SFFilm Festival Thursday report

One would think that rainy days would be perfect for film festivals. After all, you’re spending the day inside.

But in reality, you spend a lot of time standing outside waiting in line. That’s no fun in the rain. The experience can go from annoying to horrible depending on the kindness and resourcefulness of the staff.

Consider the two screenings I attended on soggy Thursday.

The first screening I went to was at SFMOMA, where the line formed in a little alley entryway to the Phyllis Wattis Theater. The staff did everything they could to keep us dry, weaving the line through covered areas.

But at Yerba Buena, no one seemed to care about soggy customers. We had to wait outside during a very heavy rain. A large, plate glass wall separated us from the theater’s lobby, so we could watch the VIP audience members enjoying dry warmth – a stark reminder that we were just the peons. There appeared to be no attempt to get us in early, and no one in charge seemed to think that this was a problem that needed solving.

Okay, on to the movies:

Hotel Salvation

In this Indian film, an old man decides it’s time to die, and moves to a hotel that specializes in helping the elderly transition to the afterlife. It’s like a Hindu hospice where everyone must cook their own food and clean their own rooms. The story is told through the eyes of the old man’s middle-aged son, who resents interrupting his busy life to care for a father who he doesn’t really believe is dying. Hotel Salvation is funny, touching, and in a strange way profound. It also hit emotions in me attached to my own father’s death.

I give it an A-.

After the movie, there was a Q&A session with actor Adil Hussain, who played the son. Some highlights, edited for brevity and clarity:

  • On working with writer/director Shubhashish Bhutiani, who was only 23 at the time: He was similar to Ang Lee. So humble. He gently leads you to the situation.
  • I was prepared [for this role] from teenage days because I had difficulties with my father. And I was intrigued by death from that time.
  • I didn’t know there were such establishments.
  • On the film’s father-son dynamic: Lalit Behl (the actor who played his father) is also a director. He started thinking like a director and had trouble with a 23-year old telling him what to do. Towards the middle of the filming he told me he felt like I was his son.

Hotel  Salvation will screen one more time in the festival: Tonight (Friday, April 7), 8:15, at the Roxie.

Citizen Kane

This wasn’t just another screening of the movie most commonly called the Greatest Film Ever Made. It was also a discussion between film historian David Thomson and newspaper publisher William R. Hearst III. Citizen Kane’s screenplay, of course, was inspired by the life of Hearst’s grandfather, William Randolph Hearst, who did everything he could to suppress the film.

William Hearst III was born in 1949, seven years after Kane’s release, and two years before his grandfather’s death. What he knows about the movie and the scandal was not first-hand.

Thomson and Hearst had a long talk and a short Q&A before the movie was screened. Some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity:

  • I remember being in the car with mom and dad and guy said “I love that movie about you.” My parents weren’t happy.
  • It was a forbidden topic. They didn’t want to talk about it or deal with it.
  • I saw Citizen Kane for the first time when I was 18 or 19 at a midnight showing. I expected it to be a political subject.
  • My family stayed in the castle occasionally as a child. Orson got that wrong. It was a happy place with great parties.
  • My grandfather could take a joke. But I guess he didn’t find Kane funny.
  • On his family’s attempts to kill the film: I think it’s a shame. It’s a really good movie.
  • We’ve left behind the calling of real journalism. We’ve substituted dialog and debate for real reporting. Reporters used to resist saying if they were Democrats or Republicans. Today they should have less analysis and more reporting.
  • I think Rosebud is actually that little snow globe. The sense of childhood denied.
  • Thomson: it’s a very emotional film. Every time I watch it I cry.
  • On the film and his family: Inevitably someone will ask about the film. They’re disappointed when I say that I love the movie.

And then we watched the movie.

I’m not going to tell you about Citizen Kane. If you really want to know my feelings about it, check what I’ve already read. But I’ll tell you a bit about the screening:

This was the first time I’d seen Citizen Kane theatrically in maybe 30 years. And it really is a movie that you should see theatrically. For the most part I ignored the revolutionary techniques and let the story take over. It’s much better that way.

I’m not sure, but It looked like it was projected off a DCP. The digital transfer was mostly okay, if not exceptional. But I believe it contained a serious error in the projection room scene. If I remember correctly, from when I saw it on film, all the faces in that scene were in shadow. But on the DCP, as well as the DVD and Blu-ray versions, some faces are clearly visible. And not just any faces. Joseph Cotten and other cast members are clearly seen in what are supposed to be anonymous bit parts. Warner Brothers really needs to fix that.

Aside from that issue, it was a wonderful look at a great film.

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