What’s Screening: September 21 – 27

Spike Lee, Gilda Radner, Ingmar Bergman, Laurel and Hardy, James Dean, and a young girl accused of witchcraft. Add three film festivals and there’s plenty to see in Bay Area movie theaters this week.


New films opening

A Love, Gilda¸ Clay, Shattuck, Rafael, opens Friday

You’ll laugh a lot in this documentary on comedian Gilda Radner. The clips, mostly from the early seasons of Saturday Night Live, are abundant and hilarious. The film also provides a sense of the hard but exhilarating work of creating those laughs. And then there’s the sad, sometimes inspiring, and eventually tragic story of the genius who created all that laughter. Director Lisa D’Apolito uses Radner’s own words (mostly) to reveal her troubled life. Read my full review.

A I am not a Witch, Elmwood, Roxie, opens Friday

In an unnamed African country (shot in Zambia), villagers accuse a young girl of being a witch. She’s forced to live with other “witches,” all old women. They’re treated like slaves, with thick ribbons substituting as chains. A government official takes her under his wing, exploiting her alleged powers for profit. Writer/director Rungano Nyoni uses cinematic techniques that keep the audience emotionally distant, which somehow makes the protagonist’s treatment feel all the worst. A powerful film.

Preview screenings of upcoming movies

B+ Bisbee ’17, New Mission, Monday, 7:00

Robert Greene’s documentary initially feels distant and slow, but bit by bit, you get dragged in. In 1917, Bisbee, Arizona was a prosperous mining town. But many of the miners wanted a part of that prosperity and joined the union. So the company, the sheriff, and a group of new deputies rounded them up, along with their sympathizers, herded them into cattle cars, and freighted them to the middle of the desert. To mark the event’s centennial, the townspeople reenacted this dark piece of local history in front of Greene’s cameras.

Promising events

A Tribute to Spike Lee: BlacKkKlansman, Castro, Tuesday, 7:00

SFFILM presents this tribute to the controversial filmmaker, providing an onstage conversation with Lee, and a screening of his latest film, BlacKkKlansman. In this very effective comedy-laced thriller, set in the 1970s, two cops, one black, one Jewish (John David Washington and Adam Driver) investigate the local KKK chapter. On one level, this is a very entertaining movie – suspenseful and funny. But it’s also a serious study about American bigotry. I gave the film an A.

The Book of Wonders: Films by Stan Brakhage and Georges Méliès, BAMPFA, Wednesday, 7:00

Two experimental filmmakers, generations apart, both of whom worked primarily in shorts, come together in one program. To be honest, this is mostly a Brakhage show, presenting his works The Dead, Commingled Containers, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and The Loom. The only Méliès title in the show is The Kingdom of the Fairies.

Restored Laurel and Hardy Shorts, Rafael, Sunday, 4:30; Thursday, 7:00

Four shorts, newly restored, starring the greatest comedy duo ever created by the movies. The program starts with the wonderful Battle of the Century, the only silent in the program, which climaxes with the greatest (or at least the largest) pie fight in film history. I haven’t seen the next two, Berth Marks and Brats, both of which are early talkies. I have seen the closing short, The Chimp, and found it one of their weakest.

An Evening with Frederick Wiseman, BAMPFA, Thursday, 7:00

With film clips, the documentarian will discuss his work methods. He will explain how he selects a subject, tells a story, and makes his artistic decisions. Part of the series Frederick Wiseman: On Documentary.

Another chance to see

B+ Filmworker, Lark, Sunday, 8:30; Wednesday, 2:15

Like many great artists, Stanley Kubrick was an obsessive perfectionist. He also had an equally obsessive assistant, Leon Vitali, who gave up a promising acting career to stand in the shadows and help Kubrick create and sustain his vision. Tony Zierra’s documentary provides a sympathetic look at Vitali, who was extensively interviewed for this film. As you’d expect from a documentary on Kubrick, Filmworker includes great clips and stills. Read my full review.

Recommended revivals

A- Wild Strawberries, BAMPFA, Wednesday, 3:10

Ingmar Bergman’s road movie takes you on a drive with an elderly, widowed, retired college professor (the great silent film director Victor Sjöström). Traveling with his daughter-in-law through places he once lived, the professor daydreams of his youth, remembering events that may or may not have actually happened. Perhaps his mind is going. Three upbeat teenagers join them in their travels and provide both joy and comedy relief. Part of the series In Focus: Ingmar Bergman, with a lecture by Linda H. Rugg.

A- Rebel Without a Cause, various theaters, Sunday & Wednesday
James Dean, who would define the word teenager for several generations, became a star in this melodramatic message picture about what’s wrong with kids these days. Thanks largely to Dean’s electrifying, frightening, and sympathetic performance, it’s a far better movie than it has any right to be. Of course, he got a lot of help from director Nicholas Ray and supporting players Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. In very wide early Cinemascope.

B- The Little Foxes, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

Considering all of the top names involved (Lillian Hellman, William Wyler, Bette Davis, Samuel Goldwyn, Gregg Toland), it should have been better. The story of a wealthy, southern, but very dysfunctional family at the turn of the 20th century, the film feels stagey and dialog heavy (Hellman adapted  her own Broadway hit to the screen). To make matters worse, Meredith Willson’s annoying music rarely stops; even when people are talking (which is most of the time), the violins keep telling us we should be sad. On a double bill with Cabin in the Cotton.

Frequently-revived classics