What’s Screening: March 11 – 17

Cinequest comes to a close on Sunday, as does the East Bay Jewish Film Festival. The Asian American Film Festival continues through this week.

The Cinequest entries are at the end of this newsletter.

A Double bill: The Seventh Seal & Beauty and the Beast (1946 version). Castro, Thursday. Two classics of mid-twentieth century European cinema that seem to make a strange double-bill. In The Seventh Seal (almost the cliché art film), a knight returning from the Crusades plays chess with death while the plague ravages the land. Filled with wonderful characters, religious allegory, and sly humor, it bursts with a love of humanity and a fear for our place in the universe. Having seen it again recently, I like it much more now than I did the last time I wrote about it. Many years ago, I attended a double bill of the original King Kong and Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. The audience, mostly young children, ruined Kong by running, playing, and talking throughout the screening. But when Beauty and the Beast came on, they sat quiet, spellbound by a story they all knew but had never imagined quite like this.

Way Out West & The Music Box, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Sunday, 4:00. I’m really not sure how to grade this Laurel & Hardy screening. The feature, Way Out West, deserves nothing better than a C+. But one of the shorts, "The Music Box," easily earns an A.–maybe an A+. That’s Laurel & Hardy for you–almost always better in a short film than in a long one. Also on the program is an Our Gang short, "Bored of Education," which I’ve never seen.

shangheiexpressB Shanghai Express, Stanford, Saturday through Monday. Set in a China that could only exist on a Hollywood soundstage, Shanghai Express is a dull melodrama raised to almost a fine art by glorious camerawork, art direction, and the entertaining performances of Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong. On a double-bill with Cecil B. DeMille’s 1934 version of Cleopatra.

C Tarzan Finds a Son!, Sunday, Rafael, 3:00. The lord of the jungle adds another human to his family when he finds a baby in the wreckage of a crashed plane. (Tarzan and Jane couldn’t have a baby the usual way because they’ve never been married. Nor could they adopt a native, black child. Such were the jungle rules of Hollywood in the 1930s.) The second half of the series Hollywood & Vines: The Movie Magic of Tarzan, where visual effects supervisor Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt discuss how MGM created the look and sound of Africa on a Hollywood sound stage. Read my discussion of the series.

Cinequest

A Nosferatu, California Theatre, Friday, 7:00. You best forget about sexy vampires before you go see the first  film version of Dracula (an unauthorized version that got the filmmakers sued by Bram Stoker’s widow). Max Schreck plays Count Orlok (the name change didn’t fool the court) as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it’s probably the creepiest. Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. The festival is promising a 35mm, recently restored, tinted print. Accompanied by Dennis James on the California’s Wurlitzer organ.

A- Small Town Murder Songs, Camera 12, Friday, 2:45. I seldom wish that a film was longer, but I sure wanted to know more about the people in this Canadian character study disguised as a murder mystery. A newly born-again, small-town police chief (Peter Stormare) is trying to leave his once volatile temper and violent ways behind. But the discovery of a corpse (the town’s first-ever murder) brings him dangerously close to his old friends and old ways. Every person in this small, 75-minute gem seems to have a story all their own, and many of them will surprise you. I found myself wanting to hear all of them. In the end, I didn’t even hear enough about the protagonist, but I’m still very glad I met him.