Didn’t get enough silent films a month ago? Then head to Niles this weekend for the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival. Unless, of course, you’re attending Frameline, which like Broncho Billy, ends Sunday. I list a couple of Brocho Billy screenings at the bottom of this newsletter.
A+ Jaws, Castro & Lark, Thursday. People associate Jaws with three men in a boat, but the picture is more than half over before the shark chase really starts. For that first half, it’s a suspenseful, witty variation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play, An Enemy of the People, but with a central character more conflicted and less noble (Roy Scheider). Then the three men board the boat and the picture turns into a hair-raising variation on Moby Dick. Jaws‘ phenomenal success helped create the summer blockbuster, yet by today’s standards, it’s practically an art film–albeit one that could scare the living eyeballs out of you. See my Blu-ray review and Book vs. Movie article. The Castro will screen Jaws on a double bill with The Towering Inferno.
A+ Groundhog Day, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 6:00. Spiritual, humane, and hilarious, Groundhog Day wraps its thoughtful world view inside a slick, Hollywood comedy. Without explanation, the movie plunges its self-centered protagonist into a time warp that becomes his purgatory, living the same day over and over for who knows how long (it could be thousands of years). Bill Murray’s weatherman goes through stages of panic, giddiness, and despair before figuring out that life is about serving others. And yet not a frame of this movie feels preachy. Fast-paced and brilliantly edited, it’s pure entertainment. For more on this great comedy, see Wait 20 Years, and Then You Can Call a Groundhog Day a Classic. Part of the series Rude Awakening: American Comedy, 1990–2010.
B+ American Graffiti, Castro, Wednesday, 7:00. A long time ago, in a Bay Area that feels very far away, George Lucas made an entertaining (and extremely profitable) movie without action, a big budget, or special effects. Talk about nostalgia. You can also talk about old-time rock ‘n’ roll–American Graffiti makes great use of early 60s music in one of the most effective and creative sound mixes of the ’70s. On a double bill with Two-Lane Blacktop, which I’ve never seen.
C- The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. Only fans of this genre-shattering klezmer band are likely to enjoy this music documentary; if you come into the theater a Klezmatics virgin (as I did), it won’t make you a convert. Director Erik Anjou gives the audience samples of a lot of songs, but only twice stays until the song is finished. Most of the time, we’re learning about the group’s history and working methods. How much can you care about that sort of thing if you’re not allowed to listen to their music?) There’s probably a better documentary inside the material Anjou shot, but I doubt we’ll ever see it.
A+ MGM Technicolor Double Bill; The Wizard of Oz & Singin’ in the Rain, Stanford, Friday through Sunday (and revived next weekend, as well). The A+ goes easily to Singin’ in the Rain, arguably 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. I don’t really have to tell you about The Wizard of Oz, do I? Okay. It’s got clever songs, lush Technicolor photography, and one great performance (Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion). It never struck me as the masterpiece others see, but it’s a good, fun movie that I grade as B+.
A+ The Big Parade, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Friday, 8:00. As we enter the centenary of World War I, how appropriate to start the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival with one of the best films made about that horrible and pointless disaster. John Gilbert sans mustache plays a spoiled rich kid who signs up almost on a lark, has a fun and games safely behind the lines, falls in love with a French girl, and then is dropped into an unrelenting Hell. Before the horrors get unleashed, the romance between two people who can’t speak each other’s languages makes a wonderful subject for a silent film. Also in the program, the short Broncho Billy & the Bandit’s Secret. With Jon Mirsalis providing music on the Kurzweil electric keyboard.
B The Circus, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. Made in between Chaplin’s two feature masterpieces (The Gold Rush and City Lights), this reasonably fully comedy can’t help but suffer by comparison. the Tramp finds himself working in a small circus, where he accidentally becomes a comic star without knowing it. He also falls in love with a beautiful girl who sees him only as a friend. The film will screen with Chaplin’s recorded music track, made decades after he originally released the silent movie; I’m assuming Chaplin’s estate insisted on that..