What’s Screening: October 14 – 20

Do you ever get the feeling that the Bay Area has too many film festivals? Neither do I, except when I try to cover them in any meaningful way for this blog. So I’ll just let you know that they’re happening:

The Mill Valley Film Festival is still running, although it closes Sunday. Both the Arab Film Festival and Taiwan Film Days open tonight and play through the weekend. Also opening tonight is Docfest, although that will run considerably longer.  And Berlin & Beyond opens Thursday. Another four festivals open next week.

And now, a few screenings that aren’t part of a festival:

A+ Double Bill: The Third Man & Citizen Kane, Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. In The Third Man, an American pulp novelist (Joseph Cotten) arrives in impoverished post-warthirdman Vienna to meet up with an old friend. He soon discovers that the friend is both a wanted criminal and dead. Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed place an intriguing mystery inside a world so dark and disillusioned that  it makes American film noir seem tame. Then, when the movie is two thirds over, Orson Welles comes onscreen to steal the picture and make it his own. Speaking of Welles, how did Citizen Kane survive a half-century  reputation as the Greatest Film Ever Made? There are films more insightful about the human condition, pictures more dazzling in their technique, and movies more fun. But I’d be hard pressed to name many this insightful that are also this dazzling and fun. Now I’ll tell you what Rosebud is: It’s a McGuffin.

Amateur Night: Home Movies from American Archives, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. There’s nothing more boring than watching your friends’ home movies. But strangers’ home movies, from a different time and place, can reveal surprising flavors from the past. Home movie expert Dwight Swanson and film archivist Pamela Jean Vadakan will present 16 clips never intended to be shown publically, but presumably worth seeing. Even Alfred Hitchcock will get into the act. Part of the Oakland Museum of California’s Home Movie Day.

rosemarysbaby_picC Rosemary’s Baby, Castro, Wednesday.  Roman Polanski’s first American film barely works. Mia Farrow looks fidgety and nervous as a pregnant wife who slowly begins to suspect that she’s carrying the devil’s spawn, and that everyone she thought she could trust is in on it. Slow enough to let you see what’s coming a mile off, it never quite builds the sense of dread that the material, and the director, were capable of bringing to it. On a double bill with Inferno.

Comedy Short Subject Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Buster Keaton’s “The Haunted House” and Laurel and Hardy’s “Liberty” are prime examples of what made silent comedy shorts so wonderful. Keaton starts his story in a bank before moving to the apparently ghost-filled abode of the title. Stan and Ollie, on the other hand, fight for their right to be free and end up trapped in Harold Lloyd territory. I haven’t seen Chaplin’s “Behind the Screen” or Charley Chase’ “Forgotten Sweeties.”

A+ Double Bill: Top Hat & The Gay Divorcee, Stanford, Friday. If escapism is a valid artistic goal, Top Hat is a great work of art. From the perfect clothes that tophateveryone wears so well to the absurd mistaken-identity plot to the art deco set that makes Venice look like a very exclusive water park, everything about Top Hat tells you not to take it seriously. But who needs realism when Fred Astaire dances his way into Ginger Rogers’ heart to four great Irving Berlin tunes (and one mediocre one)? The Gay Divorcee, on the other hand, is only B- material on its own. Arguably the first true Astaire-Rogers movie, it’s a flawed entertainment with one great dance number, a few funny lines, and some historical interest.