SFFilm Sunday & Monday Report

A scheduling error and a Jewish holiday reduced my San Francisco International Film Festival outings to three events in two days.

Here’s what I saw:

Score: A Film Music Documentary

I started Sunday at the new Dolby Theater on Market, for a documentary about music in the movies.

This was my third visit to the new theater, but the first time I saw a movie there (the other two times were a press conference and a talk. It’s a near perfect movie theater, especially for big blockbusters, thanks to its huge, slightly-curved screen, exceptional digital projection, and great sound. Before the movie, we were treated to a promo for the theater’s capabilities, which got an applause.

One problem: no food or drink allowed. This is not really a commercial theater; it’s a laboratory.

But it was a great venue for this doc, filled with music and including clips from a lot of movies, including big blockbusters.

Okay, the movie itself:

Filmmaker Matt Schrader went overboard, covering too many composers, old and current, resulting in too much width and not enough depth. But the movie had some wonderful moments. It shows how John William’s iconic Star Wars score wasn’t pre-ordained, but was the result of considerable work. You see how composers develop and record scores, sometimes by themselves, and sometimes with a full orchestra. Everyone on screen talks about the importance of music in a movie, and occasionally the film proves that point by showing a famous scene without the music. It’s fun to see how it’s all done.

I give it a B.

There was a Q&A session after the movie, but I had other things to do and skipped it.

Score will screen three more times at the SFFilm Festival:

Mel Novikoff Award: Tom Luddy & A Long Happy Life

Every year, the Festival gives the Mel Novikoff Award to someone “whose work has enhanced the film-going public’s appreciation of world cinema.” This year it went to Tom Luddy – a choice so obvious I’m surprised it hadn’t happened already.

I first met Luddy (I doubt he remembers me) in the late 1970s, when he was running the Pacific Film Archive and I was a volunteer. In addition to the PFA, he worked at Francis Coppola’s American Zoetrope, co-created the Telluride Film Festival, helped get films distributed (including The Lives of Others), befriended many a great filmmaker, and ran a repertory theater with the great Mel Novikoff himself. He also saved the San Francisco Film Festival from bankruptcy at the end of the 1970s.

The event started with three speeches by friends of Luddy’s, complimenting him for his exuberance, influence, massive address book, and photographic memory. According to Alice Waters, he “would seat Milos Foreman next to Shirley MacLaine to see what happens.”

Then Luddy sat down with documentary director Todd McCarthy (Visions of Light). Some highlights from their talk, edited for clarity and brevity:

  • On how he fell in love with film: A priest at the Catholic school I attended would take us to theaters to see films by Visconti, Bergman, and others.
  • On his relationship with Coppola: When Zoetrope moved to San Francisco, Francis reached out to me because he noticed that the films I was showing were pretty unusual. He invited me to an opening party at Folsom Street. We became friends.
  • I love silent films. I named one society after Murnau.
  • I keep changing who my favorite Japanese filmmaker is.
  • You can’t get much better than The Godfather.
  • On the future of film appreciation and restoration: The number of restorations is very encouraging. It gives me hope that the Silent Film Festival can fill this theater.
  • Luddy praised the Stanford Theater with considerable passion, mentioning that it’s the only theater in the Bay Area can still project nitrate film. He also mentioned that “David Thomson will be doing a big Warner Brothers series at the Stanford.”

Then they screened the two films that Luddy has selected.

The first waas Une bonne à tout faire, an eight-minute short that Jean-Luc Godard shot in 1981 but didn’t edit until 2006. It wasn’t much.

The feature was Gennady Shpalikov’s A Long Happy Life. A young woman and older man meet, talk, flirt, dance, watch a stage production of The Cherry Orchard, plan a life together, and then decide that they don’t really like each other all that much. This Russian film from 1966 has the immediacy and daring narrative structure of the French New Wave. It’s a film with little plot and a lot of atmosphere. I liked it.

The movie was screened digitally, but it was an odd transfer. The image was not steady – one of the advantages of digital – and the widescreen image was letterboxed within a narrow frame.

I messed up in my scheduling for Sunday. I had planned, after the Mel Novikoff Award, to walk to the Victoria Theater to see Lady Macbeth. I failed to consider the length of the earlier event. By the time A Long and Happy Life was over, Lady Macbeth was already screening.

People You May Know

Monday afternoon, I came into San Francisco to see one movie.

People You May Know has something to say about social media and how it effects society in both good and bad ways. This moderately funny, but thoughtful comedy stars Nick Thune as freelance photoshop wizard with little social life and no Internet presence. He doesn’t even have a Facebook account. Then a woman who works at a very hip public relations company sets out to turn him into an online celebrity. Soon Usher wants to hang out with him. So does a married woman who knew him high school. Not entirely believable, but nevertheless enjoyable.

I give it a B-.

After the screening, writer/director Sherwin Shilati and producer/actor Kaily Smith Westbrook stepped up for questions and answers.

Some highlights, edited for brevity and clarity:

  • I wanted to look at how we connect in the world today and to social media. The theme took on a new urgency for me through the lens of being a new dad. I wanted to reveal to my daughter how her dad felt about social media when it was new.
  • On acting and producing in the same movie: I’ve been on both sides of camera before, but this was at a much different level. It was incredible to be both.
  • Usher was our number one choice for the celebrity. His online persona is uplifting. We needed someone like User to make the storyline believable.

As I write this, I’m about to head off for a Passover Seder. I’ll be taking tomorrow off from the Festival, but will return Wednesday.