The San Francisco Silent Film Festival opens Thursday.
Wings, Castro, Thursday, 7:00. Primarily remembered as winner of the first Best Picture Oscar (except that the award wasn’t called Best Picture back then), Wings was until a few months ago the only silent film so honored. I saw Wings many, many years ago, and remember being reasonably entertained. However, there are reasons to suspect it will be better this time around. It has recently gone through a major restoration. And it will be accompanied not only by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, but also by sound effects wizard Ben Burtt, the man who crafted the sound for Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Wall-e. (Read my report on another Burtt personal appearance.) Opening night of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
A+ Singin’ in the Rain, various theaters, Thursday, 7:00. In 1952, the late twenties seemed like a fond memory of an innocent time, and nostalgia was a large part of Singin’ in the Rain’s original appeal. The nostalgia is gone now, and we can clearly see this movie for what it is: the greatest musical ever filmed, and perhaps the best work of pure escapist entertainment to ever come out of Hollywood. Take out the songs, and you still have one of the best comedies of the 1950′s, and the funniest movie Hollywood ever made about itself. But take out the songs, and you take out the best part. For the film’s 60th anniversary, Fathom Events and TCM will be beaming it to hundreds of theaters across the country, as they did with Casablanca back in March.
B+ Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, SF Film Society Cinema, opens Friday for one-week run. I’ve never seen the point of performance art (as opposed to the performing arts, which I love), but Matthew Akers’ documentary on this particular performing artist won me over. It follows Abramovic’s preparations and presentation of a major show at MOMA, with sidelines into her past life and work. She’s a fascinating person, filled with life, devoted to her work, humane, empathetic, and sexy as all hell (at 63). For her art, she puts herself through more physical torture than a ballerina or a stunt double. For this show, she sat for many hours a day, not saying a word and barely moving, as museum patrons sat down across from her and looked into her eyes for a few minutes. Often, they ended up crying.
C La strada, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:30. Back when I was in high school, this became the first old, black-and-white, European, subtitled film I ever loved. But it turned out to be one of those loves you eventually outgrow. Giulietta Masina brilliantly plays a simple, innocent girl sold by her parents to a coarse, crude, and violent traveling strongman (Anthony Quinn in another strong performance). But for all the great acting, Fellini’s 1954 heartbreaker comes off now as shallow. Even worse, it manages to romanticize child abuse. (Or is it spouse abuse? The movie is never too sure about that.) Part of the series Bellissima: Leading Ladies of the Italian Screen.
Triple Bill: Clueless, Mean Girls, & Heavenly Creatures, Castro, Friday, 7:30. Three features about teenage girls. I haven’t seen any of them in years, but I remember liking all of them–despite having never been a teenage girl. The first is a loose adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, the second was written by Tina Fey, and the third is early Peter Jackson. I don’t know if it was intentional, but over the course of the movies in the order they’ll be presented, the protagonists go from reasonably civilized to vicious to homicidal. A MiDNiTES for MANiACS presentation.
B+ Wizard of Oz Sing-A-Long, Cerrito, Thursday, 7:00. I don’t really have to tell you about this one, do I? Well, perhaps I have to explain why I’m only giving it a B+. Despite its clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion), The Wizard of Oz never struck me as the masterpiece that everyone else sees. It’s a good, fun movie, but not quite fun enough to earn an A. I haven’t experienced the sing-a-long version.
B- Clockwork Orange, Kabuki, Wednesday. Stanley Kubrick’s strange, “ultra-violent” dystopian nightmare about crime and conditioning seemed self-consciously arty in 1971, and it hasn’t improved with time. But several of its scenes–the Singin’ in the Rain rape, the brainwashing sequence, Alex’s vulnerability when he’s attacked by his former mates–are brilliant, as is Malcolm McDowell’s performance as a hooligan turned helpless victim. But it doesn’t add up.
Weekend, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 9:05. I saw Jean-Luc Godard’s satire many years ago. I don’t remember it well enough to give it a grade, but if I did, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a high one. I remember finding the early scenes mildly amusing as it attacked obvious targets, but it quickly bogged down into agitprop. I’m sorry, but two workmen staring into the camera, eating their lunch, while an unseen narrator gives the audience a lecture on Marxist dialectics, doesn’t make good art, good entertainment, or even good agitprop. But then, with the single exception of Breathless, I’ve yet to see a Goddard film I could stand. New 35mm print.