What’s Screening: August 17 – 23

John Ford and John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Carl Sagan, Elia Kazan, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Mel Brooks light up Bay Area movie screens this week.

But no film festivals.

Also, I’m changing the Lebowskies section to Frequently-revived classics. The Big Lebowski doesn’t screen as often as it used to.

Promising events

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon & The Quiet Man, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

A double bill of John Ford films, both starring John Wayne, seems like something to celebrate – especially when both are considered masterpieces. I haven’t seen either of these in a long time. I fondly remember Yellow Ribbon (the middle film of Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy), but it was never one of my favorite Fords. I have never understood the popularity of The Quiet Man. But then, I always preferred Ford in black and white.

Big Screen Science: Contact, New Mission, Monday, 7:00

I saw the film version of Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact, on Laserdisc some 20 years ago. I liked it, but (as happens so often) not as much as the book. Jodie Foster stars as a brilliant scientist heading a SETI team that makes our first contact with an alien civilization. As you would expect from a film based on a book by Sagan, it sticks close to scientific fact. After the screening, Kishore Hari, Jeff Silverman, and a special guest will come onstage to discuss the film’s accuracy.

Recommended revivals

A Comedy Shorts Night, Niles Essan`ay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

Here’s a truly exceptional program of silent comedy shorts. The Chaplin and Keaton entries are masterpieces. The Charlie Chase and Laurel and Hardy pictures are pretty damn funny. In Charlie Chaplin’s funniest short, The Adventurer, he escapes from prison and nearly succeeds in breaking into society; the movie begins and ends with incredible chase sequences. In Keaton’s The Goat, an innocent Buster becomes the center of a massive manhunt, while falling in love with a police detective’s daughter. The Charlie Chase vehicle, Mum’s the Word, is one of those comedies where everything would be cleared up if everyone stopped lying…but no one stops lying. In Laurel and Hardy’s Wrong Again, the boys mistake a horse for a painting. Greg Pane provides piano accompaniment.

A The Producers, Sebastiani, Monday, 7:00

A long, long time ago, before digital cinema and even Dolby Stereo, Mel Brooks was actually funny. And he was never funnier than in his directorial debut. Both Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (in his breakout performance) play comedy to the hilt as a desperate pair scheming to make a fortune off a very bad Broadway musical called Springtime for Hitler. A gorgeous, laugh-inducing gem. Read my report.

A Stalker, BAMPFA (formerly Pacific Film Archive), Thursday, 7:00

This slow, strange, allegorical fantasy from the great Andrei Tarkovsky gets under your skin. A guide, called a Stalker, takes two other men on a journey into a strange place called The Zone. We never find out exactly what it is, and it looks pretty much like the world they already live in – except that The Zone is in color and their home is tinted black and white. But we learn that The Zone is dangerous, is constantly changing, and that those changes are caused by the emotions of the people who dare enter it. Part of the series Andrei Tarkovsky: Sculpting in Time.

A- On the Waterfront, Rafael, Sunday

A thug-run union and conflicted loyalties drive this revered drama, shot on location in New York. Marlon Brando stands out amongst a brilliant cast as a half-bright dock worker struggling between loyalty to family and his own conscience. Yet some plot twists are just too convenient. A bigger problem: Both writer Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan named names to get off the anti-Communist blacklist, then made this film to justify their acts of cowardice. Part of the series Bernstein One Hundred.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics