What’s Screening: November 16 – 22

The fall festivals are winding down. The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival closes on Sunday, and Doc Fest finishes on Wednesday.

A Hava Nagila (The Movie), Camera 12, Sunday, 5:30. Hava Nagila, a documentary about the famous tune, doesn’t take itself too seriously. hava_nagilaEven the titles that introduce interview subjects make casual jokes. This fun and joyful movie about a fun and joyful song still manages to inform audiences as well as any more serious doc. The tune was born in Chasidic Eastern Europe as a nigun (a wordless song used in prayer), and the happy lyrics were added by an early Zionist–although which early Zionist is a matter of debate. Hava Nagila never lost its Jewish identity, even as it became a major hit for Harry Belafonte and a tune known all around the world. This rare documentary will have you laughing, clapping, and tapping your feet, and give you new appreciation of a tune you’ve heard all of your life. Read my full report. The closing screening for this year’s Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival.

B+ Comedy Short Subject Night, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. This month’s collection includes one real. two-reel gem–the Max Davidson short "Pass the Gravy." I don’t want to give away too much about this Hal Roach minor masterpiece—let’s just say it involves feuding fathers, young people in love, a prize chicken, and one of the funniest dinners on film. The Chaplin entry, "Behind the Screen," is amusing, but not exceptionally so. It has one magical moment when heavy Eric Campbell thinks he caught Charlie kissing another man. Buster Keaton’s "The Blacksmith" isn’t one of his best shorts, but it has moments of sheer genius. I haven’t seen the Laurel & Hardy entry, "The Second Hundred Years." Greg Pane accompanies on the piano.

A+ Grand Illusion, Castro, Saturday. Set in a POW camp during World War I (and made two years before WW2), Grand Illusion sets the conflicts of nationality and class against the healing power of our common humanity. The French prisoners and their German guards try their best to be civilized in a world where civilization is all but outlawed. Jean Gabin stars as a French officer of common stock, but you’ll likely remember Erich von Stroheim as an aristocratic German facing the end of his way of life. The original negative was discovered and the film restored in the 1990s, but the new restoration (which I haven’t seen), is supposed to beat even that. On a double bill with another newly-restored French classic starring Jean Gabin,  Marcel Carné’s Port of Shadows (which I haven’t seen).

A Shadow of a Doubt, Stanford, Saturday and Sunday. In Alfred Hitchcock’s first great American film, a serial killer (Joseph Cotton at his most charming) returns to his small-town roots. When his favorite niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that all is not right with her beloved Uncle Charlie, her own life is in danger. Cotton’s performance makes the movie. Most of the time he’s warm, friendly, and relaxed. But he can turn brooding and dark, and say things that no well-adjusted person could possibly say. Written by Thorton Wilder, best remembered for the play Our Town. The locations were shot in Santa Rosa. On a double bill with Back Street, which I haven’t seen.

C+ The Rules of the Game, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. I know; everyone else considers this one of cinema’s great masterpieces–an immensely important influence on many filmmakers (one can hardly imagine Robert Altman’s career without it). And yes, I’ve read all about its deep and important commentary on the class system and the institution of marriage. But all I see is a modest comedy of manners without much comedy and nothing exceptional to say about our manners. For me, Grand Illusion remains Renior’s masterpiece. Part of the series Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960.

None Too Keene: Nancy Drew Noir, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 2:00. I’ve never read a Nancy Drew novel, nor seen any of the movies, so I have nothing to say about them. (I did read the male equivalent, the Hardy Boy books, when I was a a kid.) This special event, with king of noir Eddie Muller in attendance, will include a screening of the 1939 B movie Nancy Drew, Girl Reporter. Also included: a Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book swap and sale.

B The Big Lebowski, Castro, Wednesday. Critics originally big_lebowski[1]panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to their previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as the Coen’s masterpiece, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following;The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve maintained this site than than any three other movies put together. On a double bill with Thunderbold and Lightfoot.