What’s Screening: June 14 – 20

Orson Welles revealed, the first movie director gets her due, Chaplin comes to America, and Frank Capra goes to Washington. Also, Hollywood’s best western and one big festival. All this and more on Bay Area movie screens this week.


The Week’s Big Event

A+ Stagecoach (original, 1939 version), New Mission, Sunday, noon

It’s been over ten years since John Ford’s masterpiece, to my mind the greatest of all westerns, has played theatrically in the Bay Area. The story: Nine very different people must cross dangerous territory in the titular vehicle – a journey that forces them to confront their prejudices as well as angry Apaches. A young, impossibly handsome John Wayne made the leap from B pictures to A-list star status with his performance of an escaped convict, but it’s Thomas Mitchell’s alcoholic doctor who really carries the picture. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t have to see a western to know they’re not worth seeing, Stagecoach will open your mind. Read my A+ appreciation.

Preview screenings of upcoming movies

A Be Natural: The Untold Story Of Alice Guy-Blaché, Rafael, Thursday, 7:00

Q&A with Filmmaker Pamela B. Green! If you’ve never heard of the Alice Guy, the first woman film director (and arguably the first director of any gender), you’re in good company. Early on in Pamela Green’s documentary, a montage of major filmmakers admit that they never heard of her either. Guy had a remarkable life until sexism ruined her career; a tale very much worth telling. Green shows us the detective work involved with making a historical documentary. Also, visiting Guy’s locations, and how her films are finally being restored. Read my full review.

Promising events

A Biggest Little Farm, Rafael, Q&A via Skype with Molly Chester & Emma the Pig, Saturday, 1:45

John and Molly Chester did something seemingly impossible. They left the big city, and after years of hard work, created a profitable organic farm in tune with nature. For instance, when snails threatened the lemon crop, the Chesters put their ducks in the orchard to eat the snails. Since John Chester used to be a nature photographer, he filmed his family story and created a generally upbeat documentary – with some very sad moments. It is, of course, beautifully shot. John acknowledges, not happily, that most of the animals he’s raising will be turned into food.

Another chance to see

B The Eyes of Orson Welles, BAMPFA, 8:15

Filmmaker Mark Cousins narrates this essay-style documentary in the second person, pretending to talk to the late Welles in sentences like “Your mother Beatrice gave you your politics.” The technique doesn’t help much, but it got a good laugh when Cousins says “We’ll talk about your love life later.” To the documentary’s benefit, Cousins focuses quite a bit on Welles’ leftist politics; something that other Welles documentaries ignored or glossed over. Also special: Cousins gives a lot of time to Welles’ work as an illustrator. The film is filled with his sketches and paintings; we’re shown his plans for stage plays and movies, his fascination with faces, and how he felt at different times in his life. There’s a lot of good stuff here, but a lot of useless talking, as well.

Recommended revivals

A- Laughing Time! (Comedy Shorts), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30

I can vouch for three of the four short comedies in this program. Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant is one of his best shorts, made only a few years after he immigrated to the U.S., himself. Buster Keaton didn’t like his directorial debut, The Hight Sign, but it is screamingly funny. The Laurel and Hardy entry, Leave ’em Laughing, proves that a toothache can make you laugh. I haven’t seen the Charley Chase short, Forgotten Sweeties, but I’ve yet to see a Charley Chase short that wasn’t funny.

B+ Shiraz: A Romance of India, Roxie, Saturday, 4:10

This Indian silent epic isn’t really about the making of the Taj Mahal. It’s a love story among the rich and powerful, and those who serve and suffer. The making of the Taj Mahal only comes in at the end. The movie is beautiful, spectacular, romantic, and occasionally suspenseful.  But it’s also sometimes slow, with a few stiff performances. The score by Anoushka Shankar will be, unfortunately, recorded.

B Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stanford, Friday through Sunday

Corrupt political bosses appoint as senator a naive, young idealist (James Stewart) because they think he’s stupid. They’re wrong. The second and best film in Frank Capra’s common-man trilogy, Mr. Smith creaks a bit with patriotic corniness, and has political views that seem almost as naive as its protagonist. But it has its moments. Stewart’s speech about how “history is too important to be left in schoolbooks” can still bring a lump to the throat of any patriotic American – red or blue. Besides, it’s just plain entertaining. On a double bill with Destry Rides Again, which I saw ages ago and liked.

B- What We Do In the Shadows, Roxie, Thursday, 9:15

This vampire mockumentary’s basic idea is funny and promising: An unseen documentary camera crew follow the afterlives of four vampires who share a house in a modern city. They argue about household chores, go out looking for victims, and talk directly into the camera about their undead existence. But the basic idea begins to wear out around the half-way point. The jokes are still funny, but they come farther apart. From the creators of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords.  Read my full review.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics