’m tempted to call it several great short films that kind of hang together. By the end it works as a piece. A sort of impressionistic biopic of novelist and fascist hero Yukio Mishima, it cuts back and forth between the last day of his life (in color), flashbacks to his past (black and white), and dramatizations of three of his novels (hyper-color on stylized sets). The impression is of a brilliant lunatic, motivated by fears of aging, fantasies of a heroic death, and unease over his own homosexuality. See my post Mishima at MVFF for more.

A Woman of the Year, Castro, Saturday. One of only a handful of Hollywood films (Annie Hall is another) that accurately conveys the ups, downs, and sideways motions of romantic love as a long-term commitment. Sexist by today’s standard, this love story between two independently-minded professionals was cutting-edge feminist for its time (or at least as cutting-edge feminist as MGM would allow). And its sense of two people who love each other but can’t easily stay compatible never ages. It also started one of Hollywood’s most famous on-screen and real-life romances–that of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Directed by George Stevens from a screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin. On a double bill with Pat and Mike, and the first half of a two-day Tracy/Hepburn celebration.

B The Killers, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 8:00. Burt Lancaster’s breakthrough movie isn’t called the "Citizen Kane of film noir" because it’s the best of its genre, but because of its multiple flashback story structure. When a gas station attendant (Burt Lancaster) is murdered, an investigator starts asking questions and a life of crime is revealed. It’s a fun little movie, and it introduced Burt Lancaster to the world as the likeable thug whose murder sets all those flashbacks in motion. Ava Gardner plays the femme fatale who enjoys and exploits Lancaster’s beefcake lug.

C Sing-Along Sound of Music ,Castro, Thursday and the following Friday. Many people love it, but I find the biggest money maker of the 1960s lumbering, slow, andsoundofmusic dull. Not funny or romantic enough to be light entertainment, yet lacking the substance to be anything else. And as for the songs…in their last collaboration, Roger and Hammerstein were clearly running out of steam. On the other hand, the Todd-AO photography of Alpine landscapes makes this one of the most visually beautiful of Hollywood movies. I’ve never experienced a Sing-Along Sound of Music presentation, however. This might be something entirely different.

C Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Castro, Sunday. Stanley Kramer’s morality play about mixed marriage and tolerance is as dated as a 40-year-old movie can get. And not only the theme seems stale when we have a mixed-race president. The picture’s dialog, sexual prudery, and visual style (including an overdependence on rear projection, made necessary by Spencer Tracy’s ill health) must have seemed old-fashioned in 1967. But while Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner no longer works as entertainment or political argument, it now holds considerable interest as a relic–a preserved piece of Hollywood, and America, in transition. And who knows; without this movie, we might have a different president. As the second half of the Castro’s Tracy/Hepburn series, Guess Who is on a double-bill with Adam’s Rib, which I haven’t seen in many years. I remember it as an amusing and reasonably thoughtful satire of gender roles and identities, and a very funny supporting performance by Judy Holiday. If I’d seen it recently, I probably would be giving this double-bill a B.