What’s Screening: June 26 – July 2

Two film festivals this week:

B+ The Cheat, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 12:30

Cecil B. Demille’s darkly erotic melodrama of lust, greed, and conspicuous consumption was way ahead of its time–especially in its use of evocative and atmospheric lighting. A society wife who spends too much of her husband’s money (Fannie Ward) becomes dangerously fascinated with a good-looking but potentially dangerous Asian (Sessue Hayakawa, who easily gives the best performance in the film). Yes, it’s racist, but not too much by the standards of 1915. Preceded by the short The Doll House Mystery. Introduced by yours truly, Lincoln Spector. Part of the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival.

Kiss Me Kate, Rafael, opens Friday for one week, 3D

I used to call this 1953 musical my all-time favorite 3D movie, but that was at a time when I hadn’t seen all that many 3D features. Very stagy and very sexist, it’s both a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew, and a backstage comedy about a production of a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Hermes Pan’s choreography steals the show, and makes full use of the extra dimension.

What! No Beer?, Roxie, Sunday, 7:00

I haven’t seen this Buster Keaton/Jimmy Durante comedy from 1933, but in general, I find Keaton’s MGM talkies depressing. Between sound, the loss of artistic control, and his personal issues, his films of this period are but a shadow of his once-great work. As part of the Roxie’s Science on Screen series, brew master Shaun O’Sullivan will discuss his craft before the movie.

A+ The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 7:30

As much as any other artist, John Ford defined and deepened the myth of the American West. But in his last masterpiece, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Ford tears that myth down, reminding us that a myth is, when you come right down to it, a lie. Avoiding beautiful scenery and even color (a black and white western was a risky investment in 1962), Ford strips this story down to the essentials, and splits the classic Western hero into two: the man of principle (James Stewart) and the gunfighter (John Wayne). Part of the series Cinema According to Víctor Erice.

A Hard Day’s Night, Castro, Thursday, 7:30

When United Artists agreed to finance a movie around a suddenly popular British rock group, they wanted something fast and cheap. After all, the band’s popularity was limited to England and Germany, and could likely die before the film got into theaters. We all know now that UA had nothing to worry about. The Beatles are still popular all over the world. What’s more, Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night still burns with outrageous camerawork and editing, subversive humor, and a sense of joy in life and especially in rock and roll. On a double bill with the Maysles brothers’ documentary on the flip side of Woodstock, Gimme Shelter; I haven’t seen this one recently enough to give it a grade.

A+ Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Balboa, Saturday, 10:00am

I agree with common wisdom: Raider of the Lost Ark is a masterpiece of escapist action entertainment. But I split with the herd on this threequel; to my mind, it improves on near-perfection. The action sequences are just as well done, but the pacing is better; this time Spielberg knew exactly when to give you a breather. Best of all, adding Sean Connery as the hero’s father humanizes Jones and provides plenty of good laughs. Just don’t confuse The Last Crusade with the wretched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

A+ Jaws, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00

People associate Jaws with three men in a boat, but the picture is more than half over before the shark chase really begins. For that first half, Jaws is 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 get on 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.

C+ Dracula (1931 version), Stanford, Wednesday through Friday

The film that started Universal’s famed horror series, and the first to star Bela Lugosi in the role that made him famous, really doesn’t deserve its classic status. The picture suffers from stilted blocking and too much mediocre dialog–common faults in early talkies, especially those based on stage plays. But it has a few wonderful moments, most of which are wordless. On a double bill with This Old Dark House.

A- Iris, Lark, Sunday, 3:35; Tuesday, 6:20

Iris Apfel, a fixture in the New York fashion scene well in her 90s, dresses herself in loud, bright, and absurd clothes, augmented with even crazier accessories. And yet she looks great. Apfel still embraces her work with enthusiasm, and thus embraces life. Maysles follows her as she attends shows, shops in specialty stores in Harlem, shows off all of the absurd toys in her apartment, and treats her husband of more than 60 years to his 100th birthday party. And she’s almost always smiling. Read my full review.