No film festivals this week, but we have Les Blank, Ernst Lubitsch, and Freaks.
A Life Well Spent: 16mm Films of Les Blank, Roxie, Sunday, 2:00
Bay area-based filmmaker Les Blank documented American culture like no other, finding the corners of our society where people came together and enjoyed life. The Roxie will screen three of his short films–Sprout Wings and Fly, Gap-Toothed Women (the only one of the three I’ve seen–very long ago), and Spend It All. All of the movies will be projected in Blank’s preferred format–16mm. I’ve written more about Les Blank here.
A Design For Living, New Mission, Sunday, 4:30
Impeccable credentials occasionally pay off. Design for Living is every bit as good as you’d expect from Ernst Lubitsch directing a Ben Hecht screen adaptation of a Noel Coward play. Of course, it also helps to have a cast headed by Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and Miriam Hopkins as a sort-of romantic threesome, and Edward Everett Horton as a disapproving bluenose. A very funny and sexy pre-code charmer.
B Freaks,Castro, Wednesday
A morality tale set in a circus sideshow, Freaks presents actual, severely deformed people living and working in a carnival freak show, and dares you to look at them and accept them as full human beings. Then it creates a good melodrama around them. Certainly one of the strangest films to come out of that most conservative of studios, MGM. On a I Wake Up Dreaming triple bill with Island of Dark Souls, which I saw and liked in 1975 but hardly remember now, and the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde–which I haven’t seen.
A Inside Job, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00
Once again, I have to ask myself if I liked this documentary because it was well-made, or because I believe in the filmmaker’s point of view. My answer: both. It covers much of the same ground as Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, and from a very similar left-wing approach. But while Moore grandstands, preaches, and stages funny scenes, Ferguson digs deeper into the actual causes and results. Part of the series Committed Cinema: Charles Ferguson.
A The African Queen, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 9:00
Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Africa, and Technicolor all make for splendid entertainment in John Huston’s romantic comedy action adventure. The start of World War I traps an earthy working-class mechanic (Bogart) and a prim and proper missionary (Hepburn) behind enemy lines and hundreds of miles of jungle. It’s a bum and a nun on the run, facing rapids, insects, alcohol (he’s for it; she’s against it), German guns, and an unusual (for Hollywood) romance between two moderately-attractive middle-aged people in filthy clothes. See my Blu-ray review.
A- Ben-Hur, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30
Novelist Lew Wallace ripped off the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo, set the story in Roman-occupied Judea, and had the title character cross paths with Jesus. Hollywood’s second film version of the best-selling book is a rousing tale, a good story, and a visual feast., and easily surpasses all of the other big, long religious epics that Hollywood churned out in the 50s and early 60s. Say what you will, Charlton Heston is perfect for the role. The chariot scene still beats almost every other action scene shot. Only in the final hour, when Christianity gets ladled on thick, does it drag a bit. It works best on a very large screen.